From behind the geometry eight ball Atholton students learn math lesson in pool hall

March 27, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

The eight balls ricocheted and rolled along the green felt pool tables, dropping into pocket after pocket.

It was a demonstration of geometry in motion at the Champions Billiards Cafe in Laurel last week when 100 Atholton High School students visited the pool hall with math teachers Kevin Giffhorn and Nancy Holly for a little applied mathematics.

"I thought it would be hard -- it's not that hard," said ninth-grader Erin Lipple, gripping the pool cue in purple-blue nail-polished fingers and deftly sinking a bank shot. "It's cool, because we were doing it in school on paper and now we're doing it on the table."

The trip -- the first time the hall had played host to a math class -- complemented the students' earlier work, when they created scale diagrams of regulation- size pool tables to solve geometrical problems involving bank shots off multiple cushions.

"I think a lot of students have a better time with geometry because it has a better real-world application," said Mr. Giffhorn, a first-year teacher. The pool hall outing is a way of teaching them "that math works. It's not a mysterious thing."

Beneath the dim lights inside the spacious pool hall, the students used yardsticks to calculate the exact point on the table where the pool balls should be positioned to strike their targets. For two hours, they solved 10 mathematical problems on 30 pool tables.

When they hit their targets, they high-fived and jumped up and down.

"This is a good way to learn without getting stressed out," said 10th-grader Leah Friedberg, 15, who later took shots between dances to "The Tootsie Roll" playing on the speakers.

When a ball whizzed by the desired target that 11th-grader Jamie Murphy had aimed for, Mr. Giffhorn leaned across the pool table and blew air onto the ball to guide it to its destination.

Nearby, Troy Elliott, 15, a freshman, found the assignment challenging. By noon, he had accumulated eight points.

"I learned some of the stuff that worked on paper didn't work on the pool table because on paper we didn't account for the spin," he said. "I guess that has more to do with physics."

After spending time at the tables, the students seemed to get the hang of things.

"We've got some future pool players in here," said house professional Frank Durham, who watched the scene with Melissa Ciresi, the pool hall's general manager.

Mr. Durham said the students' technique amounted to an academic demonstration of what experienced pool players do instinctively.

"When we 'bank,' we use a mirror image," he said, explaining how the ball ricochets off the cushion. "That's what they're doing, basically: using a mirror image, and it works beautifully."

In most cases, veteran pool players just "look and see those angles," he said. "You don't have time to measure."

Ms. Ciresi was more skeptical of the students' technique.

"It's interesting," she said. "Everybody would win a lot of money if it were that easy."

Tiffany Harvey, 16, said the hands-on experience probably would help her to ace an imminent geometry test. "It [the classroom lesson] was a little unclear. Now we see how it is in the real world."

The outing also gave the sophomore a different spin on the lunch that she and her friends prepared to eat in the pool hall's cafe.

"The hamburger is the eight ball, the French fry is my pool stick and my mouth is the corner pocket," said Tiffany, as her friends laughed. "It's a ball in one."

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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