If you think teaching geometry in a real-world context is the domain of larger school districts, think again. Take Tipton Community School District’s high school, student population of 315. Not only have they implemented this approach for geometry, they have made it mandatory for all students.
Tipton High is one of a growing number of high schools across the state that are changing their approach to
teaching higher-level mathematics – algebra and geometry – by putting the disciplines in a real-world context, known as contextualized learning.
Make no mistake, it was a big step for Tipton to move away from the traditional approach to teaching geometry. And there were some misgivings initially.
“I was definitely hesitant,” said geometry teacher Brad Bockwoldt. “It was very different in the approach to what I had always done in the first 21 years of my career.”
But Bockwoldt, along with fellow mathematics teacher Taul Noard and Mike Wehde, the school’s industrial tech/applied science teacher, pressed forward and implemented Geometry in Construction. And today, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think it has been very good for kids who are not necessarily strong in the traditional classroom,” Bockwoldt said. “The class gives them a chance to demonstrate their own skills. It teaches them how to communicate with each other.”
It also challenges the students who do well in the traditional classroom, Noard said.
“It often challenges the high-flyers who are good in the classroom to have to apply their knowledge of geometry in a real-world setting,” he said.
The school’s principal, Chad Rezac, said Geometry in Construction brings relevance to the classroom.
“The value of the program is giving students an avenue to see how math is used,” he said. “This shows how geometry and a trade go together.”
From Wehde’s perspective, the program has enabled him to substantially broaden the number of students exposed to industrial arts.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It has allowed me to bring my activities into a larger group but also give the students the rationale of how they are going to use math again in life.
“When I first learned about Geometry in Construction, I was immediately intrigued because I have said for years that in my field we do an awful lot of math.”
Classroom projects are varied and challenging.
“They just built a scale house where you take a set of prints and scale it down,” Wehde said. “We take them through the framing phase, including doors, windows and some interior walls. Measurements and angles have to be precise.”
Last year’s capstone project consisted of building a couple storage sheds for the school district. This year’s capstone likely will be a couple backyard greenhouses which the school hopes to auction off to the community to recoup costs.
There are logistics to consider when putting together a Geometry in Construction program. One is putting the geometry and industrial arts classes back to back.
“Because of the scheduling, we decided to go whole hog and make it required for everybody,” Bockwoldt said.
And rest assured, Geometry in Construction doesn’t take short cuts on instruction.
“We cover all our content areas,” Noard said. “The students still receive full instruction in geometry.”
Another key to success, Bockwoldt said, is staying flexible with lesson planning.
“We realized just two weeks in last year that our planning would be a week-by-week thing,” he said. “You need flexibility in scheduling. A byproduct of that is that the flexibility keeps the kids fresh.”
As for how this approach affects grades, the teachers said they have noticed an upswing among students who normally struggle with geometry.
“It has boosted some of the scores among students who are not excited about math,” Noard said. “The kids who struggle are seeing more success.”
Wehde said the program isn’t a fix-all for students, but the enthusiasm among students is palpable.
“We have a unique situation here,” he said. “It is a win-win. It is not a silver bullet because you will still have some kids who drag their feet. But overall, we have great buy-in with the students and they are gaining skills they can use the rest of their lives.”