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Why Hands-On Building Matters

Why Hands-On Building Matters

As a Spark-Y staff member working primarily in the office, I experience most of our programs second-hand through our capable education facilitators. This week, however, I was thrilled to leave my desk and computer for a day and join Hill-Murray School’s eighth grade class’ vermicompost system build.

The vermicompost system, which will use worms to compost the cafeteria’s food waste, was designed and prepped by Spark-Y’s Operations Director, Sam, and assembled almost entirely by students. Eighth graders worked in teams to make measurements, cut planks, drill holes, and put the system together—often participating in construction for the first time ever. Students obviously love the break in routine a build day offers, but for an eighth grader, building something during the school day isn’t just an excuse to ditch the classroom and spend time outside. It’s a deeply impactful and empowering learning experience.

At the build students demonstrated the benefits of hands-on learning over and over again. One eighth grader, reluctant to try using a power tool, stood at the back of her group and told me she was scared of the saw. I coaxed her over, and timidly the student marked her measurement, lined up the wood plank, made the cut, and looked up grinning. She asked, “Can I do another one? That was so fun!” She performed the next cut confidently and without fear, wearing a big smile the entire time.

Another student explained to me that she couldn’t help with measurements because she’s “bad at math.” We did the first measurement together and thirty minutes later she was still at the measuring table telling a friend, “I love making measurements! I’m so good at it!” This student, who didn’t think she was good at math, spent 45 minutes calculating measurements and feeling valued, smart, and capable.

When students build things with Spark-Y they face fears with confidence and determination. They learn the meaning of “I can do it” and “I’m good at this.” They learn what empowerment felt like while making their school a more sustainable campus. The best part of all that learning: the students have fun while doing it! And that’s what Spark-Y is all about!