The classroom is a flurry of activity: announcements blasting over the speaker, students working in pairs, painting chairs, sketching ideas, and focusing amidst what may look like chaos to the untrained eye.
This is not home economics as your mother may remember it. It’s interior design and apparel students working together to learn beyond lectures and notes, using practical applications to prepare them for life outside the classroom.
This classroom showed how the IDEA Academy will work. It’s a new four-year program open to rising ninth-graders where students will learn through projects and collaboration, working independently with the guidance of their teachers.
Jessica Murphy, a biology teacher and site coordinator for the IDEA Academy explained the curriculum as, “an initiative to bring innovative thinking to students. … We want them to know that there is a paradigm shift from traditional-style classrooms to collaborative creative thinking, and from subject to subject we are not in isolation.”
Beginning in fall 2013, The IDEA Academy, which is an acronym for innovation, design, engineering and arts, focuses on career and technical education classes, offering internships and work-study programs to give students 21st-century skills.
“One of the visions is that all classes can work together,” said Murphy.
She described an environment where students from core classes can also use principles from career and technical education classes to learn in innovative ways.
For example, a biology student may uncover a new design for a microscope from principles learned in interior design.
“We want people to not be afraid to be creative in those core classes,” she said.
Not only are students working in teams, so are the instructors.
On this day, Debra Dunn’s design students cluster together renewing chairs to coordinate with the fashion creations of Ren Jetton’s apparel students. Dunn and Jetton model teamwork as they provide projects that allow students to dig into their work.
“We often get together and talk in front of the kids, and we all collaborate,” said Dunn. “I think them seeing us … work together sets an excellent example for what will happen in the world of work. They know that we value each other’s opinions. We may not always agree, but that’s educational as well.”
Students critique each other’s work while using math and research skills to develop their creations.
“It’s very interdisciplinary,” says Dunn.
The students’ re-imagined chairs and fashion designs will be auctioned at the “Rooms to Runway” event in the spring to raise money for future projects. Project materials for the two classes have been purchased or provided by students, teachers, and the parent-teacher association.
According to Ren Jetton, the apparel instructor, “All of these fabrics are donated to us from various sources because we’re doing this with basically no budget at the moment. Hopefully, with the sale of the chairs, we’ll recoup those funds, but right now with what we have we’re taking donations and working with what we get.”
Senior Josh Laney, 18, who hopes to go to college and possibly study design, appreciates projects like these.
“I like how it’s hands-on and you work off each other’s ideas,” he said. “In other classes, you’re not going to learn how to fix a table or a chair or something that you might use later in life.”
Dunn knows that she is teaching beyond interior design.
“This is sustainability; this is redesign; this is recycle; this is repurpose,” she said. “We’re teaching our children not just how to make things pretty, but how to use things you already have. We think it’s lifetime learning, life skills, which are so essential.”
The interior design/apparel project is a perfect fit for the IDEA Academy, according to Murphy.
“They have to take something in one class and apply it to another. So if you are designing something, how does it influence our fashion? How does it influence what we like in a design space? And learning those essentials of design, flaws and successes, that’s what we want this academy to be.”
Victoria Moreland is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Victoria? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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