Maine East students build upon geometry lessons

Students at Maine East High School who learned all about angles, shapes and theorems in geometry classes this year didn't have to go far to apply those lessons in a real-world setting.

A new two-story press box behind the Park Ridge school's varsity baseball diamond is the result of a yearlong project by two Maine East geo-construction classes, where students spent the fall and winter months indoors learning geometry, and the spring outside wearing hard hats and building the structure.

It's a concept that was developed by teachers at a high school in Loveland, Colorado, and is being introduced to more schools across the country, from California to New York.

Tom Kaiser, a career and technical education teacher at Maine East, is overseeing construction of the Maine East press box, at the same time his brother, a teacher at Evanston Township High School, is working on a similar project with students to build a three-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot house for a low-income family.

“It's been shown students succeed better in geometry with contextualized learning,” Kaiser said. “Construction pairs well with geometry. It's real-world, hands-on experience. They're getting their mind around real-world things. It's not just naked math.”

Students at Maine East started the school year learning the basics of geometry and building a small balsa wood model of the press box inside the school's wood shop.

Kaiser teaches the construction component of the class, while math teachers Scott Schultes and Dave Clifford handle the geometry. The teachers were able to finish their math instruction before students were finally able to begin building the press box in March.

Each class is 90 minutes a day — essentially two regular class periods — to give students enough time to progress on construction. A total of 50 students — mostly sophomores — are enrolled in the program, in which they can fulfill a mandatory geometry class requirement, while also picking up an elective in career and technical education.

No matter their discipline, Kaiser, Schultes and Clifford are in the classroom and on the construction job site.

“They know what they're doing out here,” Kaiser said.

“I'm handy,” said Schultes, “but not a level CTE-certified teacher.”

So how exactly can geometry be applied to the construction of a press box?

Schultes said students learned how to properly cut pieces of wood by applying what they know about parallelograms: that opposite sides and angles are congruent. Or that the slope of the stairs can be calculated using rise over run.

The students put those concepts into action, cutting large pieces of wood with electric saws, then using nail guns to put the structure together. All students are required to wear construction helmets and goggles while working, and learned about proper safety as part of the class.

Ben Stamate, a sophomore, was one of the students on the job site last week during the last few days of the school year at Maine East.

“This wouldn't look like that without math,” said Stamate, taking a break from nailing down pieces of wood. “It'd be a shlub of nothing.”

There wasn't a press box at the baseball diamond previously, and the idea to build one came about as a result of conversations among teachers and staff members at Maine East.

The school district paid for the building materials. A roofing company will donate and install roofing shingles, and the baseball team has volunteered to paint the press box.

Next year, Maine East's geo-construction classes will be building a house in partnership with Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity. Students will work on building parts of the house at school, and then it will be shipped to Elgin where it will be placed on a vacant site, Kaiser said.

Kaiser, who has been teaching carpentry at Maine East since 2002, got interested in the field after taking a building trades class as a senior at Fremd High School in 1995. He still remembers some of the projects he worked on, and he hopes his current students will remember their own experiences years from now when they see the press box.

“It's a project that gives back to the school,” Kaiser said. “Every time the kids drive down Dempster (the street that goes past the high school), they're going to see what they built.”

  Maine East High School students enrolled in a geo-construction class put the finishing touches on a press box behind the school's varsity baseball diamond. Bob Chwedyk/
  Students in a Maine East High School geo-construction class work on a two-story press box behind the school's baseball diamond. Bob Chwedyk/
  Huberto Olmos, center, and his classmates work on building a press box at the Maine East baseball diamond. They were enrolled in a geo-construction class. Bob Chwedyk/
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