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Building program helps kids learn real-life math skills

November 13, 2008 12:00AM

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A student from Pittsburg Community Middle School works to build a house through the "If I Had A Hammer" program.

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They can apply these concepts to real-world education. We're moving more toward preparing kids for 21st century employment skills. This program fits right in with that. "
~ Dr. Chris Christman, chairman of special services and leadership studies
Wilson seems right at home talking to sixth graders. In a way, he is home - he's sitting on the porch of the 8-foot by 10-foot house that he and a group of sixth-graders from Pittsburg Community Middle School just built from the ground up.

"If you're going to go get a job, can you see how your education is important?" Wilson asked the entranced crowd of about two-dozen. "You've got to have a plan to build your house, and you've got to have a plan to live your life."

Wilson has been teaching practical math skills as they apply to building a house for 18 years as part of his "If I Had a Hammer" curriculum and workshop based in Franklin, Tenn. The program aims to show students that math really does matter.

"If I Had a Hammer" has become a popular program over the years, garnering praise from the New York Times and many other publications. But until now, it has only been available in urban areas.

Crossland Construction and Pittsburg State University hope to show that the program can be a success in rural areas, too.

When Clay Kubicek, director of education at Crossland Construction, found out about the program through a friend in Tulsa, he thought it would make a great addition to the company's community outreach and education programs.

"The idea behind this is to let every student get a hands-on taste of the industry," Kubicek said.

He decided to contact Dr. Chris Christman, chairman of special services and leadership studies at Pittsburg State University, to get some help implementing the program in the Southeast Kansas/Northeast Oklahoma area.

Christman, along with Dr. Marilyn Dishman-Horst from the College of Education and faculty from the construction engineering department, decided to help organize an "If I Had a Hammer" event, which was held at 5 Mile Camp in Quapaw, Okla. on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

Christman said PSU is assessing the effectiveness of the program by looking at pre- and post-tests given to the students. The tests will quantitatively show how well the program teaches state-required math skills, but the looks on the kids' faces is enough to convince most that "If I Had a Hammer" really works.

"The thing that really is impressive is that it makes math concepts relevant," Christman said. "They can apply these concepts to real-world education. We're moving more toward preparing kids for 21st century employment skills. This program fits right in with that."

Dishman-Horst said that she, too, was impressed with what she'd seen.

"I'll tell you, this has surpassed our expectations," Dishman-Horst said. "The letters from students, and the feedback from teachers and parents - it has been so positive. One student wrote that it was the best day of his life."

For more information on "If I Had a Hammer," go to www.ifihadahammer.com, or call (615) 591-1600.

---Pitt State---

©2008 Pittsburg State University