Ranch View math lessons take wing

Teacher uses bats to pique students' interest

Posted 11/13/14

Some Ranch View Middle School students have been acting a little bit batty lately.

They're rapping about bats, designing board games about bats, building bat habitats, writing newscasts about bats, interviewing experts about bats and advocating …

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Ranch View math lessons take wing

Teacher uses bats to pique students' interest

Posted

Some Ranch View Middle School students have been acting a little bit batty lately.

They're rapping about bats, designing board games about bats, building bat habitats, writing newscasts about bats, interviewing experts about bats and advocating for the protection of bats.

All of it is part of a study on bat conservation initiated by their math teacher, Tiffiny Vaughn, who decided to try a highly integrated project approach at the Highlands Ranch school. She hoped it would encourage her seventh-grade students in mathematical thinking, critical analysis, creativity and innovation.

The subject she chose was bats.

“I can tell you, I didn't learn math this way,” said Vaughn. “All I knew (previously) was to teach math using the traditional textbook method. You don't interrelate it to other subjects.

“These kids are learning about cinematography, science, geographical regions of the world, the mathematical knowledge and sound frequencies bats use to communicate with each other. We've talked about Ebola and other communicable diseases, and how bats here in Colorado protect us from West Nile virus by eating mosquitos.”

Mathematics is woven throughout the study, with students using it to learn more about hibernation, how bats' diets play into agriculture and crop protection, and by measuring and comparing wingspans, among other subjects.

“Some of the children have said, `We like math because it's interesting now.' It's not just solving problem after problem,” Vaughn said.

“Math can be sometimes boring, but if you can relate it to the real world, it gives you the urge to do math,” said student Danny Keith.

Students conducted their own research, and chose a method for sharing their findings.

Zuriah Walsh chose to write a rap song about bats, though he admits he had misgivings initially.

“At first, I thought it was a weird project; then I realized they do some pretty cool stuff,” he said. “People don't realize how important bats are. They're like natural pesticides.

“I like music, so I thought it would be cool to incorporate that with bats. We're going to use some software on the Apple computer, create a beat and mix it in. When it comes together, it's going to be pretty sick.”

“I thought bats were just some kind of Halloween scariness,” Justin Smith said. “Then I realized how much they mean to us.”

Tara Pecha said she was always interested in bats, but now believes she wants to incorporate them into her future career.

“I'm going to write a letter to Obama,” she said. “I want to influence him, his wife and his daughters to build a bat home together.”

Tara and her father once helped save a young bat, which she said clung to her finger.

“I got to interact with the bat; I thought it was the cutest thing ever,” she said. “When I'm old enough, I want to volunteer at a bat place. I want to do something for the bats.”

On Nov. 14, a kids' craft guide from the Highlands Ranch Home Depot helped students build bat habitats. In the spring, they'll place the 10 structures in Douglas County open spaces to help build up the bat population.

“The point is to persuade people bats are good, and we need them,” said student Ashley Williams. “Without bats, there would be a major problem.”

Vaughn said the seventh-graders will return to more traditional math instruction when the bat study concludes. They may do a similar project next semester. Vaughn said she's seen some previously quiet students come alive during the project, a thought that brings tears to her eyes as she shares it.

If that were not reward enough, the teacher is gleaning new knowledge along with her students.

“I personally have learned amazing things that I had no clue bats did, and how important they are to the ecosystem,” she said.

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