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3M grant for Park to promote math instruction

Mike Bahma, (far left) site director for 3M-Cottage Grove, presents Park teachers Megan Diediker (left) and Bonnie Thoe-Austin and Park Principal Kerry Timmerman with a $19,000 Ingenuity Grant. The program rewards high school teacher teams who devise innovative ways to generate student interest in science, technology, engineering and math. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

It’s been a frequent refrain of more than a few high school students: Why do I need to know math?

Park High School teachers Bonnie Thoe-Austin and Megan Diediker put together a plan to help answer that question.

Diediker teaches geometry and algebra. Thoe-Austin teaches technology integration, architectural design and a shop class where students might disassemble an 8.5 horsepower OHV Briggs & Stratton engine, put it back together and make it run.

The two collaborated to devise a course that is a hybrid of geometry and construction. They hope to teach students at Park that math is just as important a building tool as a hammer, buzz saw or concrete mixer.

Their efforts earned Park the 3Mgives Ingenuity Grant.

On May 13, Mike Bahma, site director for 3M-Cottage Grove, presented Park with a check for $19,000.

“It’s a neat deal,” said Park Principal Kerry Timmerman. “We’re really excited about the possibilities that come out of this grant.”

Diediker and Thoe-Austin were inspired by the Loveland High School Geometry In Construction Program in Colorado. The course was founded in 2006 because of a shortage of skilled workers in the local building industry. Students in the program go back and forth between a geometry class and a construction site, where they design and build a house for Habitat for Humanity. Students help install plumbing, electrical, framing, roofing and drywall.

Diediker and Thoe-Austin hope to establish a similar program at Park during the 2014-15 school year. They will travel to Colorado in June to learn how the course is taught. The 3M grant will help pay some of their travel and training expenses.

Money from the grant would also help pay for tools, lumber and other building materials for a similar student project at Park. As in the original program, Diediker and Thoe-Austin would teach in tandem, both supervising the students in the classroom and construction site.

“I’m beyond excited,” Thoe-Austin said. “It’s going to be a neat way to incorporate math into the real world.”

“It’ll be neat to teach it and have them apply it the very next hour,” Diediker added.

Park was one of 19 high schools that received a total of $355,966 in funds from the 3Mgives Ingenuity Grant program.

The application process required schools to design lessons that would generate student interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and demonstrate its practical uses outside the classroom.

This is the first year the Ingenuity Grant was awarded to high schools, Bahma said.

“Historically, it’s more been geared toward elementary and junior high schools,” he said.

The Geometry In Construction program is now used by about 125 schools around the country, said Tom Moore, a geometry teacher at Loveland who co-founded the program.

Students who took the Geometry In Construction course have consistently scored above average on the geometry and algebra portion of the Colorado state assessment test, Moore said.