more background, more insights

So, I just realized that if you have been following this blog at all, you don’t have much background on why I spend so much time talking about the teardrop trailer. I guess now is just as good of a time as any to correct that.

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This year I was teaching wood’s technology classes for the first time, and I spent the summer thinking about and creating a curriculum from scratch to make sure I was addressing everything I thought would be important and cover the topics required.

It became my goal to find projects and provide experiences that the students could relate to, that they would see value in, and be proud of creating from scratch. One way I found to accomplish that is to provide students opportunities to work on projects that had real-world applications and uses. If we made game boards, we made them donate or sell to raise money for the shop. I made it clear from the beginning that they needed to take their time because not only were they working for a grade, they were creating for other people who would judge them and the shop by the product that they were making and putting out there for sale.

Late in August, I ran across a grant program that got me to thinking about bigger projects that I could get all the students involved with. I looked towards things I found interesting and would like to accomplish on my own if funds weren’t an issue. That’s when the teardrop trailer program was born. I had always been drawn to the idea of building one, and I had been a lurker on many teardrop forums and resources. I had looked at plans and thought some day I would do it. I saw this grant program as an opportunity to work on a project I found interesting and also create a curriculum that students could get excited about. I submitted the grant and was reward some seed money to get started. I was able to buy the trailer bones for the project.

Summary of the issue, challenge, investigation, scenario, or problem:
In order to present students with authentic challenges and opportunities to practice learned skills in a realistic contexts, students of Woods Technology II will engage in the process of creating a product intended for sale to generate revenue to support the technology education program at Cave Spring High School. The product students will research, plan, budget, and build will be a teardrop camper. Vintage inspired recreation vehicles serve a niche market and demand for these types of inexpensive but stylish trailers remains consistent. The students will be asked to work in project teams that will collaborate during all phases of the construction process.

21st Century Skills* to be taught and assessed:
* Critical Thinking/Problem Solving, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity 

This project embodies the very essence of 21st-century skills that focus on preparing students for careers and college after high school. A key component of project-based learning is presenting students with authentic problems, in authentic contexts, that encompass a wide variety of experiences culminate in an authentic product. Throughout this semester-long experience, students will be challenged to communicate with each other as members of a team with a common goal and also communicate the purpose of their activities to the community who serve as potential customers. During research phases, students will be interacting with potential clients to research key aspects of the product they will be constructing as well as establishing criteria and addressing constraints that will shape their decisions as they collaboratively design a camper that will be successful meet the needs of their potential clients.

Through this authentic problem, students will also be exposed to challenges that are common in the workplace as well as working in collaborative environments where the success and challenges faced by one team member directly influence the challenges and successes face by other team members and also influence the overall progression and success of the project. Considering issues of safety, budgeting, project management, quality control, and marketing further develop the authentic experience.

Finally, students can develop a sense of pride and craftsmanship that is difficult to foster in non-authentic problem situations in which students may feel like they are simply going through the motions rather than creating something real. These are the types of memorable experiences that can shape students both intellectually as well as socially. The range of activities involved with this type of construction offers many opportunities for various students to make connections and develop interests that can guide them moving forward. Taking ownership and feeling pride in one’s work leads to excitement and fosters motivation that in turn increases the quality of learning that occurs.

In construction, there are very few materials that react in wholly predictable and consistent ways. Though the craftsman can anticipate challenges, they must also develop critical thinking skills that provide them a level of intellectual flexibility to address problems and challenges as they surface. Similarly, the problems and challenges that occur during construction can require students to think creatively to see these challenges from a variety of vantage points to find solutions that address the project’s constraints and criteria.

The essence of what is expressed here is simply that I want to give my students more meaningful experiences that help them build a solid work ethic, craftsmanship, and pride in the work they are doing in my class by exposing them to experiences they could easy find in the world outside of the classroom. In other words, fewer ugly lamp projects and more projects they could relate to and be proud of.

This doesn’t explain the blog though. This came about because I found that not only had I gotten my students excited about something, I had gotten myself excited about the work as well. I just wanted to share that with other people who might find themselves in similar situations and could benefit from seeing what I was doing. I also wanted to make sure people understood the value of teaching practical skills and career readiness in high schools.

Students today are different than when we grew up, and it’s going to take a different approach to draw students in and get them engaged and excited about their education and prepare them for a very real world regardless of the path they choose after graduation. When faced with the choice between playing games on their phones and laptops and some pointless, menial task I am pretty sure you can figure out which one they choose. Ever since we started the teardrop, I haven’t had to remind students nearly as often to put their phones away or get off Facebook.

One unforeseen consequence of all this is now I have random teachers stopping by to visit with the students and see the camper. I have overheard people at other schools talking about the camper in the basement of that high school across town. All of this is interesting because before the teardrop trailer, a lot of people didn’t even know there were wood shops left in some high schools let alone one in the basement making a sweet tiny trailer.

I can’t wait to help the students sell this one and take the lessons we learned and get started on a new one next year.