Calif. firefighters teach students math

High school seniors learned how to apply algebra to nozzle pressure

By Stacia Glenn
The San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The high school seniors took turns gripping a firefighting hose Thursday while trying to apply the algebra equations they'd just learned to how much pressure spouted from the nozzle.

It was a chance for Pacific High students to see real world applications for the math they're taught in the classroom.

San Bernardino City Fire Engineer Tom Rubio presented to four class periods, explaining how firefighters use math everyday to determine how much water pressure to use based on variables like how long the hose is.

"Seeing the fact that they use the equations we do everyday to save lives is amazing," said Jeramy Farnsworth, 18. "Math really does apply to the everyday world."

The firefighters are just one group that present for the Alliance for Education, a county schools program that seeks to show kids how their lessons can be applied outside of school.

Kim Terry, the program's curriculum specialist, said the presentations have been such a success over the past five years that he has received thank you cards from students.

"My job is to answer the question, 'When are we ever going to use this?'" Terry said.

After talking through several problems in the classroom, students were led out to a fire engine to see firsthand how firefighters use math while putting out flames.

Rubio showed them the eight different hoses attached to the engine and talked briefly about the formula he uses to determine how much water pressure to use on each fire.

Then firefighter Sheldon Osekowsy handed each student the hose so they could feel the difference in pressure from spraying 100 pounds per square inch to much less.

Oumunique Drake, 18, jerked forward and laughed when firefighters abruptly turned down the pressure.

She said she benefitted from the demonstration because she is a visual learner.

"I like to see things," Drake said. "It gets boring just learning but today we got to see it."

At the end of the class, five teens said they were more interested in being a firefighter after seeing that they have a math foundation to get them started.

"It gets them excited," Osekowsy said. "When they get in there, they thinks it's just another math problems. But they get excited once they see the real world application."

County Superintendent Gary Thomas, who spent the morning watching the demonstrations, said he is impressed by how the program — which emphasizes rigor, relevance and relationship — highlights the relevance of students' lessons.

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