I spent the day today at Brightworks in San Francisco. For those not familiar with this crazy school or the crazy man behind it, Gever Tulley is responsible for Tinkering School and for inspiring children at his camps over the other side of the Atlantic. If there's one thing worth watching of his, it's "Five dangerous things you should let your kids do."
Gever graciously gave up most of his day to show a few of us around and it was a great opportunity for us to chat about education and what it really means. In this picture I was "working" with the oldest kids. This lesson was at the local coffee shop which seems to be a regular haunt for them (don't worry, the bottles are ginger beer ...) I brought in a pile of the UV torches that we were making at the SF Maker Faire over the weekend and showed them how to build them, and a couple of cool tricks with fluorescence and phosphorescence.
Brightworks is in a disused mayonnaise factory in the heart of SF. (I need to get me one of those ...) Lunch is usually unusual with today being no exception; a goat came along to help with the goats' cheese making ...
I think I have a great life now working on Tech Camp thing full time, and I have not really missed teaching ... until now. There aren't many schools I would actually want to work at now that I have given up the "boring bits" like report writing and parent-teacher evenings, but this would be one of them. The philosophy here is to have an overarching theme for a few months (which they call an "Arc"), and base all of the experiences and teaching around this. The current Arc was on movement, with kids working on projects as diverse as the flight of birds, the movement of bicycles, and dance. They have to pitch their ideas to Gever and the rest of the staff there and gain approval before proceeding. It's a bit like a mini 'Dragon's Den' (do they call it 'The Shark Cage' or something similar in the US TV version?) The result is kids who just can't wait to get to school to learn.
Gever's very open about the whole concept and just how experimental it is. Fortunately he's in an environment in CA where education is pretty flexible. Apparently all you need to open a school there is a postal address and a copy of the Curriculum somewhere on the premises. I think Gever's is in the basement. It hasn't ben opened ... probably just as well!
I've spent some time thinking about whether that sort of school could be possible over here in sunny England. I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that it wouldn't be (yet ...) Parents are a bit more conservative over here, and it's a massive leap of faith to put your faith (and your children) into a completely new and untested form of schooling, no matter how brilliant the founder is. If anyone can make this a success though it is Gever, and he's smart enough to have already consulted with the likes of MIT and Harvard to see how they would view their idea of schooling, and the portfolio of work that their students will come out of it with (and it seems to be a pretty positive view).
Sadly the main problem over here would be health and safety. I'm not one to bash the industry as much as some, but it is getting pretty ridiculous. We used to view the Americans as the ones who were crazy about this, but sadly we're now much, much worse. I've just changed insurance company because I couldn't get my previous one to insure me for kids using soldering irons without 1:1 supervision. I told the guy on the end of the phone that I have got a workshop in a few weeks where I have 16 kids soldering and asked him if that means I need 16 adults to supervise. He said yes. I hung up. I wonder what they would make of 10 year olds welding at Brightworks?