Classroom teachers are always looking for conceptual tools to help their students succeed. But at Chicago City Day School, teaching takes a big step forward by putting real tools in students’ hands to see where their imagination takes them in solving real-life challenges and problems.
City Day is committed to offering technological and design education to every student, from junior kindergarten through eighth grade. Essentially, the students take a modern version of the shop or industrial arts class their parents may have experienced.
“What we do here prepares students to take on their future, no matter what might confront them,” says Fonda Baldwin, Tech and Design Teacher at City Day.
The class takes place in the Shorey Shop, a space that under Baldwin’s direction has become a hub of creativity, joy, imagination and innovation at City Day. The program brought together science, art, technology and math long before the STEM and STEAM acronyms and makerspace concept entered education conversations.
“Our program gives students a chance to create and be creative. It gives them a chance to engineer. It gives them a chance to face a problem and persevere or come up with a different way to solve that problem. This is about solutions, this is about using the information you have from the various disciplines,” Baldwin says, adding that all the classes at City Day fit together to create a complete real-life picture for students.
Shorey Shop “is one of those places where everything flows together,” she says.
Why hands-on matters
In the Shorey Shop, students learn architecture, engineering, design, small motors and engines, 3D printing, laser cutting, fuel systems, electricity and plumbing among other practical topics, while also applying the skills they learn in all their other classes. Baldwin believes that what students learn in the Shop positions them to problem solve and be creative for the rest of their lives, no matter what fields they enter.
“I’m not focused on preparing students to be plumbers or electricians or any specific occupation. What I can give them is a larger understanding of systems and how things work,” Baldwin says. “The more knowledge you have, the more comfortable you can be in this world, and the greater your ability to change it.”
As a school with a non-competitive approach to education — students are instead urged to always improve on their own effort — there is no one correct way students must take on an open-ended challenge she poses to them. “They get to stretch their imaginations and think of ways to complete them,” Baldwin says.
“There’s a joy here. There’s an energy here. Here they have lively conversations on the things they’ve learned and they bring them all together. Their hands are working, their mouths are working, there’s laughter in this place, and it’s supposed to be that way.”
The result is students who think on their own, who can give impromptu speeches and build relationships with others, she says.
Students love the freedom of learning and the chance to try something new, Baldwin says. “It’s the joy of trying things, it’s the joy of hands-on, it’s the joy of taking a project home that you’re just really, really proud of,” she says. “It makes me feel good for the future.”
Learn more about Chicago City Day School at chicagocitydayschool.org.