Building Projects: Making Math Practical

Every Tuesday & Friday our HS students get to participate in "Building Projects."  This course, taught by Mr. Joel Olson, is an opportunity for students to engage both their creative and analytical capacities, blending design and math in practical projects.

It seems that high school math is a sore subject for many.  "You either love it, or you hate it" - and most seem to hate it.  Who was Pythagoras and why was he theorizing? Unfortunately, math too often sits in the realm of the purely theoretical, leaving out what most of us need to value a discipline: something practical.

This past week, Mr. Olson introduced the high school class to what would be there first project of the semester: designing and building a bar-top counter/table system for the front deck of the Academy building.  This project will make the deck at the entrance more functional: desk space for students to do work outside, alternative seating for meal times, and even possible space for the after-school and Summer camp programs that use our facility.  The fun of this project is that it will begin and end with our high school students.  They began brainstorming ideas: materials, design, function.  From there, they moved into compiling all of their ideas and focusing on what would work and look best.  After eliminating certain designs and selecting others, the students arrived at their preferred design for a collapsible table top, suspended by cable, with a "live edge" for a more 'natural' ascetic.

If you've ever sprung for a 'do-it-yourself' project around the house, you know that math quickly comes into play when designing anything.  In the picture above, the students had to work through the problem of how they were going to use the swaging materials to suspend and support the table top.  Doing so required them to find out how long the cable needed to be, or, in Pythagorian terms, just how long the hypotenuse of the right triangle was.  It may be surprising, but no one seemed to mind learning just how to solve the equation.  Why? Because getting it wrong meant that their lunch tray would fall in their lap if they sat down to eat!

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