DHS helps students 'shed' geometry fears

Danville High School woodworking teacher John Greenhalgh, right, shows student Skylarr Shaw, center, a trick with the tape measure while, to the left, students Deasia Gamble and Makai Counce nail together the frame work of a wall for a shed during the Geometry in Construction class.

DANVILLE – As the framework for the walls of a large shed was being constructed, Danville High School woodworking teacher John Greenhalgh realized there was a problem.

Once assembled, the 12-foot by 8-foot by 11-foot shed would be too large to fit through the school’s doorways to reach the gym where it was supposed on display next week at the Meet the Vikings Elective Fair.

So the dozen students, who are in the Geometry in Construction class, quickly began work last week on a smaller 4-foot by 6-foot replica of their shed to display at the fair.

“We got more work done on Friday than we did in two weeks,” said Chris Moller, who co-teaches Geometry in Construction with Greenhalgh as well as teaches algebra classes at DHS.

“We’ll leave it as a skeleton with rafters,” Greenhalgh said of the replica shed. “It will be cooler to look at.”

The elective fair, which will take place during the school day Jan. 22 and 23, will allow North Ridge Middle School’s eighth-graders and DHS freshmen, sophomores and juniors to learn more about the elective classes and programs they can take next school year.

Parents of current DHS students and parents of North Ridge eighth-graders also will have an opportunity to learn more about the elective offerings during a special showing from 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, during Parents’ Night.

The shed project is one of several woodworking projects the DHS students have been working on in the Geometry in Construction class, which is part of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at the high school. Some of the other projects include constructing a wooden box, a wooden tongue drum and a cutting board with decorative wood burning on it.

Daniel Hile, who is the chair of DHS’ Applied Technology Department and the Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) coordinator, said, “This is a brand new class for us this year.”

For the first nine weeks students learn woodworking and construction skills before working individually on projects, he said.

During a typical week at school, the students switch back and forth between studying geometry in a classroom setting with Moller and applying those geometry lessons in the wood shop as they work on projects with Greenhalgh.

“Geometry is difficult for a lot of students,” Moller said. “Algebra is just an equation that needs to be figured out, but with geometry they have to know the situation before applying the geometry equation.

“Here (in the wood shop) they see the situation and that helps a lot to understand geometry,” he said. “Students need more hands-on learning that they don’t get in a traditional math class.”

Greenhalgh said most of his students have had little to no exposure to tools or woodworking equipment prior to taking the Geometry in Construction class.

The lathe, however, is a favorite among the students.

“There’s something magical about the lathe with the wood chips flying,” he said.

“Our students have a low amount of experience with woodworking when they get here,” Greenhalgh said. “They’ve overcome a lot to even come to class, so we don’t expect them to become professional woodworkers overnight.

“I tell people we’re not creating birdhouse builders; we’re creating problem solvers,” he said.

DHS student Makai Counce, who is interested in having welding career someday, said, “Construction is really fun and the teachers are entertaining.

“Geometry is usually boring, but this (class) makes it interesting,” he said.

Makai said constructing a shed is the biggest project he’s worked on, aside from putting together some “assembly required” furniture at home.

DHS sophomore Deasia Gamble, one of only two female students in the class, said her only prior experience with tools or construction was learning how to use a hammer in Girl Scouts.

“I signed up for this class because I wanted to have the life skill of building something,” she said. “I was kind of nervous about handling the tools, but not now.”

In addition to helping build a shed, Deasia said she has built a model house and a small staircase during class.

“I really wanted to take this class — even if I don’t go into construction — for the life skill,” Deasia said.

Not only does the class teach life skills but also safety.

“Safety is a priority,” Greenhalgh said. “We’ve been training the students to stop if they see something (dangerous). I try to watch all of them, but they also have to be each other’s safety check.”

A GoPro digital camera suspended high over the wood shop area has been snapping photos during the course of a few weeks to document the students’ progress in building the large shed.

The goal is to build six large sheds by the end of the school year.

Greenhalgh and Moller have bigger plans for the Geometry in Construction class, if it gains in popularity and momentum in the next several years.

“We want to be self-supporting,” Greenhalgh said. “We want to build a quality product that we can sell that can fund the program.

“I want to show the students how to be more than a hobbyist and to get them to think for the better good of their community,” he added.

One such project this school year pairs the DHS students who are members of Future Problem Solvers with the woodworking students to build elevated small animal safe haven hutches that will be installed at area humane societies to provide a safer option for surrendering pets after hours.

A loftier future goal Greenhalgh has is to have his students help construct a Habitat for Humanity house.

“We would take the plans for a house and have the students pre-build it in sections, then take it to the Habitat for Humanity site and assemble it there,” he said. “We also would have to teach plumbing and electricity.”

Another project that is on the horizon is constructing small, toddler-size houses if a grant or some type of funding could be secured to launch the plan, Moller said.

After the students met the “hard deadline” of building a small shed in time for the elective fair, Moller said, “We made the decision to start building little toddler-size houses that could be used in the community.

“We just want the program to be self-sustaining and to get the community involved,” he said.

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