From The Casper Journal [Wyoming], Monday, April 29, 2013. See http://www.casperjournal.com/news/article_344c31c8-a2ab-58e1-b175-4903403e8ac8.html
When math makes sense - Teachers combine math with construction, cooking classes

By Makayla Moore

PHOTO SIDEBAR:  The new math and construction program at Transitions Learning Center applies math concepts by building. Heather Bishop (left) of Frontier Middle School marks a measurement on a board after Chrysler Parks of Transitions explained the process. Photo by Makayla Moore
How many frustrated math students have thrown up their hands and said, "When am I ever going to use this anyway?" It's a common refrain that most math teachers hear repeated time and again. There's a new program at Transitions Learning Center, pioneering the useful application of math.

Math teacher Dwight Burrows and construction teacher Rob Hill have combined their classes, creating a demonstrated use for the concepts that they're teaching. They're building a bridge between math and construction, and the students are doing better than ever.

Burrows teaches math concepts such as angles, slope and parallel lines first, followed by Hill demonstrating how those concepts apply to construction. The students have built sheds, fences and even remodeled a garage. They're responsible for everything, from figuring out the quantity of supplies they'll need, to hammering in the final finishing nail.

"We haven't changed the program, haven't changed the curriculumm we've just reorganized," Burrows said. "It's the same math class, the same test and the same standards." But the grades keep going up, and retention of learning is at an all-time high. Burrows tested his class, asking them what the slope of a roof they had put on a shed was. Hands shot up, and the correct answer was given.

"When you're cutting the angles with a saw and applying slope to a roof, you remember it better," Hill said. "It's teaching them more than just math and construction, though. They're learning teamwork and work ethic too."

The program partners with construction classes from Casper College as well as students from construction classes in middle school. "They get to work both up and down that way," Hill said.

To watch a group of students who don't see themselves as teachers apply the skills they've learned and teach the younger students has made it worthwhile for Hill and Burrows. "It shows what they've learned and are now capable of teaching," Hill said.

The difference in the students is evident. They're walking tall and rightfully proud of what they've built. Burrows said that every teacher looks for that light that comes on when a student really understands and he's seeing a lot more lights these days.

"I had the lowest grade in the pre-test, it was a 22 and now I've got a 77. That's much better," said Angel Coleman. "I still don't like math, but I can understand it."

"I didn't really know what the class was about, but it makes math simpler by applying it to real-life situations and it's just mind-blowing," said Johnathan Arket.

Chrysler Parks said he joined the program in order to help understand math better and has enjoyed the experience. "It helps you understand what you're learning by going out in the field and doing hands-on," he said.

"This is the idea the district is trying to build the CAPS [Center for Advanced and Professional Studies] on. Integrated learning, and it's working here," Burrows said.

This is the first of many classes that will be based on integrated learning at Transitions. There's a Financial Literacy class that's in the works and Burrows is anxious to take his math curriculum into the cooking classes. "There's math all over there," he said.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL  62901-4610
Phone:  (618) 453-4241  [O]
            (618) 457-8903  [H]
Fax:      (618) 453-4244
E-mail:   jbecker@siu.edu