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Build Your Dream House!
Build Your Dream House!
Posted on 01/22/2019
In Mr. Todd's Cane Creek Middle STEM class, students are thinking creatively about real-world engineering problems.By: Benjamin Rickert, Communications Dept.

“If you had $300,000 to build your dream house, what would it look like?”

No, this wasn’t on HGTV! This was the question posed to seventh-graders in Mr. Todd’s STEM and Project Lead the Way class at Cane Creek Middle School with the challenge to dream big, and then build smaller models to scale! After dreaming up their ideal floor plans, students created blueprints in design software, constructed models, and adjusted expectations to keep their projects within budget. The unique design and modeling project sparked creative thinking about real-world problems, and gave students a practical way to apply their math and science know-how.

“They learn really quickly that as much as they might want a media center or video game room, their funds don’t always work out that way,” laughed Mr. Todd, a former home inspector and chemical analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “That’s a huge, huge incentive for them to learn to work through the kinds of problems they’ll face as adults.”

Seventh-grader Adam Morgan inspects his dream home model.Student Adam Morgan’s dream house was designed to be 1,800 square feet. He constructed his model’s walls out of foam core and used thin wooden slats to simulate hardwood floors. He used rulers, protractors, and some of Mr. Todd’s drafting tools to get the measurements just right. Small pieces of furniture were created out of recycled cardboard and tape, and his blueprint called for an outdoor water feature.

“I was surprised by how long it takes [to design a house] and how much this stuff costs!” Morgan exclaimed.

Students estimated each square foot would cost an average of $90, including wall construction, plumbing, and electrical materials. Designs were expected to comply with state laws for residential properties, such as certain minimum requirements for bathrooms and kitchens. Flooring, counter tops, bath and plumbing fixtures, appliances, furniture and other features were researched and calculated separately. Then, using their digital renderings, students created physical models.

“After doing this project now for about seven years, there is a magic number that I’ve formulated,” explained Mr. Todd. “If you keep your house within 1,100 to 1,300 square foot — with the amount of money that’s given, you can have a really great living space. The average American home is roughly 1,200 to 1,300 square feet. Those who build bigger have to make a decision: Where am I going to cut corners? Do I really need the most expensive counter tops? My students are applying the principles they learn in their other classes to create real-world solutions.”

Mr. Todd discusses 3D modeling with a seventh-grade student.Mr. Todd made the transition to public education because he wanted to make a difference. In his 14 years of working with other scientists, only three of them were women, and he observed very few young people entering science and technical fields.

“There’s an entire generation of older guys like me that keep everything running in certain fields, and I was really concerned about helping young people get interested,” he said.

Now, Mr. Todd uses a hands-on, STEM-focused, Project Lead the Way curriculum to make sure middle schoolers are putting the knowledge from their core classes into action. His sixth-grade students recently played the role of “medical detectives” in a project involving real animal brains. His eighth-grade students learn about automation and robotics, and are currently working on modeling bridge designs.

“Architecture, engineering, model making, and critical thinking all come together. The kids are doing math today and they don’t even know they are doing it!” he joked.

Learn more about Project Lead the Way and STEM Education in Buncombe County Schools.

Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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