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From blackboard to drawing board; Boyd students apply math skills to design tree houses

By David Talley | Published Wednesday, October 4, 2017
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Design Phase

DESIGN PHASE – Teacher Robin Nobles gives Jackson Moats and Garrett Vancampen pointers on sketching floor plans for their tree houses in a Boyd High School math class. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Hunched over their drawing boards, students scrawl geometric shapes and angles with the help of fixed rulers, plotting out plans for tree houses.

Some have multiple floors and sections, connected by intricate aerial walkways. This is a math class at Boyd High School.

“We had to learn how to draw using perspective so we could learn what shapes and forms look like. Then we started on surface area,” said teacher Robin Nobles.

Nobles has a background in architecture and partnered with geometry teacher Brandon Moore to lead the course, which blends geometry and construction and counts as a math and career technology credit.

Freshmen Drake Heid drew plans Tuesday for a two-story treehouse with a rooftop observation deck. Heid said he’d been inspired by modern architecture and stacked shipping containers.

Devin Prim, another ninth grader, plotted a treehouse split into two sections connected by a walkway. Prim said he wanted to challenge himself to try to design something more than just a square structure.

“I felt like everybody else was going to do the square one,” he said. “I figured it would be overused. It’s more challenging, but I’m OK with it.”

Nobles said Principal Dr. Susan Foster had the course at a school she’d worked at before and helped the two teachers come together in late July to plan a curriculum.

The class meets four times a week, twice in Moore’s geometry classroom in the math hall and twice in Nobles’ art room for hands-on instruction that applies to previous lessons.

She’s already seeing students advance past math concepts that would have tripped them up earlier in the semester.

“We had this homework problem where students were asked to center a rug in a room, ‘your rug is this big. What would you need to know and how would you do it?'” she said. “It was confusing for all of them. We came in here and were talking about how to center a door on a wall, and it’s the same exact problem. We kept saying, ‘remember that rug problem? We’re doing the same thing. They didn’t really struggle with it in here.”

Other schools that have been holding the class for several years will have students design and build tiny houses, Nobles said. They’re planning to start small, though, finishing the year with a playhouse project.

“This is our first year, so we wanted to keep it small and simple,” she said.

They’ll put together smaller parts of the playhouse in the art room and finish larger parts of the project in the ag barn, she said. For now, students are just focusing on creating their floor plans.

They’ll also eventually build a model of a treehouse. The class even has branches to simulate actual trees to anchor their model, she said. It’s the first full project the class has worked on, and it’s been a learning experience for all involved, she said.

“[Most of] the six weeks has led up to this,” she said. “Their progress is starting to really show.”

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