Hansen: Students don't know how to measure; shocked prof creates tool to teach them how - Omaha.com
Published Monday, January 20, 2014 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:15 am
Hansen: Students don't know how to measure; shocked prof creates tool to teach them how

Dave walks in carrying a serious gray briefcase, a titanium-looking briefcase, the kind of briefcase meant to carry smuggled Ukrainian jewels or the nuclear launch codes.

He stands inside an Omaha Mercy High School math classroom and clicks open the serious briefcase.

He does not pull out smuggled Ukrainian jewels, but he does remove something strange.

It is a rectangular bar of aluminum, with some notches cut into it. It is a tool, an educational tool that Dave Eledge invented himself.

He invented this tool because five years ago the Metro Community College instructor realized something shocking.

He realized that his students didn't know how to use a tape measure. They didn't know a quarter-inch from a hole in their heads. They didn't have the first clue.

And so he decided to do something about that.

“You need to know how to measure things for engineering, for art, for manufacturing, for medicine,” David Eledge tells this freshman-­level math class as he holds up his invention — the Measuring Assessment Tool, or MAT. “Measuring things is a basic tool used everywhere. And this can help you learn it.”

You may think Dave is being dramatic when he says the college students he used to teach — Dave was a Metro instructor for 15 years — didn't know how to measure things.

He isn't. In 2009, Dave decided to test this seemingly simplest of skills during a machinist course at Metro. He figured that nearly all of the students would be able to use a tape measure accurately to within 1/16th of an inch.

The first time he tested his class, 23 percent of his students could use a tape measure this accurately. All of these students were old enough for college. Some of them were middle-aged.

Furthermore, he heard stories, bad stories, about graduates who had all the skills to work in manufacturing and yet wouldn't get hired because they couldn't pass a simple measurement test.

“I just couldn't believe it,” he says.

Dave was dumbfounded in part because he spent most of his life correctly measuring things. The Council Bluffs native started as an apprentice at Asarco when he was 17 and still in high school. He learned to measure things to 1/1000th of an inch. He became a machinist, and after a year or two the precision became second nature, and after another year or two Dave couldn't imagine doing anything else. He worked there for three decades, eventually rising to mechanical maintenance supervisor.

That was his job in 1998, when Asarco shuttered the plant.

That year Dave enrolled in a variety of Metro Community College courses — an unemployed, 48-year-old freshman unsure of what he wanted to do, and what he could do, with the rest of his career.

He enrolled in a machinist course, basically an advanced, specialized version of that thing we used to call “shop.” Metro officials noticed that Dave knew more about being a machinist than the instructor and all the other students combined. They hired him to teach.

Which is why David Eledge stood there dumbfounded in 2009 and decided to something about his students' poor measuring skills.

He designed the MAT out of aluminum to make sure it wouldn't warp like wood might. He cut the notches, and gave each of them a corresponding letter, so that students could be told to measure from A to B or A to C. And then he made a second MAT, and a third, and a 14th exactly like the first one, so that he could test his students on the measurement between A and C and they could all arrive at the same exact answer.

He gave his next group of students the new tool. They practiced measuring. After several minutes of practice, more than half could do it accurately.

So, with his next group of students after that, Dave incorporated “tape measure skills” into the first class period. They practiced using the MAT a little longer. Eventually, 90 percent of those students could accurately measure short distances to within 1/16th of an inch.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

“Took some time, but we got there,” Dave says.

Dave has a few theories about how we got so off-track.

Junior high students have smartphones and calculators and some understanding of things, like 3-D printing, that their parents may not be able to fathom.

But they often have a tenuous grasp on fractions. And they have rarely, if ever, actually picked up a tape measure and held it in their hands.

Most high school students move into algebra while still shaky on math basics. Most can't identify all those unmarked lines on a tape measure. Some can't convert inches to feet. And fractions remain a mystery to many — Maureen Davis, the Omaha Mercy math teacher, has grown used to students telling her that they have measured something as “3.4 inches” instead of 3¼ inches.

“If you can't do this, algebra is so difficult!” she says.

Which is exactly why David is here today, along with Carl Fielder, Metro's director of career education.

The MAT tool worked so well that Dave approached Metro Community College about a mini-­grant to make more. It agreed. An Omaha company manufactured 200. And soon every math instructor at Metro could teach students how to measure using the MAT tool.

The next step, Metro officials think, is to get the MAT tool into high schools. Both Bellevue high schools already have some. The Omaha school district has made an initial purchase.

And today, after Dave finishes his presentation — and after the Mercy High freshmen practice measuring for a half-hour — Fielder promises to donate 17 tools to teacher Maureen Davis and this class. Soon they will all have a MAT.

And so, in this age of chess-­playing computers and mobile apps, a now-retired community college teacher named David Eledge is changing the way that Omaha students measure things.

He is doing so with a piece of aluminum with some notches cut into it. He's doing it because he recognized that sometimes we have to stop moaning about what our kids don't know and teach it to them instead.

“I just want to hope that someone gets a job because of this,” he says. “We're doing it. I think we're doing it.”

Contact the writer: Matthew Hansen

matthew.hansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1064    |  

Matthew Hansen is a metro columnist who writes roughly three columns a week focusing on all things Omaha.

Oil industry ad campaign mocks Nebraska cowboys who protested Keystone XL pipeline
In Omaha, bus tour calls for hourly minimum wage over $10
Fremont police searching for missing 56-year-old man
Prosecutor: Baby might be alive if day care employer had spoken up
NRA seeks universal gun law at national meeting
Beau McCoy calls Pete Ricketts a 'convenient conservative' for immigration stance
Omaha senator seeks minimum wage ballot measure
Agreement reached to end dog racing at Bluffs Run at end of 2015
Police probe bank robbery
Man accused of trying to open flying plane's door pleads not guilty
Ben Sasse shifts tactics, calls ad by Shane Osborn 'hypocritical'
Forecast on the upswing after Thursday's rain
EB Harney Street lane closed
Ex-UNMC student loses appeal; claimed program didn't make accommodations for his depression
Grace: Your older self has a request — use sunscreen
At NU's helm, J.B. Milliken built the university by building relationships with state leaders
City's Personnel Board is behind ‘ban-the-box’ proposal
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Richard Paul Dreier, 90, was wounded in attack during WWII
Police issue arrest warrant in teen's shooting death
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Construction to start in May on West Broadway apartment/retail structure
3 Nebraska Board of Education candidates call for high standards
< >
Breaking Brad: 117-mph riding lawnmowers and 12-scoop banana splits
The Chicago White Sox are selling a 12-scoop banana split inside a full-size batting helmet for $17. You know what you'd call someone in Chicago who'd eat this? "Health nut."
Breaking Brad: Walmart beats Russia, stakes a claim on the moon
Russia is claiming it owns a section of the moon. If you follow the news, you know this probably doesn't end well.
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
The 1984 NFL draft was unusual for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and these days it's remembered in the name of a rock band, the 1984 Draft. Tonight, the band is featured on the NFL Network.
Breaking Brad: Nebraska GOP candidates unified against naked squirrels
Some of these Nebraska campaigns are tilting pretty far right. At a recent forum, there was a consensus that we need to ban public dancing and clothe naked squirrels in public parks.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
7M Grill
Half Off Delicious Comfort Fusion Food & Drinks!
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »