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Teacher Workshop Experience

Anatomy of Oregon Building Congress' Teacher Workshops

by Duncan Smith, Oregon Building Congress Consultant

This summer marked the eighth year in which the Oregon Building Congress (OBC) has sponsored its week-long summer workshops for teachers. The first Summer Math Workshop started in Portland in 1997, and the first Summer Science Workshop took place at Oregon State University in Corvallis in 2000. This past summer OBC sponsored two simultaneous Science Workshops, one in Klamath Falls and the other in Medford. Following these workshops, OBC scheduled a Math Workshop in Portland and a pilot Math Workshop in Eugene. A total of thirty-six math, science, and professional/technical teachers attended the four workshops. In the past eight years 346 teachers have been "students" at these workshops. Over 90% of the teachers have rated the workshops in the top 10 or 20% of all their professional development activities.

Purpose of the Workshops. The overall purpose of these teacher workshops is to show math, science, and professional/technical teachers how their subjects are taught and used in the construction industry, basically a form of contextual teaching. The idea is to help teachers make their subjects more relevant to their students and to give them lesson plans and activities they can take back to their classrooms. Instructors are apprentice trainers from apprentice training programs, community college instructors, university professors, and contractors. OBC asks all instructors to provide outlines of their presentations and actual handout materials that the teachers can use in school. For each workshop OBC creates an extensive two-inch, three-ring binder of these materials and other information for the teachers. Teachers also learn about career opportunities in the construction industry and what it takes to become an apprentice, technician, or manager in the construction industry --- information they can pass on to their students.

Finally, the workshops give teachers an opportunity to work in teams, especially teams that combine math or science teachers with professional/technical teachers. OBC hopes that teachers will be able to interest others in their schools in the value of team-teaching. OBC has also arranged with Portland State, Southern Oregon, and Oregon State Universities for teachers to earn graduate credits if they do a post-workshop assignment. These varying purposes all help OBC with its primary mission – "to partner with educators to increase the quality and diversity of entrants into the building industry."

Planning for Workshops. OBC's planning process for a workshop begins from six months to a year before the summer schedule, often in partnership with an educational service district that wants to sponsor one or more workshops for teachers in its district. This initial planning relates primarily to writing grants for funding and setting forth the basic schedule for a week. OBC also applies for grants from foundations or industry sponsors. Each workshop costs OBC anywhere from $14,000 to $17,000, depending on location. Apprentice training centers, community colleges, and participating contractors provide most instructor time as an in-kind contribution. Those costs, if charged, would easily match OBC's direct costs. Expenses not covered by grants are absorbed by OBC from its operating income. However, OBC has to commit resources to the next summer's schedule before it actually receives funds from grants because of the lead times necessary to line up instructors and locations for the workshops. Workshops outside the Portland area, such as in Eugene, Medford and Klamath Falls, require numerous trips for planning meetings.

Once instructors and locations are set, marketing for a workshop begins-letting teachers know about the workshop and telling them why they should attend. At the same time OBC applies to one of its university partners to arrange for graduate credits for the workshop and for clock-hour certification for Washington teachers. Oregon teachers receive 30 Professional Development Units for attending and Washington teachers receive 30 clock hours. Usually by March 1 of each year, OBC posts an online application form on its web site at and also provides a schedule and other information.

Just prior to a scheduled workshop, OBC gathers all the lesson plans and handout materials and other information (roster, schedule, maps and driving directions, college and apprenticeship information) and makes sufficient copies for the workshop and then puts the three-ring binders together with teacher and instructor name badges, along with the most recent issue of Building Futures, OBC's magazine for teachers and students and this year, for the first time, CD's with lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations. At this point OBC must schedule a construction site visit, usually with one of its contracting partners. OBC also arranges for lunches for the teachers during the week.

The night before the workshop hard hats and binders and other materials are loaded in the coordinator's vehicle for the commencement of the workshop the next morning. The coordinator then supervises the workshop, helps with some of the lessons, answers questions, takes attendance, takes pictures for Building Futures, takes a class picture to be sent to each teacher, prepares Certificates of Completion (usually done prior to the workshop), arranges for the construction site tour, takes applications for graduate credits, and handles the closing. The coordinator also acts as an adjunct professor in grading post-workshop assignments for graduate credits from Portland State.

