hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

December 7, 2011

Students exercise their brains on math walkway

By Tim McCarthy
tmccarthy@hgazette.com

The city's middle school students are learning about geometry in an unorthodox way.

You might say they're walking their way to knowledge.

Boy Scout Zach Brown, a Haverhill High junior, has created a series of colorful, spray-painted geometric shapes along the sidewalks outside Haverhill's middle schools.

He did the work as his Eagle Scout project.

His project, inspired by a suggestion from Whittier Middle School Principal Toni Donais, aims to assist middle school students in memorizing geometry information for their MCAS tests.

"I thought this could make a difference for kids and their grades," Brown said.

Each walkway at the Hunking, Nettle and Whittier middle schools includes about a dozen images students must memorize and understand for their MCAS tests. The images are color-coded based upon their shape, and individually named. Each image was created by using precut pieces of linoleum.

Brown said he chose this project because of its renewable nature over other projects such as fence construction or brush clearing that could deteriorate or be undone over time.

Donais said she once considered creating such a walkway for her students, but couldn't find the time.

The efforts of Brown and his friends and family made the idea a reality.

"It could help with their recognition (of terms and shapes)," Donais said. "They're getting to see these terms everyday. The more you see it, the more it becomes a part of you."

Donais, a former math teacher herself, said one of the lowest-scoring sections of the middle schools MCAS math exams were the geometry questions. Only about 40 percent of Haverhill's students scored passing grades on the section.

Several teachers are already planning to create lessons and games to use along with the walkways.

Brown, who is ranked as a "life" scout, needs to acquire just a few merit badges before qualifying as an Eagle Scout.

Besides Scouting, Brown also takes part in the high school's Violence Intervention and Prevention Team, Interact Club and Italian Club. He also competes on the swim and volleyball teams at Haverhill High.