Builder teaches how math counts

Students calculate, create a roof frame

May 30, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Remember the details of trigonometry, the study of relationships between the sides and angles of triangles?

Of course not. Unfortunately, neither do many of the youngsters who apply for jobs at Brett Schoolnick's Columbia-based building and remodeling company. So Schoolnick has taken matters into his own hands, showing Howard County kids how to translate concepts such as cosines and tangents into something real.

Schoolnick spent two days last week showing area students who went to the county's Applications and Research Laboratory -- Howard's vocational-technical school -- how to frame a roof using their own calculations. Armed with calculators, goggles, pencils and a few tools, a handful of boys from River Hill and Long Reach high schools set about transforming a pile of donated lumber into rafters and other essential parts of a roof.

"When I was in school and I was taking trigonometry, it was never applied to anything," said Schoolnick, owner of Baywood Design/Build Group and a partner-at-large with the lab. "Roof framing is all trig."

In fact, much of what Schoolnick does is math-based. The arched entryways, dramatic angled roofs and sweeping windows in his company's portfolio all began, in some way, with a calculation.

The students will encounter many of the same formulas, which include civil and mechanical engineering and architecture.

"A lot of kids in here know the math very well," said Bob Hodge, who teaches the construction and manufacturing class at the lab, where Schoolnick was a volunteer. "This is a wonderful opportunity for them to see the math they've learned applied."

The project was done over two days.

On Thursday, Schoolnick went over trigonometric formulas with the 11th-graders taking Hodge's class.

On Friday, the students took a quick review before measuring and cutting the lumber with the help of Baywood project manager David Heymann.

"Before any cutting's done, we're going to figure it all out here," Schoolnick said, pointing to the board.

Soon, the room was swirling with sawdust as the students begin cutting rafters with a power saw. Despite a few mistakes along the way -- and some good-natured ribbing -- the pieces of lumber began fitting together neatly to form the shape of a small-scale roof.

"Everybody, look! This is from your measurements," Schoolnick said as the project took shape. "See what we did? We figured it all out just using trig. It just wound up perfect."

According to the students, the project wasn't as simple as it looked.

"All the math we already know, but to apply it that was hard," said Rob Ginsberg, a junior at River Hill High School.

"Most people would assume that making a roof wouldn't involve any math at all," said Nigel Jones-Quartey, a junior at Long Reach High School. "There's some exact science in it. It's not as simple as it looks."

Brent Tyson, a junior at River Hill, studied trigonometry in a functions and statistics class, but never did anything concrete with that knowledge.

"There were no applications. This is a good chance to do that," Brent said.

"It's really useful."

That's good news to Schoolnick, who declared his trainees' final effort "great."

"Yesterday, they didn't know how to do this at all," Schoolnick said. "Today, they know how to frame a roof. Can you imagine that?"

Pub Date: 5/30/99

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