Students learning STEM ideals through construction work

Mason City High School students in construction class are getting lifelong, valuable, hands-on skills

Posted: Dec 21, 2019 1:29 AM
Updated: Dec 22, 2019 10:33 AM

MASON CITY, Iowa - The statistics back up this statement: construction is a growth industry.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed about 263,000 job openings in June of last year, and predicts faster than average employment growth. And in order to recruit the next generation of construction workers, many schools are encouraging students to become part of it, even as they learn science, technology, engineering and math.

One class that's working on just that is Rich Patras' construction class at Mason City High School. Throughout the semester, his students learned how to properly pour a concrete foundation, then moved into masonry, laying cinderblocks and bricks, including the setting of arches.

Junior Jace Spear remembers the lesson well.

"We put the bricks 5 high, we took those back down, built it back up, made sure all the corners were square, then we took some of them down and built arches."

The task, however, was a bit challenging.

"How easily they can be not plumb to the ground, not straight."

Sophomore Cassandra Judkins enjoyed the project, even when things didn't go perfectly.

"The mortar slips sometimes, but it's fun."

Patras once owned a construction outfit in Nebraska, and feels right in his element teaching his students these valuable skills. When doing the project, Patras echoes some of his students' statements, in that there were some challenges when it came to working with the blocks.

"We use a special mortar that's reusable so it doesn't stick as well. It falls off the brick real fast, so there's a lot of tricks to get it up there. To get the spacing right, we learned a lot of secrets to get the spacing right so you would meet at the top correctly."

As precision is key in any construction project, there's no exception in his lessons.

"If it isn't correct, it's not correct. We have to have a level of precision that has to happen. If it's not there, it comes off. Our standards must be high."

Bottom line, these students are both learning a marketable skill, and yes, math.

"When it comes to math, there's tons of math sitting here to make this work. This is hands on STEM. It doesn't get any better than this project."

Next semester, students will be learning how to build walls and floors, and are planning on building something for anybody in the community later in the spring, as well as working with Habitat for Humanity.

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