If You Build It…

March 7, 2014 — Leave a comment


Blocks. Legos. Forts. Kids are natural builders. But most schools don’t offer such hands-on learning. They offer sitting at a desk and listening quietly. That’s a shame, because there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Designer-activist Emily Pilloton gets this idea in a big way.

The founder of Project H, Emily’s dedicated her life to improving K-12 education in America through rigorous training in design thinking, vocational skills, and applied arts and sciences. (The “H” stands for the values at the core of her work: “hearts, hands, and hammers.”) Recently, Emily spoke to me about the two inspirational programs she’s running at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA: Camp H and Studio H. Camp H teaches young girls ages 9-12 hands-on design, woodworking, fabrication, and welding skills, while Studio H is a design and build class for 8- to 11-grade students that Emily originally co-founded with Matthew Miller in Bertie, NC. Where literalists see band saws and blow torches, visionaries like Emily and Matthew see these tools’ potential to strengthen kids’ math, design, and visual and abstract thinking skills—and boost their creative confidence.

But don’t just take my word for it. The best way to appreciate Studio H’s potential to transform young minds is to watch the recently released documentary, “If You Build It,” by Patrick Creadon, Christine O’Malley, and Neil Baer. This wonderful movie follows 13 Studio H students in Bertie, NC. Tasked with designing and building a farmers market for their community, “If You Build It” demonstrates how design can give meaning to our lives and shows just how difficult making meaningful change can be. Thankfully—spoiler alert!—their sheer optimism and determination surmounts bureaucratic obstructions and construction challenges.

I left the movie more convinced than ever that a thinking-with-your-hands approach to education provides students with the critical tools they need to build solid futures.

What other education experiments inspire you?

Photo courtesy of “If You Build It.”

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

Tim Brown


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