Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Math: A Practical Use

Susan Notes: Memphis teacher Comment: Let me guess. Not research based, not approved under NCLB, and not published by McGraw-Hill. Any bets as to how long it will last?

Seventh-grader Nolli Taylor wasn't happy when he was recruited for a math-intensive tutoring program that kept him after school 10 hours a week for three weeks.

"They started talking about perimeter, volume, area, and I was like, 'Shoot, I don't wanna learn this stuff,' " the 13-year-old says.

Nolli is now the first one with his hands in the air in math class. He's helping his classmates with tough math problems. He's helping his younger brother and sister with math homework.

And it's all thanks to a house he helped build.

Nolli was one of 14 Georgian Hills Junior High students in the nationally acclaimed "If I Had a Hammer" program, which uses construction principles to teach math to struggling students.

Nolli and his crew helped build a small model home in the basement of the University of Memphis student center Friday, applying all they'd learned about area and perimeter.

The students worked on their design skills over the last couple of weeks, building small cardboard models. They also learned about economics by managing a construction budget.

"It was real fun," Nolli says. "We had to do it right because if you didn't, your house would be all lopsided."

The Hammer program was founded 18 years ago by Somerville, Tenn., native Perry Wilson. Wilson wanted to come up with a new way of helping struggling fifth- to eighth-graders.

Construction makes math fun and less intimidating, Wilson said. And the project gives students a chance to spend time at a college campus when they build the model, which is then dismantled and used for the next class.

Wilson stopped a successful career as a master carpenter in the 1980s to start this program to help academically struggling children.

He himself is dyslexic, didn't learn to read until he was 28 and struggled in math as well. Too many teachers let him slide by, and he doesn't want that to happen to these children, he says.

His program has helped nearly 400,000 children in more than 100 cities in North America.

Wilson is now focusing all of his attention on Memphis. Two dozen students at a time, he hopes to turn around math performance in at least 15 of the Memphis school system's high priority schools. His program, he says, has been shown to improve math scores 15 to 40 percent.

The problem with math instruction, he says, is that "teachers teach math for the sake of math. They don't help the students see how it applies to something larger, something in their lives."

— Ruma Banerji Kumar
Commercial Appeal


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.