Math Teacher in Wood Shop


So the past couple of days this math teacher spent some time in the wood shop (aka Dad’s garage).

Last year, my friend Melanie posted pictures of chairs she’d painted for her mom.  She has this crazy, talented vision for seeing beautiful things.  But I remember thinking, these chairs are beautiful, even when unfinished.


A few weeks before school was out I told my dad I wanted his help building a pair of Adirondack Chairs this summer and he said sure he’d help me.  My dad’s worked with wood as long as I can remember.  He’s retired now, but no one holds a light to his knowledge and understanding of sewing machines – such a mechanical mind – always tinkering.  I remember my Granny laughing about how he’d take apart the telephone or some other item to see how it worked when he was growing up.  The smell of cut wood has always brought about happy memories for me.  When I was young, one year for Christmas, he built doll bunk beds for me – we actually refinished them a few years ago for my daughter.

He and mom borrowed a chair from some friends at church to pattern from.  We estimated how much wood we’d need.  My husband and I picked up the wood and screws this past weekend.  Tuesday morning I dropped my daughter off for 4-H camp and stopped by their house to fill my day with lots of sawdust.

ck8vvgdxiaamxgu Dad handed me pieces of the pattern and I’d trace, then cut after some instruction on the saw I would use.  So many different tools and saws.  I know that my least favorite was the jigsaw.  He blamed it on the type of blade that was in it.  Anyway, we got all the pieces cut, routered (?) the edges and was ready for assembly.

Wednesday morning we began working on the puzzle.  There were some angles we had to adjust.  I loved listening to his thinking out loud.  I’d ask questions – knowing he knew what was going on, but I was wondering – why’d we do it that way from a mathematical point of view.  So many different ways of measuring to ensure we had just the right angles.  Making sure we measured from the same level/point of reference.  A 16th or 32nd is not that big of a deal for a small measure, but when extended, something is not going to line up just right, so yes, we had to re-cut a few pieces.  When everything must line up… measurement matters.  We adjusted often as we constructed the first chair.  The second chair was much quicker than the first.  They sit perfectly.  A little bit of finishing touches to sand some rough edges, but they are ready for our front porch or back yard and hours of conversation and sipping on iced tea.

If you’ll notice in the pictures above, I’ve included a “center finder” – two of them actually.  I told my husband last night, I know how to read them, but when reading to the left, I paused and questioned myself.  No troubles when reading to the right.  But I wondered, is there something in the way I was taught that causes me to process differently when reading measurements to the left?  Is there a connection to students’ struggle when looking at signed numbers?  Some of the Exeter problems I’ve been looking at and a tie-in to the clothesline discussions will definitely show up in our classroom this fall.

As I used this tool the first time, I kept seeing a connection to absolute value.  How might I use this when introducing and working with absolute value equations / functions?  Anyone ever used this tool within this context in math class?  If I created some out of card stock and laminated, would that be sufficient?  Of having an actually tool in hand, would that make it more real for students?

Here are my take-a-ways from the past two days:

  • There are a lot of different types, sizes and qualities of wood.
  • There are just as many different types, sizes and qualities of screws.
  • Who knew so many different saws would be needed for a “simple” project?
  • Measure twice and cut once is a real thing.
  • The tools I use in math class are only the surface of what can be done.  I should build a literal classroom toolbox that enables students to see real-life angle finders, measuring devices and their uses.  “When Am I Ever Gonna Use This?” would be long gone if I taught math in this context.
  • As a math teacher, I have no clue.  I need to spend more time in shop class to develop a true understanding of applications of several of the concepts I teach.  Although on at least 3 different occasions I’ve been told no or ignored when I asked to attend Geometry in Construction – knowing it would provide purposeful curriculum for students to learn and see meaningful use of the math.
  • I can see why folks would enjoy woodworking.  It was a great learning experience.  Relaxing too.
  • I have a pair of treasures we created that will be around for years to come.
  • Time with my parents.  My mom kept our tumblers full of iced sun tea and just observed our work.  Priceless.  Especially with all the tragic events this past week in Orlando.  A split second changes our lives – before we even have a chance to think.  I am grateful to have invested time with my mom and dad these past couple of days.  I am saddened for those who no longer have this opportunity.

But even more saddened by those who choose not to take advantage of the opportunity.  Let’s lay off of social media, celebrate with one another in real life.  Do without a few less material items, work a few less hours so you can invest in time with one another – its worth far more than something that will only fade with time.


One response »

  1. Pingback: Summer Reading 2016 #MTBoSBlaugust Post 7 | the radical rational...

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