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Providing Certainty in Uncertain Times


Providing Certainty in Uncertain Times

Our classrooms are safe places where students come to grow as people. In fact, for a lot of students, school might be the only place they feel safe and comfortable.

With schools closing around the country in response to COVID-19, it’s hard to feel safe. The world is coming at us fast. Change is happening day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute. The last five days have felt like five weeks for a lot of people.

Uncertainty isn’t easy for anyone—and especially not for young people. So how do we, as skilled trades teachers, provide some certainty, in these challenging times? Students are looking to us to lead.

Skilled trades teachers are experts not just at teaching their craft, but also at encouraging creativity, collaboration and communication among students. We build strong relationships, and we recognize that our students come to us from different backgrounds, with a variety of needs. Often, our classrooms are students’ favorite places to be because they feel at home doing what they love and are good at.

How do we recreate that experience online? How do we just keep students with us right now?

First, our lessons need to be interesting. If it’s boring on paper, it’s going to be boring on a computer. Think about the 21st century technical skills that all students, including trades students, could use in the future: coding, programming, graphic design and design thinking. All of this can be taught online.

Second, we need to engage. Communicate with students constantly and stay connected—not necessarily about assignments and homework, but about how they’re doing.

Finally, be authentic. Students are going to remember this time for the rest of their lives, and we can’t act like everything is normal. We should use this moment to think differently. At the Let’s Build It institute, my friend and fellow teacher Matt Barbercheck called this “jetpack thinking.” Get a jetpack!

Here are some specific tools I’m using that may help other trades teachers out there:

  • Infographics: Ask students to convey what they know in an infographic using Canva or Google Drawing. It’s a great way to make thinking visible, and to assess what students have learned. We also use Padlet, a digital bulletin board, so students can share their work with each other.
  • Little Library: Ask students to design, and if tools and materials are available, to build a Little Library for their neighborhood. With libraries and schools closed, people can grab or give a book at a safe distance. Google SketchUp is a free tool that lets students build 3D models.
  • How-to Videos: Instead of asking students to watch something, ask them to produce something. Students can record themselves explaining a concept or skill and share it with the class. They can also teach a friend via Facetime or a sibling at home.
  • Studying community architecture: This is especially for construction students, but could apply to automotive or welding as well. Ask students to walk around—keeping a safe distance from others—and take pictures of a variety of door and chimney designs, roof dormers, foundations above grade and gable ends.
  • Community service: Ask students to be useful at home and in their neighborhoods, record or write about what they did, and share with their classes. This could be anything from repairing a leak to delivering groceries. Nothing is more important right now than helping each other.
  • Class connections: Students need to feel connected to each other during this time. One way we do this is to ask students to build YouTube playlists of their favorite songs and share them with each other. Find creative ways to keep the togetherness that comes from being in a shop alive.

We hope when our students walk out of our classrooms they are better people and better students because of the experience we have provided.

That experience is going to look different than we thought it would, but the end result should be the same.

Bob Kilmer

Construction and Architecture Teacher

Enumclaw High School, WA