Most high school students may be out of school for the summer, but a handful of southwest Montana girls have opted to stay in class — to study math.
In a darkened computer lab on the second floor of Montana Tech’s Engineering Hall Tuesday, seven girls watched as Tech math professor Laurie Battle plotted data points in a spreadsheet projected onto a whiteboard.
“Let’s see how we can interpret this data,” Battle said as the girls watched her draw box plots to illustrate the number spread.
Battle is one of two teachers who taught math concepts Tuesday morning as a part of a “Create Math” institute for high school girls. The week-long program received $6,000 from the Mathematical Association of America. It ends Friday, and includes presentations by the girls and professional women who use math in their careers.
Battle said the experience enabled the girls to work on real problems that professionals in the civil engineering, healthcare informatics and mathematics fields might encounter on any given day. After the week is over, the students will select an extended research project they will present next spring at the Montana Academy of Sciences.
“We hope this experience will help the students gain an appreciation for the importance of mathematics in their future education and careers,” said Battle.
Eyvanna Connole, who will be a junior, likes math a lot. The institute will keep her learning math during the summer, which she’ll need since she’s planning to study petroleum engineering in college.
“My whole family has been teasing me about going to math camp,” Connole said.
But she said it’s been a fun experience. Though she’s familiar with most of the concepts the class has covered so far, it’s been great to learn the hands-on application, including Tuesday afternoon’s lesson on statistics using numbers about kidney failure in Montana and the United States.
“It’s cool to see how (math) applies to real-life situations,” Connole said.
And what about the experience of a math class without having boys around?
“It’s lovely,” she said with a laugh.
Though she teaches men and women at Montana Tech, Charie Faught, assistant professor and department head of the health care informatics department, concurs that it’s a totally different learning environment when the genders are separated.
She said in the Peace Corps she taught in an all-girls school, and the experience was remarkably different than classes she has taught involving boys and girls. She said girls don’t have to worry or be distracted by perceptions that cause hang-ups in the learning process.
“You don’t have to be shy about how smart you are,” Faught said.