Amy, MS, Math

Reinforcing Math Skills Through Habitat Restoration

Amy Spies' habitat restoration project
Interview with Amy Spies

In this interview Amy describes how she uses Facing the Future's math activities to reinforce area and transformations concepts with her middle school math students, as well as providing a catalyst for a school-wide native habitat project. 

School: Community Learning Center East, Port Orange, Florida

Grades: 7-9     Classroom Size: ~15

Subject: Math

Classroom Challenges:

  • Achievement Gap
  • Advanced Placement
  • At-risk Youth

Click on a topic below to read more about Amy's work:

Please describe your experience with Facing the Future materials and how you use them in your classroom:

"Community Learning Center East was started in 2007. It’s a school of choice for at-risk kids (low socioeconomic status, multiple grades behind, bottom quartile). There are 100 kids in the school in grades 7-9. Theoretically the kids spend a year at the school to catch up and then go back to traditional school.

I used the 'Area & Transformations: Wildlife Habitats' lesson to reinforce concepts of area and transformations [see Lesson 11 in Real World Math: Engaging Students Through Global Issue]. It became the catalyst for a school-wide native habitat project. We did the worksheet from the lesson and then went outside and brainstormed the schoolyard habitat. It had lots of weeds and no green stuff. The kids had to plan how to plan drought resistant plants. The language arts teacher got involved and had the students do research and writing on native plants and habitats. We also received some publicity in the local paper. Kids really took ownership for the project and felt pride in their work. As a result, we expanded the project. This was a new experience for lots of these kids. They had to work together with a common goal."

A lot of teachers struggle to find room in their curriculum for supplemental materials, like Facing the Future materials. How did you do this?

"Rather than using prescribed practice items, [Real World Math] provided real world skills. It wasn’t an add-on, but just a replacement of less effective materials."

What were your main objectives/goals for this unit?

"To see a real world application of calculating area and using transformations and to introduce students to the importance of habitat."

How did Real World Math lessons help you meet these objectives/goals?

"Students not only showed proficiency in mathematical calculations, but the project became a catalyst for a large scale, all school habitat project in which math skills were reinforced."

What skills did your students gain?

"The lesson reinforced mathematical skills of area and transformations. Students calculated the perimeter for the border of the planting area, found the area for the weed cloth, and calculated the volume of mulch needed. The lesson also unexpectedly brought up metric conversions since they needed to know how to convert kilometers to meters. It also ended up including a geography lesson since we were studying snow leopards in Mongolia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. There were a few teachable moments like when students were working on the worksheet and we discussed where the Bronx Zoo is located. One student thought it was in Mexico. I also connected some of the snow leopard habitat (e.g., Pakistan and Afghanistan) to what’s happening now in those areas.

The students had to work collaboratively to ensure they had the correct mathematical calculations. They brainstormed ideas for habitat project. The project also incorporated many communication skills. Because the language arts teacher got involved in the project, the students also did research and writing projects including persuasive papers on why it is important to use native plants."

How do Facing the Future resources help you address your classroom challenges?

"They provided a situational context that required the use of mathematics skills. It was something they were interested in so they were willing to do the math. The nature of the questions provided an easy framework for a cooperative learning setting."

Amy's classroom challenges include:
  • Achievement gaps
  • Advanced placement
  • At-risk youth

Did you make adjustments to Facing the Future lesson(s)/reading(s) for your classroom type?

"I chose not to do the bonus part because of where we were in the curriculum. My students were not ready for Pythagorean theory, but we did revisit the lesson when we were studying slope. We also extended the habitat theme into a school-wide project."

What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"Getting to see an animal (the snow leopard) they’d never seen before piqued their interest. They were also interested in calculating an estimate of how small of an area snow leopards are given in a zoo."

What resources do you use to complement Facing the Future materials?

"Students researched online to find out how to meet their criteria for a backyard habitat. I tapped into community people to come to the classroom (e.g., native plant nursery owner, National Wildlife Steward). I also created my own worksheets related to the habitat that the students designed."

Amy also used the following resources as part of this unit:

How did these resources complement each other?

"It was an evolving project that included another discipline. The language arts teacher used a number of the additional resources for the students to do research."

Did you incorporate an action project or service learning component in the unit/lesson?

Amy Spies' habitat restoration project"Yes. After the using the lesson, we went outside to look at our local school habitat. This started as a school beautification project and turned into landscaping a larger portion of campus with native plants and meeting wildlife habitat criteria. The culmination of the project was a showcase/celebration. Students gave tours to the public to explain the plants and the purpose of the project. In addition to designing and planting the native plant garden, we brought in an old bird bath, made signs using recycled cans, and created plant ID cards. The students also created a PowerPoint presentation of the project for the showcase. The language arts teacher helped with that.

To support the project I wrote and received two grants; one from the Florida Council for Teachers of Mathematics and one from the Futures Foundation (a local business organization that supports education projects). We also received private donations."

Have Facing the Future materials helped you participate in school or district-wide sustainability projects?

"Yes. It turned into a school-wide project and met district environmental service learning project requirements."

Do Facing the Future materials help you be a better teacher?

"Yes, because I don’t have to create all of this on my own. The materials are easily adaptable to meet the needs of my curriculum and students."

What are the professional development implications of using Facing the Future materials?

"It fosters teacher collaboration. I am looking to have even more buy-in with other teachers in the school next year. This material is so easily integrated into multiple disciplines and this is absent from most math curriculum."

In regard to sustainability and global issues education, what do you want to know more about?

"Other extensions for action projects/ideas. Having students recognize the importance of habitats and the connection between habitat and species loss and impacts."

What advice, if any, would you give to teachers using these Facing the Future lessons for the first time?

"I would recommend using the video clip suggested in the lesson from the Discovery Channel [Planet Earth: Mountains: Snow Leopard Hunt]. I would also recommend helping students to make connections between their local habitat and the snow leopard habitat (e.g., the Florida panther)."

Is there anything else that you would like to share with other teachers looking to engage their students in global issues and sustainability?

"Student input is important. These lessons lend themselves to service projects. It’s a great culmination of the work. Have students generate the ideas to get buy in."


Have you created inspiring adaptations with Facing the Future's lessons? Then contact us to be featured as a Classroom Example.


About Us

We equip and motivate students to develop critical thinking skills, build global awareness, and engage in positive solutions for a sustainable future through hands-on curricula and professional learning.

Facing the Future is an
independent program of WWU