Math is for the Birds!

Searching for an idea that would meet the many expectations of the grade 5/6 geometry unit, Rick Dykstra and Ben Stapper came up with a plan for students to design and build nest boxes (bird houses) for local species of birds.

Before starting their designs however, students were asked to respond to the challenge, “How can we serve, and bring joy to others?” After some discussion, the class decided to donate their completed nest boxes to their pen-pals at the Orchard View Living Retirement Centre (relationships with these pen-pals had already been established as a result of Miss Granville’s Language Arts class).

Firstly, students began researching birds that are native to this area, examining habitats and nesting requirements for each type, and they chose a bird type for which to build a nest box. Next, using what they had learned about geometry, students designed their nest boxes by first making rough 3D concept sketches, followed by initial 2D scaled construction drawings of each piece of the nest box, using at least four geometric shapes as part of their structure. Students needed to understand how to take and transcribe measurements, and calculate surface area and volume. Students also had to take photos of their progress, keep a journal of each step taken, send updates to their Orchard View pen‑pal and create a final scale drawing that someone else could use to build their own nest box.

“Creating a 3D concept drawing was difficult for some students,” said Mr. Dykstra, “and identifying all the parts needed so as to estimate the amount of wood to order was another challenge. I began to realize students needed an in-between step before actually constructing their wooden nest box, so we had them build a prototype out of ¼” foam board. This way they could test to see if their designs were workable.”

On the day of construction, the gym was full of wood and tools. Under the guidance of two parents and two grandparents, each student confidently measured twice and cut once until all the pieces could eventually be glued and fastened together to form their finished product.

Once all the nest boxes were complete, students painted them in Mrs. Bergsma’s art class. On Grand-friends day, students shared their project with the guests, explaining the process, drawings and prototype, and displayed the finished product. The nest boxes will be set up at Orchard View Living Centre by the end of the school year. CCS students are pleased to know that local birds will soon have some wonderful new homes!

Designing and building these nest boxes for math class is a great example of project-based learning, giving our students a practical lesson on how to apply mathematics to a real-life situation.

Many thanks to The WoodSource in Manotick for donating all the wood required for the nest boxes, and for allowing the grade 5/6 class into their business for a tour. A thank you is also due to Ben Stapper, Hub Stapper, Bob Proper, and Harry Rylaarsdam for working with the students to cut out all the pieces of wood needed to assemble their boxes.

By Marie Cooper