May 10, 2012 by Alex Hoekstra
I know I’ve been talking a lot recently about the tremendous amount of learning that takes place outside of classrooms, and I stand by that notion very strongly, but I feel as though I’ve not given enough credit to classrooms as environments for education. In part, that’s because too often, classrooms and lecture halls don’t function as arenas of engaged, participatory or experiential exploration – more like press-release platforms of one-way information delivery; not what I view as the optimal route to comprehensive understanding. There are, though, exceptions, and today’s project is one such exceptional case.
The Class That Harnessed the Wind is an amazing example of inventive and ambitious students (and some very open-minded and supportive educators) taking the initiative to learn by doing. A group of students at the New Hampton School in New Hampshire, inspired by William Kamkwamba (who as a remarkable testament to the power of self-learning, constructed a home-made windmill from spare parts and scrap at the age of 15 in his hometown in Malawi), are embarking on a home-brewed feat of wind-power to call their own.
Our goal is to walk in William Kamkwamba’s shoes by designing and building a working wind turbine and writing a book about our experience.
Bringing this remarkable school project to live via Kickstarter is a promising sign in and of itself. I’m in awe of the open-mindedness and encouragement of teachers who believe that students are better served by independence and engagement than by one-way lectures or multiple choice questions. These young engineers will end the semester with more than a grade, and their work will last through generations as a shining (and spinning) example of the boundless creativity and productivity of motivated and empowered students. I wish I had had classes like this, and I hope that there will be more to come. If you do too, I hope you’ll join me in backing The Class That Harnessed the Wind before May 13.