The official student news site of Athens Drive High School


The official student news site of Athens Drive High School


The official student news site of Athens Drive High School


Tree sampling applies classroom knowledge to real life

Photos by Elizabeth Wheeler
Students use the help of their peers to analyze the data of a tree sampling project.

One of the most commonly asked questions in a math class is “when will we ever use this?” Students often feel that they are wasting their time and effort on something that will likely never benefit them. Yet, the question has always just floated above their heads– rarely addressed and never answered. Two math classes at Athens Drive answered this question using an activity that was used by people in the workforce today. 

“It really is taking the math that we look at in school, and the thing of it is, you guys as students don’t always get the picture of how it’s put into practice,” said John Pritchett, math teacher at Athens Drive. 

Through a collaborative project with Wake Tech, a couple of teachers from Athens Drive like Pritchett, were able to take their Math 4 Honors classes to explore this question. They were able to work with a local engineering firm, specifically their Forest Conservation Specialist, to design a classroom activity on how they use data in their field of work. 

“Over the summer, me and Mr. Pritchett got to talk to people who actually do this as their job and their enthusiasm kind of rubbed off on us, I think, and how much they really liked doing what they do,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, another math teacher involved in the project. 

The students in these classes were able to take measurements of a patch of trees on campus to find out if it was underforested, overforested, or just right. The students used actual activities and guidelines used by real professionals in the field. For example, they took measurements from four and a half feet from the ground, just like real specialists do. 

Students in Math 4 Honors classes measure the trees during a classroom activity where they use special measuring tapes to find the diameter of the tree. (Photos by Elizabeth Wheeler)

“It was like a real life example of how to sample data and then apply it into graphics,” said Amelia Bruns, senior in Ms. Wheeler’s class. 

The students went outside of the school and used specially designed tape measures that read the diameter of the tree instead of the length around it. These special calculators were bought with the help of a mini-grant from the Athens PTSA to help these classes learn. They used these measuring tapes to get the samples of the trees and put the data into a spreadsheet actually used by people in the field. 

“There’s a significant chunk of math that you already own that people use on their job every day. It may not feel that way from what you know now, but this gives us a chance to give it that context and entertain that as a possibility,” said Pritchett. 

Using the data and writing down numbers isn’t the only thing associated with this project though. The students used this data and had discussions about it in class with their peers. They talked about how decisions were made with the data they collect. They discuss important questions that they come up with about all of these trees and measurements. 

“It’s a conversation the students needed to have among themselves. So that was not just [to] go wrap the tape around the tree and write down numbers, but talk about the whole process of how this decision is made,” said Pritchett.

Using the information and talking about it helps students to understand what they are seeing. 

 “I think you don’t always think about careers that involve math as that you can go outside and do stuff like this out in the field and I’m hoping that it’s added, maybe another option, or something that they can think of later,” Wheeler said. 

The Athens math department hopes to inspire students to consider things they haven’t thought of to be their career with projects like these. The department plans to use this project in every Math 4 class in the upcoming years. 

“I definitely enjoyed it cause we got to do more hands-on learning than typical Math 4 and I think I would probably do it again because it gives you a reason to go outside and like actually apply things that you learned in the class,” said Bruns.

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