Geometry project covers all the angles

Staff Writer

JACKSON — For thousands of years, the study of geometry has concerned itself with the size, shape, area and volume of objects through the use of numbers and calculations.

For a group of Jackson Memorial High School freshmen in Lisa Soltmann’s honors geometry class, equations such as the Pythagorean Theorem became more than numbers on a page. They became the basis of student-generated children’s books that used math to tell a story.

For 10 years, Soltmann has been conducting the project, which tasks students with creating an illustrated book based on a single topic in geometry.

Although most students come into the project with a bit of incredulity regarding the idea of writing a story in a math class, Soltmann said she has seen students really take to the assignment.

“It is amazing. When you push students, they will rise to the occasion,” the educator said.

Over the years, Soltmann said, students have based their stories on fairy tales, but they added a math twist — for example, “The Three Little Pigs” became the “The Three Equilateral Triangles.”

Over the last three years, the project advanced by having the high school students take their stories to students in the Switlik School just before winter break. According to Soltmann, the move fit well with what the elementary school pupils were learning in geometry.

“[My students] would twist the story up enough that it would turn into a philosophical story the younger children could understand, because they were also learning about these geometry terms,” Soltmann said.

Although the high school students’ interaction with the younger children was a major step in recent years, the biggest addition to the project came during the current school year with the incorporation of the Jackson School District’s budding Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative.

As part of the BYOT initiative, students in Soltmann’s class were allowed to bring their own laptop computers, tablet computers and cellphones to class to work on their projects, using design and word-processing programs to create their stories.

Soltmann was one of three teachers in Jackson Memorial High School to pilot the BYOT program.

Freshmen Dylan Miller, Nicholas Meegan and Joseph McGinness created the story of “Goldi-blocks and the Three Little Pigs.”

The story involves a princess and her need for a new house. The pigs, who are master carpenters, were given the job of creating the house.

However, every time a home was completed, the princess demolished it, deeming it unfit for her to live in. The story concludes with the princess apologizing for being mean to the pigs, and they work together as friends.

What set the story apart for the younger children was the group’s use of the video game “Minecraft” for the book’s visuals.

“It was really cool to see the kids get excited [about that],” Dylan said. “I’m sure I can say for my whole group that reading our story to the kids was the most fun part.”

For Dylan, being able to use his own electronic devices in class was an exciting development.

“It’s one of my favorite parts about being in high school,” he said.

Dylan said he believes that technology can be an amazing addition to the classroom if it is properly used by students and teachers.

With school projects advancing from construction paper and markers to the digital workplace, Soltmann said students have taken to the geometry project in a completely new way.

“I have been doing this a long time, and I feel like I am just hitting what I think these students can do,” the teacher said.