Design course a hit at high school
Just a few months into the school year, it seems that just about everybody is on board with Newberg High School's new Integrated Design Studio course.
The program includes students who have never enjoyed or thrived in the traditional classroom setting, the teachers who weave English language arts and math into hands-on learning, and the broader community, as local individuals and organizations are supporting the program by serving as customers and partnering on the course's capstone project. One woman even donated two chickens.
In a very real sense, getting people to buy in is exactly the point of the course, as design instructor Matt Miller's whole modus operandi is to model a different way of teaching, one that teaches real-world skills in the classroom and points students back out of the school to learn while they serve community.
"It's just a different way of going about things and something that really highly engages kids," NHS Principal Kyle Laier said. "That's probably the most powerful impact he's had so far. I've had multiple parents of kids, and kids because I go down there and visit a lot, give the comment that, 'This is why my kid comes to school.' "
IDS, as it is known, is a three-period, multi-disciplinary class that focuses on the design process. It is housed in the school's former wood shop, which features a large work area for construction and an area that looks more like a conference room than a classroom.
Miller begins the day with the design and construction portion of the class during the first period. Then drama director Mike McConaughey teaches English language arts the next period, followed by math teacher Colin Schaeffer in the third.
The class is structured around one major project per semester, the first on a smaller scale as students learn the basic skills they will use for a community-based capstone project in the second.
So far, students have been studying, designing and are now building chicken coops, at least some of which will be sold to customers at the school and in the community.
That's where the chicken donation comes in, as Miller stopped by a farm to buy some fresh eggs on his way home to Beaverton, when it dawned on him to ask if he could borrow some chickens because many students had never been around them before.
She was more than happy to donate a pair of hens who no longer produce eggs and they now live in a demonstration pen in the shop.
"The kids have had to clean up that mess and just see it is a whole different perspective of what the design has to deal with," Miller said. "There's a lot of function that goes into it, so that's why I love chicken coops. It really is a house. It has all these different spaces and functions, unlike a doghouse, where you're only keeping it warm and keeping the rain off its head."
The coop project is a preface to second-semester capstone project, where students must address a real problem in the community.
This year, the class will address housing and homelessness and eventually settled on building two tiny houses, one for each of the two sections.
Miller has partnered with Love INC Executive Director Heath Placek to identify exactly how the tiny houses will be used and who may use them. They could be deployed as transitional housing or perhaps as demos for how tiny houses could be incorporated into the housing market, but that is yet to be determined.
"We have the ability to build some stuff with 30-plus students who want to reach out and do something in the community," Miller said. "And that's where I think the program is most valuable. The kids are learning design and construction and all of these skills and having a different experience in high school, but also the third prong of that is really reaching out and doing something for the community and in that sense learning something about citizenship and what that means."
In a recent development, Northside Community Church has elected to make IDS the beneficiary of its annual Christmas offering, often referred to as "the Big Give" in the past, with the goal of raising $15,000 to fund one of the tiny houses.
"This just seemed like an awesome thing and something that we could do and partner with that group at the high school to do something that seemed very practical," Pastor Jeff Getsinger said. "And the price we've been able to do in the past."
The class has certainly been a hit with students, although because it was a new addition to the course catalog, only a handful of students signed up last spring. Now more than 30 are enrolled.
"The first section started with about six students, then a couple of kids were in here the first couple of days and they went and told their friends and they got signed up," Laier said. "It blew up in like two or three days. And they didn't really know what they were walking into."
Laier said he sees Miller and the course as being a boon to student success because it offers an alternate way for students to get math and language arts credit.
The students seem to especially like how math lessons apply directly to the design and construction work with the chicken coops, while McConaughey has engaged them with a section on poetry, including haikus about chickens, and will build up their presentation skills for pitches on the tiny houses to city and community leaders.
"Some of them have not done well in the traditional classroom and now they're getting engaged in those core subjects in a very non-traditional way," Laier said. "Colin and Mike are getting to be pioneers in that and getting to really stretch what their skill sets are."
It's a pretty common refrain that IDS is a student's favorite class.
"I love building and stuff like that, so it was a perfect class for me," senior Brandon Larkin said. "Everything kind of falls together, like the English and our math class. They all fall in with the design."
Senior Brett Brammer said Miller has an easy-going rapport with students, which lends itself to those who prefer hands-on learning.
"He gets that we don't really like regular school," Brammer said. "I think he's great for the job. There are definitely a lot of kids that have said they wish they had taken this class or that they're going to try to get in second semester."
Students are also on board with the outward-looking focus of the capstone project, in part because it's a chance to leave their mark in Newberg.
"The shelter we'll build for the homeless, that will be pretty cool for the community, to say we did that 10 years from now," senior Ryan Montague said. "It will be cool to say we were a part of it."
Those interested in supporting the class can call Miller at 510-227-0481 or email him at [email protected] newberg.k12.or.us.