Do Math. Save a Life: Students analyze crash data in new curriculum

“When will I ever use this in real life?” students want to know.

The adage gets put to rest with the new, “Do Math. Save a Life” curriculum, where high school students use math skills to analyze maps, bar charts, line graphs and tables with Idaho’s vehicle crash data and then make safety recommendations. Reporter Jan Neish described the math lessons as “life-changing” after seeing them in action in Blackfoot, Idaho.

The math lessons, created in a partnership between the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) and a group of Idaho math educators, allows students to explore maps and data about crashes all over Idaho, including their own neighborhoods, on ITD’s safety dashboard.

The data includes information like the site of the crash, reasons for a crash, monthly frequencies, and which counties have the fewest accidents. Idaho processes more than 26,000 crash reports per year, which are input in the data system.

Students explore this tool and use the math to make real safety recommendations. At the alternative Independence High School in Blackfoot, students met with city leaders like the mayor, a city council member, police chief and sanitation superintendent and made seven recommendations to cut down on accidents in the city.

According to Neish, they even helped convince an RV owner that the location of his vehicle, though technically legal, was causing car accidents in the area. Though the police had requested repeatedly for the man to move his RV, after they presented the evidence from the students, he finally relented.

Not only do creators hope this will help the general public with driving safety, but the teenagers using the curriculum as well.

Students from One Stone, a private, student-led high school in Boise, explained their own safety takeaways from analyzing the data.

“I was very surprised that tailgating was the highest contributing cause of car crashes. I will definitely remember this and leave more room when I’m driving!”

Another said, “I learned that a lot more crashes are caused by driver error as opposed to impaired drinking or drug related driving. This surprised me because in Driver’s Ed we were always told about how we should always watch out for impaired drivers, but the stats say that it’s actually more common to get in a crash due to simple driver error.”

Creators explained in a webinar last week that this started when the Idaho Department of Safety (ITD) employees were brainstorming ways to cut down on teenage car accidents. In 2022 they found that more than one out of every five car crashes in Idaho involved a teen driver. And teens were 2.6 times more likely to be involved in a crash than all other drivers.

ITD formulated the idea of connecting their crash data to math lessons, and contacted stakeholders in Idaho math to create a team of educators. Funded by ITD, they worked for over a year to create six lessons which they presented to hundreds of educators at the 2023 Idaho STEM conference in Boise.

The team that worked on the “Do Math. Save a Life” lessons. Photo credit Josie Derrick

One of those curriculum creators was fifth-year teacher Josie Derrick, Lead Math Innovator at One Stone.

Derrick says it’s important for her to “put students in the driver’s seat and think about how we can do math differently, how we can make math relevant and how we can give students choice and voice in the ways that they explore math.”

Josie Derrick, “Do Math. Save a Life.” curriculum creator and Lead Math Innovator at One Stone High School. Photo Credit Josie Derrick.

She joined the curriculum team to reach those goals, and was amazed with how receptive and engaged her own students were to the crash data lessons. At the end of the semester, “every single student had a reflection where they mentioned working with crash data as something that really stood out to them” she explained.

Derrick thinks these lessons will stick with students more than traditional math lessons, “because hopefully this is something they actually care about.” She also expressed her satisfaction with creating materials all teachers in Idaho can use.

Collaborators hope to continue the use of crash data in math classes, and potentially expand to other grades. Derrick explained that currently the lessons are geared to Algebra 1/Math 1, though “small modifications could make these materials appropriate for other audiences.”

They also want to expand to other subjects, like civics. Drivers education courses are already using the data as part of safety instruction.

Educators can access all of the math lessons here. 

Katie McGuire

Katie McGuire

Katie McGuire is a freelance reporter for EdNews. She lives in Meridian with her husband and their two children. She has a bachelor's degree in secondary education social science teaching from Brigham Young University and a master's in history from Kent State University.

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