Math to the rescue: Students use equations to help peers safely cross the street

A group of students from a Winnipeg high school are doing the math on pedestrian safety.

Tech company's contest encourages students to solve community problems using science, math

Students at Tec Voc High School in Winnipeg used math to model stopping distances for vehicles and are mapping out the results on a pair of intersections near their school using a measuring wheel. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

A group of students from a Winnipeg high school are doing the math on pedestrian safety.

Laurel Sherbo's Grade 11 applied mathematics class is working on a project to help their schoolmates cross the street more safely by using quadratic equations to calculate the stopping distance of vehicles.

They were inspired by a pair of intersections near their school, Tec Voc High School, which are well-known among students and teachers as problem spots for traffic collisions.

"This is our attempt at solving a problem, we want to have fewer incidents and we're going to use our math skills in order to get the message out," said Sherbo.
Students in the math class documented their work with photos and plan to let other students know what they learned. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Sherbo said her class asked MPI for data going back five years for two intersections with crosswalks near the school and found 108 collisions in that period.

"We've always talked to our students about being safe as pedestrians, and making sure that cars have enough time to stop," Sherbo said.

"But this lesson that we're doing in math class, we're really teaching the students, what is that amount of time — and actually what we're doing is looking at it in terms of distance — what is the amount of distance that a vehicle needs to stop? And I think for a lot of my students it's been an eye-opening experience."

"When you're crossing the street and a car is coming at you, you're like 'OK, the car is 10 metres away from me, maybe I shouldn't cross the street right now,'" said grade 11 student Tyler McDonald.

He said he's seen many students have close calls with cars while trying to cross the street.

"They just hit the button and they just like go, they're just off to the races. They don't wait for the light or the little man to come up that tells them it's OK," he said.
Tyler McDonald says he has seen students press the crosswalk button and step into traffic before the cars have come to a stop. He says the math problem helps people understand the distance it takes for a car to come to a stop. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

After using a quadratic equation to figure out stopping distances on dry and wet roads, Sherbo's class marked out the distances at the intersection and took pictures of themselves standing at the various distances. The photos will be part of an awareness campaign for other students and the public about how much time vehicles need to stop.

If your high school math is a little rusty, Sherbo says a quadratic equation is a handy tool to model natural phenomena like projectile motion.

"What makes a quadratic function different from a linear equation is it doesn't have a straight-line pattern, and the variable, or the 'x,' in a quadratic function is squared," she said.
Grade 11 math teacher Laurel Sherbo says the project allows students to use math to solve a real-life problem. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

"Sometimes students are taught math concepts from a textbook where the material doesn't seem relevant to them. This is just a small example of trying to make math relevant to their world," she said.

Project could win class \$20K worth of gear

The project is part of the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest, which encourages students to identify and try to solve problems in their communities using the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.

Sherbo's class is one of 15 in Manitoba that progressed to the regional finals for the contest and have to submit a three-minute video of their work for the chance to win the grand prize — \$20,000 worth of Samsung technology for the classroom.

The video is due on June 2 and after that Samsung will select a winner.
Tec Voc students used math to figure out stopping distances at different speeds. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Even if that's not her class, Sherbo said her students are already getting a lot out of their project. Rather than slow the class down, she said the project seems to have sped up their learning and driven home the concepts in a meaningful way.

"The students are just trying to raise awareness and they're having a good time kind of taking something from their math course and making it hands-on and making it relevant in their world," she said.

A group of students from Tec Voc high school are doing the math on pedestrian safety. The applied mathematics class is working on a project to help their schoolmates cross the street more safely by using quadratic equations to calculate the stopping distance of vehicles. 1:51

With files from Chris Read and Holly Caruk

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