Missouri students use geometry to build tiny houses
By KRISTEN TAKETA
Oct. 27, 2017
EUREKA, Mo. (AP) — For geometry class last week, more than two dozen Eureka High School students stowed their backpacks and cellphones in their lockers and donned hard hats and goggles.
They carried power saws, planks of wood more than 20 feet long, hammers and hundreds of nails. In less than two hours, they built one wall of a 14-by-26-foot tiny house from scratch, set up a temporary wooden foundation for the house and built multiple window and door headers.
The students, all of whom are freshmen or sophomores, are learning how to do just about everything to build a house, from calculating the surface area of the house to planning the dimensions of every piece of wood, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. They will eventually learn how to put up drywall and equip the house with utilities.
"You actually have to try in this class," said Tucker Burt, 14, a freshman. "It's a lot more fun. It's a lot more hands-on. It's a lot more interesting."
Eureka High is one of several St. Louis-area schools that are participating in the "Geometry in Construction" class this year. Students at Rockwood's Eureka and Summit high schools and Ritenour High School are using geometry to build their own tiny houses over the course of a school year. The class is offered through Contextual Learning LLC of Colorado.
The Rockwood students' houses, one from each high school, will be moved to a lot in north St. Louis to provide shelter for homeless people. The nonprofit North Grand Neighborhood Services will manage the houses and is fundraising with the St. Louis County group Social Justice 4 All to cover the move, building materials and other costs.
Ritenour's students will auction the houses to cover the cost of materials, then donate any leftover profits to a local charity or community group.
Students said they like that they get to work outside with their hands "instead of just sitting in the classroom." They know that the math they're learning is important and useful, because they're building something real, literally from the ground up.
"It's not going to waste," said Morgann Beatty, 15, a Eureka High sophomore.
School officials echoed those sentiments. They are looking for ways to get kids to care about math, in a time when U.S. math scores consistently rank below those of several developed nations.
"We're not getting results that we'd like to get for our students, so we're looking for additional opportunities that could make math relevant for students," said Mike LaChance, Ritenour's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "This program does that. It adds relevancy to mathematics. If it's something that they created, something that they've done, they're going to remember that content far better than if they memorized it for a test."
Three girls sat on the ground in the 80-degree heat during Thursday's class at Eureka High, doing nothing but talking and watching everyone else work.
They weren't allowed to work because they didn't finish their homework, explained Gregg Swarts, 15, a sophomore, while he nailed a board into the first wall of the house. Later, the three will have to come in early before school starts to do the construction work they missed.
The rule may seem harsh, but students say they like that, because it means the teachers take their learning seriously.
"What the kids don't realize is, the teachers want you to learn," Gregg said.
Not all of the Eureka High students in this class want to build houses for a living. The teachers and students say the class also teaches something more universal: how to work as a team.
At the end of every class, teachers have the students grade the effort and work of each of their teammates on a 13-point scale. They also have to write down what they accomplished that day. There's no room for slacking in the group.
David Luecke, an industrial technology teacher who co-teaches the class, said he structures the class this way so students learn how to be responsible and prepared for the working world.
"It's kind of like, OK, we're putting accountability on you guys," said Luecke, who has been teaching for 27 years. "It's kind of like the workplace."
The student groups kept stumbling into different kinds of problems Thursday: A certain wooden board was too wide, a plank kept moving when hammered, the cribs weren't level with each other. But few of them went to the teacher for help. Students coached each other, suggested a new technique or pointed out the mistake that needed correcting.
Students work in four-person teams and Luecke shuffles the teams every few weeks. When a student asks Luecke for help on a math problem, he tells other students to provide the aid.
Some students said this class is easier than their other math classes, but it's not because they do less work or learn easier math. In fact, when sophomore Casey Baker checked with his classmates in other geometry classes, he discovered something that made him smile. In terms of learning geometry concepts, his class is far ahead of theirs.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com