Pilot program at McWane Science Center encourages careers in math and science

Math and science may not be your best subjects, but the world needs people who are strong in these disciplines. Advances in medicine, engineering, construction and other industries are dependent on it. Which is why a pilot program for fifth grade students at the McWane Science Center is garnering so much attention.

'If I Had a Hammer' is a mathematics application program. Students build a house large enough for the entire class to fit inside. Throughout the building process, there is a strong a focus on fractions. Fractions are the gateway to algebra, which is the gateway to{} the sciences.

Fifth grade students from Locust Fork Elementary took their jobs seriously. On this day, they were construction workers, under deadline to finish building a house. It was not a real house of course. But the students got{} a glimpse into how math applies in real life careers.

Kathy Fournier is vice president of McWane's education department. She saw a gap in their education programs. "We've always been really strong in the science, pretty good in the engineering, and we really wanted to bring on the math and the technology side of what we're doing here at McWane so this is what we're doing in terms of bringing in more math," said Fourier.

McWane partnered with If I Had a Hammer which is an initiative that started in Nashville. Right now McWane is testing it as a pilot program with ten elementary schools across the state. Prior to getting their hands on a hammer for "the build",{} students spend several hours on curriculum that focuses heavily on fractions.

"That's where the kids struggle the most in class, typically in math. So we want to strengthen those skills, combine it with building this house to show them that there's a place for math."

The program goes hand in hand with the Alabama Math Science and Technology Initiative. Director, Steve Ricks, says AMSTI serves in a supportive role for the program; even providing education specialists to{} help teachers with the curriculum prior to the build. And while the program is just a pilot, Ricks says he would like to see it as a permanent addition at McWane.

Math teacher, Deborah Hill , agrees. "Actually doing math and science is what we're trying to get our students to do. We need to get them to see the value of that. It's not jut paper and pencil math anymore," said Hill.

When the house was complete the students pride and excitement were evident. Not only had they built their house, they applied lessons learned in class to do it.

Perhaps fifth grader Austin McMurry summed it up best. "It's a lot of fun and all you need to know is perimeter and area."{}{}{}