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BANNER, December 2015: Teachers collaborate and learn at Parts and Crafts

To effectively solve global problems, students need the capacity to understand an issue from multiple perspectives, the collaboration skills to work across styles, personalities and time zones, and the resilience to create, launch, reflect, adjust, and relaunch.  These are the skills we embrace at Brookwood. 

Our students consider questions such as, What problem am I trying to solve?  Who is involved in this issue?  How do others see it?  What is my role? as they tackle the challenges of daily life at Brookwood and those they will face as global citizens. In order to give children experience in forming, asking, and exploring questions of meaning, we engage them in design thinking, project-based learning, and social-emotional lessons.  These approaches reinforce skills that prepare our students to make meaning of – and contribute constructively to – the big issues facing children as they grow up in an interconnected world.  

To inspire faculty and staff in this effort, we recently participated in a day-long professional development workshop at Parts and Crafts (partsandcrafts.org), a family maker space and community workshop that encourages playing, thinking, making and learning by exploring arts, science, computer programming and engineering. The workshop was a part of the school’s two-year focus on technology through the Amory Parker Chair program, currently led by faculty members Elise Koretz and Annie Johnson. With goals to enhance our hands-on teaching capacity, get new ideas to take back to the classroom, collaborate with mixed groups of colleagues, and be learners ourselves, we loaded up the school’s buslets and headed to Somerville for a day of discovery.

Throughout the day, we constructed rockets, hand made journals, built mousebots, silkscreened t-shirts, and programmed in Scratch.  More important than any one project, however, we left with lessons that reinforced our ideas about effective education:

Going off campus together creates possibilities.  Though only for a day, working together in an unfamiliar environment and in different groupings sharpened our awareness of our surroundings – including each other.  We strengthened connections between colleagues, laughed and wondered together, and engaged in meaningful exploration of materials that were new to us.

Not knowing is hard! As we sat with an iron in hand and a stack of plastic bags ready to fuse together into fabric, we experienced a range of feelings about not knowing—excitement, nervousness, curiosity.  We were reminded what it feels like to not know, to manage our feelings about not knowing, and to experience a group that had varying levels of knowing. We reflected that as adults, we often pursue things that we know how to do well, while being new and inexperienced is often minimized.  In a maker space, however, not knowing—and then asking key questions—is one of the strongest predictors of success. 

Working in partnership adds value.  We received coaching and feedback from our colleagues, and from some that you wouldn’t naturally expect.  This challenged our assumptions of what we knew of each other’s skill sets and created wonderful moments of surprise: You can solder? You’ve stitched bindings on tens of books? You know how to complete circuits? Through collaboration, we saw ideas we hadn’t seen ourselves. Whether it was realizing that there were limitless ways to interact with materials, or by seeing differing priorities in approaching a project, we thought more broadly and deeply about our own work and saw how others’ ideas enhanced it.

Mistakes coalesce learning. Through our mistakes, we learned what was most critical to a situation.  When I glued the googlie eyes on my mousebot and realized that its antennae would no longer function because the eyes were in the way, I understood fundamentally how the circuits of the antennae worked. By diagnosing what wasn’t working and figuring out a solution to address it, I developed a deeper understanding of circuits. This capacity for building, deconstructing and rebuilding with greater clarity and purpose enhances myriad campus pursuits, whether writing a persuasive paragraph, developing a relationship with a classmate, or winterizing a chicken coop. 

Learning styles matter. Throughout the day, our learning styles were on display.  Whether we jumped into a project without additional information or asked the facilitator to walk us through each step, we each had a preferred way to engage in our Parts and Crafts projects.  These approaches reflected our individual learning styles and preferences as well as our comfort levels with being a learner in a public setting. Each of us chose the approach that best met our needs, thereby allowing us fuller, more immediate access to the work at hand.

With creations in hand, we returned to campus with minds on fire to continue engaging students in meaningful problem solving.  This is taking root in many ways, and we’ve highlighted some of these in this issue of the BANNER. Middle School students are building a boat in watch groups where they are defining problems and developing skills to solve them as they reflect on who they are as learners. Lower School students have created LED flashlights by constructing circuits and have put together tinker shops in their classrooms where designs are carefully drafted, created, tested and improved. Sixth grade students are exploring a new series of global competency projects that build skills in empathy, innovation and resilience.

By helping students identify, explore, and address the problems and dilemmas around them, Brookwood is helping shape young people to be compelling contributors in our global world. Enjoy reading more on how this is happening on campus!