Building a house using math, muscle and teamwork

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By Christine Bryant
Staff Writer

Baldwin Road Junior High School students participated in the “If I Had a Hammer”program on May 4 where they constructed a small house in the gymnasium in two hours. The STEM-focused activity helps students see the big picture of math and how it can be applied to everyday life, as well as teaching them teamwork and other life skills. Pictured here, students work together as a team to begin attaching the roof.
Baldwin Road Junior High School students participated in the “If I Had a Hammer”program on May 4 where they constructed a small house in the gymnasium in two hours. The STEM-focused activity helps students see the big picture of math and how it can be applied to everyday life, as well as teaching them teamwork and other life skills. Pictured here, students work together as a team to begin attaching the roof.

Plank by plank, nail by nail, a group of seventh graders donned safety glasses and meticulously built a house in the gymnasium at Baldwin Road Junior High School – in less than two hours.

Though meant to be an exercise and not someone’s new home, the project provided a path for students to not only practice skills learned in the classroom, but an opportunity to work as a team.

For 20 years, the If I Had A Hammer outreach program has worked with students to teach them math and science through hands-on activities. Through the hammering, drilling, measuring, laughing and fun heard in the Baldwin Road Junior High School gym earlier this month, students applied concepts they have learned in school, such as geometry and physics, to build the house.

“They’ll discover the whole construction process while applying measurement skills,” said Brent Brinkerhoff, president of Buckeye Educational Systems, the organization that brings the If I Had a Hammer curriculum and training equipment to schools around Ohio.

Although students begin to learn fractions in third through fifth grade, Brinkerhoff said some students can’t apply them to real-life situations later in life. The program also gives students an alternative way to learn outside the classroom.

“We picked this school because of the STEM Academy and the innovative way they teach here,” Brinkerhoff said.

As founder of If I Had a Hammer, Perry Wilson created the program after experiencing difficulty in math – knowledge that was essential in his carpentry trade. He struggled in school, and couldn’t connect with teachers through conventional methods.

While math can be a difficult subject for many kids like Wilson, Baldwin Road Junior High School teacher Joe Knisley says this program helps them visualize how math works in real life situations.

“This is something where they can really get hands-on,” he said. “These kids really get a grasp on, ‘Yeah, I might not be able to use the Pythagorean Theorem in the lunchroom, but we can use it to find the slope of a roof.’”

Wilson also used the workshop to teach the students important life lessons, from teamwork to skills needed to run a successful business.

“If you want to make money, you have to work together,” he told the students interested in learning more about how to make money in business. “I don’t care how talented you are.”

For seventh-grade student Cody Factor, participating in the program better helped her understand what she had learned in the classroom.

“It’s better hands on than being on paper because it’s easier to understand,” Factor said.

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