Dodge Middle School students get a crash course on the value of math
It's something teachers hear over and over: "What am I ever going to use this for?"
Dodge Middle School seventh grade accelerated math teacher Julie Hove has heard that question more than once. Students don't always understand why they need the skills they learn in school. But Hove knows that for some, the things they learn in her class will be put to good use in the future.
That's why her students spent the last hour of the school day Thursday listening to Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Paul Skoglund.
A 30-year veteran of the state patrol, Skoglund is an officer on the state's accident reconstruction team. Every day he goes to work, he uses math skills to calculate factors that relate to some of the state's most serious accidents.
Skoglund recalled his days as a teenager. He liked math well enough, but it was one of those skills he readily admits he didn't think he'd ever use as an adult.
"I used to be that kid," he said. "I used to think, 'I'm never going to use this stuff, and that's all I do for a living now,'" he said.
Every so often, Skoglund uses his math skills for another purpose - as outreach, of sorts. He teaches kids a few math skills and tires to impress upon them how important it is to develop careful driving habits as they get behind the wheel of a car when they get older.
Skoglund brought a slide presentation of a fatal accident from 2002 with him. Without going too graphic on photos, he showed pictures of a two-vehicle accident and laid out the details: what the initial reports showed was that the driver of a smaller car pulled out from a stop sign in front of an oncoming pickup truck. The truck struck the driver's door, killing the driver.
But then he took students through all of the steps state patrol officers use in reconstructing accidents. He showed the initial sketch from the scene, pointed out details like the skid marks and landing spots of both vehicles.
Then he showed students how troopers use algebra, measurements, physics and trigonometry to calculate factors relating to the crash.
By the time he was done, Skoglund was able to show students how they figured out the driver of the pickup truck was actually exceeding the speed limit by 11 miles per hour, which meant he reached the intersection faster than he would have if he'd been doing the speed limit. That fact, he said, affected the clearance the car had going into the intersection.
That increased speed changed the outcome of what could have otherwise been a minor accident, Skoglund told the students. If the truck had been going the speed limit, it may have missed the car all together, or, at the least, struck it from behind. Instead, the driver of the pickup was probably charged with manslaughter.
"Just think of all of the people who were affected by his decision to speed," Skoglund told the kids. "If it wouldn't have been for the reconstruction, we would not have known that."
Hove and her students have been working through word math problems. As part of the section they are in, Hove wanted to find a speaker who could show students that math skills are important not only in middle school, but in many careers, as well.
Skoglund will testify to that.
"You might ask yourself, why are we learning this? We're never going to use this. Well, yeah, you just might use this," he said.