Some high school teachers are using popular home design trends to get students interested in learning.
Jessica Westervelt, a Spanish teacher at Bethlehem High School in Delmar, New York, created an activity that was inspired by the popular television show “House Hunters International” for her Spanish 3 class about four years ago. Similar to the show, students work in groups, pretending to be real estate agents, and look for three houses in Spanish-speaking countries.
She uses the activity to teach vocabulary related to the home, chores, travel and vacation. She created the exercise because she wanted to incorporate her students’ interests into the curriculum. At the time, a group of her students were big fans of the show.
The students look for a home for Westervelt to buy to live in, or rent for vacation. She tells them what she is looking for in a home and gives them a budget. Students work in groups of three, and each student is responsible for finding one house in a Spanish-speaking country that fits the requirements.
The groups usually make a brochure describing the houses they find. Each group presents their findings to the class, while the other students take notes. The entire activity is done in Spanish, so students get to practice their writing, listening and conversation skills. They also get some cultural education when researching homes in Spanish-speaking countries, she says.
“House Hunters” and its many spinoffs’ popularity doesn’t seem to be waning. And Westervelt says that students planning to take the class look forward to her project.
“I think any time that you can find a way to link into something that they are interested in outside of school, it makes that activity much more enjoyable for them and it makes it more realistic for them,” she says.
“They get really excited about it. They know the show. They watch the show and they kind of get to do it for themselves so it kind of builds in an outside interest,” she says.
Students in the Geometry in Construction course at Hendrickson High School built this tiny house last year.(Jerry Richey)
Students in the Geometry in Construction class at Hendrickson High School in Pflugerville, Texas, build a tiny house each year, according to Jerry Richey and Brittany Matchett, who co-teach the course.
Richey says the original thinking four years ago was to use the home as a deer or fishing cabin. But as the tiny house movement took off, it has been easy for the instructors to connect to the trend.
Richey got ideas on how to improve his classes’ tiny house from watching relevant shows. Many students coming into the course are familiar with tiny houses, Matchett says.
Typically students spend half the class studying geometry with Matchett, and the other half with Richey on construction.
Richey says that students do better in geometry than they would in a traditional course because they actually get hands-on practice. “We go outside and build stuff that has to have 90-degree angles.”
Teachers who want to do something similar should build something they know their students can finish in a year, he says. If a tiny house is too daunting of a project, classes could build a ticket booth for the football stadium, for example.
Matchett says teachers in traditional geometry classrooms could tap into the tiny house trend without actually building one by having students design a floor plan for a tiny house. Students could also estimate the cost of building one.