By CUE Member Sean Williams
Really it is all Kevin Brookhouser’s fault. While visiting him a few years ago, he went out in the back yard and brought in fresh eggs for breakfast. That was all it took really, but later in the morning when we went to visit his hens, it sealed the deal. I would have my own chickens some day. So when I moved to Portland I almost immediately I looked into raising backyard chickens. I scoured the Internet for information on raising chickens (for city folk) from what to feed them, different breeds, what to expect.
I found pictures of a coop that I really liked but there were no instructions, only a few images from odd angles that really didn’t help. Having no construction experience I needed to do a little research to learn the basics of framing. Then I watched some YouTube videos on general construction and then some more specifically on coop construction. After a while I felt was ready to go. Down to Home Depot to buy wood and supplies. There was a lot of estimation and measuring and mental calculations to make sure I had enough materials.
The weekend came and I started building the coop. I had to take my ideas and sketches and come up with a plan to make them real. There were bumps along the way where I had to revise my plans and check my math and measurements. There were also issues that came up that I hadn’t foreseen and things that *should* have fit didn’t. But in the end it all worked out.
The neighbor kids came over to help me with construction (and they did a great job on the ramp) and it struck what a great project this would have been for my students. Authentic purpose, research across disciplines, multiple sources for reference, reading from various sources and evaluating how good that information is, math, lots of math from measuring to construction costs, revising plans, questioning earlier conclusions, and then the actual hands on experience of building.
This is the shift that I think many folks are missing. I know from talking to lots of people that there is still a mind-set out there that Common Core Standards (CCSS) can be “addressed” and taught much the way we have been teaching the standards for the last decade or so. But there is no way you can effectively post a Common Core Standard on the board and address it in isolation, in my opinion. Our students need lots of opportunities to explore, research independently, tie ideas together across disciplines, and revise their plans as needed.
Sure, we could use some apps and online tools (maybe SketchUp for 3D modeling) for this project and it would be a natural fit. But it’s not about technology any more than Common Core is, this lesson is about building resilience, evaluating resources, revision and research skills. Technology facilitates these and other skills and creates opportunities for learning that just were not possible a few years ago.
Sean Williams is a CUE lead Learner, a former board member for Affiliate Orange County CUE and still teaches for the Orange County Department of Education. He currently works as an Innovation Strategist for Willamette ESD and lives in Portland – with dogs and chickens and wonderful neighbors.