Ritchie Cunningham

Last summer at the ISTE Conference in San Antonio, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a Canadian educator by the name of Jared Nichol (For those too young to know, no, that’s not a picture of him–it’s Ritchie Cunningham…in reference to the title. Google it.) . Jared is a high school multimedia and language arts teacher in Cold Lake High School, in eastern Alberta. He shared with me the Wikiseat project his students had taken on.  I was intrigued by the simplicity of the idea. Students receive a 5″ tall tripod made from angle iron pieces and design and build chairs using them as the centerpiece, or “Catalyst“. The Catalysts are the creation of a young San Francisco man by the name of Nic Weidinger, who came up with the idea as a senior project for design school at Ohio State. While certainly not something most would call “high tech”, the project emphasizes design, artistic ability, creativity, inventiveness, and engineering, all valuable, marketable skills.

Excited by the potential, I started plotting immediately to get our students involved. Wanting to make this year’s Technology Fair something more about skills than tech, I decided the project would be a perfect fit. So, during the last week, I visited the classes of willing art and engineering teachers and sold students on why they should participate in a voluntary project that would be done in their own time. Amazingly, almost 40 high schoolers chose to participate. Catalysts have been ordered, with the wikiseatgoal of sending them home to students after spring break. The plan is to have students display their seats at the Tech Fair in May and share their processes with attendees, and possibly to auction off a few (from willing students) for a local charity. I may try to get them shown at a local art museum or community event, as well. My only real concern in keeping students engaged in the task so that we have a significant number completed. To that end, I’m offering participants a drawing for a nice prize, event t-shirts, and regular visits to classes to encourage students to keep at it. I’m very open to other suggestions in this area, so don’t hold back.

water brainWe’re also planning a team cardboard challenge, MakeyMakey inventors lab, programming/robotics playgrounds, and other events at the Tech Fair, and more ideas (like a student film festival) are percolating in my brain. This effort is a small (for now) part of a bigger plan to encourage our students to be innovative, creative thinkers, not just techno-savvy. I believe we’ll do so through technology-rich and technology-poor projects and activities–the key is giving kids the chance to go through the process of looking at a problem (make a chair), planning a solution, building a model, testing the model, and improving it as needed. I will share updates in the next 2 months as students progress. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts? Are you or your schools focusing primarily on technology aptitudes or more general skills? Which do you feel is right?