In Nelson Hanton’s class, math isn’t just a jumble of numbers scrawled across a blackboard.
Instead, Hanton’s students run imaginary household budgets, refurbish items such as furniture, and even stage a mock trial.
His course, Math Enterprise - a practical cure for math anxiety, won Intel Corp.’s first-place award for innovative teaching methods.
Hanton describes his program at Stewart Middle School as “a practical approach to mathematics.”
“Kids learn to appreciate mathematics with their own learning style,” he said.
Hanton’s program has 10 “strands,” or areas of focus.
In one, the class is divided into teams that act as families, with each member earning “checks” by doing chores at home. The money is divided into each team’s account, from which bills are paid.
Last Friday, the reality of the exercise hit home.
“I’m poor. Look at me!” Teresa DeArnas groaned as she turned to a classmate and implored him to do more chores and bring in more money.
Another strand is BETA, for Building Everything Again. Students refurbish an item, such as a stool or birdhouse, and then write a report detailing how they completed the project. That teaches technical writing skills, Hanton said.
A third strand has students prepare for a mock lawsuit in which a professional athlete driving a motorcycle is hit by a car driven by a thief.
The athlete’s career is cut short, and he sues the car’s owner for leaving the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition. The car’s owner is a single man on welfare raising five children.
“There is math embedded in this case,” Hanton said. “They’ve got a lot of money involved in this. Every insurance policy is based on a particular formula.”
Half the class is the defense, the other half is the plaintiff.
At the end of their investigation, the students will use a courtroom at Pierce County Superior Court, with Hanton as the judge.
In applying for the Intel award, Hanton showed how his program makes a difference.
Test scores of students entering his class in 1995 averaged in the 57th percentile. They ended 1996 in the 75th percentile.
Hanton’s boss, principal Emma Walker, wasn’t surprised he won the award.
“Mr. Hanton goes after anything that he’s doing with quite a bit of zest,” she said. “He is the one staff person who is in the building more than he is at home.”
Intel awarded Hanton $10,000 and a personal computer, and $25,000 to the school.
“I was very, very shocked to hear that I’d won, because it’s competition, you just never know. There are a lot of fine teachers - I think you need to say that - in Washington,” he said.
Hanton - a youth chess coach - said he will use about $2,000 of his award to help pay airfare for 20 girls he is taking to Berkeley, Calif., for a chess competition.
Hanton said he and his wife were still trying to figure out how to spend the rest of the money.
Walker said she plans to use the school’s money to improve math, science and reading programs.
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