Students Build Geometry Skills by Building Tiny Houses
By Gina Wynn
Through an innovative applied-math curriculum, 18 students at a Columbia, MO, high school are building their geometry skills by building tiny houses for people in need.
Battle High School (BHS) is one of about 500 schools following the Geometry in Construction (GiC) curriculum that helps reinforce classroom concepts by bringing them to life in real-world situations — like constructing a house.
Other schools charge students with projects that include building chicken coops, barns, and backyard furniture, according to Scott Burke, a GiC teacher in Lakewood, CO, and one of the curriculum's co-designers.
Learning to Give Back
The GiC courses offer an alternative method of teaching math, economics, and problem-solving abilities. According to geometry teacher Brian Hancock, who co-teaches the BHS course with woodworking and construction leader Carl Dement, the construction process drives the order in which students learn.
To progress on the house, students “have to troubleshoot and figure it out and use the math tools that we’ve given to them,” said Hancock. But “the biggest thing about this class is the altruistic piece behind it,” he added. “We’re building this house to give to somebody who may not have a house.”
When construction is finished, the class plans to donate the house to the nonprofit that donated the building materials, Central Missouri Community Action, which works to combat poverty in the region.
Common Core Concerns
Despite the benefits that GiC courses offer to students and members of their communities, some school district officials may hesitate to take them on out of concern about meeting Common Core Standards in math and English language arts.
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices developed the career and college-ready standards in 2010 in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Math is “such a high-stakes course,” said Carol Fletcher, deputy director of the University of Texas at Austin STEM Center, which provides training on the curriculum for teachers. She notes, however, that GiC is designed to cover all of the same Common Core State Standards as traditional geometry.
“In some ways, it is actually more challenging [than a traditional course], because so much of it is applied,” she said. “For kids who are used to just doing book math and being good at it, it pushes them out of their comfort zone.”
Unfortunately, gathering data that proves the value of the hands-on courses is challenging. While students in the GiC course outscored traditional geometry students in math at Loveland High School in Colorado from 2009 to 2012, the cause of the rise in scores is unclear. Students self-selected for the courses, so other factors could have come into play.
Burke, who is helping to expand the GiC program in other communities, hopes he’ll be able to gather more definitive data.
- Why might students find it easier to learn geometry by applying geometric concepts to building a house?
- How would you feel about taking a GiC course?
- Common Core Standards