LA Math teacher Shelly Richardson and her students with the picnic table they built as part of their geometry class.

This fall Lincoln Academy math teacher Shelly Richardson is using more than theoretical angles in her geometry class: she is using real-life angles to build picnic tables in the LA Applied Technology and Engineering Center (ATEC).

Richardson designed the picnic table project after recognizing that there weren’t enough outdoor seating options on campus for students and teachers who were holding classes, clubs, lunch, and meetings outside this fall as a covid safety measure. She saw the opportunity to apply geometry skills to real life, and put her geometry students to work researching picnic table designs, creating materials lists, and using tools in the ATEC wood shop to build the picnic tables during class time.

As part of rethinking their curriculum for teaching in a pandemic, many LA teachers are using the principles of Project Based Learning as part of their courses. According to, “Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.”

“My goal is to try to promote real-world connections and increase engagement in Geometry,” explained Richardson. “Integrating a hands-on activity helps students remember concepts, deepen their mathematical understanding, and perform better in the classroom.”

Geometry student Brenden Lane said it was “very valuable to show math at work and to put some people outside their comfort zone.”

“This is a classic example of how innovative Shelly is,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kelley Duffy. “She was looking for a way that these students could learn geometry, which is a whole new skill set for most students. As soon as she heard that the school needed picnic tables she jumped in and designed this project–it took her about an hour to plan the whole thing out.”

Richardson collaborated with the faculty members who work in ATEC teaching Design, Engineering, and Technology (DET) classes. Teachers Shawn St. Cyr, Stephanie Cheney, and Ryan Wynne “jumped at the chance to collaborate with the math department and figure out how to make this happen. And now we have these beautiful picnic tables already in use!” said Duffy.

This and several other campus picnic tables have been constructed for general school use by Shelly Richardson's geometry classes

This and several other campus picnic tables have been constructed for general school use by Shelly Richardson’s geometry classes

This project reflects a consistent “flipped” educational model that the math department has been developing over the last five years. Students learn math skills on their own through videos and textbooks, and then use class time to ask questions and apply concepts. “This project is just a particularly innovative use of this model,” said Duffy.

Two picnic tables are already completed and in use, with more to come.

In the words of junior Sullivan Anderson “It was a great project for a math class, and a great experience to build the tables.”