Math students from Northwestern High School became teachers for the day Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Toting props, handouts and laptops the TECH math class split up to share their knowledge of density, pressure, scale, the water cycle and lightning with first-grade students at Northwestern Elementary School.

“In my opinion, the best way to prove that you’ve learned something is being able to teach it,” said TECH math teacher Laura Crites. “This is their final project.”

Senior Alex Smith said it would be a challenge to share their work.

“You cant just pull things out and talk to them," he said. "You’ve got to lower it down and explain it to them (at their level)."

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The team of seniors teaching about scale — Smith, Drew Pearson, Isaac Nichols, Carsen Nykanen and Andrew Klobucher — set two 3-D printers up in Catherine Hansen’s first-grade classroom. While the printers began creating small plastic cars, the high schoolers handed a pre-printed model to each child.

“The basic idea of scale is taking something really big and making it small, so we can understand it,” Smith told the children.

The cars they were holding, or the GPS maps their parents use on car trips, are examples.

“How did we make that car smaller?” Pearson asked. “How do you fit the world on a phone screen?”

The children were stumped.

“You guys know how you make it smaller? You use math,” Smith told them.

“How?” asked first-grader Colton Carter.

The high school students tried to convey the concept using multiplication to children who are learning addition and subtraction. They referenced water beads — polymer beads like Orbeez that swell when they absorb water — as well as the superhero Ant Man, the school’s child-sized chairs and fingerboards to help explain scale. Think of the Earth as a bead full of water that dries up and shrinks to a phone-sized version, they said.

When the seniors asked about fingerboards, scaled-down versions of skateboards, Carter Brown jumped up to give a first-grade explanation.

“It was like a big skateboard and someone put a picture of it on the internet and then you made a copy of it, but it was little,” he said.

“There you go,” Pearson said. “That’s exactly it.”

First grader Carter Brown, third from right, explains how full-size skateboards are turned into fingerboards during a math lesson on scale  at Northwestern Elementary School Wednesday, Jan. 22. Listening are left to right, classmate Valerie Greely, Northwestern High School senior Alex Smth, classmates Jace Johnson and Rylan Van Aernum and first-grade teacher Catherine Hansen. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)
First grader Carter Brown, third from right, explains how full-size skateboards are turned into fingerboards during a math lesson on scale at Northwestern Elementary School Wednesday, Jan. 22. Listening are left to right, classmate Valerie Greely, Northwestern High School senior Alex Smth, classmates Jace Johnson and Rylan Van Aernum and first-grade teacher Catherine Hansen. (Maria Lockwood / mlockwood@superiortelegram.com)

Each member of the scale team has been involved with NHS’ Tiger Manufacturing program, and they integrated technical education skills and equipment into their presentation. The students discussed how 3D printers worked — warming up plastic and squirting it out like a hot glue gun in a pattern that’s been created on a computer — and let the younger students watch as the machine added layer after layer of plastic. There was even time for the elementary students to share stories with the high schoolers.

For the math class, it was a lesson on scaling concepts to young minds and thinking on the fly. Going in, Pearson said the students thought they’d be able to talk more about the math.

“I don’t know how Ms. Crites does it every day,” Smith said.

As the TECH math students left the elementary school, Crites said they all did a great job.

“Hopefully they had fun too,” she said.