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Kansas students sharpen math skills through national home-building project

November 13, 2008 12:00AM

More than 650 sixth-graders from Southeast Kansas are participating in a revolutionary math program that has historically been available only in larger, urban areas, thanks to collaboration efforts between Pittsburg State University, Crossland Construction, and 5-Mile Camp in Miami, Okla.

The PSU College of Education, as well as the construction engineering technology program, have been working with Crossland to present "If I Had A Hammer," a national education program that teaches children teamwork and mathematics skills by teaching them how to build a small house in a matter of just a few hours. The construction takes place at 5-Mile Camp, a year-round retreat center for at-risk students.

Students from nine school districts in the counties of Cherokee and Crawford have been participating this fall. On Tuesday, Nov. 11, area students will travel to 5-Mile Camp to take part in the program. From 9-11:30 a.m., the students will alternate between team building exercises and working on their houses, with the assistance of camp leaders and Crossland employees.

Although the students are from one of the final school districts to participate, Tuesday's events will feature a very special guest - If I Had A Hammer Creator Perry Wilson, a carpenter-turned-educator who has spent the past two decades developing the program. Wilson will also be a guest lecturer at PSU the following day, where he will teach two of the College of Education's math methods courses.

"The more a student engages their own creativity, the more their level of math skills increases," Wilson said. "Students wind up doing complex trigonometry in Hammer math, and they are completely unaware that they are learning."

If I Had A Hammer works on two fronts: students use real tools and teamwork to build an 8-foot by 11-foot, pre-fabricated house in 2-1/2 hours. More than just a room, the house is complete with a porch, and working windows and doors.

When they are later back in their classrooms, students build cardboard models of the houses, where they must use even more advanced math skills. Using the program curriculum, students can also determine costs and square footage of home-building projects.

"The objective is to help all students, including those who don't do well in math and don't read well, to learn through a hands-on activity," said Marilyn Dishman-Horst, director of the Center for the Study of Poverty and Student Assessment. "The strategies they use here will be used in the classroom for years to come. It's our goal to identify, share, and implement the strategies that will help all students learn."

It is also a lesson for future teachers at PSU, who are learning how to lead the If I Had A Hammer expeditions and how to use the training techniques in their future classrooms. At Tuesday's build, administrators from various area school districts will also be on hand to learn about the program.

"This is a practical application," said Clay Kubicek of Crossland Construction. "(Students) see the process and do it. They have to work with math instead of just doing math."

For more information on the build, contact Dishman-Horst at 620-235-6134.

---Pitt State---

©2008 Pittsburg State University