Workshop Success. The success of OBC's workshops depends largely on the voluntary, in-kind contributions of training centers, community colleges, universities, and contractors in providing locations, instructors, and instructor time to prepare and deliver workshop classes. The overall quality of any workshop depends directly on the quality of the instruction. Just as in public school, some experience helps to improve the quality of the teaching. In general, the apprentice instructors and contractors who have participated in the past know what to expect and deliver excellent classes with the right mix of theory and hands-on activities. In this respect the Portland Math Workshops get the benefit of instructors who have participated for a number of years.

2004 Klamath Falls Science Workshop. June marked the first workshop in Klamath Falls for OBC, using the science lab at Mazama High School for the class presentations and activities. Eight stalwart science and professional/technical teachers attended, and the teachers expressed enthusiasm for this kind of workshop in Klamath Falls. As one teacher noted, "It exceeded my expectations as far as what I can actually use in my classroom." Another teacher said, "This workshop not only gave me a better idea of the various construction trade fields, but also the needed link … to provide for students as a teacher toward these areas (apprenticeship programs, etc.)."

The first day started with Walt Gamble (Gamble Construction Services) giving a lesson on and demonstration of Pascal's Law, which states that "pressure applied to a confined liquid [or gas] is transmitted undiminished through the liquid in all directions, regardless of the area to which it is applied." This is the basic law of hydraulics. Pascal later invented the medical syringe and the hydraulic press. Walt then showed the class how to "levitate" the instructor on a table with nothing more than eight plastic trash bins with wooden inserts for the floors, four garbage bags with straw inserts between each stack of two pails per table leg, and four teachers willing to blow through straws simultaneously. Presto! The table and instructor were lifted from the floor with "hydraulic" force. "I will definitely use this next year," commented one teacher.

In the afternoon Bob Pyritz (Western Paving Co.) presented the necessity of compaction in building roads, noting how various materials are used in road-building and how they and different soils react to compaction. Bob's presentation was followed by Rich Tolvstad (RT & Associates, Inc.), who took the class back to ancient Greece and the great scientist, Archimedes, and his famous Principle on Buoyancy: "The buoyant force on a body immersed in a fluid is equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by that object." Rich's presentation showed the problems he faced on a construction project on a lake shoreline constructing an underwater equipment vault, using barges as work platforms. The class then tackled a problem of estimating the number of BB's a small cylinder should hold to reach a defined waterline when placed in a bowl of water, using postage scales and calculators. I would like to see "even more like the buoyancy testing," noted one teacher enthusiastically.

On Tuesday the class met at Jefferson State Ready Mix to learn the mysteries of cement, concrete, and aggregates. Greg Juell (Lehigh Cement Co.) gave a presentation on the manufacture of cement and the chemical properties of the ingredients. Then Al Pranghoffer gave the class a tour of the facility, showing how concrete is mixed and loaded onto concrete trucks for particular jobs. This tour was followed by lunch and an afternoon with Steve Malany (P & C Construction Co.), consisting of hands-on mixing of various concrete formulas and then testing them for strength. This project was not only hands-on, but hands full of concrete mixes, described by a teacher as "fun hands-on activities that could be used in the classroom."

Wednesday brought a day of earthquakes. Dr. Nason McCullough (CH2M Hill) gave a morning presentation on earthquakes and their effects on buildings and other structures (and each teacher received a CD containing the presentation) followed by a demonstration of saturated soil reacting to the shaking of an earthquake. The moral: Don't build on soils that can become saturated! In the afternoon Ralph Henderson (Rogue Community College) and Dale Bohannan (Building Department Services) then demonstrated how buildings are constructed to "take the quake." After a presentation on and demonstration of loads and lines of force, the teachers formed teams to build their own suspension bridges, using string, pencils, cardboard strips, and some clamps. The test-which bridge would hold the most weight? The afternoon received two thumbs up! One teacher spoke for all, "Walls to show shear panels-great. Suspension bridges exercise-wonderful."

