Hammering Home Math Success

Eighth-grader Keisha Smith never paid much attention to putting up a house. She said she thought “they just put buildings up. I didn’t think I could build a house, but I did,” said Keisha, who will soon be entering 9th grade at Central High School.

Keisha and seven other students from Madison Middle School spent a few weeks in June “doing the math” that it takes to learn to build a house, then actually building it.

The students were taking part in a free Tulsa Public Schools summer camp aimed at helping 8th graders enhance their math skills before they move on to high school.

The project, called “If I Had a Hammer,” was the brainchild of Perry Wilson of Nashville, TN, a former carpenter who realized that building a house is an effective, hands-on way to teach math skills.

Tulsa Public Schools Career and Technology Education Special Programs Facilitator Ron Givens wrote a grant to bring the program to Tulsa.

The students do classroom work, then go to Tulsa Technology Center’s Lemley Campus to construct the 8-by-11 foot house, complete with door, windows, porch, trim and a pitched tin roof.

“They learn about perimeter, volume, area…it helps kids improve their math skills by tying it to construction,” said Givens. “We give a pre- and post-test, and we’re hoping to make a significant change in math scores.”

A couple of hours into the building, the house was nearly complete. Tulsa Tech teacher Frank Dickinson stopped construction and called the students over to discuss some of the measurements. Drawing a large square on a big white tablet, he asked the students to figure the perimeter of the Tulsa Tech building, the room they were in and, finally, of the “Hammer House.”

Eighth-grader Malvin McDuffie quickly gave the numbers. One student figured the area of the house, so they discussed the difference between the two terms, “area” and “perimeter.”

“I’ve learned a lot about math,” said Malvin. “We’ve even done some algebra. I’ve never done algebra before. I know I’ll be a better math student because of this.”

Keisha Smith, assistant boss for the project, said that part of her job has been to “make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do. I think the responsibility will help me in life.”

Besides improving math skills, If I Had a Hammer also teaches leadership, career and goal-setting. Givens said that instructors talk to the students about what their passion is. They look at careers and plans of study for the future.

And the program can be repeated at any time of the year, for other groups of students. “The house can be rebuilt about 100 times,” said Givens. “I purposely didn’t want it to be exclusive. It can be used, not just by Tulsa schools, but by Bixby, Broken Arrow, Sand Springs.”

In an email from Givens at the end of the program, he reported that the post-test gains showed an average 44 percent gain in math scores from the pre-test. “The smallest gain was 15%,” he wrote, “and the largest was 65%. Nationwide gains from the Hammer program are normally around 20 to 25%.”

In the fall, Givens said he plans to continue the program with Madison 8th graders in the Technology Education classroom. Around 100 students will participate in the fall and spring. Brent Brownlee, one of the teachers from the summer program will teach the class.

“I used to slack in math,” said Keisha. “And I didn’t want to come to this [camp] at first, but my mom made me. Now I’m glad I did. I understand math a lot better than I used to.”

Categories: Teens, Tweens & Teens