The Green Dragon Classroom

Planning is important, but imagination is what makes the extraordinary possible.

I’ve quoted that snippet many times, but I had a remarkable opportunity to experience it during my recent trip to Florida for FETC (the Future of Education Technology Conference).

As I was planning for the trip, I was trying to think of a way I might still get in some guitar practice while I was away from home. If I don’t practice a little every day or two, I feel like I start losing some of what little skill I have, and this was going to have me away for a week. I put out a request on Twitter… anyone at/near FETC have a guitar I can use?

Someone replied and tagged another Twitter friend of mine, fellow educator and Maker-enthusiast, Mr. Dennis Dill.

Mr. Dill teaches at the Jewett School of the Arts in Winter Haven, Florida. I don’t have the foggiest idea what his class is called. I didn’t even think to ask. I just know his space is filled with equipment and supplies for students to make a lot of cool things.

Part of his classroom space is set aside for some musical instruments – drums, keyboard, and… …guitars!

I was heading to Florida early before FETC, because I had a couple of “I’m going to be in the area, so this may be the best chance I ever have to…” items on my list. So, what would adding one more hurt? I found the nerve to ask Mr. Dill if I could visit his classroom.

He was more than gracious in allowing me to visit, and I took away a wealth of ideas for the makerspace I work with in Felicity, Ohio!

There were no “assignments” being handed out, just “design challenges.” Some of them would require a pretty significant use of technology. Some would not. Some students worked independently on their chosen challenge. Some worked in groups. Nothing that was aimed at meeting a challenge was off-limits.

As students worked, I just sorta wandered around and observed what they were doing. At one table, a group of students had a special clay and hardware for making custom earrings. I asked where the idea for the project came from, and one student replied, “I saw these on Etsy, but they were pretty expensive. So, I thought, I can probably make them myself.”

First time in my life I ever wished I had pierced ears.

“Well, we got these clips, so we can make keychains, too,” another student offered, to help me avoid squeezing in a jewelry store trip to my Florida travels.

Students were choosing and working on the whole range of different projects. They were learning what they needed to learn in the moment about the software or equipment or devices that would get them further in their challenge.

If a student wanted their “My Word For 2022” image to be poster-sized, that was a great time to learn some new skills in Photoshop. If a student wanted to design a “flying machine” in Minecraft, that was a great time to learn some new blocks and tools.

And, if a student really just wasn’t feelin’ it that day, there were plenty of books and cozy places to sit… and I don’t really see anything wrong with affording students the same grace I sometimes wish I could find for myself.

I still want to know whether the special roll of hydrodip film really wasn’t any better than spray paint, as several of the students strongly contended.

It wasn’t part of any of their challenges for the week, but I did get to work in a few licks with the in-house electric guitar. Big thanks to “G” for adding the percussion for me on the electronic drums!

An old golf cart that was being stripped down to turn it into a flight simulator. A homemade pool table doubling as a group workstation. And a RetroPi video game emulator set into a hand-built arcade game cabinet – which I didn’t see one student touch the entire time I was there. They were too busy doing other things.

“What’s wrong with students today? Why are they so lazy? Why do they always say they’re bored? Why are they just staring at their phones all the time?” I dare say none of those questions have ever been asked in Mr. Dill’s classroom. His is the kind of classroom that provides the sort of experiences for kids that helps them be better students in all of their classes, and will result in people who have the kind of mindset and approach to problem-solving and trying new things that we desperately need for a brighter future.

Before I ever stepped foot in the Orange County Convention Center for the “Future of Education Technology Conference,” I saw what is possible in the present with educational technology.

And it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.

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