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Celtic geometry students put it all together

Of the Keizertimes

In most high school math classes, all students need is paper, pencil and a calculator.

But at McNary High School, kids have the opportunity to learn with power tools and a hard hat.

This is the first year that McNary has introduced the Geometry and Construction class into the curriculum. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the class focuses on doing math in a more traditional way. But on Wednesdays and Fridays, students get the chance to apply the geometry that they learned through the means of hands-on construction.

McNary student Sampson Cutlip cuts a block of wood with a saw for his project in Geometry in Construction class. (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings)

“I love that his class takes what we learn in the classroom and applies in the real world,” McNary student Kate Peton said. “It gives you an idea of what you want to do with construction. But it’s also just fun. It’s fun to go out and release your energy and do stuff with your hands.”

The class is taught by Bill Kirkwood and Robert Robison. Kirkwood was an architectural designer for four years before spending the last three years teaching math at McNary.

Robison, on the other hand, was a building contractor for two decades before coming to teach at McNary three months ago.

“This class is a wonderful fit for our school,” Kirkwood said. “It’s also just a ton of fun giving students applicable life skills. A lot of the kids have really come out of their shells.”

“Most of the kids had no prior experience with using tools or construction at all, but they come in and now they’re all running around and just doing their thing.”

The idea to bring this class to McNary came two years ago when principal Erik Jespersen went to a Career and Technical Education Conference in Las Vegas.

Jespersen was originally planning on going to several different sessions, but when he saw the presentation on Geometry in Construction, he soon ditched his prior plans.

“When I went to that first session, I was immediately fascinated,” Jespersen said. “I was really intrigued so I just continued to go to their sessions.”

The presentations were given by a pair of teachers from the Construction/Geometry program at Loveland High School in Colorado, which was put in place in 2006.

Even though the ideas for the class captivated Jespersen, he still wanted to see kids engage in this program with his own two eyes. So he put a team together to fly out to Colorado and wittnessed the class in action.

After his trip to Loveland, Jespersen was convinced that this program needed to be available for the students of McNary. And at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, the Geometry in Construction class came to fruition.

“I think that this type of learning is really important,” Jespersen said. “There will be some kids that will go into a four-wall math class and be just fine. But there are other kids that need to see the math. They need to manipulate and build with the math That’s the beauty of (Geometry in Construction).”

“It’s not an easier path. In fact, you could make an argument that it’s harder. But I believe we’re going to get better outcomes with a lot of kids because it’s how their brain works.”

Even though the class is brand new, the students have already completed some fun projects.

For their first assignment, the class was given plans for a full-size house that needed to be built to a smaller scale.

Their following project consisted of making cornhole boards, where they had to apply what they had learned during the geometry portion of the class to make sure the legs and angles were correct on the board.

Currently, the class is working is on building a 12 to 15 foot barns for a goat farm in Sublimity.

“Math for me has always been sitting down and crunching out numbers, so it’s nice to get the ability to see what the math can do for you,” McNary student Coleman Young said. “I would regret not taking this class because it has helped me progress as a student a lot.”

While the students seem to have enjoyed their experience in the class thus far, they aren’t the only ones who relish the opportunity to be in this unique environment.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had. I love getting up in the morning to come to work,” Robison said. “This program shows why math is pertinent.”