“How Long is the Brooklyn Bridge?” – Field Trip
Jonas Reitz (with Ezra Halleck) https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/members/jreitz/
Mathematics/ School of Arts and Sciences
MAT 1175 Fundamentals of Mathematics https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/mat1175fa2011/
Activity Description: Provide a brief description of the activity
In this introductory mathematics course students are exposed to a variety of mathematical ideas in the abstract, with relatively few built-in applications or connections to the “real world”. By taking students out of the classroom, exposing them to a local New York Landmark (walking across the Brooklyn Bridge), and asking them to use the mathematical knowledge in the course to estimate the length of the bridge, we allow them to make a concrete connection between their own experience and the ideas in the text. The field trip itself provides plenty of opportunity for informal interaction among students and faculty, and overcoming the practical difficulties (staying together, navigating the New York streets, following instructions, accomplishing the goals of the day) gives the class a shared experience that builds community and trust. We paused at the halfway point of the bridge to participate in an icebreaker activity (a bingo variant, which encouraged meeting and talking to many different classmates). Finally, students were asked to take a photo of themselves on the bridge.
Following the trip, students completed a followup assignment on the OpenLab in which they posted the results of their calculations (how long is the Brooklyn Bridge), their photo from the trip, and a reflection on the process.
The field trip combined two MAT 1175 sections (my own section and a one taught by my colleague, Ezra Halleck), and provided a great opportunity for students in both sections to make connections.
Learning Goals: What do you aim to achieve with this activity?
This activity uses an abstract idea (proportions) to answer a concrete real-world problem, “How long is the Brooklyn Bridge?”. Students compare the time it takes them to talk a known distance (the length of the City Tech block of Tillary Street, from Jay Street to Adams Street) with the time it takes them to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. By solving a proportion, they are able to use their time measurements to estimate the length of the bridge. This demonstrates the underlying idea of proportions in a familiar, outside-the-classroom context, and provides perspective on the abstract notions presented in the text.
In addition, this activity (which took place early in the semester) provided a great way to help establish a sense of community in the class. We took advantage of this activity as a way for students to form groups that included members from both participating sections, which went on to complete a larger group project over the course of the semester.
Finally, this activity was a great way to introduce technical skills – creating a blog post, uploading photos, adding tags, and so on.
Timing: At what point in the lesson or semester do you use this activity? How much classroom time do you devote to it? How much out-of-class time is expected?
This activity took place very early in the semester – the second or third week of class. It was a great way to break the ice, to get students engaged with the material and interacting with one another, and to establish a new perspective on the material at hand and on the college experience generally (especially since this course has many first-time freshman students). This meant that planning had to take place very early – distributing field trip instructions, completing necessary paperwork, and preparing the class for day of the trip. We devoted about 15 minutes in class to discussing the trip (prior to the trip itself), one day of class for the trip, and about 15 minutes in class discussing the results of trip (the week following). We expected students to spend about an hour outside of class writing completing the followup assignment on the OpenLab.
Logistics: What preparation is needed for this activity? What instructions do you give students? Is the activity low-stakes, high-stakes, or something else?
Any City Tech field trip requires proper paperwork to be completed, including permission forms for any students under the age of 18. We provided detailed logistical instructions for the day of the trip, including directions (in case students came late and wanted to catch up with us) and suggestions of what to wear and bring (comfortable walking shoes, weather-appropriate attire, water bottle, camera, stopwatch). We also created written instructions for the mathematical part of the trip, detailing where and how to time themselves walking and emphasizing the importance of maintaining a steady walking pace. The activity is low-stakes but is counted towards their grade – we did not deduct points for wildly unrealistic estimations of the bridge length, for example, as long as they were supported by data recorded on the trip, and calculations were shown clearly. Students that missed class that day were allowed to make it up by following the instructions on their own and completing the followup assignment on the OpenLab.
High-Impact Educational Practices: Which of these practices based on George Kuh’s High Impact Educational Practices (and other innovative approaches) does this activity incorporate? Choose all that apply.
Open Digital Pedagogy (the OpenLab), Place-Based Learning, Brooklyn Waterfront
Assessment: How do you assess this activity? What assessment measures do you use? Do you use a VALUE rubric? If not, how did you develop your rubric? Is your course part of the college-wide general education assessment initiative?
The field trip itself was not assessed, beyond checking attendance. The followup assignment included a list of 5 specific expectations (“Create a new blog post responding to the field trip.”), and this was used as a checklist. The assignment was worth a certain number of points, and a student’s score is based solely on the checklist. We wanted this to be low-stakes in terms of writing — grammar and spelling are not evaluated, and the structure and content of the written work need only loosely fit the instructions.
Reflection: How well did this activity work in your classroom? Would you repeat it? Why or why not? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you address them? What, if anything, would you change? What did students seem to enjoy about the activity?
This is the first time I took students out of the classroom, and I was gratified by the energy and excitement that this simple change of scenery infused in the class. It was great to see students interacting with each other (and with me) in an informal setting, and I believe that the connections that were made that day had a lasting impact on the students’ experience.
I was surprised at the amount of planning and logistics that were involved in even a simple field trip, and in the future I will aim to have my planning absolutely complete prior to the start of the semester. It was difficult to carve out time in our overfull departmental syllabus to allow the trip to take place. While we did not cover a great deal of mathematical content on this day, I still believe it was a worthwhile investment of time – the mathematical content that we incorporated was presented in a way that drove home the efficacy and wide applicability of the underlying ideas, which I think our students will remember beyond the end of the course (unlike the vast majority of the other content).
I think this kind of activity is widely adaptable to many disciplines – for me, this is not a project about studying proportions, but instead about allowing students to experience a connection between course content and the outside world. Asking students to step out of the classroom immediately creates new perspective, and giving them something “hands on” to do involves them in the course content in a way that is difficult to do inside the classroom walls, in the context of a traditional textbook. In addition, the social and emotional impact on the class can be profound – especially in large, “non-major” courses in which students are not already incorporated into a discipline-specific cohort, and may not be predisposed towards engagement in the material.
Additional Information: Please share any additional comments and further documentation of the activity – e.g. assignment instructions, rubrics, examples of student work, etc. These could be in the form of PDF or Word files, links to posts or files on the OpenLab, etc.
Field trip instructions:
Student work: https://openlab.citytech.cuny.edu/mat1175fa2011/?s=field+trip+response