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Engineering Applications for Middle School Mathematics Education: Supporting an Inquiry-Based Classroom Environment


Engineering faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are participating in
a middle school mathematics partnership, involving nine school districts (administrators,
teachers, parents) and higher education faculty at two universities, and the Mathematics
Education Collaborative (MEC). The partnership promotes inquiry-based learning curricula
modeled after the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards for
School Mathematics. The engineering faculty contribution to the partnership lies in the
connection of mathematics to real world applications and to users of mathematics within the
framework of an inquiry-based middle school mathematics classroom. The engineering faculty
have surveyed many existing science and engineering based problems and activities, both to
determine what is available and how our local teachers might use them. A number of resources
exist that provide real world examples applicable to middle school mathematics. In some cases
these activities are presented in a format that is difficult for teachers to adapt to an inquiry-based
pedagogy in a mathematics classroom. Resources are also available that provide applicationoriented
problems in the form of word problems. These resources provide students with a
connection to real world applications in their everyday lives and are supportive of inquiry-based
practices. However, our local teachers wanted students to become more engaged in the problems
by discovering how the mathematics is used to help solve critical problems in applications of
interest. Engineering research and development relies on mathematics and covers many areas of
interest for middle school students. Although many wonderful resources are available that
provide educators with a connection between engineering, science, mathematics, and real world
applications, there is a need for development in support of inquiry-based engineering application
tasks for the middle school mathematics classroom. In this paper, available resources for
engineering applications in middle school classrooms, inquiry-based pedagogy, and the need for
engineering applications supporting inquiry-based mathematics education are presented.
Development of the first new application task in this effort and feedback from middle school
mathematics teachers are also briefly discussed.