How Is Math Used In A High School Math Teacher It’s True! A Visit To A Math Or Science Museum Can Be a Turning Point In A Child’s Life

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It’s True! A Visit To A Math Or Science Museum Can Be a Turning Point In A Child’s Life

Lance Winslow, one of the most prolific authors and a wonderful person at EzinesArticles, recently wrote an article about how visiting a math museum can get someone “hooked on math” for life. His article specifically mentioned a museum being built in New York; but as I read your article, I was transported back to my 8th grade and a field trip to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. That museum actually hooked me on math for life!

During my school years, I lived in a central Indiana city, Anderson, near Indianapolis. An annual tradition at my high school was that 8th grade Science students who earned an “A” or a “B” throughout the year also won an end-of-the-year field trip to the Museum of Science and Chicago industry as reward. for a successful year. This goal made many of us work very hard to make sure we qualified for the trip. It was a highly coveted award.

The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is huge, has exhibits of interest to both adults and children, and is a vacation destination in its own right. I visited many unique exhibits that day, including a World War II submarine, a coal mine, a chick hatchery, and more; but when I found the math wing, I was hooked with what I saw, and it changed my future!

I have no idea how long I sat in front of a huge screen that people today would probably think of as Plinko from the game show Price Is Right. This screen was ceiling to ceiling and about 6 inches thick, it had clear glass both front and back with pegs about 4 inches apart between the two panes of glass. A conveyor belt ran vertically to the side and each spoon carried a small ball. At the top, the ball rolled to the center and then fell through a hole and began bouncing from peg to peg. In the middle of the screen, the ball would fall in a long column into whatever slot the ball landed on. The bottom half of the screen consisted of columns under each of the slots. A “normal distribution curve” or “bell curve” was painted on the glass of this lower part.

In each bowling session, the balls would bounce from peg to peg and eventually settle into a slot on the midline and then fall into a column. As expected, most of the balls settled into several of the more centered columns, but some balls bounced toward the outer edges. As time progressed, the columns began to fill with balls, usually close to the height indicated by the painted line. At the end of the cycle, the floor opened, the balls fell and a new cycle began. I was mesmerized!

You might think that the column heights would match the painted curve perfectly, but they never did. It was always close, but never exact. Sometimes one column might be too tall while others were too short. The next cycle could be closer than expected. What I was witnessing was the very concept of probability: what SHOULD happen versus what actually happens. Regardless of the small variations, the basics of a normal distribution were there: the middle sections being higher with the heights running off to the right and left.

At the time, I knew practically nothing about a “normal distribution”, but that show with its many repetitions firmly planted in my brain what it really meant. In my high school math and psychology courses, the concept of a normal distribution, the associated percentages for each section, the concept of standard deviation all made perfect sense to me because I had seen it all happen over and over again. Extending these concepts to human characteristics such as IQ or height seemed natural.

The second display that caught my eye still exists in the museum today: a whispering booth. The concept here is to have two platforms a great distance apart and facing each other. Two people take positions on each platform, again, facing each other; and then start whispering very quietly into a curved sheet of Plexiglas. Amazingly, you hear everything your friend says and that person hears you without any difficulty, but the people three feet away from you hear NOTHING. For me it was like magic!

In eighth grade I still hadn’t learned anything about conic sections and their special properties. A whisper booth is created on the concept of an ellipse (think football shape) and the fact that any sound or light wave coming from a focus point will bounce off the sides of the curve to land exactly to the second focus point. The platforms were placed at the focus points of an ellipse and the Plexiglas curves where an elliptical section. Whispering from one focus point sent the sound directly to the other focus point so my partner could hear it, but no one else.

To this day, after a full career teaching math, I can’t mention the “normal distribution” or “ellipse” without mentally transporting myself to the Museum of Science and Industry and seeing it all happen again with the same fascination. I felt like an 8th grader. It goes without saying that my own children were immersed in that Museum. I recommend that, regardless of where you live, you include the Museum of Science and Industry as a trip destination before your children are older.

I did some research to determine if both exhibits still exist. The Whispering House still exists, but I haven’t found any information about the other exhibit; but this museum has so much to offer that anything else will just drop the fascination. Reading some comments about the museum, a mother shared what her young daughter calls the museum: The Science Museum and INTERESTING. That girl is absolutely right!

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