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Lessons from Let’s Build It

At our annual Let’s Build It Institute, held virtually earlier this month, we asked prizewinning teachers how they fared teaching remotely this spring and what their big takeaways were. Here’s what they had to say.

On managing a class

  • “Eliminate frustrations for students, like uploading big files. Have students drop off assignments and take exams in person at a safe distance.” —Adam Bourne, executive director at New Orleans Technical Education Provider and former carpentry teacher
  • “Because our district made attendance optional, we worked with local businesses to giveaway free treats like pizza and ice cream for students who did schoolwork.”
    William Dunham, industrial technology teacher

On involving industry partners

  • “We had industry partners make five-minute video explainers of their work to share with students.” —Adam Bourne
  • “Invite industry experts to your Zoom sessions.” —Matthew Barbercheck, industrial arts teacher
  • “We had more-engaged employers than before. We were able to place some of our seniors right into jobs. Ship-builders called us: ‘We need 20 students.’ Students got job opportunities, some of which will lead to careers.” —Patrick Wadsworth, technical writing teacher

On their most successful assignments

  • “Share a floorplan of your classroom and ask students to design their dream shop.”
    —Matthew Barbercheck
  • “Ask students what needs doing around the house and make it an assignment, like building raised plant beds or fixing a leak.” —Bill Dunham
  • “I shadowed my program’s alum in the field and recorded video of them working as a way to inspire my current students.” —Scott Mayotte, automotive teacher
  • “The best project that we did was ask students to design a woodworking clamp and then the class voted on the best design and further developed it together.” —Jonathan Schwartz, carpentry teacher

Why the social-emotional matters more now than ever

  • “I asked the students to write down answers to questions and then talk a bit about what they were doing in their lives….They opened up. They unburdened themselves. My classes were probably closer than they ever were in these incredible circumstances.”
    AJ Neumann, faculty member, Delta College, former high school building trades teacher
  • “Kids are already comfortable creating relationships online. They have friends all over the country.  Our kids are ‘on it’ in terms of being able to build friendships virtually.”
    Dave Huffman, construction technology teacher
  • “I stayed supportive for the kids and more engaged outside the classroom than I’d been in the past.” —David White, automotive teacher

The struggle is real

  • “Let’s be honest. There are no homeruns on Zoom.” —Matt Erbach, precision manufacturing teacher
  • “Face-to-face remains the best way to build relationships with students.” —Lesford Dixon, construction teacher

How does skilled trades education come out better than before? Teachers admitted that this was a tough question to answer. One thing’s for sure, they said: they’re stronger teachers for surviving last spring, and they’re better prepared for fall.