Photo gallery: Area fifth-graders learn math, teamwork with 'If I Had a Hammer'

Rick Wagner • Updated Oct 26, 2017 at 9:10 AM

KINGSPORT — When you get down to the last truss on a building project and it is the wrong one, you take a water break and make it right.

And when you want to emphasize to elementary school students the importance of math and team work in life, you have them build an If I Had a Hammer house with program founder Perry Wilson of Franklin, Tenn.

Fifth-grade students from St. Clair and Mooresburg elementary schools in Hawkins County, Indian Springs, Bluff City and Miller Perry elementaries in Sullivan County and Lincoln Elementary in Kingsport participated Wednesday in a Hammer Build Experience at the Eastman Lodge at Bays Mountain. Among the adults helping, aside from teachers and Eastman folks, was Malik Foreman, a former University of Tennessee football player hoping to play on a team in the NFL.

“I think this is a great program,” said Shannon Glass, maintenance and facilities director for Hawkins County Schools.

“We did it last year, and it was really well received by the kids,” Glass said. “When you can see how math really works, there’s no substitute for that.”

The house — 11 feet square with a metal roof, wooden siding and door — went up in the middle of the large room at the lodge but soon will be constructed in various schools in the three systems.

“You can be a tiny house mogul building this house,” Wilson quipped.

“We’ve worked with over a million kids around the country,” Wilson said of the program he started in 1987 to teach math applications. For instance, he said with floor joists 16 inches apart and a house 11 feet square, students initially wanted to multiply, but he helped them figure out they had to divide to find out how many joists were needed.

“We really focus on fractions,” Wilson said. He said fractions and measurements are basics needed for all higher math, including algebra

Eastman Chemical Co. sponsors the If I Had a Hammer program in the three school systems, which puts math and teamwork skills to work in building a small house and exposes them to career possibility in engineering and construction. It is part of the company’s focus on STEAM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Wilson said he will hold a Thursday professional development session for area teachers in preparation for builds at various schools this year and next.

The students Wednesday were split into four teams: blue, green, yellow and red. Each had responsibility for a side of the square house but also helped each other out at times.

Tonya Foreman of Eastman, mother of Malik Foreman, explained that the truss that wouldn’t fit must have been from the other house used for the program, but master builder Rod Broadwater of Northeast State Community College sawed off a wooden peg that was in the wrong place and the two-hour build continued.


Other master builders helping Thursday were Glass and Charlie Hubbard, facilities and maintenance manager for Sullivan County Schools.

Because Wilson has dyslexia, he said when he first became a carpenter he had trouble cutting a 43-inch board 34 inches long but could do a 92-inch cut OK since it was so much longer. But when he learned fractions and measurements, in his 20s, he said he finally understood what teachers had been trying to get him to learn in high school.

“You can’t do cool stuff without the math,” Miller said.

Mayor John Clark and Vice Mayor Mike McIntire attended the event.

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