Math in action: Speeders beware

Fifth-grade math class surveys how many cars speed in a school zone

Posted: Sunday, May 02, 2010

"Do people speed in front of Harborview Elementary School?" 10-year-old Devin Flake asked.

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Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

According to Steve Byers' fifth-grade math class the answer is "yes" - an average of 15 percent, or 26 of the 174 cars tallied Thursday and Friday mornings by his class.

"From 10 to 10:09 (in the morning), 20 percent of the people were speeding," Byers said to his class Friday. "So, how could this information help the police? Do think the police should be out there if there are 20 percent of the people speeding?"

"Yes," answered 10-year-old Chris Coulson. "So then they can give them a ticket."

"There is a reason they have 15 miles per hour in a school zone," Lewis Whittaker, 11, added, "because they might hit a kid."

Byers' class recorded the speed of every car passing Harborview in 1-minute intervals from 7:30 to 7:55 a.m. and 10 to 10:15 a.m. Thursday, and from 7:30 to 7:55 a.m. Friday. Although the speed limit is 15 miles per hour, those cars traveling at 20 miles per hour or more were considered speeding for this experiment.

"This was a busy morning for the math students in learning about a real life question," Byers said. "They're taking all they've learned from the beginning of the year until now, putting it into real life questions, coming up with steps to solve it and then going out there and finding our answers."

While learning about how to gather data, make tables, prove or disprove predictions, and figure fractions and percentages, Byers and his class found that people driving past Harborview sped slightly more often at 10 a.m. than at 7:30 a.m.

In addition to learning about real life uses for math, Byers' students practiced working together and in the community.

"They're learning that if they want a policeman to come in and teach them about a speed gun, they need to act a certain way," Byers said. "They're finding they have to be presentable, because they represent Harborview."

Byers stresses group projects, because many of his students will graduate next year to Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, where projects are frequent, he said.

"If you look at NASA and corporations, they all work in pods, so when they have a problem, they have to come up with steps to solve it and find their answers," Byers said. "So they're learning a skill on how to do that. At the same time, we're doing all kinds of math they would've never done before."

Byers' students also learned from the pencil project they did last October, when they earned their school 14,400 free pencils because their pencil tips kept breaking, he said.

"They're proud because people have pencils that are working," Byers said. "And when we did the SBA tests, we used the pencils and students had pencils that were good. They're learning that there is an end to all this."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at

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