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.