The staff pick for this blog comes from Crystal Almond, one of NICERC’s Curriculum Development Specialists.

My background and teaching experience are both in mathematics, so I really wanted to highlight a project in the Advanced Math for Engineering and Science (AMES) curriculum. One of the biggest struggles students have when dealing with mathematics is being able to connect the material to some context that means something to them or that they understand. Sometimes when students don’t have a context to connect to the theory they are learning, they only walk away with a superficial understanding of the topic.

This fact is one of the reasons I love AMES. This curriculum takes students on a journey through advanced mathematical concepts, not only showing students the theory, but showing them the applications and giving them context for what they are learning. Several of the topics give students tangible evidence of the math concepts, and I want to highlight one of these topics.

In the Fundamentals of Mathematics section of AMES, students learn about mathematical logic, which is the first time many of them will see something so abstract in math. Students are guided through statements, conjunctions and disjunctions, implications, truth tables, and Boolean algebra*, but when many of them are filling out the truth tables with true and false values and this strange new notation, they end up memorizing where the Ts and Fs go in the tables without truly understanding the logic behind it.

While learning the theory, students are introduced to something called a logic gate which enables them to build a circuit and see the implications in action. The circuit consists of a logic gate, an LED, two push buttons, resistors, and jumper wires. The lesson uses the breadboard on the Boe-Bot as the platform for building the circuit, but any breadboard with a power source will work. Each push button in the circuit is an input variable that represents two conditions. When the push button is pressed, the variable is representing a true value. When the push button is not being pressed, the variable is representing a false value. This allows the students to create different implications and test them. The result of the implication is represented by the LED. If the LED is on, the implication is true, and if the LED is off, the implication is false. By creating the situation, students are essentially working backward to fill in a truth table and thinking about which logic gate has to be in use.

I love this activity because it gives meaning to the content and how the logic could potentially be used outside of the classroom. If something is happening in a certain way, it yields a specific result. It makes sense that this is happening all around us. The components used in this lesson are inexpensive which is great, but if you choose not to let every student build their own circuit, you can build one and use a document camera to guide your students through the activity.

To gain access to this lesson along with other great lessons for middle and high school classes, click here!

*This Boolean logic is important in computer science because it fits in with the binary numbering system where the true and false values are associated with 1s and 0s.