Making a Difference:
Scale City

She struggles and she struggles. But one day she just literally screamed 'I got it!' at the top of her lungs.

Julie Williams

Math teacher

On her way from Oklahoma to Kentucky, Westport Middle School math teacher Julie Williams of Louisville never spotted any dinosaurs, gazed at enormous baseball bats, or peered into miniature cities.

That’s OK, though. She can share these experiences on the road of life utilizing KET's Scale City, an interactive online teaching tool that helps students learn the mathematics of scale.

“The most exciting part is that this deals with proportional reasoning—and that is an extremely weak area in what students are able to do,” said Williams, who has taught on every level from kindergarten to college and from music to special education.

“Measurement in general is tough for kids and they have trouble with visualization: they have trouble picturing something and enlarging it in their mind.”

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Scale City takes students on the “biggest, smallest road trip ever” through familiar and not-so-familiar sites around the Commonwealth. Stops include Dinosaur World, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the sites of several murals, miniatures on display in museums, the World Chicken Festival, Sky-Vue Drive-In, the Belle of Louisville, and the Kentucky Horse Park.

Williams, whose odyssey has taken her from her native Sooner State to Hopkinsville before landing in Louisville, feels that these Kentucky sites provide an added dimension of interest for her students.

“I teach a lot of inner-city kids, a lot of kids who haven’t been out of their neighborhood,” she said, “so in a way it gives them a field trip into other parts of our state that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to ever go see.”

But most important, Williams emphasizes, is the excitement Scale City brings to the study of mathematics.

“I have one student and math is not her thing,” she said. “She struggles and she struggles. But one day she just literally screamed, ‘I got it!’ at the top of her lungs. She was so excited, because (math) is not easy for her.”

Lower achieving students, Williams said, often complain that these concepts are too hard. “Say ‘math’ and they’re done,” she said. But when they’re given Scale City to use, continued Williams, “they’re off and running.”

“Proportional reasoning is all about fractions, and that’s an extremely low area for students,” she said. “But Scale City is exceptionally beneficial for them because it’s a non-threatening way to learn the concept.”

Students access Scale City via computer, either with CD-ROMs (provided by KET to all public middle schools) or through the KET Web site. And kids naturally respond, Williams says, itching to get on the computer.

“They are able to go online—it’s very interactive for them. They are able to have assistance via the prompts and do what they all love, which is play on the computer.”

An added benefit of a solid foundation in proportional reasoning, Williams said, is that it is often so applicable to real-life situations.

“If you’re going to host Thanksgiving dinner and you’re going to serve 25 people yet you usually cook for four, you’ve got to be able to figure out how much stuff you’ve got to buy, how much it’s going to cost you. So it’s things that, as adults, we use every day.”

As testing time approaches, Williams plans to use Scale City to reinforce students’ proficiency.

“Proportional reasoning and geometry are the two lowest areas on our test,” she said. “We tend to try to cram things into them right before testing time, and this way will be a little less pushy to them. They’ll be able to relax and learn it a little easier.”