Posted by: Carol | March 28, 2012

Roseville High Puts the Geometry in Construction

Roseville Joint Union High School District (RJUHSD) has a problem. Specifically, it’s a “geometry” problem. A few years back, it implemented a geometry requirement for graduation, which sounds like a fairly reasonable objective. It turns out that meeting it is actually much more challenging than anticipated. In fact, alarmingly high rates of students are failing to pass the requirement and graduate.

This is serious issue and one that isn’t Roseville Joint Union’s alone.

Fortunately for the students of RJUHSD, district and school officials were unwilling to accept that so many of them were just not going to make the grade. In the spring of 2011, district officials approached Roseville High School administrators and teachers about piloting a curriculum from Colorado – one that took a radical new approach to teaching math and specifically, geometry. The program, called Geometry in Construction was one that contextualized geometry instruction and learning in the build of a house.

Yes, a house. A whole house. The kind with plumbing and electricity and flooring and a roof that won’t leak when it rains:

The floor plan and artist rendition of the house being built by Roseville High School Geometry in Construction students.

The Geometry in Construction curriculum offers students a rigorous geometry course (it meets all standards and requirements, including the a-g requirements for UC & CSU systems) that’s integrated with a CTE Construction course. It centers on a capstone project – the build of an entire house (the build site is on the school’s campus) – to which all geometry lessons are applied, providing students immediate and real world demonstrations and opportunities to use what they’re learning in their math class. Simultaneously, they are learning and acquiring a valuable foundation of knowledge in Green Built Techniques, construction, and leadership/employability skills.

Can you guess the results of a curriculum like this? RJUHSD did, but they didn’t have to just imagine. It turns out that when students are able to take geometry concepts and skills and apply them to real-world contexts, they’re able to learn the material better than when they are expected to simply listen to lectures and then work problems out of a textbook. Loveland High School in Colorado’s Thompson School District has been implementing the curriculum for four years now, and has some pretty astonishing data to substantiate their claim that contextualized education, done well, can make an enormous difference for diverse learners and the teachers who teach them. Take a look at some of the test data from the Geometry in Construction program in Colorado when compared to regular geometry classes in the school district:

Thompson School District's Geometry CSAP test scores by high school from 2009-10.

Thompson School District Geometry CSAP test scores by high school from 2008-09.

Thompson School District's Geometry CSAP test scores by school in 2007-08.

Now, let’s come back to Roseville, CA, during the spring of 2011. Roseville High’s construction teacher, Jeff Bailey, and geometry teacher, Tyson Maytanes, had been approached by their school administrators about the idea of implementing Geometry in Construction at their site. The school district flew them out to Colorado to visit Loveland High School and see the program in action for themselves, and what they saw both excited and inspired them. Bailey described the visit as, “Twenty-four hours of amazement. We’d never seen that type of learning, student engagement, or teamwork before.” They came back, ready and eager to take a chance on this new project. With the support of Janet Sloan at the Fresno County Office of Education, they were both able to attend the week-long training on how to implement and integrate the Geometry in Construction curriculum at Roseville High. Then, without even knowing how exactly they were going to fund the program (it costs about $30,000 to get off the ground), they began enrolling students for Fall 2011, and making phone calls.

Industry Partners
Jeff Bailey, the construction teacher, spent a good deal of time lining up and coordinating with industry partners. As he readily admits, he’s a construction teacher, but that doesn’t mean he has all the specialized skills that are required to actually help kids build an entire, functioning, livable house. For that, he was going to need help. When he reached out to some of his industry contacts about collaborating with the school on the Geometry in Construction program, he was pleasantly surprised by their response. It turned out that trade-based industry had felt left out of the conversation around STEM education, despite the fact that they have a high need for a well-trained workforce with a solid grounding and mastery of math concepts.

Bailey will tell you that he’s never used as many of his phone plan’s minutes as he has this past year. He’ll also tell you that while he started by calling a handful of industry contacts he already had, 99% of Roseville High’s Geometry In Construction industry partners are new. They’re made up of businesses and people that he’d never met prior to the start of this project. And some of them even called him. “There was a lot of word of mouth,” he explained. “A lot of businesses see the value [of a program like this], and want to get involved. [In spite of the recession], they want to find ways to help you.”

Roseville High School Geometry in Construction students working on the frame of the house.

Dollars and Sense
Remember that part about needing $30,000 to get the project off the ground? Well, by leveraging different resources, the school district and the school were able to cobble together a little more than half of that amount. Still, they were struggling to see how they were going to make up the difference. This is where the CTE Pathways Initiative and the Sierra STEM Collaborative comes in. Bailey and Maytanes met with Carol Pepper-Kittredge and Karen Fraser-Middleton, who immediately recognized that this was an amazing opportunity to create a long-term, self-sustaining program and agreed to provide a one-time grant. You read that right – after the first year, Geometry in Construction is self-sustaining. You know that house the students build in conjunction with the geometry they’re learning? Well, once it’s built, it gets sold. It is, after all, an actual, real, habitable house. And the money from the sale of the house? It funds the next year’s program.

Some Early Takeaways
Roseville High’s Geometry in Construction program is in its first year, so there’s no hard outcomes data to share about it yet. What we do know, though, is that there are currently 73 students enrolled in the program, down from an initial 80 students. Of the seven that left the program, only three dropped out due to grades. Of the students in the program, 30% are female. In terms of ethnicity, about 30% are Hispanic and 40-50% are White.

Both teachers are eager to talk about the program – how it’s challenged and engaged the students in new and different ways. Tyson Maytanes, the geometry teacher, noted that not once this year has he heard a student ask, “Why do we have to learn this?” – a common refrain in his other traditional math classes. He also mentioned that the Geometry in Construction curriculum is based on the CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics) model, which utilizes collaborative, discovery-based math instruction practices – a major pedagogical shift from what he was used to doing. He admitted that making the change to this new way of teaching was as difficult for his students as it was for him. “There’s a lot of problem solving involved,” he told us. “It requires [the students] to think about the problems and figure them out. It was like pulling teeth…they didn’t want to do it. They just wanted me to tell them how to find the answer.”

Roseville High School students working on geometry problems together.

It took nearly an entire semester before the students started to feel comfortable with the type of critical thinking required to learn geometry this way. But Maytanes is pretty confident that his students are learning what they need, and has even started incorporating pieces of the Geometry in Construction math curriculum into his traditional geometry classes. He noted that this new style of teaching requires a great deal more work and prep on his part than his former methods, but that he thought it was worth it.

Bailey agrees that the program has altered him as an educator as well. He admits that his students continue to surprise him with their capacity to learn and do – and that he’d particularly underestimated his “non-traditionals.” These are his female students, which are typically very rare in construction courses. He noted that not only are they very capable and competent, the female students tended to work harder than the male students in the class. “I’m shooting for 50% for next year,” he added, referring to his recruitment plans for more female students.

We’ll be sure to check back with Bailey and Maytanes once they wrap up their first year of the program to see how things went for them and their students. Meanwhile, you can keep tabs on their activities yourself, by following Roseville High’s Geometry in Construction Facebook page. For more information, please contact Carol Pepper-Kittredge at or (916) 781-6288.


  1. […] Roseville High Puts the Geometry in Construction( […]

  2. […] “heads-up” on the upcoming Summer 2012 UC Curriculum Integration (UCCI) Institute. Our last post was about Geomentry in Construction – a fantastic example of an integrated concurrent […]

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