Evergreen brothers are the architects of their own learning

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Pair help construction firm solve problems during remodel of school

By Beth Potter

Two Evergreen students tested their architectural mettle when they helped solve structural engineering problems during a remodel at the STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch.

Evergreen resident Barry Himmelman, owner of Himmelman Construction Inc. in Lakewood, won the bid on the $3.3 million, 30,000-square-foot remodel project at the charter school. Since Himmelman likes to involve building users in his projects, he asked teachers at the school if students could help solve some design problems.

“Typically, an architect would come up with (the solutions) and issue them to us to construct,” Himmelman said. “In this case, we said, ‘No, Mr. Architect, the kids are going to figure it out.’ ”

In one problem, a building column was located on a ramp that wasn't compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Groups of students were chosen to solve the problem by using three-dimensional computer modeling programs. Evergreen brothers Tristin and Torin van den Bulk were two of the students chosen to participate. Tristin van den Bulk is in ninth grade; Torin is in eighth grade.

Students came up with a few different solutions, including one that called for moving a door that was previously at the top of the existing ramp, and then moving the ramp.

Tristin and Torin measured the room and the ramp and entered the measurements into the three-dimensional modeling program SketchUp. The two brothers came up with the solution to move the ramp and the door.

“I thought it was a great opportunity, because I’ve never experienced anything like that with a construction company or any other company asking to help solve a problem,” Tristin said. “It was a really cool thing.”

Students at the school start learning how to use various 3-D computer modeling programs starting in sixth grade to solve a variety of problems, said Sharon Combs, a technology teacher at STEM.

Students even are allowed to use Minecraft, a popular building-block video game, to solve problems, said Penny Eucker, the school’s executive director. Because Minecraft is a video game, teachers limit student use to once per year, she said.

But educators at the school want to expand 3-D video game programs into more areas of the curriculum, since students seem to learn from such programs, Combs said.

“Those skills will be very marketable, and it requires a lot of math skills, believe it or not, to learn,” Combs said of 3-D gaming programs. “It takes a pretty well-rounded student to get the concepts.”

The STEM academy — the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and math — has about 750 students and plans to enroll about 1,050 for the next school year, Eucker said.

Himmelman Construction employees came up with a similar solution to the one found by the brothers using construction industry software called Autodesk Revit, Himmelman said. STEM plans to start offering courses in Autodesk Revit next year, according to Combs and Eucker.