Thursday was electricity day, and Les McLain (Pacific Electrical Contractors) and Marc Wooldridge (Crater Lake Electrical Training Center) arrived from Medford to discuss electrical theory and to lead the class in a number of electrical experiments: building an electromagnet with a battery, wire, and nails; examining small, permanent magnet motors; building a small transformer; and creating chemical batteries with potatoes, electrodes, and wire. In the afternoon the presentation moved to electrical distribution systems, including transmission, substations, and local distribution. The afternoon ended with power factors and line losses. The day gave the class, in the words of one teacher, "a number of examples for students to experiment with . . . ."

The last morning of the week consisted of a very interesting tour the IFA Nursery in Klamath Falls, hosted by Jack Markgraf (President of Horizon Erectors Inc. and contractor for the main building). This tour gave the class a look at the use of geothermal water for heating and the science involved in growing tree seedlings for forest managers. Julie, our tour guide, was very knowledgeable and gave the class excellent information on what it takes to grow seedlings on a mass basis. A typical comment about the tour, "Great visit! I plan to bring students to this site."

2004 Medford Science Workshop. Walt Gamble, Rich Tolvstad, Steve Malany, Bob Pyritz, Ralph Henderson, Dale Bohannon, Nason McCullough, Ph.D. (from one of AGC's newest members, CH2M Hill), Les McClain and Marc Wooldridge all duplicated their Klamath Falls presentations in the Medford Science Workshop held at Rogue Community College. In addition, Rob Hernandez and Steve Miller of S &B James hosted the Medford teachers for a session on green building. Dale Lininger of LTM, Inc. was kind enough to arrange a visit at the LTM concrete plant. Russ Batzer of Batzer Inc. set up a visitation to one of his construction sites. All of these gentlemen donated both their time and expenses to make the workshops a reality.

2004 Portland Workshop. Six teachers participated in our Portland Summer Math Workshop this summer, five middle school teachers and one high school teacher. All were math teachers, and one also taught science. Although several teachers noted that some of the math applications were beyond their students' levels, all the teachers rated the workshop in the top 10-20% of all their professional development activities.

The teachers started their week with a tour of the Sheet Metal Training Center (HVAC and Metals Institute) in Portland and a description of the trade by Ric Olander, Assistant Coordinator. The class then dove into circles and triangles with Ralph Shaeffer, retired Senior Math Instructor. The class went right to work in constructing 90º elbows on intersecting ducts, using a bit of projected geometry to draw two-dimensional shapes and turn them into 3-D models. In the afternoon the class returned to the unit circle and the trig functions, including the famous "Trig Archer." "Great math! Excellent projects," commented one teacher.

Tuesday brought the class to the Willamette Carpenters Training Center for some construction math (using the Pythagorean Theorem) in building a gazebo roof and then a set of stairs and stringers. The sawdust was flying and the nail guns were popping as the teachers built their stairway, finishing their project by posing on their new stairs for a class picture. "Awesome! I had a great time," wrote an enthusiastic teacher.

More carpentry lessons followed on Wednesday at Portland Community College (Rock Creek), where Kirk Garrison of the Building Construction Technology Department introduced the class to architectural drawings and building layout. Armed with tape measures and chalk lines, the teachers moved to the sidewalks to lay out a building footprint from the drawings. After lunch, Department Chair Spencer Hinkle taught the class how to read site plans and use geometry to lay out a building using a Total Station instrument. Then it was out to the grassy fields to test their skills with the instrument and lay out the building corners from a fixed location (radial layout). One teacher commented, "Kirk had a great activity that I could modify and use for my lessons, and it was fun to use the total station."

For the first time PGE joined OBC's summer math program, and the class spent an "electrifying" Thursday at the PGE Training Center in Wilsonville. At PGE four different instructors (including a last-minute substitute from Pacific Power, which shares the training center) described various aspects of PGE's electrical distribution system and its training of apprentices. The class learned about 3-phase service (using vectors and trigonometry). They saw how general math is used to calculate conductor strains and sagging wires and how to calculate pole strength in terms of wind, temperature, and wire weight. In the afternoon the class learned about wire sizes, sizing transformers with ratios and proportions, and even Ohm's Law. They ended the day with a review of Programmable Logic Controllers, using Boolean math.

