Field Trip: Nothing fishy here. Cincinnati Country Day teaches summer school with aquatic algebra

CINCINNATI - Teachers around the Tri-State use innovative and creative means to engage their students and instill a love of learning. With our "Field Trip" series, we head back to school for a lesson in what works in classrooms today.

  • School: Cincinnati Country Day School
  • Where: Indian Hill, Ohio
  • Grades: 7 - 9
  • Teacher: Sara Garrison

School may be out for summer, but students are still learning at Cincinnati Country Day. In one classroom, tutor and former Norwood High School teacher Sara Garrison spent a week helping students understand algebra by discussing fish populations.

“It definitely sparks an interest more for students who may not ordinarily know about math but may know about fishing,” Garrison said of her summer course, "Hooked on Algebraic Thinking."

Hook, line and sinker

A small pond near Cincinnati Country Day School offers a good starting point for the math problems discussed in the class. From the perspective of someone looking into the fish population, students consider how to accurately maintain and track the population for fishing.

Students explore the hypothetical problem of preserving the population by learning about how wildlife officers capture and tag fish to track them. To connect the problem to algebra, students turn to proportional reasoning, using Goldfish crackers in paper bags to represent the fish in the pond.

Another problem students address is the increase in a predator population and its correlation to a decreasing prey population. To understand how to maintain the number of fish, students graph the two populations to find their intersection point.

On the last day of camp, the students visited the pond and considered other factors that might affect fish populations.

Garrison said the curriculum for the course is something she “kind of transferred from the classroom” to a summer camp setting. She incorporated parts of the course into math classes three different school years while teaching at Norwood High School and another year implemented the full curriculum. She taught the course once before as a summer camp at Cincinnati Country Day School.

Fishing for knowledge

Designed for students in seventh through ninth grade,"Hooked on Algebraic Thinking," is primarily geared toward students who have not yet taken algebra.

“It’s a preview to a lot of things they will learn in algebra, but hopefully in more of a real-life setting,” Garrison said.

Manasi Singh, who will begin seventh grade at Indian Hill Middle School this fall, is one of the four students in Garrison's course. She is taking the class because she hopes it will help her prepare for the school year to come.

“I really like the camp so far. It’s lots of fun,” she said.

During the course, Garrison tackles topics like proportional reasoning, systems of equations, rates of change and graphing in a coordinate plane.

Each day, students start off with skill work, which helps Garrison assess their understanding of algebra. Next comes an ice breaker and an activity focused on fish populations. At the end of each lesson, students come back together as a group to discuss how they would present their information.

“In a camp setting, students can go more at their own pace. It allows them to review skills from the school year they’re not comfortable with,” Garrison said.

Students record their answers during a proportional reasoning activity in the Hooked on Algebraic Thinking summer course at Cincinnati Country Day School. (Photo by R. Swift)

Real-world learning

While students gain a better understanding of algebra, they also learn how the math is applicable to settings they can relate to.

“These are skills that are actually used in real careers in the real world,” she said.

The problems addressing predator and prey populations stem from actual issues studied by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.

Because the camp is focused on providing a realistic experience, students might encounter negative numbers that carry over far beyond a decimal point and other answers they may not get in other math classes.

“Problems in math textbooks tend to come out pretty. This is not pretty data,” Garrison said.

A growing school

According Director of Admission Aaron Kellenberger, Cincinnati Country Day School has a student population of about 850.

The school, located in Indian Hill, Ohio, serves pre-school through 12th grade students from 61 different ZIP codes across Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky and eastern Indiana. Some of the most common areas represented at the school include Indian Hill, Madeira, Montgomery, Mason and West Chester.

Situated on a 62-acre campus, the school features an outdoor education area, a greenhouse and perennial garden, seven athletic playing fields and a video conference room.

In recent years, Cincinnati Country Day School received a Microsoft Center of Excellence designation and a Curriculum Innovation Award from the National Association of Independent Schools.

Although some might expect enrollment at a private school to have decreased during the recent nationwide economic downturn, enrollment has grown by about 500 students in the last five years, Kellenberger said.

Summer learning

Garrison’s "Hooked on Algebraic Thinking" is one of many summer camps available at Cincinnati Country Day School this summer. A variety of academic, arts and athletic courses will be offered, including outdoor survival, tennis clinics and theater courses.

About 600 students are expected to be on the Cincinnati Country Day School campus this summer, many of whom are not enrolled at the school, according to Kellenberger.

Got a tip for us about an awesome K-12 school, summer program or summer camp? Email Community Editor Holly Edgell:

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