by: Michael S. Ellegood, PE, President, Yavapai County Education Foundation
In his book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Matthew B. Crawford laments the decline of shop class in schools and examines the importance of the mind-hands connection in student achievement and success. With more and more emphasis on test scores and computer literacy in schools, students continue to be denied these important learning opportunities.
Fortunately, heroic teachers are devising new ways to reinforce classroom and online learning through hands-on activity, regardless of a gap in available funding. Studies show that average classroom teachers spend between $400 and $700 annually, out of their own pockets, to support their classrooms with basic supplies as well as active learning opportunities.
Educators, schooled in teaching theory, know that students learn auditorily through listening, visually through reading and tactilely through hands-on experience. In most of our current learning environments, students are taught through classroom lectures (auditorily) and homework assignments often involving reading (visually), but hands-on experience is offered in just a few laboratory courses — a crucial leg in the three-legged stool of education.
Here in Yavapai County, several of our schools are using hands-on learning to drive home the lessons of lecture, book and online instruction. On the following pages you will see how three teachers, who each won a $500 classroom grant from the Yavapai County Education Foundation (YCEF), are making this possible.
Success stories from
the Yavapai County Education Foundation
Heritage middle school, Chino Valley
With Josh Steinberg’s help, Heritage Middle School in the Chino Valley Unified School District is bucking the trend moving away from shop class. With vision and entrepreneurial drive, the middle school teacher and woodworker has found a way to bring back hands-on learning.
Steinberg started a woodworking shop in what used to be a weight room at Heritage after seeing a need for his middle school students who were undergoing the transition from child to young adult. He saw the need for these students to set themselves up for success.
Although the room was not climate-controlled, had poor lighting and inadequate electrical power to use woodworking machinery, that didn’t stop the determined teacher. The school district installed 200 Amp power and improved the lighting, as well as installing HVAC.
But finding the appropriate equipment was up to Steinberg.
Prowling Craigslist and other sources for secondhand equipment, he acquired tools including workbenches, saws, chisels and other hand and power tools to stock the shop. Steinberg used his own money to purchase much of the equipment with some money donated by community members. He scrounged materials from a local woodworking shop and after receiving a $500 classroom grant from YCEF, he purchased shop supplies including saw blades, glue and personal safety equipment.
Today the shop/classroom is in full operation with 79 enthusiastic students in six classes and a waiting list for future classes.Students learn to measure, calculate, work as a team, self-motivate and make something long-lasting using the mind-hand connection. These are skills they will use for a lifetime.
Beaver Creek School, Rimrock
Beaver Creek School is a public school offering preschool and K-8 classes in the Verde Valley community of Rimrock. The staff and faculty of Beaver Creek, including teacher Cody Kukulski, recognize the value of hands-on experience to the overall educational environment.
Using grant funds from YCEF, Kukulski directed students to create a welcoming and useful outdoor classroom. The students were hands on for most of the work including design and planning, measuring and developing material lists. But most importantly, the students jumped into production wielding hammers and saws, all under Kukulski’s supervision.
The finished product includes tree stumps and benches for seating, a chalkboard, a raised planter bed and a blue tarp for a sunscreen. The garden and the finished project are a source of pride for students and staff alike.
The Perks of Outdoor Learning
Research has revealed many benefits to outdoor learning, a fact that came back into focus during the pandemic as schools scrambled for ways to make in-person learning possible. Some experts have encouraged teachers to continue to find ways to take their lessons outside for these benefits and others:
• School performance increases
when children learn outdoors.
• Learning outdoors is healthy.
• Learning outdoors supports child development.
• Teaching and learning outdoors
• Learning outdoors helps develop
a sense of place and civic attitudes and behaviors.
• Outdoor education engages families and the community.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Skyview elementary School, Prescott
At Skyview Elementary School, a public charter school in Prescott, Ashley Fine is using food as a learning tool for her K-8 students. Through her project titled, “Understanding Food Systems, Connecting Culture and Agriculture through Carrots,” Fine is teaching her students using the popular vegetable. Students research the history of carrots, discovering that they originated as a food source in Afghanistan, were used as a medicine, exported throughout the Middle East and Europe and then to the United States as a food source.
This approach integrates world history, current world events, nutrition and plant biology into her students’ education.
In addition to these classroom studies and to drive the lessons home, Fine’s students constructed planter boxes on school grounds and planted, grew, cared for and later harvested their bounty of carrots. To top the learning experience off, she and her students prepared carrot cakes for everyone to enjoy.
This project integrated classroom learning, reading, research and hands-on reinforcement of learning and reading. The students measured, constructed, researched and developed their own natural fertilizer and cared for their plants throughout the school year.
Benefits of School Gardens
• Boost self esteem.
• Teaches sustainability.
• Teaches students to plant, care
for and harvest food.
• Teaches life skills.
• Teaches math and science skills.
• Increases exercise.
• Teaches nutrition.
• Students are more likely to try something they grew.
• Improves student absenteeism rates.
• Reduces vandalism and increases students’ pride in their school.
Source: Arizona Department of Health Services
These are just three examples of how our schools in Yavapai County are employing all three modes of learning to the educational process. Adding hands-on learning brings real-world application to sometimes abstract academic subjects. In addition, students learn the value of teamwork and how to resolve conflict, how to persevere to achieve a goal and, finally, how to enjoy the fruits of their labor when the project is completed.
While hands-on learning effectively rounds out a student’s educational environment, there really is no established source of funding for supplies, equipment and other needs for these activities. Teachers wishing to embark on such a program must rely on donations, and in some cases, their own personal funds.
The Yavapai County Education Foundation (YCEF) supplies classroom grants for teachers to meet a variety of needs including hands-on learning. YCEF is a 30-year-old foundation established for the sole purpose of supporting our teachers through classroom grants and by raising public awareness of the positive impact that our schools have on our future. YCEF is a 501(c)3 nonprofit administered by a dedicated group of volunteers. The success and sustainability of programs like this depend on the public’s support and contributions.
You can learn more about YCEF and make a tax-deductible donation by visiting www.ycefoundation.com.