ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
We're going to learn now what real-world can mean when it comes to understanding math. The phrase real-world shows up many times in the official explanation of the Common Core math standards. Those are academic goals for kids from kindergarten through high school that are used around the country. So for example, when it comes to things like the Pythagorean theorem, students need more than a textbook understanding. They need to be able to solve real-world problems. From Colorado Public Radio, Jenny Brundin has the story of two teachers and hands-on math.
JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: Jay Whaley had an idea. He teaches everything from horticulture and animal science to welding at Soroco High in Oak Creek, a tiny rural town in western Colorado. Whaley's idea was something his introductory shop class could build.
JAY WHALEY: It's an octagon round bale feeder.
BRUNDIN: Translation - an eight-sided steel structure that's open at the top. It lets steer, horses and pigs stick their heads through the bars to eat hay.
WHALEY: It's a really simple thing but...
BRUNDIN: But it's complicated to build. Whaley knew how to guesstimate angles...
WHALEY: ...But to explain to the kids why the angle is that - that's what I needed help to do.
BRUNDIN: So he went to math teacher Maggie Bruski.
MAGGIE BRUSKI: I like to call myself the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage.
BRUNDIN: Bruski is almost never at the front of her class saying...
BRUSKI: OK, guys, this is how you cross multiply. No-no.
BRUNDIN: Students work in teams to discover solutions on their own. And Bruski searches for real-world applications - part of the goals of the Common Core standards.
BRUSKI: It's way more rigorous. I think that students need to be able to make these leaps that they might not have been asked to make 10-13 years ago. And I think this project is a perfect example of one of those big leaps.
BAILEY SINGER: We built a square first of all.
BRUNDIN: Talking about these first steps in the project is freshman Bailey Singer. She's pointing down to an outline of an octagon taped to the floor. Most of the kids in introductory shop class are freshmen so the trigonometry was new to them, but they jumped right in.
BRUSKI: A squared plus B squared equals C squared, so what is that?
KENDALL HOOD: So that's the Pythagorean theorem.
BRUNDIN: Here's Kendall Hood.
KENDALL: It's just to help you find the hypotenuse which is the...
BRUNDIN: For those who don't remember, the Pythagorean theorem helps you figure out the length of a side of a right triangle. Harrison Ashley says if you don't do that, you'll end up with...
HARRISON ASHLEY: A lopsided feeder.
BRUNDIN: After doing the math on paper, the students get to operate the heavy-duty machines that will help them cut and weld pieces of steel together for the hay bale feeder.
BAILEY: All right, this is our plasma cutter. This is kind of what we use to cut thin sheet metal like this.
BRUNDIN: You can tell these kids, like Bailey, love the hands-on stuff.
BAILEY: And the air pressure forces out a little bit of a UV light.
BRUNDIN: They're excited to show someone what they know. Then comes the real exciting part, cutting steel at precise angles and lengths. We go to the band saw. There are smiles all around when they've cut the first piece of steel. It's projects like these that have made 15-year-old Bailey Singer like math even more.
BAILEY: It's pretty amazing how many different ways you wouldn't think of that you use math every day. Even just building this, it really shows you that you do need math. You do need it.
BRUNDIN: There's still a lot of work to be done - welding, priming and painting - but once it's done, the feeder will be auctioned off and make some real-world money for the school's AG program. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin in Oak Creek, Colo.
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