Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How I Became an Apprentice

One upon a time I wasn't a woodworking apprentice. Once upon a time, I was a nervous gal prepping for an interview to be a woodworking apprentice. Just in case you ever wondered to yourself, "How does a recent college grad math teacher land a job as a woodworking apprentice in such a small unique environment as the one at Lohr Woodworking?" The answer is: teach grown, professional woodworking men about pi.

My internet job hunt was in full swing. I was/am teaching part time in the evenings and looking for something awesome to do during the day. Boom, an ad reads "Woodworking Apprentice/Teaching Assistant". Sold. I tweak my digital art portfolio and my resume and send it along.

A month or so later, I had made the cut to come in for an interview and am perched on a stool at a work bench in the shop. The interview required a 5 minute lesson on anything I wanted to teach about. With me is my bag filled with a spray paint can, my best friend's lucky coin (I believe it was a pound), a foot of yarn, and a chart I had made with only the circumference and diameter of the Earth written in. At this point, I have just taken a tour of the property and seen the show room of furniture pieces more beautiful than any I had ever seen before so the level of intimidation has hit the roof as I proceed to carry out my favorite math lesson to teach and it goes like this:

1.) I choose a selection of various sized circular objects (hence the spray paint can, coin, and Earth), a piece of string or yarn that is long enough to wrap around the largest object, a ruler, and a chart. The chart is arranged with a column for the object's name, it's diameter, it's circumference, and the calculation of circumference divided by diameter.

2.) The student/woodworker uses the yarn to measure each object's circumference, the ruler to measure it's diameter, and a quick calculator operation to divide the two measurements. They use the chart to keep the measurements and calculations organized and easier to compare at the end.

3.) As it turns out, the final division calculation for each object will leave the learner with a value roughly equal to 3.14. Taking into account the fact that I bought yarn and yarn extends when you pull on it and retracts when you let go, the circumference measurements were never going to be exact. Also, without taking the time to find the exact center point of each object to measure the diameter, there was no avoiding a bit of human error. So, the ratios we ended up with ranged from ~2.9 to ~3.3 but, the point was made and the lesson wrapped up.

Most people know that pi is 3.141592... but, I have found that there are very few adults that were taught why. I find that, although pi seems like an elementary concept, it is something that is incredibly relevant to our daily lives and when people understand why it is a constant, they find it relatively interesting. So, moral of the story, the ratio between the diameter and circumference of any circle will always yield 3.14. I like to throw the Earth in there just to drive the point home; no matter how big or small (Earth or coin) the relationship between a circle's parts will remain constant.

I am proud to say that if you waltz into an interview ready to prove to people why math is cool, you may get a job. In my case, I was lucky to have peaked the interest of the two gentlemen that now employ me. Thank you, men of Lohr Woodworking, for appreciating how to discover pi! And, in return, I have been taught how to quickly and easily read a ruler. I'd say it was a fair trade.

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