Geometry in the world

Fund for Teachers sends YHS teacher on an international learning exploration

Candace Blomendahl

YORK – York High School geometry teacher Richard Saxer has returned from an international learning odyssey.

Saxer traveled to England and Ireland in order to bring back evidence of the relationship between geometry and prehistoric sites, architectural designs and art. His fellowship was made possible through a Fund for Teachers grant administered by Nebraska’s Malaika Foundation. The Fund for Teachers program provides Nebraska teachers with a means to take odysseys around the world that affect their own lives and careers as well as the education experience of their students. This summer, Fund for Teachers sent 23 Nebraska teachers from 18 different schools to other parts of the world to help transform their careers, lives and classrooms.

When YPS superintendent Mike Lucas sent out an email in late October with a link to the Fund for Teachers program, Saxer saw the opportunity but knew it would take some work. He had to complete a very detailed questionnaire about what he was interested in and what might affect students the most. Saxer also completed an extensive proposal describing his fellowship rationale and purpose, in which he gave a description of his project, how he will grow and learn as a teacher, how students will grow and learn from his experience, how it will benefit the school community and his plan for implementation of what he learned through his fellowship.

The overall goal of Saxer’s fellowship was to share with students how geometry can be related to something concrete. He said he has learned in his teaching career that it is always a good idea to attach something related to real life “rather than go through the book and imagine things.”

He chose England and Ireland as his destinations and researched places that he could visit that would be related to geometry. Saxer wanted to observe prehistoric sites in both countries, many of which still hold mysteries as to why they exist. He wanted to investigate how they are geometry-related.

By visiting these places, Saxer has made it possible for students to help solve some of these mysteries. He plans to look at these places with his students during the year and provide evidence of geometric principles that run deep at these sites. They will then make their own hypotheses about these sites and draw their own conclusions.

He traveled to the prehistoric sites of Newgrange, Knowth, Fourknocks, Stonehenge and Avebury. Each place amazed him.

At some of the sites, the placement of the stones were related to the summer and winter solstices, which Saxer found stunning. He was able to experience for himself the geometric theories that have encircled these prehistoric sites for centuries.

“It’s just fascinating,” Saxer said of how geometry relates to these places.

Saxer said he witnessed a lot of beautiful symmetric architecture in London. He studied the presence of tessellations and the constructions of arcs, circles and polygons at sites throughout his trip. He also visited art galleries and studied the geometric principles found in several works of art.

At a science museum in London, he visited a “History of Mathematics” exhibit that related brilliantly to his studies.

After having the chance to witness first hand just how deep the foundations of geometry run, Saxer said it has reinforced how important geometry has been in the history of civilization. His appreciation for art and architecture has grown. The trip brought theories and ideas to life.

“It was incredible,” he said.

Saxer found himself saying, “I can’t believe what I’m looking at,” all the time.

“Every day was like that,” he said.

Throughout the rest of his career, Saxer will share what he has experienced and learned with his students. They will be able to see the relevance of geometry to the world around them.

Saxer has been teaching for 19 years and this experience will not only engage student learning, but it will also continue to provide Saxer with even more inspiration.

“It’s renewed me,” he said. “It’s probably a once in a lifetime deal.”