PHIPPSBURG — Toes froze, flip-flops were sucked off feet by wet sand, fog obscured the view and it took students some trial and error to figure out how to measure the waves rolling in at Popham Beach State Park on Wednesday morning.

The bumps became part of the lesson as Richmond High School students learned about gathering and analyzing data.

“We’re out here like real scientists and mathematicians taking data,” technology integration teacher Dan Tompkins told the students. “Is it perfect? Not always.”

Math teacher Carolyn Arline said the juniors and seniors on the field trip had achieved a 3 — a score indicating proficiency in Regional School Unit 2’s standards-based grading scale — on the topic of periodic functions, which are used in physics to describe wave motion. Standards-based is a new education model many Maine schools are adopting and may later be required of all the state’s public schools.

Proficiency is the target level of achievement for RSU 2 students and means a student fully understands a concept. The highest score on the grading scale is a 4, which means a student can use what they have learned.

What it takes to achieve a 4 has not been defined in all topics. Arline said she is trying to look for ways students can apply their knowledge beyond a classroom.

Arline’s students told her they wanted to go on a field trip to the beach this year, so they decided they could measure ocean waves and compare them to the sine and cosine waves they studied in their unit on periodic functions.

The activity also relates to the unit the students are starting on collecting and analyzing data.

Students will have to do more work like this under the Next Generation Science Standards that Maine is helping to develop, said Phil Brookhouse, an integration mentor with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.

“One of the big pushes in science now is being able to work with data in a meaningful way, rather than just taking a chapter test,” Brookhouse said.

Brookhouse wrote a tutorial that will help the students use Logger Pro, a program on MLTI laptops. Video that the students shot on Wednesday can be loaded into the program, which will analyze the video frame-by-frame and fill in data tables based on the motion of the waves.

The students also gathered data through low-tech means, by planting yardsticks in the sand and eyeballing the height of incoming waves. While one student tracked height, others attempted to time the peak of each wave and the troughs between them.

Students had to move quickly to avoid being stranded by the rapidly rising tide, and the measurement process was inexact and frustrating at times.

“The tide’s coming in really, really fast and it’s foggy, so you can’t really see the waves,” junior Maggie Robbins said. “You have to try to take two minutes of data, run 100 feet back and do it again.”

The students didn’t count every wave, which could throw off their manually-taken data. But if the measurements turn out to be unusable, Arline said the classes could have instructive conversations about why that is.

“Some of these things that didn’t work out today are going to be more of a learning curve than the things that did work,” she said.

Arline was most gratified to see how much the students enjoyed themselves, in spite of the damp chill on the beach. They paid for the field trip themselves after raising money through hot dog and bake sales.

“I see so many kids scared about math, like a bad attitude,” Arline said. “But they’re excited about it.”

Senior Sabrina Doray said it had never occurred to her that waves crashing on a beach might be related to trigonometry.

“It’s cool how you can connect math with something like this,” she said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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