Castles Fit for the Classroom

by Lauren Hight '11

Over nearly the last 10 years, Mrs. Mary Hadley has found new and innovative ways to show her students that learning about geometry can be fun.
 
“Math is not everyone’s favorite subject,” Mrs. Hadley admits, “but I try to at least make my students like it because everyone can be good at math.”
 
For the last month, Mrs. Hadley’s students have been hard at work building their own castles in class. In this project-based learning exercise, the students chose groups they would like to work in and conceptualized their own castle by designing a blueprint. The next step of the project required each group to find the surface area, volume and area of the different components. Finally they had to physically construct it using typical crafting materials like styrofoam, cardboard, scrapbook paper, glue and paint just to name a few...while still making sure their math was correct.

Mrs. Hadley and her student teacher, Mr. Manero, would do weekly check-ins with the groups to make sure they were abiding by the project rubric and to see how the teams were working together.
 
“For their castles, each tower and topper had to be a different shape and if they designed rooms on their blueprint for the inside, they had to find the area of that,” Mrs. Hadley said. “Another part of the project is cooperation with your team. We always asked each student to tell us what they each did to make sure one person wasn’t doing all of the work.”
 
Holding the students accountable for what they contributed to the project is aimed to help prepare them for the real world since you will always have to assume some responsibility.
 
Aside from the towers and toppers each needing to be a different shape, the castles also had to fit on a particular size base. In addition, they had to have a decorative theme with just one restriction: no two castles in the same class could have the same theme. This encouraged the students to think creatively and they did not disappoint. One castle was entirely glow-in-the-dark, one was inspired by Monopoly and another even featured The Hulk jumping rope.
 
“Every year we would get four or five sand castles,” Mrs. Hadley said, “but this year was our most diverse!”
 
While designing a castle based on Times Square or Crayola Crayons may be fun, the ultimate grade comes down to understanding geometry.
 
“I don’t have an artistic bone in my body so the fact that they could do all this, I was so impressed,” Mrs. Hadley said with a laugh. “As long as you build something and the math is correct, I can give you credit.”
 
Each class that completed the project voted on what they thought was the best castle to receive extra credit. For the 6th period class, that award went to Morgan Mack, Julia Randazzo, Christine Mancini, Emily Donlan and Katelynn Miraglia who designed an Aladdin inspired castle.
 
When asked about how they came up with their theme Miraglia explained “we really liked the design of the castle from Aladdin after seeing a picture and thought it would come out pretty cool.” She assumed majority of the artistic design but other than that, the girls all agreed that the work was split evenly among the group.
 
“It was fun to get away from regular classes for a month,” Mack said.
 
This project also came as a first to the group as they all agreed that they have never done anything like this in another class. Posters were the closest thing any of the girls had come to project-based learning.
 
Mrs. Hadley has been doing this project for 7 years and it has grown to become a class favorite.
 
Every year, students ask when they will get to build their own castle which is extremely motivating for a teacher to hear. Knowing that hundreds of students have been able to creatively explore geometry is why the castles always make a return to the classroom.

“This lesson is a lot of formulas and why would I just stand up there and tell them how to plug in numbers when they can apply it,” Mrs. Hadley said. “I’m humbled because they do such a great job with it and they say they make me look good but it’s really them because they did it.”
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Cardinal O’Hara High School