“Summing up Europe” trip to change math learning

    Math teacher Deanna Chute talks with parents about her new math trip. Chute will take students to Europe to learn about how math is used in the world. Photo by Chirag Akella.

    Math teacher Deanna Chute talks with parents about her new math trip during an informational meeting earlier this year. Chute will take students to Europe during Spring Break to learn about how math is used throughout the world. Photo by Chirag Akella.

    A Palo Alto High School math teacher is creating a new opportunity for students interested in learning about the mathematics behind international architecture, culture and history through a field trip around Europe.

    Math teacher Deanna Chute created the new program, Summing up Europe, after realizing that there were not any opportunities for math students to learn abroad and explore how math is used in the real world.

    “I did a lot of research for a lot of time to see if there was anything out there and there just wasn’t anything,” Chute said. “So then I shifted gears and said that the only way this was going to happen was if I made it from scratch. So I started bookmarking pages, collecting ideas and making spreadsheets of places with the intention of one day being able to do this.”

    Although Chute had been pondering the idea to host such a program for a while, it was an experience in Spain that ignited the idea in its entirety.

    “This has been a very long time in the making for me, probably a decade or so,” Chute said. “I’ve traveled a lot, and every now and then I have these moments when it all comes together. When I was in Barcelona and I was touring the Sagrada Familia [a famous church], I saw this magic square, which is an array of numbers where they all add to the same number in every direction. The numbers all added to 33, which was the year Christ was when he died. That was just amazing, just out of nowhere there it was. For me, that was the moment when my project was born.”

    According to Chute, the trip will happen over the spring break of 2016 and is set to include visits to France and England.  

    “We will be in London and Paris for three or four days each,” Chute said. “When we are in London, we will be taking trips out to Bletchley Park and Hampton Court Palace.”

    Chute said she chose London and Paris because there were many mathematical experiences available and because it was easier to plan a trip to countries that are geographically adjacent.

    Many students are eager to signup because of the unique experience offered. Sophomore Edward Kim expressed his interest in the program and the opportunity to learn math in another country.

    “I wanted a change from the usual lecture-based format of school, so a hands-on exhibit of certain mathematical concepts would be a refreshing alternative from sitting at a desk and taking notes,” Kim said. “I went to Spain on an educational school trip to learn Spanish a few years ago, and experiencing a new continent with entirely different customs was a life-changing experience. Not only that, but my Spanish has improved in leaps and bounds.”

    Chute said that scholarships will most likely not be offered as there is no outside funding for the trip. However, she hopes that scholarships can be offered in future year’s trips.

    Chute also hopes to create a club for students that teaches the math behind many historical features, regardless of whether students want to go to Europe.

    “My vision is to form a ‘Math in Europe’ club which anyone can join, trip member or not,” Chute said. “I want to look at the things that we will be seeing and the mathematics behind them in a fun, eye-opening and exploratory way.”

    The opportunity to go on the trip will be available to anyone, regardless of a student’s math level or teacher. In fact, Chute hopes that students, even those who detest math, will learn about math in a different way and appreciate how it is used in the world.

    “I secretly wish I could scoop up 50 kids who hate math and take them,” Chute said. “This is about math being something bigger than what you see on a day to day basis in your classroom.”

    More information about the trip can be found at the program’s website or by emailing Chute.

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