STEM: Welding Adds Applied Math Lessons at Sierra College

Sierra College Math and Welding departments worked together on a National Science Foundation (NSF) IGNITE grant with the University of West Virginia at Parkersburg (UWVP) to infuse math into welding curriculum.

Sierra College Welding Department chair, Bill Wenzel worked with Katie Lucero, chair of the Sierra College Math Department, to develop the new applied academic curriculum. The math lessons tied directly to a student project and significantly improved students’ math skills. Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director, Sierra College Center for Applied Competitive Technologies (CACT) facilitated the collaboration of faculty with the University of West Virginia on this NSF grant project.

See the movie showing these technical education students integrating math into welding at Placer Herald Sierra College addresses skills gap by fusing math with welding (11-29-2012).

Learn more about Sierra College STEM projects.

Sierra School Works makes math matter

Watch the movie: STEM Tech-Explorer Catapult – Sierra School Works Applied Math entered in the STEMposium contest.

Middle and high school students are being introduced to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers by making catapults. In addition, Sierra School Works ( with Sierra College in Rocklin, CA won a National Science Foundation grant to develop and test the impact of integrating mathematics curriculum into the hands-on catapult building experience.

Students converted fractions and decimals from English and metric measurements on drawings. They used scales, protractors and compasses to measure and mark catapult parts. Once the catapults were built using mills, lathes and other power tools, the students measured the distance, height and speed of launches and inserted the results into the parabolic equation to determine the best launch angle. Learning by doing, they discovered why math matters.

Making math matter to students is critical to their success in pursing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers. They need a reason to keep taking math classes. Sierra School Works developed this Tech-Explorer catapult project to engage students and give them experiences applying math.

  • Accurately converting fractions results in parts that will fit together to make a catapult.
  • Applying the parabolic equation to select the best launch angle will allow their balls to fly the farthest.

It is harder than it looks to develop math lessons, insert them into hands-on projects and use the lessons to reinforce the math skills and interests of students of various ages and expertise. Oakmont High School students in Roseville, CA were the first to test the Sierra School Works math-enhanced Tech-Explorer catapult project developed with Sierra College and National Science Foundation support. It successfully modeled how to engage students in applying math. Learn more at ( ).

Fun facts found in Outliers by Gladwell

After reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers this weekend, about people who are extraordinarily successful, I was intrigued by the idea that birth year, family culture back several generations and other seemly unimportant factors combined with dedicated practice can provide the foundation to make talented people great.

The lesson for the younger generation who seek instant results is that Gladwell found it takes over 10,000 hours of practice to become really, really good at something. And, it is the time spent practicing that differentiates the ordinary from the extraordinary. Your environment, family, birth month or other seemingly arbitrary factor may provide the opportunity to get in more practice hours.

With my work encouraging students to consider technical education paths at Sierra College leading to technical careers, I was fascinated with Gladwell’s review of how language and culture may predispose some students to excel at math. Again, it is about putting in long hours of practice to become really proficient. Our culture, schools and families may not be emphasizing the need for math practice enough to prepare future engineers. Gladwell also reviewed the importance of struggling, without giving up, to find a solution to a math problem as a way of developing problem solving skills. Employers I’ve interviewed continually mention their desire to find prospective employees with problem solving skills. (224-249)

As a marketer, I found Gladwell’s review of communication styles among pilots interesting. He suggested that your culture and its associated way of dealing with uncertainty and its sense of hierarchy influence your communication style. Depending on the situation, this may advantageous or disastrous. Gladwell showed how an employer, after realizing what communication is style is needed in the cockpit during an emergency for example, can train pilots in methods to enhance understanding and result in better outcomes. (200-212)

All in all, Outliers is an interesting read, especially if you enjoy statistics and stories. I was somewhat disappointed that the reader is left to come up with his or her own conclusions about how to use this information to enhance an organization’s success. Now I’m seeking a way to turn the fun facts into action.

Sierra College STEM Grant attracts middle school students to Tech Careers

The Sierra College Tech-Explorer catapult project that introduces students to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math was reported in a brief in the 10-24-08 Sacramento Business Journal page 29 under Business Notes.

The press release » 10/13/08 Sierra College offers relevant technical education to Roseville middle school explains the project and lists several sources for career information.

From the release: According to Sandra Scott, Director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Sierra College, “Our vision is to engage all students in applied learning and interest them in pursuing the classes now, in high school and later at Sierra College that can lead them to rewarding technical careers.” She explained that if middle school students can grasp abstract concepts by applying them to a project that is relevant to them, they may be more motivated to take math, science, computer, design, robotics and other technical courses. “Developing their interest now, in middle school, can give them an edge in determining their future,” said Scott.