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UC Curriculum Integration Institutes help high schoolers ‘nail algebra’

In Oakland High School’s Engineering Geometry with Physics class on a recent morning, there wasn’t a textbook or protractor in sight. Instead, a handful of old saws stood piled onto a workbench. X-acto knives and rolls of duct tape lay scattered across lab tables, while students hunched over cardboard models of houses in various stages of construction.

The assignment: Design a house that could produce heating and cooling, relying only on sunlight and not-so-simple math. Tenth-graders Luis Almendarez and Jesse Marino demonstrated how, on their model, the ratio of glass to inside space created enough thermal mass to store energy, while the angle of the roof overhangs controlled for the amount light slanting in.

At the start of the year, the students in this class were struggling in math, in danger of falling behind at a juncture critical not just to their prospects for college, but also for productive employment.

Not all students in the class have been willing to engage with the coursework, which teacher Kory Mildenberger says is more demanding than its strictly academic equivalents. But for many, the hands-on exercises have sparked a new appreciation for the subjects.

“I figured out you actually do need math to do something like this,” said Almendarez. “Before I had the feeling you could sort of make it up — but you really do need to know how to do the measurements and make the calculations or it doesn’t work.”

The course was developed through the University of California’s Curriculum Integration (UCCI) Institutes, a program to develop new curricula that will both teach trade job skills and meet core college-going requirements.

“A lot of students may have this idea that they’re not college material — they’re just taking these courses because they’re cool, fun and interesting,'” said UCCI Communications Coordinator Deborah McCaskey. “And then they end up becoming prepared because they’ve taken integrated courses. They think: ‘I know I can do this and it’s interesting. I’m going to apply to college.'”

Teachers say the courses have the potential to breathe new life into academic subjects that even high-achieving students can find abstract and irrelevant.

See UCOP Academic Affairs Communications Coordinator Nicole Freeling’s complete story, featuring a slide show of student images by Communications Web Editor/Manager Ernie Granillo, in the UC Newsroom.

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