San Diego – Two weeks ago on January 18, the tenth grade math students at High Tech High International (HTHI) had their “Parade of Homes” exhibition, led by their instructor, Laura Webb. It consisted of using architectural geometry, where the students had to create their ‘dream house’ in groups of three or four. They used math, existing zoning codes and conditions to define their decisions. Each member of the group chose a specific role in the process: Project Manager, Planner/ Estimator or Drafter. Once taking roles, the students chose a location where the project was to take place, and then they customized each home based on the actual zoning information of that location. For example, if the house was being built in Dallas, TX, the team would have to investigate building codes from that area. The maximum lot size was set at one quarter of an acre. What made the project interesting was the depth the students had to take in creating each home. I worked as a collaborator with some of the students both this year and last year in Laura’s class and got to witness the imagination and excitement they put toward creating these homes.
While working with the teens, I brought in some of the actual sets I helped produce while working for a local custom home design firm. It put in perspective all the actual work that goes into designing a home. From the initial meeting with the clients, to the schematic stage, design development, submital to the City, change orders, building permits, all the way through demolition and construction. I explained a lot of the process is not as much fun as it might seem and that clients are very particular sometimes, therefore they needed to have fun creating something that is both theoretical and unique since they had so much flexibility with the design. It is important for them to have fun with the design, while making it as realistic as possible in terms of sizing. Many did not have a concept of scale at the beginning, designing a 24’x30’ dining room, but only a 3’x4’ bathroom. I guided them by giving standard sizes for rooms, garages and overall scales, while explaining how cost would have to play into the mix. Then they went to town.
The students began by putting their ideas on graphing paper, creating a scale and making sure the shell of the home followed the rules: abiding to city property lines, setbacks and floor area ratio (FAR). They then had to create a more detailed 2D floor plan and if they were ambitious enough, a model in Google Sketchup. It is great for most students because it is free and is easier to get a feel for in a short amount of time, but for students without any program experience it can be tricky. While in the schematic stage, they needed to apply a budget of $500,000 and a maximum square footage defined by the site. They had to pick and choose what they wanted to invest their money in. For instance, if they wanted floor to ceiling windows, they couldn’t install hard wood floors and needed to choose a cheaper solution in carpet. By using building-cost to breakdown the budget, it allowed them to get a grasp on the number crunching aspect. Finally, after massaging their 2D floor plans and 3D models, they started producing a set of drawings. Each sets consisted of a title page, site plan, floor plan(s), elevations and a cost spreadsheet.
Once all the design work was complete and the set assembled, each team came up with a firm name and a layout for their pages to plot at a large scale for the exhibition. Each team could choose how to display their work. Some chose to show a tour of their model on a laptop along with their boards, others created a model to display. Lastly, the groups compiled a theoretical real estate listing to promote their ‘office’ and an inspiration board to describe with images how they got to their final project. The entire process took roughly two months and many of the students felt it helped connect a realistic approach toward math. That is sometimes the hardest thing when teaching youth subjects like math, finding some relevance in real life situations that they find acceptable. I asked Laura Webb a few questions about this project, here are her responses:
-Do you see yourself continuing to teach this project in the future?
“Yes! Absolutely. It is one of my favorite projects of the year because it gives me a glimpse into my students’ creative sides that are so easily showcased in a humanities class but that I often don’t get to see as a math teacher. Student feedback is always very positive and it hits many of my learning goals.”
-What are elements you feel can be improved upon?
“There are too many to list. I feel like a project of this magnitude needs years of refining. I wish I could spend more time on the project so that students could do more revisions of their floor plans, but that is difficult with so much content to cover. I also wish that I was better at the technological side (mostly Sketchup) so I could be a better aid to the students in that regard. They end up teaching me tricks every year! I also feel that the student roles could use some tweaking. The “drafter” ends up doing the bulk of the project in many cases.”
-What inspired you to use architecture as a means of teaching math?
“As a math teacher, one of the most frustrating phrases I hear all the time is, “Why would I ever need to know that?” I think architecture is a great example of a real life field that uses geometry. I am not sure exactly when I got the first idea, but I quickly latched onto it and made it bigger and bigger. I think it is a great way to teach students to find areas of unusual shapes, learn excel (such a valuable program!), use dimensional analysis to find prices to make sure they stay within budget, and differentiate area and perimeter. Historically, many of my students do not really understand the difference between a foot and a square foot, but this project seems to drive out that misconception.”
Here is a link to see a video some of the students put together of the process.