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Math made fun with simulated climb of Mount Everest

Megan LeBleu, an eighth-grade teacher at Ernie Pyle Middle School

Megan LeBleu, an eighth-grade teacher at Ernie Pyle Middle School, leads students in planning an imaginary trip to Mount Everest. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As eighth-graders in Megan LeBleu’s math class at Ernie Pyle Middle School prepared to climb Mount Everest on Wednesday, LeBleu faced a similarly daunting task – keeping middle school students interested in math.

The students won’t actually climb the world’s tallest mountain, but they prepared as though they would. They calculated how much food to bring and how many yaks they would need to carry their gear.

The idea behind the lesson, which will span several weeks, is to wrap math concepts into an adventure story so students don’t become bored with math, LeBleu said. She added that using real-world examples helps make math less abstract and more exciting for students.

“My goal is engagement, and I saw that today,” said LeBleu, who spent a year crafting the lesson. Her students responded with questions to a video LeBleu showed and worked together on planning their imaginary adventure.

LeBleu said she got the idea for the story-based lesson from a company she has been working with called MidSchoolMath.

The Taos-based company works as a consultant for school districts, like Santa Fe, and helps middle schools improve their math instruction, CEO Scott Laidlaw said.

The company also works with some individual teachers, like LeBleu, to create lesson plans that imbed math concepts in a larger adventure story, he said. Laidlaw attended LeBleu’s class Wednesday morning and said she did a great job of exciting students’ interest with her lesson.

“It’s really impressive to reach the level of engagement we saw today,” he said, noting many students lose interest in math during their middle school years.

Laidlaw said his company hopes to eventually sell lessons like LeBleu’s to other teachers so they could use them in their classrooms. He said teachers who create lessons would be compensated but didn’t specify how much.

The company will hold a conference on March 27-29 in Santa Fe, where company officials and outside education experts will discuss techniques for teaching math to middle school students.