Math = Love: OERB Workshop

Thursday, May 29, 2014

OERB Workshop

Several months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a free OERB Energy Education Workshop at Ponca City High School in Ponca City, OK.  This was my second OERB Workshop to attend.  I attended my first OERB Workshop just a couple of weeks before I started my first year of teaching.  I blogged about that experience here.

OERB stands for the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board.  They are funded by a voluntary tax paid by oil and natural gas producers and energy owners.  They are known across the state for cleaning up abandoned oil well sites at no charge to the landowner.  They also seek to educate children about oil well safety.  And, they provide a free curriculum to teachers that relates their subject matter to the oil and natural gas industry.

Oklahoma teachers can sign up to attend a free workshop here.  They have workshops from pre-K through high school.

OERB Energy Education Workshop

One of the first questions my workshop facilitator asked was, "What role does oil and natural gas currently play in your life?  How much do you know about the oil and natural gas industry?"

To be honest, I spent many years of my life really not thinking about the oil and natural gas industry.  Yes, I drive a car.  And, I know it couldn't run without petroleum products.  But, I never gave much thought to how that oil gets to the store or the gasoline gets to the gas station.

Then, I moved to Drumright.  You wouldn't think that moving 60 miles west of the area I grew up in would make that big of a difference.  But, a lot of days, it seems like I'm living in a whole different world.  I grew up east of Tulsa.  There are farms and ranches.  But, most people work in either Tulsa or its suburbs.  I don't ever remember a single classmate announcing that they planned to go to work in the oil field.

Drumright began as an oil boomtown.  Oil was struck in 1912, and the town sprang up overnight.  It is impossible to spend anytime in this town and not realize just how important oil is to its existence.  Our newspaper is called The Drumright Gusher.  Our school yearbooks are also known as Gushers.  Our community theater is the BoomTown Theater.  Drumright is the smallest town in Oklahoma with a community theater group.  You can spend the night at the BoomTown Inn.  Our population is right around 3,000 people.  We're also a zero stop light town.

Even our town celebrations and festivals are centered on oil.  You can attend Drumright Discovery Days every summer to celebrate the discovery of oil in Drumright.  There's an Oil Patch Jamboree in the fall.  And, there's a Summer Oil Patch Festival every Fourth of July.    

Our high school was built in 1919 when oil production was high.  At one point, the high school was graduating classes of 90-100 students.  For the two years I have been there, we have graduated only around 32 or so.  The town is very attached to this historic building.      

Drumright High School

The road in front of the high school is still covered in the original bricks.

Brick Covered Streets

To celebrate the town's centennial, an 84 foot tall oil derrick was dismantled, moved into town, and donated to the town's museum.

Drumright Centennial Oil Derrick

This postcard from 1913 shows how the oil derricks used to dot the Drumright landscape.

Drumright Oil Derricks 1913 - Photo Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society
It's hard to drive anywhere in town without seeing a pumping oil well.  This one is just a couple of hundred feet off of Main Street.

Drumright Oil Well

Additionally, we are less than ten miles from Cushing.  Cushing is the Oil Pipeline Crossroads of the World.  Cushing is also home to the world's largest tank farm.  They have the capacity to store over 66 million barrels of oil.  President Obama even visited the town in 2012 to make a speech about the Keystone Pipeline.  

Cushing Pipeline Crossroads Sign

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, the oil and natural gas industry is a major part of the town I live in and teach in, and it's a major part of my students' lives.  When I ask my students how many of them have at least one family member who works in the oil field, 90-95 percent of hands will go up.  Oil is everything in this town.

A lot of days, I wish this wasn't the case.  So many of our students set their sights on working in the oil field.  After all, that's where their parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins work.  It's all they know.  My heart breaks every time I hear a student tell me that they don't even really need a high school diploma since they're just going to work in the oil field.  When colleges are a minimum of 45-60 minutes away and the oilfield is 5 minutes away, the oilfield seems to win out way more than it should.

I have had a coworker tell me that the students in this town don't need Algebra 2 because their destiny is the oil field - not a job as a rocket scientist.  Comments like this make me livid.  I want my students to have a vision beyond the oil field.  I want them to go to college and THEN decide if the oil field is the right fit for them.  Oil field workers are important.  But, I don't want students thinking that is their only option.    

The first time I attended an OERB Workshop, my main intention was to get free supplies for my classroom.  This is how I got a free class set of 30 TI-30 Scientific Calculators.  They've been used in my classroom almost every single day since I got them.  This time, I was still eager to get free supplies.  But, I'd also gained a new appreciation for the industry.  I'd lived in Drumright for less than a week when I attended the first workshop.  After living there for almost two years now, I have a greater understanding of the importance of oil to this area that I now call home.

