An Academic Curriculem through Making?

by Peter D on September 7, 2014

In the midst of sawdust and on breaks from cutting and shaping, some pretty gnarly conversations spring up at Soulcraft. You never know where they could go. Sometimes, you find John Dewey with a chisel in his hand…

This conversation was with Sean Wheeler: a high school teacher (recently at Lakewood High School), who is becoming a go-to thinker in the growing international maker’s movement, just returned from a 10-day maker’s fair in Singapore where he was the face of the US movement.  Its not for nothin’ he’s been hand-picked to spread the message.  He and his colleagues at Lakewood HS have been working on something pretty ground-shifting.

It’s a bold idea.  An entire high school academic curriculum – matched to Common Core standards – designed around making.  And it was some brazen high school teachers in the Cleveland area who thunk it up.  And its not just a lofty idea.  These folks are heavy hitters and put some real muscle behind the idea.  Last year they won a NGLC grant to open a maker space which would eventually educate 400 high school students. You can read about their efforts here and read more of Sean’s ongoing thoughts at his blog, Teaching Humans.  You should also check out his spearhead work in the classroom utilizing the WikiSeat catalyst.

While the full-fledged school may be a few hurdles from coming to fruition, we’re going to start tinkering with the idea.  This was our sawdust-infused conversation.

Instead of piloting immediately with some students, how about we start with a cohort of teachers?  The teachers would all sign up for Soulcraft’s Design/Build course.  The course runs 6 weeks, 3 hours a week – with 10 hours of shop time between classes for non-instruction-intensive work (i.e.sanding!).  Students chose any mid-sized project they want to build and we design a curriculum around their project and skill-level.  But this particular class would not be just a woodworking course.  Each week, the teachers would engage in a meta-level conversation – with each other as well as Sean and the Soulcraft team – on the design process, learning by doing, problem solving and a host of other classroom applicable concepts. How can this process be leveraged for academic engagement and learning? What are the effects on cognitive processes and learning modes? What are its limitations? Can the benefits translate across the academic landscape or does the value reside purely in a catalyst for engagement? The cohort would document the process and conversation and blog about it each week as guest bloggers here.

There are, to be sure, some concrete things that could come out of this – tools and concepts to bring back to the classrooms.  But its also one of those ideas that you don’t entirely know what it is yet.  It is an experiment in educating educators.  By trusting their expertise, curiosity and engagement, we will allow it to unfold into something perhaps bigger than we presently envision.  And from the sounds of it so far, there are some pretty dynamic educators/administrators ready to get started.

This is going to be exciting to watch (and experience) develop.

If you’re an educator and are interested, give us a holler.

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