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Students use math to tackle North Pole ‘peppermite’ infestation

Calculus saves Christmas

Lowell High School AP calculus seniors Victor Preiss, Oliver Jones and Nicholas Lothin created a video where Santa Claus and his elves faced a fast-growing infestation at the North Pole

Lowell — Days before their biggest holiday of the year, Santa Claus and his elves faced a fast-growing infestation at the North Pole.

Christmas “peppermites” were multiplying at a rate only Lowell High School AP calculus students could calculate.

As a project for their Advanced Placement calculus AB and BC classes, math teachers Danielle Ayala and Jon Bieneman tasked small groups with creating a free-response math problem, similar to the ones they will see on their AP tests in the spring.

“We practice throughout the year for the AP test, but this project is about understanding how test questions are asked and creating a problem (with a solution) that actually works,” Ayala said. 

Each group also had to make a video to showcase how their real function applied to a fictional problem in a fun, humorous way. 

The two teachers assigned the project in early November, with time in class for peer-editing their functions and solutions. Students scripted and filmed videos completely outside of class time. Their only requirements were for the math problems to be solvable by their peers and combine calculus with Christmas.

Together, both classes watched all the videos and voted for their favorites over two class periods. On the final day before break, former students came in and voted for the best video from the top five.

Bieneman told his students this year’s batch of videos were some of the best he’s seen, and the editing has come a long way since he first assigned the project four years ago. 

Merry Math with Festive Functions

For their video, the students who formulated the imaginary Christmas peppermite infestation dressed up in costumes and told the tale of how the infestation began and how Santa, his elves and reindeer combated it. 

“We wanted (a function) that was difficult enough but not super hard to solve,” said senior Victor Preiss, who also played the role of Santa. “Our biggest goal was to get the project done and eat peppermints.”

While Ayala and Bieneman’s classes viewed the videos, Victor threw peppermints at his classmates to bring the peppermite infestation to life. 

AP calculus teacher Jon Bieneman laughs at his students’ Christmas-themed calculus videos

In another group’s imaginary Christmas universe, Santa Claus, played by senior Jayden Franks, failed to hold up his end of an agreement with the United Nations to reduce his CO2 emissions. 

Two of his elves – senior Emma Boston and junior Brylee Craycraft – called in expert Jack Frost, played by senior Matilyn Vogel, to teach Santa how to deliver gifts on ice skates instead of flying with CO2 -emitting reindeer. 

AP calculus seniors Jayden Franks, Emma Boston, Matilyn Vogel and junior Brylee Craycraft made a video about how Santa Claus learned to ice skate to reduce his CO2 emissions

In addition to creating a function to find out if the rate of Santa’s emissions were decreased by switching to skates, the group took to the ice for their video. Jack Frost skated circles around Santa, who thought he was doing a good job but struggled to stay standing in his skates. 

Jayden said their group learned several things while working on their video, including that Matilyn was “a really good ice skater.”

“Our function did not work the first time, but after some trial and error we got the numbers to work,” he said. 

Emma agreed that creating realistic numbers in an original function proved to be challenging. 

“We created what we wanted to do and then linked it to calculus,” Jayden said. “Calculus can be applied to nearly everything.”

Read more from Lowell: 
District hires new special education director
Students spruce up greenhouse, make home for houseplants

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”

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