By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

A group of girls spent their lunchtime playing with Barbies in one of High Desert Middle School’s science classrooms Thursday.

The girls brushed the dolls’ hair, played with their shoes and traded out Barbie outfits.

Then the girls wrapped several rubber bands and a long piece of string around the dolls’ legs, suspended them upside down in midair and broke out rulers, yardsticks and calculators.

“Math isn’t really my favorite subject,” said Maggie Lewis, 13, a seventh-grader. “But I have fun here. It’s a nice place to come during lunch to get away from the regular lunchroom, which can get really loud.”

Thursdays at lunchtime is when High Desert’s math club meets. And although the thought of math club might conjure up images of students hunched over their desks, diligently solving complicated algebra problems, what actually occurs during club sessions couldn’t be more different.

“It’s nice to have something like this where kids can learn that math is fun,” said Ingrid Hoban, math teacher and one of the club’s organizers. “The goal is to put math in the spotlight.”

Recently, the club attained gold-level status from the National Math Club — one of only two schools in Oregon to do so. To reach gold, students had to complete an intensive project and create a PowerPoint presentation to submit to the national committee. The three-month project challenged students to focus on several everyday items and apply 12 math problems to them, determining things such as circumference and volume. About half the students constructed gingerbread houses for the project, while the other half used slices of pizza and cups of soda.

“It made the subject a little more approachable, but at the same time, it showed students that there’s serious work involved in math,” Hoban said. “We made them collect a lot of data before they were allowed to eat the gingerbread house.”

The students learned last month their project had received national recognition and that their club was one of fewer than 200 middle school math clubs to be recognized. They received a trophy and last week celebrated with a party. Their club was also entered into a drawing for a $500 gift card.

“It’s really cool,” said Hadley Woolsley, 13, a seventh-grader. “It’s cool because we get to show everyone all the different things we do in math club.”

The club has more than doubled its membership this year, from about 20 students last year to its current roster of 46. Hoban attributes this to word of mouth among the students, as well as the fun math-related projects the club works on.

For example Thursday, students were starting the first part of a two-week “Barbie Bungee” lesson, which will culminate next week with students attaching a cord to a Barbie and tossing the dolls from the second floor of the school. This week, students measured out how much twine they would need so that Barbie wouldn’t touch the ground or get injured during her bungee jump.

Hoban said it is projects like these that really bring the subject to life for students, and why High Desert’s math program is becoming more and more popular.

“The idea is that students can make these connections to their own lives using math,” Hoban said. “Our motto here really is ‘Play with your math.’”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354, .