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Museum of Science and Tufts University Launch Innovative Middle School Enrichment Curriculum Transforming Math into a Hands-on Engineering Investigation

Press Release [Return to listing page]

September 07, 2007

BOSTON — The Museum of Science, Boston and Tufts University have announced the availability of an inventive new middle school math enrichment curriculum. Building Math inspires students to learn algebra by solving engineering challenges on imagined adventures to Mount Everest, the Amazon, and a deserted South Pacific island. The three-book Building Math series for grades 6 - 8 was developed by the Museum and Tufts University, and has been piloted successfully over the past two years with hundreds of students in Massachusetts schools.

Created with support from the GE Foundation's Math Excellence Program, the Building Math series may well be the first to involve math students in collecting and analyzing their own data in hands-on investigations integrated with engineering design activities. Students develop algebraic thinking skills and solve real problems (such as designing a bridge prototype or building a shelter). On each adventure, they apply math knowledge and concepts to their investigations and use the engineering design process to meet challenges. Recommended for enrichment, or as a replacement unit, each title in the series has an engaging theme:

>Everest Trek (6th grade) - While scaling the world's tallest peak, students must design a well-insulated coat, a bridge to cross a crevasse, and a zip-line transporter to descend Everest in an emergency.

>Stranded! (7th grade) - On a remote South Pacific island, students design a shelter, a water collector, and a canoe loading plan to survive.

>Amazon Mission (8th grade) - To help people in Brazil cope with malaria, students design a carrier to insulate medicine against the heat, a water filter, and a plan to stop the spread of an influenza virus.

The Building Math book series (including a reproducible teacher book at each grade level with student handouts and teacher support materials, a poster of the design process, and a DVD of classroom implementation) will be available September 15, 2007, nationwide via Walch Publishing, To order now, call 1-800-341-6094.

There is national concern that high schools are not graduating enough students with the necessary math skills to study mathematics, engineering, science, or technology in college. In response to the need for trained scientists and engineers, the importance of technological literacy, and the nation's standards-driven educational system, the Museum of Science established the National Center for Technological Literacy® (NCTL®) in 2004 to enhance knowledge of engineering and technology for people of all ages and to help build the workforce of the 21st century.

"The key to educating students for today's competitive global economy is to engage them in applying both math and science knowledge to solve real problems. Introducing them to engineering design skills and concepts at a young age can help fuel the innovation of new technologies," says Museum of Science president and director Ioannis (Yannis) Miaoulis. "That's why we are developing standards-based engineering curricula reflecting the human-made world."

Building Math is a collaboration of the NCTL with Tufts University's School of Engineering and the Department of Education in the School of Arts and Sciences. Along with the NCTL's elementary and high school curricula, Building Math is part of the Museum's strategy to introduce engineering as early as elementary school and continue it through high school, college, and beyond.

"Building Math addresses the growing interest in engineering education," notes Barbara Brizuela, assistant professor of education at Tufts University. "The curriculum brings algebra and engineering together, building on their connections, rather than treating them separately." She and Peter Wong, research associate professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts and director of university relations at the Museum of Science, are co-principal investigators on the project. According to Wong, "It is also important that the curriculum is gender-inclusive to encourage both boys and girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

Building Math content

Building Math is suitable as a replacement unit for algebra lessons, to supplement core math curriculum, or as enrichment that can be implemented all at once or over a year. It is appropriate for summer programs, middle school intensives, and short courses in math. The Building Math series features one unit per grade that includes three lessons with design challenges. Using algebraic reasoning, students in teams investigate linear and non-linear relationships, identify and generalize patterns, and work with variables. They also use physical and math models to study phenomena, sharing ideas during the design process. The books have reproducibles of questions, rubrics, and self-assessment checklists for students.

"As a leading publisher of alternative and supplemental curricula for middle and high school students, we spend a lot of time in classrooms discovering how to develop and implement effective programs. Building Math takes a refreshing approach to teaching algebra, a priority for many districts and teachers with whom we work," says Al Noyes, Walch Publishing president. "By introducing engineering skills in a stimulating manner, we can help students discover potentially rewarding career paths and encourage their natural curiosity about the world."

The materials are aligned with: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards in number and operations, algebra, measurement, geometry, and data analysis as well as problem solving, communication, representation, and connections; national Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA 2000); the Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework; and Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework (MA DOE 2006). For more information, visit:

Teachers' reactions

>Todd Bearson at the Carroll School in Lincoln, Mass., said: "The kinesthetic, multi-sensory elements really worked. Building, designing, and testing offer opportunities for students to shine."

>Joseph McMullin at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Mass., said: "In addition to relating math concepts to the physical world, my students improved their communication, graphing, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. Students especially enjoyed designing their own test."

About the Museum of Science

The nation's only science museum with a comprehensive strategy and infrastructure to foster technological literacy in both science museums and schools nationwide, the Museum of Science is developing technology exhibits and programs and integrating engineering as a new discipline in schools via standards-based K-12 curricular reform. One of the world's largest science centers, the Museum takes a hands-on approach to science, engineering and technology, attracting about 1.6 million visitors a year via its programs and 700 interactive exhibits. Founded in 1830, the Museum was first to embrace all the sciences under one roof. Highlights include the Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon Current Science & Technology Center, 3-D Digital Cinema and Butterfly Garden. Reaching 20,000 teens worldwide via the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network®, the Museum also leads a multi-museum, $20 million National Science Foundation-funded nanotechnology education initiative. The Museum's "Science Is an Activity" exhibit plan has been awarded many NSF grants and influenced science centers worldwide. Visit

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

Related Links:

Walch Publishing
Building Math

Press Contacts:

Museum of Science: Gail Jennes, 617-589-0393 -; Tufts University: Kim Thurler, 617-627-3175 -


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The Museum of Science, Boston

  1 Science Park, Boston, MA 02114  phone: 617-723-2500   email: