On being a lifelong learner

Early in my teacher education experience I learned that being a teacher means being a lifelong learner, so here I am learning lesson after lesson as the Waypoints project continues. What have I learned so far? Some big lessons and some not-so-big lessons; some obvious, some maybe not so obvious – in no particular order:

  1. Help students develop a vision, present them with a worthwhile project, and watch them take it and run with it. I said it before, but these kids are on fire. I’ve yet to tell anyone to get to work. And the few times when it appeared as though someone wasn’t working, it was because they didn’t know what to do next, not because they didn’t want to do anything. Teachers (of any subject) could learn a lesson or two from the kids’ enthusiasm for the project: Make learning relevant. Give students a vision of how the learning benefits them and what they can do with it later. Make it practical! I realize I’m preaching to myself here, especially as a teacher of English, a subject that is eminently practical and yet occasionally abstruse. How much more effective our instruction would be if the teaching were more relevant and practical.
  2. Plan, plan, and then plan some more. Tools, materials, workspace, timing, group dynamics, finances. Being an English teacher who steps out of his classroom for 50 minutes each day and into the shop – a space that isn’t mine: I don’t stock it, I don’t “own” it; I don’t organize it; I don’t really know it like I know my classroom – makes it challenging to manage the project. Should I buy this tool or that tool? If I do, who pays for it? Where is this or that tool? Just shifting gears from “book learnin'” to hands-on learning requires a subtle (but distinct) reframing of the mind. Having things planned out and ready to go makes that transition much simpler. Many an afternoon or evening has been spent running to the local lumberyard or home improvement store to pick up tools or materials necessary for the next day.
  3. Blogging ain’t easy. One of the several requirements of my course is for each group to maintain a blog that documents the build process (sort of like this blog documents my experience). Naively, I assumed that my students – children of the digital age and the 21st century – would have no problem creating a WordPress blog, especially if I can do it. Not so. Getting blogs up and running has been a painfully slow process, and getting students to document the process is even more challenging. We will work on that, I’m sure. Here are the four blogs, in the hope that the publicity and audience will spur them to update:
    Shelleyback – Josiah, Katalina, Helen, and Tony offer a unique twist on the Shellback name.
    Five Guys and a Dinghy – Jake, Ryan, Ross, Will, and Matt conjure images of a juicy Five Guys (veggie) burger, but instead offer up a hardworking team of boat builders (and one compelling introductory photo).
    A Quest to Build a Shellback Dinghy – Katie, Trevor, Eric, and Josh embark on an epic quest filled with up-close action shots, shop safety, and a cliffhanger.
    tkpjcnl2k16 – Tsion, Kay, Patricia, Joven, and Chad have a WordPress URL. (They also have a pretty decent ladder frame nearly constructed, too, but you’ll have to wait for them to blog about it).
  4. And in the “blogging ain’t easy” category, I’ve run out of time for this post, so let me wrap up with a quick summary of where the project stands. I’ll come back to what I’ve learned in a subsequent post.
  5. One last point before I do: Multitask. Divide and Conquer. It is even more apparent now than it was during the planning phase that we need to divide the build portions and work on them concurrently. To that end, we’ve begun designing the sails, prepping the marine plywood that will form the bottom and sides of each boat, and cutting out jigs and patterns that will speed construction a step or two down the line. I think this method of division will be vital to our success (or failure).

So, where does the project stand now?

Each group is busily constructing what is known as the ladder frame – aka “mold” or “jig” or “strong back” – that defines the shape of the hull as pieces of plywood are bent, fastened, and joined together atop it. Without a ladder frame there can be no boat. Most groups should have their frames done by the middle of next week. Meanwhile, we are dividing and conquering as we begin other phases of the construction – e.g., sail design/construction, appendages (rudder, daggerboard), etc.

Initially I’d estimated that we’d have the ladder frames built by the end of the second week of school. We’re approaching the fourth week. Adjustments to the regular schedule and lost school days due to snow and other events have slowed us down. Clearly, we’re going to have to make up this time somewhere, somehow.

In the budget department, I’ve spent approximately 1/3 of my available funds. Last week I made a trip to the LL Johnson’s Workbench in South Bend and returned with 11 sheets of BS1088 Marine-grade Hydrotek plywood. That’s some fancy wording that translates to expensive ($$$) plywood. Why not use cheap plywood? A couple reasons: Cheap plywood is just that, cheap. It can have numerous voids. The glues used to hold the laminations together can be inferior. The exterior is often rough and knotted. Hydrotek, a variety of mahogany plywood, is BS 1088 certified, which means that it is void-free, constructed with waterproof glues, and finished smooth, even suitable for varnish, if desired. When one considers the number of hours that will be devoted to each build, it would be foolish to save a few bucks by using an inferior product. And in the end, we want these boats to be of high quality so that some happy new owner will enjoy them for years and years as they teach themselves, their children, or their grandchildren how to row and sail. Simply, it’s the right thing to do.

If you’d like to be a part of our project, send me a note at denburgh at andrews dot edu.

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One thought on “On being a lifelong learner

  1. Pingback: Building the Shellback dinghy | Even Keel

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