GEAR UP introduces new learning experience for high schoolers

Josh Day

Move over paper textbooks: The future of education is here.

A group of 30 high school students from Waco and La Vega traveled across Baylor’s campus Saturday using iPads and a specialized augmented reality app to find and solve math problems.

Dr. Tommy Bryan, Senior Lecturer of Mathematics, said augmented reality and technology in education are becoming popular.

“I think we’re just on tip of the iceberg as far as what’s going to happen with education in the next 16 years with iPads and readers and that sort of thing,” Bryan said. “I think textbooks are on the verge of becoming obsolete in the near future.”

The high school students’ mathematical journey through the Baylor campus might be a vision of education’s future.

Saturday a group of Baylor professors and Department of Education students associated with the GEAR UP Super Saturday Math Initiative placed specific pictures around Baylor for different groups of students to find.

When a group found a picture, they aimed their iPad at it. On the screen, the picture would change into a math problem before their eyes.

On a brightly colored poster-board nearby, a piece of paper contained a set of four possible answers to their problem. When the students were confident in their own answer, they pointed the iPad at the sheet, which turned into the correct answer on the screen.

When they came back to the Draper Academic Building, they were given a chance to show the other groups how they solved their equations, write their own problems, and afterward eat at Penland Dining Hall.

Their project was a part of a seven-year federal initiative called GEAR UP, an acronym for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs.

According to a GEAR UP press release, the Waco initiative was funded by a six-year $11.3 million grant involving Baylor, Texas State Technical College Waco, and the Waco Independent School District.

Saturday was the final day of the math program of the GEAR UP initiative for each of the students, all in their senior year of high school.

It was also the final day for Dr. Bryan, Dr. Rachelle Rogers, Assistant Clinical Professor in Elementary Education, and Dr. Trena Wilkerson, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction to continue their work with the GEAR UP program.

Bryan, Rogers, and Wilkerson are the GEAR UP Super Saturday Math Initiative’s instructor, director, and principal investigator, respectively.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s sad, but it’s been very rewarding,” Rogers said.

For six years, Rogers and Bryan have been meeting with largely the same group of students on weekends and occasionally during the summer in a number of math-related interactive programs like the one on Saturday.

While they learned about math, the students were also taught lessons about college opportunities and life after high school.

The lessons were even found in the math problems on the augmented reality trail on Saturday.

“Each problem was triggered by an image, and each was geared toward a different major,” Bryan said.

The last meeting of the students’ senior year marked the end of the grant.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, the program was “designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.”

Rogers said the success of the program has also largely been because of the students.

“It’s amazing, they’re doing math problems on their weekends and summer breaks and they keep coming back,” said Rogers.

According to Rogers and Bryan, the results of the program have been clear and positive.

“Their scores have improved since they have been attending these events,” Rogers said.

Devin Scott is a Waco High School senior who has come to every GEAR UP math initiative event since the summer before his seventh grade.

“It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me that I wouldn’t normally have seen,” Scott said.

He said he plans on studying kinesiology at Baylor, Texas Christian University or Texas State University.