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“Reel” math

Math teacher Matthew Schwolert relies on his fishing gear to teach his students algebra.

FLOWER MOUND, Texas — When Marcus Ninth Grade Campus teacher Matthew Schwolert brings a rod and reel to class, his algebra students want to know if they are going fishing that day.

Instead of taking them fishing, though, Schwolert relies on his fishing gear to teach them algebra. See photos here.

“I have been toying around with the idea for a few years,” said Schwolert, a B.A.S.S. Life Member and a former Flower Mound Bass Club member.

“I have used the concept of fishing reels when I talk about slope and rate of change in algebra class, but I haven’t taken it to the level that I have this year.”

This year, the Lewisville ISD school district administrators encouraged Schwolert to combine his fishing passion and teaching the algebra concept of slope or rate of change into a class project.

“Kids always like it when I bring stuff to class to illustrate different math concepts,” Schwolert said. “Slope and rate of change is a little abstract until you can put something in their hands that they can get the idea of it.”

Schwolert uses baitcast reels to illustrate slope (the measurement of the steepness of a straight line) and rate of change (the slope of a line) to his class of 30 students.

“The fishing reel is related to slope and rate of change by the concept of the reel speed,” Schwolert said. “So if I turn the handle one time then the spool turns four, five or eight times (gear ratio). So my students use the relationship in reel handle and spool turns to make that the slope.

“The kids then graph that speed of one reel with a certain gear ratio and graph another one with a higher gear ratio,” Schwolert continued. “That lets them understand what slope and the steepness of the line are. If you put two reels side by side and graph the slope of a 4.1:1 reel against an 8.1:1 reel, those lines would look very different on a coordinate plane.”

Two ninth-graders who have embraced Schwolert’s teachings are Dalton Cooley and Jake Cable.

“Comparing fishing to algebra makes it a lot easier to understand,” Cooley said. “Also, I was at Bass Pro Shops the other day and I was reeling a reel and found myself thinking about algebra.”

“I have been fishing with my dad for a very long time, but I never knew algebra could be tied in to it,” said Cable. “It was a super fun way to learn how algebra is involved in fishing.”

The Bass Pro Shops store in Grapevine, Texas, donated 20 rods and reels to his class, so Schwolert has been able to take the students outside and teach them how to cast and see how the reels work. Schwolert has also let his class watch Bassmaster LIVE during an Elite Series event, which he considered “a great opportunity” to connect his students with their lessons on slope and rate of change with how the pros apply different reel speeds for their various techniques.

“The project has been great,” Schwolert said. “It has given me something to use the entire semester as a reference point. I have been able to relate a lot of our discussions to this idea of slope because we study lines and the aspects of lines quite a bit during the semester. Each time we dig into something, I am able to refer back to that and create a connection which helps kids step on to a new concept of a line or a new idea that stems from the study of lines.”

Schwolert’s project culminated with a catfish tournament, May 22, for his students.