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Roseville High School students learn math by building a house

Geometry in Construction class teaches math concepts applied in real world
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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It’s a question math teachers know well: What am I ever going to use this for?

“As a math teacher for 10 years, I always hear that question” said Roseville High School geometry instructor Tyson Maytanes. “I’m not hearing those questions (anymore) because it’s built into the program.”

He and industrial technology teacher Jeff Bailey found a way to answer that question. They are having their students build a modular house.

“Our students are learning the concepts of geometry … but, at the same time, they’re building a 650-square-foot house on campus,” Bailey said during a presentation to the Roseville City Council in January.

The Geometry in Construction program allows students to take a geometry-and-shop-class-in-one and directly apply skills from each discipline to the other.

This is the first program of its kind in the state of California, according to Bailey. The program’s curriculum was developed by educators in Colorado.

The students spend one day in the classroom learning the math and the next day they’ll be in their hardhats measuring wood, nailing side panels, standing on scaffolding and looking for levels.

In late January, the students spent a warm afternoon outside working on electrical wiring with the help of staff from the Western Electrical Contractors Association, which supervised the teens’ low-voltage wiring installation.

The year-long class is offered twice a day and has about 70 students total, including mainly freshmen and sophomores. About 35 percent of these students are female, and the teachers say their program offers a way to bring more females into a trade-based education.

Sophomore Diana Romero — in a bright pink hardhat — was part of a siding crew working on the exterior on a recent afternoon.

“I thought it would be easier, but it’s not,” she said smiling. “It’s fun but sometimes it’s frustrating because you don’t always know what to do.”

The teachers agree this is not “shop math.” They’re learning college preparatory geometry integrated with traditional construction technology. For instance, students learn about the slope of a line to build stairs up to the house. They learn about how planes, parallel and perpendicular lines, and angles are used in construction.

Bailey and Maytanes had the idea for the program following a district-wide goal to improve student proficiency on California Standards Tests by 10 percent in geometry.

The teachers also wanted to improve student performance among subgroups on the California State High School Exit Exam, and use mathematical curriculum that meets Common Core Standards. Common Core Standards are putting more emphasis on what students can demonstrate as opposed to whether they can fill in the right bubble on a standardized test, Bailey said.

He said the Geometry in Construction program engages students, empowers teens to see connections between what they learn in the classroom and applications in the real world, and allows them to build strong connections with the larger community.

The teens have received the help of several Roseville companies with installing fire sprinklers, plumbing and more. The house will go through all required inspections and the teachers aim to have it finished in May. The house is for sale, and money from the purchase makes the program self-sustaining.

“We’d love to see (the house) provide transitional or low-income housing for someone in the local community,” Bailey said.

Sophomore Langston Clark signed up for the class because he usually struggles with math.

“I thought it’d be fun,” Clark said. “You’re using geometry and construction so it helps you learn. I didn’t even know about houses (before this).”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Roseville High School is looking for a buyer for the modular house. For more information, visit www.rhsgeometryinconstruction.org.