Tuesday, November 13, 2012

5,000 Students Can't Be Wrong: 6 Reasons Why You Should Support the Wikiseat Project

The idea is simple.  We want students to build chairs.  Lots of them. 
Why chairs?  Because chairs solve problems.
Solving problems is useful. 
So is learning how to solve them.

The Wikiseat Project started with 85 kids.  Now we have over 5,300 students on three continents signed up and waiting to build chairs, share the journey, and create a vast community of people doing what we think people do best.  People make stuff.  From little kids with blocks to the adults who produce all the things we come in contact with a million times a day, the process of design is constant and has been from our early beginnings.  We identify problems, create solutions, and share our work when we're done.  This is the very definition of progress, and we've built a 100% grass-roots effort to bring the experience of design to over 100 classrooms around the world in 2013.

 So what do we need from you?  Honestly?  We need $85,000 dollars to fund 5,300+ catalysts, pieces of angle-iron that serve as the basis for these three-legged seats, as well as well as the catalysts that will be given away as part of our reward system on the Indiegogo campaign we have set up.  Why should you do this?  Here are six reasons why you should support these students:

1. Transcurricularness

Real learning doesn't fit into nifty categories.  It's messy, problematic, and has an unpredictable outcome.  While I was able to align the project with my 10th grade English Language Arts content standards, and I do feel like this can also be done in other content areas pretty easily, this is a project that is about learning writ large, not confined by "subjects" and "classes". The design process, in which one mentally moves from identifying a problem, analyzing that problem, creating possible solutions, drafting, and finally production, is a process that is clearly necessary for today's world.  A close look at the 100+ innovative educators who have signed on to lead students through the Wikiseat process clearly shows that building chairs in school applies in a wide variety of curricular areas. 

2.  It Begins and Ends With The Audience.

Like all good design, the Wikiseat Project always has you, the audience, in mind.  Not only will students identify a place in their life where they could use a new seat and actually bring it to fruition, they will also be engaging with a whole wider community of peers, participants, and supporters.  The first group of 85 students were able to get their work displayed in a great local art gallery, complete with an opening night meet and greet session.  As an educator, I can't stress enough how proud I was as my students engaged a live audience gathered solely to hear kids share what they were learning in school.  What will the other 5200 students come up with this year?  Where will they share their work?  What size audience could that many kids reach?  Help us find out.

3.  It's the Future and You Want Futuristic Schools

Seriously.  Think about over 5,000 kids sharing the entire Wikiseat process together online.  Kindergarten classes in Newfoundland skyping with Master's Degree candidates in Australia.  Massive galleries of still photos, updated constantly, and providing a sense of community to both student participants and online supporters.  It's time we start to unleash our student's natural capacity to work and share collaboratively.  The days of having all school work handed to an audience of one are over.  Sharing is what happens when scarcity ends, and now that every kid has access to everything that everyone has ever learned via the internet, the kind of scarcity that has been the model in education for 100 years is done.  We don't have jetpacks like we though we would, but the future we wound up with is totally new and it's a super-exciting time to be in education.  

4.  We Need To Go Back.

All classes should be soulcraft, not just shop class.  And it's too bad about shop classes here in the US, they've been eliminated at the time when we could really use them the most.  This project is about a return to making things.  It's a reaction against throw-away culture.  It's about craft, and learning from mistakes, and physicality.  While the experience will be shared in a very modern way online, the actual construction process is entirely lo-tech. As much as we want to turn everything into a shared experience, we should pause and make sure that we also see value in the simple conflict between a human idea and a physical object.  Handing a kid a hunk of welded angle-iron is a very visceral thing.  It has weight, it's a bit greasy, and it makes an awesome thud as it plops down on a desk in front of a befuddled kid wondering how they are going to turn that into a chair.  Kids love the challenge of making things, and they also love to use the things they make.  I started this whole project because I realized that somewhere along the line I had given up on that love of making things I had as a kid.  I encourage you adults to contribute enough to get a catalyst for a Wikiseat shipped your way because I think there are plenty of people like me out there who'd love to feel that challenge of making something again.

5.  Kids Who Understand Questions Find Answers Better.

My kids have to take the same standardized tests that your kids do.  I don't really think about those tests much, though.  I'm making a calculated move towards the fundamental  premise that engagement is the most necessary element of any learning experience, and a calculated move away from this notion that content acquisition is the most significant goal of education.  By teaching my students how to think using a design framework, I am teaching them to not only find answers, but to appreciate questions as an opportunity to learn and grow.  My students approach those standardized tests with a desire to be measured, a desire to be put to the limit regardless how low or high the bar, and a desire to be done and get back to real learning as soon as that horrendous week is over.  They don't work for grades, they don't work for points.  They learn because they appreciate the beauty of moving from not-knowing to knowing, and they carry an appreciation of that beauty for the rest of their lives.  Oh, and they score quite well to boot.  

6. It's Just Cool.

This thing is as grass-roots as it gets.  Nic, Alaric and I had no idea that we'd put out a call to see if anyone was interested in building seats in school and get the response we got from students and educators all over the world wanting to come on board this crazy pirate ship we've got going.   This is something that wasn't possible a few short years ago, and now that we have the chance, we simply just have to follow through and get these hunks of metal in these kids' hands.  It's going to be incredible, and loud, and beautiful, and awesome.  

Whatever the reason, and I'd love to hear yours, please support kids who want to make things in school. 

- Sean Wheeler

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