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Cool Schools: Northridge Middle School students use math beyond the classroom

MIDDLEBURY, Ind. -

Remember calculus, algebra and geometry? Most students believe they’ll never have to use math in real life! So why learn it in the first place? One school in Michiana is trying to teach kids that math can follow you beyond the classroom.

Detective Ray Caples is trading in the police siren for the school bell to play the role of math teacher.

“I’ve been with the sheriff’s department for 18 years and most of the time I’ve been working as a crash reconstructionist part of the FACT team,” said Detective Caples.

Every math teacher has probably heard their students say this before:

 “We won’t use this probably until we are 20 or something,” said Gannon Bontriger, a 7th grader at Northridge.

Or in the real world at all! So why are we sitting here in a classroom learning numbers and equations?

Well, all of that is about to change for these 7th graders, thanks to Detective Caples.

“I get to come in and teach math a little bit to the 7th grade class and sort of give them a real life perspective,” Caples said.

Northridge Middle School, located in Middlebury, is hosting CSI week, which stands for “Crash Scene Investigation”. In its 10th year, each student gets to see math being used beyond the whiteboard.

Believe it or not, officers consistently use math on the job.

Police use equations from calculus and trigonometry to calculate speed and velocity at a crash site.

Based on the data collected, they can determine what might have happened.

“It is kind of cool to have someone else teach the class to the kids then opposed to the same old math teacher that they’ve been having all year long,” said Caleb Mast, a 7th grade math teacher at Northridge.

As you look around the room filled with students, you can see their little light bulbs are turning on, not off.

“I’ve actually been interested in like cop jobs and stuff like that it really interests me,” said Meghan Mansfield, a 7th grade student.

“I think it’s a really good introduction to what you could face in the future with math,” said Bontriger.

Detective Caples says taking numbers off of a page and transforming them into a valuable piece of a real life scenario is a great opportunity for both the students and officers.

“It’s tough as a middle schooler as 7th grader sometimes to see the big picture of what this could be,” Caples said. “If I can come in and say hey maybe they need to open their eyes and see that math is used in other places, maybe that will make one, two or three students pay a little bit closer attention and that makes it worth it.”

The real test for the kids will take place Friday.

The students will take the math that they learned to several simulated crash scenes in the school’s parking lot. They will take measurements and reconstruct each accident to draw their own conclusions of what may have caused the crashes. 

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