Where Math Meets Design, Construction & Marketing

Colfax HS 1

By Jennipher Adkins

The Design and Construction course at Colfax High School in Northern California is creating business-minded innovators of tomorrow.

Jonathan Schwartz, an award-winning creator of the TopSaw – a universal chainsaw tool sold worldwide and patented in 2006 – and a 15-year veteran teacher believes his “students get a real-world understanding of how products are created, tested and marketed,” through the course.

Schwartz incorporates a traditional classroom with a computer lab and workshop. He believes some students who only take math as a requirement tend to do poorly. When students work on a product-design project, however, they need quantitative reasoning skills that require them to solve complex math and science problems.

When students see and apply the relevance of math, they become enthusiastic and study with the desire to understand, rather than for the sake of getting a class out of the way, he says.

Schwartz received a master’s in math education from Harvard in 1995. He takes pride in his results-oriented teaching approach, where students design their own projects with CAD software, and then bring them to life on CNC equipment or in the wood shop.

These students are lucky. Many entrepreneurs learn product development later in life while spending a fortune. When the students complete this class, they learn the finer points of product development, including working as a unit much like in a company setting.

“The students contribute in the areas of their strength,” says Schwartz. “Therefore some students work on graphic design, some develop concepts for sales and marketing, some source materials. As a team they are learning the importance and the value of each area. What better way to teach high schoolers the delicacies of the multi-layered, global supply chain?”

These are the concepts of MBA programs.

“Students love the class,” Schwartz adds. “They often work weekends and take it more than once. We would like to see it offered in other high schools and within the (California) college and university systems.

Students who receive an “A” earn a certificate of completion and can apply the credits within the California Community College system.

The Design and Construction class has received MIT grants for design and production of these innovations:

  • a storm drain trash remover
  • an  alternative fuel wood splitter
  • a laptop computer case that folds into a chair

Schwartz also has kept innovation stoked within the family His son, Jacob, won a $10,000 award from youth product-development firm By Kids For Kids for his Transitional Training Wheels.

From the classroom to the lab to production, what makes Schwartz’s approach to learning effective is that the class places challenging, yet fun, demands on the students. They realize the results of their work, like in the real world, will either have value or not.

For more information on Schwartz’s class, visit www.colfaxdesign.com. For more information on his chainsaw tool, visit www.topsaw.com.