The new Common Core aligned curriculum that they would provide me with would be applicable to my students.  These lessons would give me a chance to show my students how math plays out in real life in an industry that they are almost all familiar with.  The lessons weren't fluff.  They were relevant.

We each received a binder of curriculum materials.  I attended a training that was specifically for high school math teachers.

OERB Curriculum Binder

We worked through each of the lessons together.  And, I fell in love with them.  I could actually see myself using these lessons in my classroom.

We wrote systems of equations to compare the costs and profits of various oil wells.

Systems of Equations

I solved the problem algebraically before solving it graphically.  Then, I couldn't get my graphical answer to match my algebraic answer.  I wrote myself a reminder to let my students struggle with graphing the system by hand first before introducing them to the technology that can find the solution for them with a few keystrokes.  

Solving Systems of Equations by Graphing

Another lesson had us performing linear programming.  This is a topic that I've never actually taught before.

Linear Programming

We used the pythagorean theorem and/or distance formula to calculate the cost of drilling.

Drill In The Right Direction

We looked at a chart of Oklahoma Oil Production to identify areas that looked as if they could be modeled by quadratic, cubic, and quartic functions.  Then, we used the data to perform the selected regression.

Oklahoma Oil Production Graph

It was fun.  It was hands-on.  It was real life.  I left the workshop excited to take these lessons and materials back to my students.  I also left the workshop with a free tub of goodies!  Let's look inside...

Tub of Classroom Materials

They emphasize that the supplies are our own personal property, not the property of our school districts.  So, if I move, I get to take my calculators with me!

Laminated mats for some of the activities.

Laminated Mats

Laminated Mats

Vis-a-Vis markers to use to write on the laminated mats.

Dry Erase Markers

TI-SmartView.  I'm almost persuaded to go back to using the TI-84 instead of the TI-nSpire just so I can use this.  (I've got other reasons, too.  I love the nSpire, but our standardized testing program gives students a TI-84 to use...)

Smart View Software

Books about the oil and natural gas industry.

Dvd documentaries about the oil and natural gas industry.

Pencils.  You can't have enough of these!

Free Pencils

Colored pencils.  Yay!

Colored Pencils



Rulers.  My students have a bad habit of bending rulers and accidentally snapping them.  These are much needed!  

Free Rulers

Graph Paper.
Ream of Graph Paper

And the best part?  Three TI-84 Plus Color Graphing Calculators and a Charging Station!

TI 84 Color Graphing Calculator

Set of 3 Graphing Calculators and Charging Station

This box is just a little slice of math teacher heaven.  Calculators.  Pencils.  Rulers.  Protractors.  Graphing Calculators.  Graph paper.  Dry erase markers.  Colored pencils.  A storage tub.

Since I'm writing this months later, I can say that I've used several of the OERB lessons with my students.  More posts on that later, though.

To the OERB - thanks for the resources you have provided for my students.  And, thank you for giving me the materials I need to show my students that math plays a role in the oil and natural gas industry!


  1. "I have had a coworker tell me that the students in this town don't need Algebra 2 because their destiny is the oil field - not a job as a rocket scientist."

    Never mind such a hand-waving dismissal of student abilities or futures, the fact is that the Earth is not an endless supply of fossil fuel. Maybe the wells in your town have a fairly lengthy lifespan remaining but at some point there's not going to be any oil left and you won't be able to say, "Well, they're just going work on the oil field." Students have to be prepared for the job market and just general reality of the world in 5, 10, 15 years from now. Not just what works for today.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! I couldn't agree with this more!

  2. First, I would like to say the oil industry's contribution of the supplies and lessons is a very kind gift for attending their seminars. The school district I teach at is located in a very low income neighborhood and the parents are always commenting that they do not understand why their children need to learn Algebra. (How is Algebra going to help them get a job? or How can our children learn Algebra when they are going to have to work for minimum wage?) I get so frustrated when I hear these parents because I believe the students can succeed, graduate, and attend college. One project I would like to share with you that helped my students understand how math could help them in the real world. The students must devise a monthly budget by using prezi software. After the students choose a profession then they are given a specific city to live in and they have to research the given area for the cost of living and compile the information into a slide show. The students will show their salary and then show the monthly expenses they would incur and then explain if they will have a surplus or deficit. The students are so engaged in this lesson because the lesson is hands on and the students feel like they are in charge of their own success rate. In addition, the students have to adjust their income and expenses when given a cost of living increase. The students really enjoyed this project because they could be creative and they could take charge when explaining their situation to their peers.
    I believe as educators it is our responsibility to make math fun and rewarding for the students and prepare them for the real world.

    1. I love the idea of the monthly budget project! This year, I had my students plan and calculate the cost of a road trip at the end of the year, and they were shocked at how much things cost. I think this would be very eye-opening for them. Plus, it would be hands-on and personal. Perfect! Thanks for sharing! (And, I can't agree more with your last sentence!)