Oakland middle school students build wild projects to develop skills, discover their own potential, and explore the possibilities of the wider world.
It's hard for many people to imagine how limiting the life of a low-income Oakland kid can be. While teenagers everywhere complain about not having control over their lives, many students at our school experience an entirely different kind of confinement. They have been born into a system that leaves them without safe places to play, without chances to learn what matters to them, without access to clean air and nature, and without even basic nutrition. This sucks. But here's what sucks even more- sooner or later, many of these kids start thinking that there is nothing they can do to change their circumstances and the world they live in.
We are teachers at Bret Harte Middle school in Oakland. After school, we volunteer to run a new club we call the Radical Constructivists. The idea is simple: kids build things that matter to them. They work in small or large groups, on teeny or long-term projects, but they all work, and they all use their hands as much as they use their brains. Every student's first challenge is to build a rocket that can fly higher than our school building. Their next project is largely up to them. Our job is to point them toward the right tools and get out of their way. We believe strongly that by making things - by turning ideas and dreams into real, concrete objects - our students are changing the way they see the world and their role in it.
Slated projects include compost tumblers, catapults, solar powered water purifiers, land sailors (wind powered buggies), a skin-on-frame canoe, and just maybe an aquaponic herb garden. In so far as possible, we build everything out of scrap, discards, and salvaged material. Turning “trash” into beautiful creations is as powerful an experience as anything we can offer our kids. However, sometimes our student’s dreams exceed the materials we can find in a dumpster.
Before receiving this grant, we had no funding for any extra expenses. Here's how we will use the money:
First: we want to respond to wildly creative student ideas with “yes”, even when a proposed project requires purchases. We will reserve $600 of the award as a fund for materials. This money should fund 6-12 good sized projects, each involving 3-5 students.
Then: we need to acquire more comfortable safety equipment. All we’ve got are horrible 70’s era lab goggles. We will buy 100 comfortable safety glasses at $2.20 each.
Finally: we will spend $180 on a locking tool chest to protect donated tools.
James Kealey teaches science to 152 seventh graders. He is passionate about designing great curriculum and getting kids as many hands-on experiences as possible. Before teaching, he worked as a carpenter, scientific SCUBA diver, and researcher.
Nicholas Gilpinwright teaches special education classes in math and science. He teaches his students by appealing to every sense and learning style. Nick is a maker superstar. If it exists, he can fix it. If it doesn’t exist, he can build it.
Funded by San Francisco, CA (January 2015)