Friday, January 06, 2012

build a boat, teach math

Joe Youcha at Alexandria Seaport has gotten funding to widen the range of his program, building boats to teach math. So watch for some growth. If you are involved in teaching, you might enjoy making use of his program. Some of the training will be offered on-line. Check out Building to Teach. You can't build anything successfully, a boat or a box without using math. And a bit of math will help to understand tools and make them more useful in your hand.

I think this can be an important step, and Joe has gotten the Office of Naval Research to concur. We know that there are many more things we learn in wood shop beyond math. But most of us actually get better at math by using it for something real and practical. The video is an example of some of Joe's teaching material.

Something we need to come to terms with is that there is a difference between math verbalized and math used. Our body-neglecting teach-to-the-test educational culture lays great emphasis on the verbalization of math nothing on its use. But have a kid stand straight and tall, and he or she is using the math of the body. Swing the arm holding the hammer and the child is forming an arc. Strike a nail and there are events involving angle of incidence and vectors of force. I am thinking about doing a chart or video on how to bend a nail. For one cannot drive a nail "straight" (a verbalization of a math concept) without using the body's understanding of math, but one can certainly bend lots of nails if one does not. Unfortunately, a verbal understanding of math alone will get you no closer to making something real, but understanding the body and math, will get you to the point from which you can better understand the words of math and make something real at the same time.

Unfortunately, teaching to the test, and being able to verbalize math matters more to the educational status quo than being able to use it. Perhaps when they see what kids can actually do, we can change that.

Some days are like that, right? I spent hours today trying to figure out why a cabinet door wouldn't close properly. I took the hinges off, put them back on a number of times. I bought new hinges, even though I couldn't find a thing wrong with the ones I had. Then I decided to check out the rare earth magnets I had inserted in the case and doors to hold it closed. I found I had reversed one, so it was holding the cabinet open instead of closed. From now on, I'll be more careful when I glue them in place. Don't we all have days like this on occasion? Now I am relieved. The doors and I can go on to other things.

Make, fix and create...


  1. I think much of what can be said for math can also be said for science. So much of what we do as teachers relies on our ability to get our kids "hooked". I have taught science for 15 years, but it is my first time incorporating woodworking into my curriculum. I have always tried my best to get students to take responsibility for their learning and show interest, and this year I can honestly say that I am doing this better than ever- and I teach in an alternative setting. Woodworking has not only allowed me to hook my kids, it has enabled me to drop anchor! Ahoy Matey!

  2. Anonymous10:41 AM

    the link is broken

  3. There is more learned than math, or science, or any other academic subject by building a boat. Kids learn that they can accomplish something they never imagined they could do, build a boat which floats and carries people, and they get to directly experience the results.

  4. Mike Roha12:21 PM

    Great post Doug! To second the anonymous comment, the link to Building to Teach is broken. It has an extra "t" on the work "to".

    Thanks for your great insights.

  5. Mike, I'm glad you liked the post and thanks for telling me where to fix. The link should work now.