Teachers have reformatted classes for online learning because of school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. But how does a hands-on class, like woodworking, translate online?
One Ignacio High School teacher, Molly Turner, is mixing technology and three-dimensional puzzle projects to keep her students engaged.
Colorado schools are closed for the remainder of the school year, and the transition to online learning has challenged teachers and students to adapt. Turner hoped the hands-on projects would offer students a refreshing break from the computer.
“I wanted what I was teaching to be something they were looking forward to and not something they would look at as a chore,” Turner said.
In a normal year, Turner’s 40 woodworking students would have been wrapping up their mini-cabinet projects, focusing on independent projects and preparing for professional certifications.
When schools closed in March, Turner looked for a hands-on learning project her students could do from home. But outside of school, her students faced limited resources.
Schools provide a level playing field, she said. Everyone has access to internet, meals, technology and time.
At home, students face different hurdles. Some students help with ranch work or have unreliable broadband access. Others might be fending for themselves at home alone.
The project needed to work for every student’s constraints, with clear instructions and minimal tool requirements, she said.
Turner found self-propelled, wooden mechanical model kits made by UGears. Now, her students are assembling hundreds of tiny, laser-cut pieces of wood into antique boxes, old-fashioned cars and butterfly structures. The kits cost $35 to $76 each. UGears gave Turner a “substantial discount,” but she declined to say how much the kits cost.
Students use photos and online platforms to turn in class assignments. When they have questions, Turner offers help with video, emails, phones, text chats, paper and online resources.
“Not only is it valid to what I teach in my shop, but they also need a break from being on a computer for hours with their other subjects,” she said. “My shop has always been a chance to have that mental break and get into something that’s hands-on.”
Durango and Bayfield school districts did not immediately respond with information about how their technical education classes have adapted to the school closures.
Jaylene Riepel, a high school senior in her third woodshop class, decided to do an advanced project. She has spent 15 hours turning a 500-piece kit into an old-fashioned car with moving wheels, pistons and engine parts. She is halfway done.
“I knew I could do it, and I just thought it would be fun and enjoyable,” Riepel said. “It helps get my mind off of schoolwork.”