ETHS students explain their giant inflatable projects built for Zach Hermann’s geometry class to faculty at the exhibit on June 2. Photo by Mick Vaught

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The yellow “Honey Badger Tunnel,” a rectangular prism inside a rectangular prism, was just one of many unique inflatable designs that were built and exhibited by students in teacher Zach Hermann’s two geometry classes at Evanston Township High School. 

Students worked in groups to design and build their own inflatables using a sheet of material given to them by Mr. Hermann that was 40-inch by 100-foot. Designs included a nearly 20-foot-high pyramid, a rectangular prism inside a prism, a piñata and a house. 

“It’s a big application project,” Mr. Hermann said. “They’re applying things from the entire course to create a giant product.”

The exhibit, presented before members of the Evanston Township High School faculty on June 2, concluded the week-long project and closed out the year.

“This could not have worked at the beginning of the year,” said Mr. Hermann. “We’ve been working very hard throughout the course of the year to build collaborative group work skills. They learn not only about the math, but about how to work well with others.”

Student teacher Sarah Hanson helped the students set up their projects. She said this kind of project is something to which she had not previously been exposed.

This is the fourth year that Mr. Hermann has assigned the project to his students and his third at ETHS. He added that every year the project gets a little better. “They own this. For one week they own their project,” said Mr. Hermann. “They could have made a simpler shape, and I think this just shows that giving students the opportunity to exercise creativity is what they want to do… I used to do this when I was a kid. Some of the mathematics they do is very sophisticated.”

He added that the designs required a great deal of calculation, problem solving and mathematics from the students.

The only two guidelines, he said, were the dimensions of the surface area given, and his instructions to be creative.

“That second parameter is something that I started last year, and just that one intervention, giving students the permission to exercise a little creativity, makes a huge difference,” said Mr. Hermann.

The Honey Badger tunnel was built by Teddy Keenan, Mairead Rosati, Luis Avila and Haley Watson. Luis was credited by the group for coming up with the idea. It had to be built in four separate sections before it could be put together. Teddy said they had to use some creative problem-solving when they discovered that they had run out of material because they had measured incorrectly.

They solved the problem by using tape to plug the hole and created a window through which the inside prism could be seen. After they added a second fan, they were able to fully inflate both parts of the balloon.

Another group that set the bar high for themselves was that of Peter Downie, Sarah Desmond, Alex Berns and Alli Ortega, who built a blue pyramid more than 20 feet high, consisting of eight triangles with a square base.

The group said fixing the holes that opened as they inflated their project was one of the challenges they faced.

Despite the group’s best efforts they were unable to get their pyramid to its full height, even with the help of Mr. Hermann.

“It helps to be able to see it, and it’s fun to do hands-on work,” added Alli, about the four to five days spent on the project.

Mr. Hermann said that they could always use two extra days to work on the project, but using time effectively is always a challenge. He added that he would like to see students collaborate with others through social media such as Facebook to help with the timing. He said that he is impressed with what the students come up with.

“One of my philosophies with projects is to leave them as open-ended as possible,” said Mr. Hermann. “Students at large will always come up with far more creative things than you can think of as an individual teacher.”