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New math class uses real-world applications

Senior Raven Close explains a typical day in Grow MainStreet math class

Northview — Raven Close did not mince words when summing up his feelings for one of his core school subjects: “I despise math,” deadpanned the senior at Northview Next Career Center.

But a new math class at the career center is helping him enjoy the subject, and more than just a little. “This is a math class?” he jokingly asked a visitor.

Grow MainStreet Math is held in a new 3D printing lab inside a portable classroom at the career center. It kicked off in the fall with five students and is designed for those who need Algebra I or geometry credits but struggle in a traditional class setting. 

Items the 3D printing math class has created so far including award plaques, model auto chassis for a middle-school STEM unit and student-designed sneakers

The classroom is outfitted with a dozen 3D printers and a laser cutter, which students use to print and assemble items ordered by other buildings and classes. Those items have included high-school award plaques, shoes and vehicles designed by Highlands Middle School students, and cardboard frames for temperature sensors and heart rate sensors designed and assembled by Crossroads Middle School students.

In staffing the printing operation, Northview Next students use spreadsheets to record and keep track of orders, figure materials and time needed for each job, maintain inventory, program printers, develop procedure and safety manuals and monitor costs and labor.

And all that takes — you guessed it: plenty of math. Not to mention honing skills in troubleshooting, teamwork, meeting deadlines and adjusting designs to maximize efficiency.

Math, Meet Main Street

“We really see this as growing to become the 3D print hub for our entire district, and maybe contracting with other districts, creating our own mini business here,” Northview Next Director Drew Klopcic said.

The three main drivers and instructors of the new class are teachers Trevor Chalmers and Taylor Jolliffe, and John Kraus, project director for the Mavin consortium of school districts.

Chalmers, who is in his 26th year teaching mostly math and science, said, “I knew some students couldn’t connect to the math (the way) we were teaching, and that there were other ways.”

Teachers Trevor Chalmers, left, and Taylor Jolliffe help lead the 3D lab

Jolliffe, who also teaches math virtually through MySchool@Kent, said, “This format is very exciting to me. I also like that it’s a small group (of students), and that we can tailor the lessons to their progress. 

“And the confidence boost in the students, the way we see them teach one another when someone has been absent, has really been great to see.”

Grow MainStreet was developed by Mavin Project and Northview staff in partnership with Google, the U.S. Department of Education, and businesses and universities. Northview is one of the first districts in the country to launch the free online platform. 

Mavin Project is a Midwest-based education and workforce company aimed at connecting many of the dots between student learning, career awareness and the development of soft skills that can help students find high-quality jobs. It was founded in 2010 by former executives in management consulting, education, and product and workforce development.

The first school in the country to launch Grow MainStreet was Ravenna High School. Besides there and at Northview, others now include two elementary schools in the Westwood Community Schools district, Grant Public Schools, Potter’s House in Grand Rapids, and a school in Colorado.

Kraus, who previously worked as a teacher and a principal in both a traditional high school and at Kent Career Tech Center, said he is meeting with other districts as well.

Kraus said that before Superintendent Scott Korpak retired last year, he told him the district needed to have a different way to deliver math. 

“I told him, ‘I think there’s an opportunity to show the real-world work application of math.’ … (Grow MainStreet goes) beyond … the spreadsheets, because measurement conversions are the basis for culinary, construction, pricing structure, profit and loss, employee management. 

“What we are really trying to do is let their curiosity drive how we bring them math.”

Getting the Hang of It

Klopcic said several students have asked to join the class when there are openings: “It’s because they tell them they are designing, they are creating, they’re doing very fun projects. They’re so engaged here that they’re explaining to other kids what they’re doing.”

Career center sophomore Jaila Robinson said she has historically been “not very good” at math. Through Grow MainStreet math class, however, “I’m getting the hang of it,” she said. 

One of her first projects was when she and classmates were assigned to design and print a scale model of the building of their choice. Many chose where they live, but Jaila created a scale model of a Steak ‘N Shake. As she shared in a reflection video recorded as part of the project, it’s a restaurant she likes to visit for its vanilla shakes and French fries. 

Jaila described how she had to figure out the model’s dimensions and its columned facade, then send her calculations to the 3D printer, where she would learn in about five hours whether they were correct.

“I didn’t think I was doing math,” she said. “It’s fun. And I actually pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Read more from Northview: 
Discovering the ‘why’ of career exploration
Need motivation? These Career Center grads are here to bring it

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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