“Barbie Bungee” is not on your standard algebra course syllabus, but it’s one way that Enloe High School math teacher Lauren Brooks makes math concepts come alive for her students.
Brooks could have just lectured to her algebra students about how linear regression is used to predict outcomes based on a set of variables. Instead, Brooks had her students predict how many rubber bands it would take to safely drop Barbie dolls from Enloe’s third-floor atrium, before having the students test out their math.
It’s an experiment that Treymont Harris, 17, hasn’t forgotten.
“We do a lot of hands-on stuff,” said Harris, a junior in one of Brooks’ algebra classes, on Friday. “It makes things a lot easier to learn. She’s different from other math teachers.”
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That kind of difference helped earn Brooks, 27, who is only in her fourth year of teaching, the title of the Wake County school system’s 2012 Teacher of the Year.
Brooks, a Raleigh resident, almost didn’t go into teaching.
But she said no when her father asked whether she wanted to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. It wasn’t just a typical question, considering that she comes from the first African-American family to have three members – her father, uncle and grandfather – become U.S. Army generals.
Her uncle and father both know Wake County Schools Superintendent Tony Tata, who is a retired Army brigadier general.
Instead of the military, Brooks decided on a path that would allow her to pursue her love of mathematics. But after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill and working for two years as a billing analyst in Raleigh for Accenture, she realized she needed a change.
“I really love math, and I didn’t really like accounting,” Brooks said.
A family of teachers
Brooks decided to take her interest in math back into the classroom by going to Wake Forest University to earn her master’s degree in teaching. Two of her sisters, her mother and grandmother are teachers.
It became clear she made the right choice when she won Enloe High’s first-year teacher of the year award in 2009. Enloe is known for the academic reputation of its magnet students, who come from across the county. But it also serves students in its East Raleigh neighborhood who may not be doing as well academically.
Brooks said she has tried to help her students see how algebra relates to life.
“I do love math, and that’s nerdy,” Brooks said. “But I want my kids to love math as much as I do.”
In another activity about linear regression, Brooks had her students fire at stuffed animals with slingshots. While fun, it also forced students to predict and test out their equations for what it would take to hit the animals.
In the “cooties game,” students encountered a certain number of classmates in each round based on the roll of dice. This showed how one person can exponentially spread a disease.
On Friday, her students played “trash ball,” in which they tried to shoot a rolled-up ball of paper into a trash can. Brooks was relating to them how to find slopes and intercepts in equations.
Scott Lyons only started as Enloe’s principal in March, but he said he has quickly seen how important Brooks is to the school. This includes how scores have gone up since she became head of the algebra professional learning team, and her impact on students.
“Their eyes light up when they talk about her,” Lyons said. “It’s clear that she cares about the students. They respect her, and she respects them.”