Seventh grade students recently completed a math project involving partnering with MathAction, a group that aims to empower students to solve real-world problems through mathematics. In this project, they designed a model for water distribution in a refugee camp, considering both practical constraints and human concerns. They first learned about the current refugee crisis and what the water requirements would be at a refugee camp. Using specifications from the United Nations, they then designed a model for water distribution. In this project, they utilized their scaling skills in the creation of the model, as well as their estimating and proportional reasoning skills.

And finally, while it was great to see students experience “math in action”, the greater lesson is a human one. In addition to sharing their model with other schools, students also attended the “Forced from Home” exhibit at Oakland’s Lake Merritt amphitheater. This gave students the opportunity to see life through the eyes of a refugee. At the start of the exhibit, students “role-played” refugees and were assigned home countries. Our docent instructed us that we had thirty seconds to take five things with us as we were fleeing the country; we could choose from money, family photos, cell phone, motorcycle, passport, water, clothes, etc. This simulation forced students to consider what they would take if they only had seconds to decide. Terrifying, but also humanizing, as I think it helped us better empathize with the experience of a refugee.