Baseball and bubble gum are just two of the fun things that Deerfield School teacher Paul Corcoran uses to turn his sixth-graders on to math.
His ability to make math enjoyable is probably one reason Corcoran recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. Only three other teachers in Kansas received the award.
Corcoran will be honored in Washington, D.C., Oct. 1-6, receiving a signed Presidential Citation at a White House awards ceremony. Corcoran also will attend a Department of State dinner, a Kennedy Center concert, a Capital Hill briefing and several other receptions and events.
Corcoran, who is beginning his 15th year at Deerfield, said it was Mary Hatfield, the district's former math coordinator, who encouraged him to stay on the forefront of math instruction techniques.
"She pulled me along, sometimes kicking and screaming, into some of the changes that are going on right now," he said. "The whole emphasis of math is changing."
CORCORAN said he's moved away from merely assigning problems from the textbook and toward demonstrating with hands-on materials how math can be used.
"The kids need to know that math is all around us. They need to realize that no matter what you get into, you're going to need to be able to do math," Corcoran said. "I want to show the kids that math is fun and nothing to be afraid of."
One project involved something that once was banned from the classroom: bubble gum. Corcoran said the students weighed pieces of bubble gum, chewed the gum until it lost its sweetness, and then weighed the gum again. The purpose of the experiment was to determine what percentage of bubble gum by weight consists of sugar (60-75 percent, they found).
CORCORAN'S students also learned about decimals by studying George Brett's batting average. Corcoran also has incorporated sports by having students determine what percentage of sports stories in the newspaper are about, say, tennis or football.
In addition, Corcoran has tried to give students a grasp of what Congress means when it says it is going to spend a billion dollars on something. After counting holes in a window screen, the students determined that a screen 7 foot by 7 foot would have about a million holes. The students then tried to determine how big a screen would be needed for a billion holes.
Corcoran said many parents and teachers probably aren't accustomed to his methods.
"For many people, it's comfortable to do what you did in the past. But math didn't make sense to us, and now we've got a lot of people out there who are math phobic," he said. "We've got the year 2000 to deal with, and we can't keep teaching the way we did in the '60s."
IN ADDITION to the Washington trip, Corcoran will receive a National Science Foundation grant of $7,500 to be spent at Deerfield School.
Corcoran said some of that money could be used to send teachers to math and science seminars. Computer software and other classroom materials also could be purchased with the money, he said.