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December 22, 2014 Published in Schools, Top Stories

President’s Former Chief Technology Officer Visits Hammond To Announce Expansion Of Math Support Program

Aneesh Chopra at Francis C. Hammond Middle School (courtesy photo)

Aneesh Chopra at Francis C. Hammond Middle School (courtesy photo)

President Obama’s Former Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, built model boats with students from Francis C. Hammond Middle School on Thursday morning, when he visited the school to learn about the expansion of the math support program into the area of robotics.

The middle school math boat-building class is run as a joint partnership between Alexandria City Public Schools and the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. It has been so successful in teaching hands-on math to students who may otherwise have failed, that it has now been awarded a grant to expand its teaching into robotics and technology.

Both George Washington Middle School and Hammond will be given 20 Office of Naval Research Sea Perch robotic kits with the grant to help expand the math program. One of the robots, called an Open Remote Operated Vehicle will be launched on the Potomac River from the Alexandria Seaport Foundation’s boats in the spring. It will have a sensor to collect information such as depth, heading, water temperature and mechanisms to record speed, distance and orientation.

“This is really playing to the point that kids learn in different ways. This is a new and viable way to do math that feels like a huge win. It is building a course to teach math in a smarter way. I would love to see this rolled out to other school districts. I can see this being the start of something much bigger,” Chopra said.

Boat building at Hammond Middle School (courtesy photo)

Boat building at Hammond Middle School (courtesy photo)

The program has been designed to fit in with the Virginia Standards of Learning and is therefore already set up to be expanded into other Virginia schools. The Alexandria Seaport Foundation is looking to have conversations with other superintendents and technology coordinators in the D.C. metro area to see how they can incorporate the class. The next school to get the program, however, will be Jefferson-Houston School. The aim is to have the class offered there starting in Sept. 2015.

In the four years since the program has been at Hammond and the three years it has been at George Washington Middle School, it has seen a near 100%  pass rate or 100%  pass rate every year respectively. The program focuses on targeting middle school students at risk of failing their math SOL tests. Students who may learn better through a hands-on approach are carefully selected and are offered the chance to enroll in the program as an elective instead of a math support class.

Instead of studying geometry and angles on paper, the students learn the same skills using a hands-on approach by building their own boats. Building the boats requires students to study decimal conversion into fractions. Beginning in September, they will incorporate similar math skills, with the addition of physics, when they add the extra component of building their own robots.

“We identify the top 10 math issues that these students face in their regular math classes and then focus on them using different techniques. Sometimes they don't even know they are learning math. But the results when they come to take their regular math SOLS are very telling,” said Hammond Technology Education teacher Matthew Cupples.

The Alexandria Seaport Foundation has worked with nearly 1,000 ACPS middle school students through its math support program in the four years since it started partnering with ACPS. Its grant of $7,500, which comes from D.C.-based nonprofit 501cTECH, will be used to buy robotic equipment for the middle school program in 2015.

The Alexandria Seaport Foundation’s mission as a nonprofit is to help and empower young people who are at risk or underserved, achieve academic success. It aims to help build their self-confidence through adult mentoring and project-based learning centered on the traditional crafts of designing, building and using wooden boats.

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