Learning to use hammers and drills, fifth-grade students at Lexington’s Lansdowne Elementary School used their math skills Wednesday to build a one-room wood-frame house in the gym in just two hours. The house was large enough for the entire class to get inside.
The exercise was part of a national applied mathematics program called “If I Had a Hammer.”
The program is based on the premise that if children don’t succeed in mathematics during elementary and middle school, it can damage their educational future.
I learned how to measure inches, and how to work as a team.
Lansdowne Elementary fifth-grader Desmond Holmon
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“We’re just trying to show children what they can do when they apply math and science to the real world,” said Perry Wilson, founder of the Tennessee-based program.
“We’re also really teaching about team building; we’re also trying to teach kids about the value of their education. You have to have a plan to build a house. You have to have a plan for your life,” Wilson said.
“I learned how to measure inches,” student Desmond Holmon said as he worked on the house, “and how to work as a team.”
Another fifth-grader, Lauren Thompson, said, “You have to know how to do all the angles and cut the shapes correctly.”
Lansdowne principal Jennifer Fish said she paid for the program with an $8,000 grant from the Kloiber Foundation, a privately held nonprofit family foundation. Fish said she will have to raise $3,000 each year to continue the program in the future.
In the classroom, the students who built the house are learning “how we use fractions and measurement,” teacher Kellie Derrickson said. “They are really making a connection with math in the real world.”
Building the house is just one part of the project, Fish said. Students also build model homes out of cardboard boxes and draw up plans for their dream house. They watch videos and they use an app that emphasizes math skills.
Bruce Maybriar, director of the Lexington Association of Home Builders trade school called Building Institute of Central Kentucky, came to observe.
These could be “the kids who in 10 or 15 years will be building our houses,” Maybriar said. He said the students learned Wednesday how they could take a skill they learned in the classroom and use it later in life.
Maybriar told the children that they couldn’t successfully work in the building trades if they couldn’t do the math.
Lexington’s William Wells Brown Elementary School also is participating in the “If I had a Hammer” program. This year marks the first time that the program has been in Fayette County Public Schools, Wilson said.
Roy Wood, vice president of community education initiatives for United Way of the Bluegrass, said he came to watch because that agency hopes to help finance the project at other schools and at community summer programs.
Wilson, who grew up Louisville, said he couldn’t read well until he was an adult, and he learned math on the job as a carpenter.
Now he has created a national program that he either takes to schools or to museums, career and technical centers, and college campuses around the country, allowing students to participate.
“What I want to do is to get curriculum to children that makes sense,” he said.