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Welding students at Sierra College apply math skills toward building a class project.
Photo: Patricia Echeverri
For many students, seeing a practical application of classroom academics can help them understand concepts. Conversely, showing the academics behind technical skills can also flip the switch for students in career training programs.
That’s a practice that Sierra College in California has adapted for some of its welding students. It has integrated critical math skills into class projects in its welding programs to better prepare students for work, according to college officials.
“Employers report that skilled employees can’t apply fractions, decimals and basic math to their work,” said Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director of Sierra College’s Center for Applied Competitive Technologies. “Infusing math into welding shows great potential to address the skills gap before students go into the workforce.”
A team approach
The IGNITE (Infusing General Education Into Technical Education) project was developed in partnership with the West Virginia University at Parkersburg, which started the program in 2009 as part of a National Science Foundation Applied Technology Education project. IGNITE’s focus is to make math relevant and meaningful by infusing mathematics skills and competencies directly into the technical content that students are learning.
While welding classes have always included some math at Sierra College, incorporating math lessons tied directly to a student project significantly improved students’ math skills. Using the math competencies WVUP identified for infusion into welding, Sierra College faculty developed a hands-on, applied math curriculum that related directly to welding projects.
Bill Wenzel, chair of the college’s welding department, and Katie Lucero, chair of the math department, worked together to develop the curriculum and tested it in two classes.
Students in Welding Technology 10 (WT-10) classes learned welding and technical skills as they fabricated a hibachi barbeque grill.
“Classes were provided with drawings that showed measurements as fractions and decimals, step-by-step assembly directions and instruction on the use of shop equipment and hand tools,” Wenzel said. “For the experimental class, we designed weekly math lessons that covered critical math skills that applied directly to the construction of the barbeque.”
For example, students multiplied and divided fractions to determine how many lengths of a specified measurement could be cut from a rod. They calculated the amount of material needed to build the hibachi handle and the grill. In another exercise, students designed two different grill patterns and again determined how much material they needed and the cost to construct each design.
“The class that completed the hands-on math exercises performed significantly better than the control group on basic and pre-algebra skills based on pre- and post-tests,” Wenzel said.
The infused math in welding curriculum was also tested in another class, Welding Technology 15, and again students’ mathematics performance improved.
Warming up to math
The projects also appear to have improved students confidence in taking math. On a student survey, 52 percent of the students in the infused math WT-10 class had not enrolled in a math class at Sierra College but 82 percent said they would now feel more comfortable taking a math class as a result of the WT-10 class. Nearly half said they would be more likely to take the math assessment for placement in a math class.
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