HAMLET — Richmond County Schools’ Chad Osborne and Jeff Epps teamed up to lead TechyKids geospatial math camp last week — an adventure in 3-D design and modeling aimed at strengthening basic mathematical concepts through technology.
Unlike the traditional math of yesterday’s classrooms, geospatial math involves manipulating and analyzing real data that is applied to problem solving and spatial thinking.
“You know what a number line is, right?” Osborne said. “You have zero in the middle, and then you have positive and negative numbers. Geospatial math is more about thinking of math in three dimensions, rather than just the x and the y, it adds the z, the third dimension. It’s where the kids are practicing point cloud data, which is basically just a bunch of vertices, and placing them on the x and y axes. It’s kind of a take-off from cartography.”
The two-week math camp includes the use of 3-D modeling software and 3-D printers, and a collection of projects for using them to create and build objects, such as drones.
“We’re going to make four drones later on this week,” Osborne said. “Each one is made of several small pieces joined together, since you can’t print it all in one piece. They just slide together and the pins hold them. These are toys but if you can join pieces together, you can make something more substantial. It’s part of the visualization process.”
Osborne explained the kids have been modeling objects with standard parameters in a program called 3ds Max.
“They started out with cylinders, and changing the sides on cylinders to 6- and 8-sided things,” he said. “And they made a pencil with cylinders, toruses and cones.”
The 3rd- through 5th-grade students, Osborne said, are better able to grasp mathematical ideas with something to hold and look at.
“It’s hard for them to understand that negative two is what the district says from zero,” he explained. “And you’re just kind of visualizing that, putting a real meaning to it rather than an abstract concept.”
David Woolsey, who will be in 3rd grade, said the projects he has worked on have been fun.
“I’m waiting for my tank to be done, so I can print my easy spaceship,” he said. “We have Google classroom to do all of our work and submit it, and we have to print it so we can either put it on the shelves or take it home and make a movie with it. Our teachers get the work and they know we’ve done it, so they can give us a new assignment. 3-D printing lets us get better at math and we can make a movie with the things we print.”
But using 3-D printers requires a watchful eye, as well as a thoughtful application of concepts, Osborne cautioned.
“When you go to print something, everything has to be lined up the right way,” he said. “If you didn’t have your cylinders lined up the points wouldn’t join, and it wouldn’t print. It would be all over the place. You’d just end up with a big pile of spaghetti.”
Mason Long, another rising 3rd-grader, said he enjoys the school district’s summer STEM camps held at Richmond Community College, and has been to more than one this summer.
“Right now I’m working on a rocket,” Long said. “It’s actually part of something that I didn’t do last week, but I’m gonna finish this week. This 3-D printing kind of lets me get better at math, because it’s got base ten.
“I can actually pull it up if I want to,” he adding, demonstrating by conjuring a mathematical model onscreen.
“It means that there are things that you can do in this that you’re not able to do in real life,” Long continued. “It allows you to do things and make your own stuff. And I went to coding camp. It’s when you code video games to make your own version of it. I based it on Flappy Bird Infinity, and a lot of different ones.”
“I’ve been working on things like axes and spaceships,” said Karim McLaughlin, who will go to 5th grade. “We created a pencil, a Mexican hat, a bowl. The easiest one was the easy spaceship. The hardest one was the pencil. I had to get it lined up.”
McLaughlin has completed all of the projects for the two-week long camp, and is now designing projects of his own.
“I created a phone — an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S,” he said. “I listened to the tutorial so I can make it, because just like on the other project that we’ve been doing, it requires video to do it. So I’m listening to the video to do it.”
McLaughlin said he sometimes shows people at home what he’s working on, and that they find it to be “pretty great.”
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.