Scott Burke, Loveland High School, Colorado
Scott Burke at Loveland High School is one of the creators of the Geometry in Construction program that is now replicated in over 300 high schools nationwide. The program centers on the construction of a complete house for a local family in need while simultaneously teaching the students the entire common core aligned geometry curriculum. To date, Burke and his students have constructed ten houses and are currently working on house number eleven. A big part of the program’s success has been the safety track record they have accomplished over this time which Burke says can only happen by developing a comprehensive culture of safety where all members of the program not only buy in, but also accept that safety is everyone’s responsibility. Burke explains that this involves a three-prong approach that motivates to think about safety practices. (Prong #1: Safety consciousness and teamwork. Prong #2: Data consciousness. Prong #3: Practice makes perfect and peer support mentors.)
At the start of the program, students are introduced to safety training and must begin to understand the importance of safety and an awareness of protecting themselves and others. Teamwork exercises are used to get the large group of students to work together toward a common goal. All of Burke’s students must pass a safety observational test on all of the different tools and are accessed on how they interact and use the tools. With data consciousness in mind, Burke is able to talk about conditional probability as it relates to different career paths. He uses this lesson to apply real statistics from OSHA and the Department of Labor to bring more situational awareness to safety. “We can do this to a much greater degree because we are linking our construction classes to math class,” Burke explains.
Students receive hundreds of hours of in class practice, where they can apply their skills in a safe environment. In addition to the 150 or more students in his classes, 30 students return as leaders in the program and are trained as math tutors and enrolled into OSHA 10-Hour safety training. When their training is completed, they act as mentors on the construction site and oversee the work and safety issues that may arise. “Safety training starts on day one of the program and continues throughout the entire year on a daily basis. Beginning with teamwork, students are trained to have safety consciousness, which transitions directly to the construction site and all of the activities performed there,” Burke says.
Because Geometry in Construction is also part math class, Burke’s students are able to engage more with data and statistics than a normal construction class. While they learn about the sliding compound miter saw, the students will make eight chairs and one large ten-foot table out of 2x4’s. For their safety observational test, each student will have to measure, lay out one piece they are assigned to, and cut it correctly. Afterwards, the student leaders will assemble all of the cut pieces into finished projects. The projects are marketed and sold throughout the year and the proceeds help fund members of our local SkillsUSA chapter to travel to conferences.
The houses that Burke and his students build are through a partnership with Berthoud Habitat for Humanity. Every student who goes through the Geometry in Construction program works on the house for the family and gets to meet the family at some point throughout the year. At the Colorado Skills USA championship our students have won gold every year for the past eight years for their efforts in community service.
“We are a program about building people up in a world that so often tries to pull them down. Beyond building a house, our classroom is anchored to the notion about building up students and affecting the lives around you in a positive way.”