Laine Schrewe

Jonathan Alder High School – Tolles Career and Technical Center
Plain City, Ohio
Laine Schrewe, Engineering Instructor

When schools closed last spring, teachers had a matter of days to develop meaningful curriculum content for our students to complete remotely.  For me as a high school engineering teacher, my challenge was finding engaging, hands-on projects that would help students feel connected in a time where we were all feeling anything but connected.  In addition, since students were working exclusively from home, finding a project that could be completed with materials every student could find in their home also had to be considered.  The project I decided on was to have students build scaled prototypes of local and greater Ohio landmarks out of household recyclables that had special engineering features – like having moving parts or being made without any adhesives. The projects students turned in were well beyond my expectations and when combined together, they created a wonderful reminder of what we can achieve when we all work toward a common goal, even in difficult times.

As we transitioned to the summer, I, like most teachers, felt frozen – wondering what lesson delivery method would ultimately be decided upon for our return to school in the fall.  A million ideas were racing through my head for projects that would work for each scenario, but I didn’t know how to start.  Finally, our district decided to start back up this fall in a hybrid model, with students sometimes working in school and sometimes working from home. Honing in on the projects that students could productively work through both at home and at school had its own unique set of challenges, but also has already resulted in some poignant reminders of what is truly important during this unprecedented time for our country.

A telling example of this can be seen in an introductory project I had students complete this fall that tasked students with developing an innovative project related to pumpkins.  After coming up with a project idea and then actually making it, they were asked to break the project down into steps to clearly explain how it was made for others.  The goal of this assignment was to get students to start thinking about manufacturing and production processes and what goes into the actual “making” of objects.  I expected that they would struggle to come up with creative, original ideas and they did.  It’s hard.  Creativity takes practice.  I expected them to need support breaking down their ideas into detailed steps since for many of them this was the first time they had to consider a project in this way – and they did.  What I did not expect was that many of them spent their weekend working on their projects with their mother or father as they were taught how to use a drill or bake a cake or wire a pumpkin chandelier.  While I am never a fan of parents doing their child’s homework, I am always a fan of projects bringing families together in a way that allows my students to see a new side of their parents or learn a new skill from them.  The hybrid instruction model forced my students to work at home on projects they would normally have built in the classroom and came with a heart-warming and unexpected side benefit of quality family time – despite happening during a time when some teens and parents clearly feel like they have spent a little too much quality time together over the past six months.  It was a wonderful reminder that the value of schoolwork can extend far beyond a course’s content standards.

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