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February 24, 2006

4-H, engineering create math, science curriculum

In his recent State of the Union address, President George W. Bush brought the issue of improving math and science education to the forefront of national debate by calling for more funding for math and science education. It has long been acknowledged that keeping students interested in math and science is a challenge for teachers, who must compete with videogames and iPods for students’ attention.

A February 13 U.S. News and World Report article, “Did Bush Do The Math?,” cites a recent study that shows that close to half of all 17-year-olds in America do not have the basic math skills needed to hold a production associate’s job in the automobile industry.

At North Carolina State University Dr. Eric Klang, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Dr. Ed Maxa, associate professor and 4-H youth development extension leader, have joined forces to create a math and science curriculum that has no trouble holding the attention of students of all ages.

Drawing on the roar and excitement of motorsports, Klang, faculty advisor for the Wolfpack Motorsports team, has partnered with the national and North Carolina 4-H programs to develop a prototype math and science curriculum that teaches students the principles of math and physics. “On Track for Learning” is designed as an education tool that follows students from elementary grades through high school.

“This project has been a great collaboration between engineers and the 4-H program,” says Klang. “Engineers have the math and physics background, and 4-H provides the curriculum development expertise. The result is a first-rate curriculum that is hands-on and exciting for students.”

Based on national math and science standards, the prototype curriculum brings the two disciplines together by emphasizing experiential learning through motorsports-related experiments. According to Klang, the program would dovetail with an undergraduate and graduate program in automotive engineering, giving students incentive to pursue a college degree.

The lessons in the curriculum include “Friction: Friend or Foe?” and “Energy Conversion: Form-Shifter.” In the lesson on friction, students study the forces that govern the performance of a racecar and learn how friction is a key factor in the motion of the car. The lesson then also gives common examples of friction that people encounter in daily life, such as the friction between shoes and sidewalk. The full curriculum is broken into four categories: matter, motion, force and energy.

“This is a unique program that will address many of the current deficiencies in math and science education at the K through 12 level,” says Klang. “With more funding for developing and expanding the curriculum, we could have a unified curriculum for all grades.”

Work has already begun with middle school students and teachers. The first On Track for Learning event, which was held in fall 2005 at the Mooresville Dragstrip, involved approximately 50 fifth graders from a Statesville charter school.

The event was organized by John Moloney, manager of Penske Technology Group, based on the education program developed by Klang and Maxa. The students learned about friction, aerodynamics, and elapsed time and velocity as they apply to a dragster. The students met National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) driver Tisha Wilson, a high school student who competes in NHRA events. Wilson demonstrated her driving skills in her NHRA dragster.

“The event was a great success,” says Klang. “The students were able to apply the lessons from the curriculum and watch the principles of physics at work on the racetrack.”

-J. Weston

Posted by Natalie at February 24, 2006 02:24 PM