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Brewster High School’s Math in Carpentry and Construction Allows Students to See Math Through a Whole New Lens

MC2 shows students how math theories can be applied to real-life problems

A group of students gathered around a class-made saw horse. Heads bent, they studied angles, carefully marking a piece of wood. Once satisfied, one of the students donned a pair of clear safety goggles and sliced through the wood with a saw while his classmates watched on. One thing was clear: this was not a typical math class.

Math in Carpentry and Construction (or MC2), a new math class offered this year, is the brainchild of Brewster High School teacher Michael Honey.

“I do this mostly as a hobby,” Honey said of construction. “I build a ton of projects. As I’ve been doing them over the last couple of years, I’ve realized how much math I use.”

Having taught geometry almost exclusively for twenty years, Honey realized more specifically that geometry is an essential part of building anything.

Tired of hearing the age-old question “When am I ever going to use this again?”, Honey thought to create a course where geometry lessons are directly applied to carpentry. The result is an engaging, hands-on class that students seem to love. 

At the beginning of a recent class, students gathered around a table to discuss a project they’re working on: a bench with a ninety-degree angle that can fit in a corner.

Honey guided students in using trigonometry to figure out the angles each of the bench’s slats need to be in order for the project to come together successfully. Once the math was figured out, the class headed outside into the cool September sunshine.

After helping Honey set up, students gathered around to work on the next phase of their bench. Taking turns, they measured, cut, and drilled new pieces onto the frame they had already made.

“The nice thing about carpentry,” Honey told them, “is that there’s always a finished product. Sometimes in math, you’ll learn a theory and say ‘Alright, that’s fine,’ and then walk out the door. But when you can apply that to carpentry and make a finished piece, that’s satisfying.”

Throughout the entire lesson, Honey’s enthusiasm was contagious. As students lined up pieces of wood and started to see their project take shape, he couldn’t help but exclaim “How good does that feel?!”

“It’s a really fun class,” said student Matthew Clark. “I like it a lot.” Clark, who hopes to become a welder, was looking to the future when he enrolled in MC2. “I’ve always been involved in carpentry and building things. I like to know the math behind construction and I think this class will help in my career.”

The class will help students become career-ready in many ways. Students are not only learning how to build things, but how to apply knowledge to real-world problems. Critical thinking, collaboration, and perseverance — some of the essential skills of a Brewster graduate laid out in the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan — are all crucial pieces of the course. In addition, Honey plans to give students a little business experience as well.

“For the first half of the year,” Honey said, “we’re going to make a bunch of small projects. We’ll try to sell them around Christmas time to raise money for material for the second half of the year.”

In the spring, he hopes to have them building house-type structures with walls, siding and roofing that can be taken apart so that materials can be reused.

Combining life skills and hands-on experience with lessons in math, MC2 truly prepares students for success in a changing world.

MC2 students figure out angles before cutting wood