Lessons from Shop Camp

We have just wrapped up another great week of Shop Camp for our Middle School students! It was our largest year thus far with 16 students compared with four the year before! I always find it a fun way to start the summer break! As I reflect on the week and think to the cool learning that happened two lessons struck me as crucial to remember as I prepare for another year of formal instruction:
1. Students need the space and permission to fail…and then the opportunity to succeed.
2. The world is our classroom. 
The first lesson struck me when I was working with one of our 5th grade participants. He had welded his bike rack and had a working plan that he modified at the end because he wanted to force enough room for seven total bikes. As we looked over his finished bike rack and tested it out he quickly realized that not only would it not work, but he couldn’t even get the minimum of three bikes to fit on his current rack. 
As we spoke we started to brainstorm options that could make a redesign work better for his needs. We visited about the process to help square his design and layout the bike placers more evenly. His next project was able to hold ten bikes running on either side, he tried another welding process that he was able to get proper heat penetration, and above all he approached the layout of his design with greater accuracy. All these together on the second try allowed him to build a project he could take pride in even though it required him to completely take a part his initial design. 
Thinking to my own classes for next year, I am reminded that I too need to allow for failure by my students. A fear of failure paralyzes many students who are concerned too much by the effect on their grade besides the actual learning. My challenge is to consider how I can maintain the balance between risking boldly and robust accountability that replicates the real world? 
The second lesson hit home when I took our camp students out on their tour day. We lined up tours that took them to a community college, a large scale custom cabinet manufacturer, and a stock trailer manufacturer. You can tell that the tours were effective when you have an even amount of students declare one of the tours as their favorites. The best conversations I had though were from the students who looked at me and said, “Mr. Meals, I’m confused…I thought I knew what I wanted to do and now I don’t.” The students saw careers and opportunities that expanded their horizons beyond what is narrowly advertised by our greater society.
We must never forget that the world is our classroom. The classroom alone is in many respects a poor substitute for the experience found outside its four-walled confines. The body of student experience must be filled with opportunities to see the world that is all around us. Whether that is taking a history class to an important historical site or taking a Horticulture class to local greenhouses. These will be the experiences if strategically acted upon will be the anchors of learning that stick with a student their entire life. Our communities are living laboratories for learning and we must immerse our students into their waters. The challenge for me to ponder is how can I both bring the greater world into my classroom and also ensure students the opportunity to learn in the world beyond the classroom?

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