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Linwood Middle School goes full STEAM as first school in New Jersey to implement AMPED on Algebra program for eighth graders



NORTH BRUNSWICK – At Linwood Community Day earlier this school year, it was difficult to walk by the table set up by the AMPED on Algebra program without a student giving a sales pitch on handmade notepads.

Upon listening to the spiel, one would come to find out this was more than a fundraiser for the school: instead, it was a hands-on lesson in the power of marketing, the benefit of creativity and the real-life application of algebra lessons.

The AMPED program was implemented this school year after Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick received Title 1 carryover funds for its STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) curriculum, according to Amy Rumbo, director of Accountability and Special Programs for the North Brunswick Public School District.

The $35,000 grant went toward the curriculum, professional development, training, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, Cricut machines and a heat press, as the program offers projects for students to physically complete, coupled with an algebra lesson. For example, with the notepad sales, students had to design, customize, print, put together, sell and calculate the sales of the pads to students and staff members. Later in the year they plan to do the same with t-shirts, bracelets and cell phone holders.

Jeannine Lanphear, the supervisor of math and science at Linwood, learned about the manufacturing, entrepreneurship and design program, after which several math, art and technology teachers were trained in June over four days.

Linwood is the first school in New Jersey to implement the program.

“The AMPED on Algebra program was something I had discovered while researching innovative algebra programs. I felt its connection to the real world was a key component in making the sense and meaning behind studying algebra come to life. … I felt that the program brought together elements that would engage our modern students. In addition, students love to make stuff. Add money to the equation with the entrepreneurship/financial literacy component, and I felt it would be meaningful to all students and families,” Lanphear said.

About two dozen eighth graders, who were recommended by their teachers for the special algebra class, attend a fabrication lab for a half hour followed by math class for 45 minutes every day.

“The question when they’re learning algebra is, what am I using this for? The fact that they’re using it to be successful drives them to be successful,” teacher Jessica Skelton said.

During one particular session, Skelton wrote “y=4x” on the Smart Board, with x representing the number of notebooks, 4 representing the $4 cost of each notepad, and y representing the total revenue.

She asked the students what the total revenue is for the 37 notepads sold at that point in the school year ($148) and how many notebooks would have to be sold to make $300 (75).

Moving along to a spreadsheet, Skelton showed the class the new orders placed. The sheet marks down the person’s name, quantity and the particular design he/she would like. Students then moved about the classroom; one used his Chromebook to customize the designs, others started cutting and backing notepads already printed out, and others glued the binding together.

“The whole objective is for them to build it, for them to create the company, for them to be hands on,” said teacher Bradley Lepre, who was leading his students in a different classroom. “They’re actually excited for math. … Even as adults you hear, why do we need to know algebra? Well here what they’re learning is that they need algebra and is has more of a connection.”

“It’s tangible math,” Principal Rick Selover said.

The students will develop their own 3D projects and market them prior to the end of the school year as part of their final exam. This will tie in volume, density, art, engineering, 3D modeling, manufacturing, business and marketing for the students, Lepre said.

“Math and science belong together. They were developed together with math as the language of science, and science as math applied. Even more, when we integrate design, technology and entrepreneurship, we can teach, in an embedded way, other future-ready skills that are just as important for students such as team work, responsibility, listening to diverse viewpoints, and attention to detail,” Lanphear said.

“At North Brunswick, our mission is to educate, inspire and empower our students to meet challenges and achieve success. I take that mission to heart. As someone with a technology background and who worked in industry, I know what a STEM-based education can do for a student’s employability and success. I became an educator to share that message. We can preach to students about the benefits of a STEM education, or we can show them. This approach is more effective in truly teaching and reaching students to be engaged in STEM subjects and future careers, to become successful in the core content alongside these opportunities and excitement, and to understand how a subject like algebra is transferable to everyday life,” she said.

Any funds raised from product sales this year will be put toward the self-sustaining curriculum next year.

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com.

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