Sew Like a Man

Recently, as part of a project I am working on, the following question was posed to me:

What does your ideal school or classroom look like?

My answer?

Imagine a traditional Wood Shop class in which each student arrives and begins working on a project he or she designed and created, rarely if ever disengaging from their work.  They all have a personal stake in the outcome of the project, they build it so that it will last beyond the time they are in this class, and they build it to be seen by more eyes than just their teachers.
Now take away the wood, the saws, the dust, and the nerdy goggles.  Place the student in a classroom that we might perceive as a history class, an English class, or a math or science class, but keep the elements of creating work that has legacy, personal purpose, and is publicly viewable.
The image above (I’ve appealed for leniency from the original authors), appeared as part of a presentation I did on Saturday at the first annual West Essex Tech Symposium, and came out of a classroom I observed a few weeks back, only it wasn’t woods, but sewing.  For days after the observation, I remained blown away by the way the class ran–and not as if the teacher was unnecessary, quite the opposite actually–and how the students were just locked in to what they were doing.
  • The work they were doing had value.
  • It mattered to them now.
  • It would be seen by more than just their teachers, but also their parents, their classmates, and quite possibly someone they met at the mall.
I couldn’t help but think about the classroom environment in a traditional siloed academic content area where this is taking place.  But is that possible?  If we create this type of environment–this messy, cross-disciplinary, creative, non-bubble tested idea-space–do academic departments then dissipate?  Some seem to think so, but I’ll cling for a bit to see if the creative capacities of our current teachers can rise to this type of challenge.
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2 thoughts on “Sew Like a Man

  1. As a former Technology Education Teacher (taught Woodshop & Computer Applications) who also happens to sew this really resonated with me. I love the idea of Project-Based Learning, but sometimes that project needs to be tangible. I love running into students and have them tell me they still have their mouse-trap car, or their C02 rocket. Creativity is such an important part of learning, as is failure and projects are a great vehicle to help students not only learn but make something they are passionate and proud of. We need that more in education.

  2. Hi Bethany,

    Thanks for your comment. I love the idea of tangibility (if that’s a word) of work, but I realize that not every shred of work students do in classrooms can be that way. One example I love from an academic setting was this one from Diana Laufenberg and Zac Chase: https://sites.google.com/a/scienceleadership.org/buildinghistory/home. These type of projects, those that require students to apply a specific type of thinking and research to a familiar setting, have value beyond their classroom.

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