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A real-life math lesson: City planner teaches students to solve population puzzle

POSTED: March 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Caymin Crosslin, left, playing the part of a developer, pleads his case in front of a mock planning and appeals board session made up of fellow Chestatee Middle School seventh-graders, from left, Ashley Brock, Zoe Wulz, Emily Stewart, Dillon Sturm and Wesley Rider. Helping the students with the project is Gainesville city planner Matt Tate, standing.

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Lisa Plowman’s advanced seventh-grade math classes had been learning about proportions, drawing designs of neighborhoods with their prowess.

But Matt Tate, Gainesville’s principal planner, taught them a lesson on a much bigger scale.

Tate gave the Chestatee Middle School students a taste of his world Thursday morning, showing them the Hall County Geographic Information System and explaining the ins and outs of developing a city with 31,000 people and growing.

"We have to plan for the population," Tate said. "Population (growth) is the number one thing driving planning."

Planners have to consider the capacity of water and sewer, school systems and the environment in their decisions, Tate told the students.

Tate said the city planners use their comprehensive land use plan to help them map out the city for the next 20 years, but the process involves more than following a bunch of colorful zoning maps.

"We plan for people, basically," Tate said. "I can’t explain how important it is (for people) to be involved in the zoning process."

Instead of explaining, Tate set up a mock planning and appeals board meeting, letting the students decide whether or not to allow a developer to build a subdivision on 11 acres of property.

After hearing all the arguments for the proposal, the mock planning and appeals board voted unanimously to deny the request.

Tate also critiqued some of the students’ neighborhood plans, advising them of the public relations aspect of their chosen street names.

"I think the mailman might be afraid to go down that street," Tate said, referring to one group’s choice to name a road "Vaughn’s Street of Death."

The state’s new performance standards for K-12 students emphasize real-life application of learning concepts, and Plowman said she asked Tate to speak to the students to show them how their math lessons can be used in real life, all the while exposing them to different career paths.

"We are trying to do more and more activities like this so students see how this info is useful in real life," Plowman said in an e-mail.

Tate’s lesson could have a lasting effect on the seventh-graders, she said.

"We won’t be able to talk about anything else all day," Plowman said.


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