On Friday, the class finished a whirlwind week with a presentation on the Hillsboro Civic Center project by OBC's president, Ross Vroman, Vice President of Skanska USA Building, and his site construction managers. The teachers were amazed at the amount of planning, estimating, bidding, and organizing required by this kind of large project. A final teacher comment sums up the week and one of the purposes of the workshop-"Perfect! These guys were great. Kids will get really motivated by learning about construction sites and seeing their math in action."

2004 Eugene Math Workshop. This past summer marked the first time that OBC has brought its Summer Math Workshops to Eugene, partnering with the Lane Educational Service District and Lane Community College. Lane ESD provided marketing, stipends for teachers, and substantial funding for OBC. The Associated General Contractors Educational Foundation also gave OBC a generous grant. Lane Community College provided the primary classroom, and AGC provided the services of its carpentry apprentice instructor. In addition, Central Electrical Training Center hosted the teachers for a day of electrical instruction (and an excellent lunch) at its first-class facility in Tangent. The teachers capped their week with a climb to the top of the new I-5 bridge over the Willamette River, courtesy of Hamilton Construction Company.

The class roster contained an unusual combination of teachers for OBC; nine of the 13 teachers are professional/technical teachers in areas such as wood shop, metals, cabinetmaking, manufacturing, technical drafting, welding, and carpentry-a challenging group. The remaining teachers are math teachers.

Ralph Shaeffer, Senior Math Instructor Emeritus in sheet metal, came down from Portland, despite his eighty years, to start the week. Ralph showed how geometry is used in sheet metal work to lay out three-dimensional round, pyramidal, and rectangular shapes on a flat surface. The teachers made a 90° elbow where two 5-inch ducts intersect, then a three-piece 45° elbow for a 4-inch duct, next a pyramid, and finally a square-to-round transition from a 4-inch square duct to a 2 1/4-inch diameter round duct. Ralph elaborated on the unit circle and the trig functions as they relate to the radius and explained that the 90° elbow of the two intersecting 4-inch ducts, when laid out, forms a perfect sine curve. Ralph finished the day by showing how Pythagoras might have proved that the area of a circle really is ?r2 .

For the next 1 1/2 days Eric Kersgaard, AGC apprentice instructor, helped the teachers focus on carpentry and a bit of surveying, with much ado about Pythagoras. The teachers received instruction on the use of the carpenter's square in laying out stairs and stringers and cutting cardboard stringers. They then formed two teams to calculate, lay out, and then construct (out of cardboard) an L-shaped roof, with a ridge board and common, valley, hip, and jack rafters. This was quite a project for the two teams and created several "Kodak moments." The teachers finished their carpentry session by learning how to use a transit (and read degrees, minutes, and seconds on the vernier scale) and trigonometry (tangent function) to lay out a building (using the radial method). The teachers first calculated the angles and distances on the whiteboard. Two teams then headed for a field with tape measures, transits, and little flags to mark the building corners. In the afternoon of this third day, the class visited the nearby Operating Engineers Training Center where Richard Perkins, head instructor, gave a PowerPoint presentation.

On Thursday everyone drove to Tangent to spend the day at the Central Electrical Training Center. Dan Campbell, Training Director, led the class on a tour of this first-class facility and presented each teacher with the electricians' math book, "Essential Mathematics for NJATC Courses," a very comprehensive and valuable textbook. Instructor Ray Beauvais then led the class through an overview of electricity, Ohm's law, voltage drop, sine curves and phases in AC circuits, and some elaborate conduit bending, topping off the day with a class picture.

Friday morning the class visited the Hamilton Construction Company trailer underneath its major bridge project-the new I-5 bridge over the Willamette River in Eugene. James Sly, Vice President and Operations Manager, gave the teachers a wonderful overview of the bridge project and then led the class up four stories of temporary steel stairs to the top of the bridge. A large concrete pour had taken place the morning before, and the concrete was still covered with wet sheeting with sprinklers at work to keep the concrete wet to allow proper curing. The teachers walked right through the middle of the construction action, seeing first-hand how a bridge is constructed, as Jim Sly explained what was going on at each station. One teacher's evaluation described the experience perfectly – "This was the best!! It really tied all areas together."

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