How many washers will six pieces of spaghetti spanning two cups hold? This is a good question, and it’s one Bruce Peterson asks his “Geometry in Construction” class at Carver College and Career Academy, where he has been teaching for the last five years.
Until this year, Patterson has been teaching construction trades, and geometry was only a side subject, taught in a small room off the carpentry class, to teach carpentry students the geometry needed to square a wall or cut a rafter. This year he has teamed with the school’s geometry teacher to offer this new course. Students earn a credit for both Geometry and Carpentry 1 and see the real-world application of mathematics.
“They learn construction methods and how it ties into math,” said Patterson. “Out next project will be a shed, and we’re going to sell the shed. Again, they will learn how it all goes together: measurements, calculating roof pitches, and cutting out rafters – all math-related.”
Some teachers and administrators in Chesterfield County schools are changing the methodology for teaching in the classroom. For instance, carpentry class wasn’t as robust in years past. Now the concept of construction and math becomes an “aha” moment. “Now I understand why geometry is important,” a student might say. New teaching methods at Carver Academy do just that; bring the real world into the classroom.
“So we have an algebra teacher or geometry and a carpentry teacher in the same class,” said Carver Academy Principal Dr. Kenneth Butta.
“The goal is to integrate the hands-on practical with keeping kids interested in things.”
Butta explained how skills learned at Carver can be used not only in the particular occupation chosen by a student, but in other disciplines as well.
“We have five academies that students apply to from all the other high schools: culinary arts, child development, business and IT, construction trades, hospitality and tourism, and recreation and sports leadership,” said Butta. “As an example, in our culinary students start
with a food handler’s certificate then they go for serve safe manager’s certificate and then on to the culinary certificate through the American Culinary Institute.”
All of the trades, including Peterson’s class, are participating in an overarching project that is being built in the courtyard of the school. Butta said when the greenhouse is finished it will have raised planting beds.
“The construction kids build it, the culinary kids come in and harvest vegetables, they’ll have eggs to use in class to prepare things; child development students are partnering with childcare centers and elementary students. It’s a real practical way of teaching,” Butta said.
The skills taught at Carver Academy are hands-on and can be used just about as soon as a student gets out of high school, which is no more evident than how Peterson’s program gets kids ready to work. He teaches wood framing, masonry, plumbing, electrical, and some of just about anything a young tradesman might need to get started and then get proficient with.
Peterson works from dawn to late in the evening, not leaving much time for a social life, he admits, but his work ethic and care for his students and colleagues has him currently representing Carver as the 2016-17 Teacher of the Year.
Peterson graduated from the University of Florida in 1987 with a degree in Construction Management and has spent most of his career as a contractor building restaurants such as Applebee’s. He is a Class A contractor with many years of experience in both commercial and residential construction.
He said he has always been into carpentry, building, and cabinetry “you name it.”
“I built about 260 Applebees across the country. I had my own company for 11 years. The Applebee’s down the street I built a long, long time ago and then it wasn’t fun anymore,” Peterson said.
As the economy went south at the end of the last decade Peterson decided to move on and get into something a little less stressful. Now, he’s having a blast, he says.
“I truly believe everything happens for a reason. If you had told me I would have been teaching [at this point in my life], I would have told you you were crazy, but it is the best thing that I have ever done.”