Geometry class goes distance to teach life's true measures

Friday, October 15, 2004

There's a poster on the wall of Donna Shaver's classroom that bears the words "Math is Everywhere."

For almost a decade, the Jackson High School geometry teacher has dreamed of bringing the poster's message to life for her students and simultaneously helping her community.

She knew just how she'd do it, bringing business people into the classroom and taking her students on field trips to job sites so they could see firsthand the math skills needed in construction, heating, plumbing and vehicle repair.

From Shaver's planning, Jackson High School's first geo-tech class emerged this year with a specific purpose: geometry lessons that make sense to students.

This week, that lesson came from Ron Obermann through a field trip to Obermann's heating, cooling and plumbing business in Jackson.

Shaver's 11 students gathered around a table in the basement of Obermann & Son Inc. on Greensferry Road, watching in awe as a worker skillfully cut and shaped sheet metal into an air duct.

"All this he's doing, any of you can do if you know math and know how to use a ruler," Obermann said. "Everything is based on math -- diameter, circumference, pipe size, weights, calculating air flow."

The math lesson at Obermann's also took a side trip into the land of employment advice.

"If you come in with your pants hanging down, you won't even get past the receptionist," Obermann told the students. "Look professional, look neat."

The geo-tech class is designed specially for students who are not bound for a four-year university after high school. Instead, it targets students who want to go on to a two-year college or technical school to learn a trade; students who may get stuck taking lower-level courses because they're not on track for a four-year degree.

"Geometry is theory, but there's so much hands-on practical geometry that can be done as well. You can't squeeze both into one school year," Shaver said. "I didn't want a watered-down arithmetic class for these kids. They're smart kids."

In the back of Shaver's classroom, several class projects line one wall. There's a row of miniature duct work, similar to what the students saw at Obermann's, but made out of neon-colored poster board instead of metal. There's an electrical panel the students created using series and parallel circuits.

One thing you won't find in this class is fraction worksheets and other repetitive problems.

"Real life is messy, messy math. The students are motivated to do this because it makes sense to them," Shaver said. "My kids never have to ask 'When am I ever going to use this?'"

Shaver said she hopes the community will take note of the class and that more business people will step forward to share their knowledge with her students through on-site field trips or guest appearances in her classroom. For more information, contact Shaver at

335-6611, ext. 128

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