Creative Collaboration in the 21st Century Classroom

When students at Calloway County High School in Western Kentucky sign up for an elective course taught by John Williams, they likely focus on the course description and guess as to what they might be learning during the semester.  I doubt very seriously that their best guess would include Medieval trebuchets or educational video games, but that is exactly what they might experience…and that’s just the beginning.

Thematic planning is not a new concept.  As a teacher, I found myself guilty of thematically planning with the obvious content areas such as literature and occasionally math during the study of economic concepts.  There are hidden gems in many schools across our country that lend themselves to collaboration on an entirely different scale.  John Williams’ courses, including  Advanced Technological Applications, are electives and open to students in grades 9-12.  With units ranging from medical, agricultural, entertainment/recreation, and information and communication, he in many cases unknowingly reinforces concepts that are being taught in core classes.  While John recognizes the opportunity to teach and incorporate other content is endless, one of the biggest challenges is the planning required.

When you enter John’s classroom at Calloway County High School, you see many things you would expect to see-computers and gadgets of all sorts.  What you might not notice at first glance is the historical timeline across the entire back wall of his classroom, or the mini-posters of various time periods.  When John Williams introduces a new project or issues a challenge to his students, he doesn’t simply supply a blueprint.  Students are going to get a mini history lesson as well.  As he explained during my recent visit, technology and engineering have a math and science base, but because they focus on design, it’s important to look at the past as well.  Students learn about what has been done and try to make improvements.  The goal is not simply to create, but to expand upon the knowledge gained.  A prime example of this is a trebuchet created by one of his classes just a few years ago.  Students reviewed their Roman and Greek history before making history come alive with their semester-long project that can be seen in the picture below.  Like many great history teachers, John and his students wore togas on the day of the unveiling and launched soccer balls from their trebuchet in front of an amazed audience of students, teachers, and board office personnel.  Little did many of them know that precise angles and distances had to be measured and created or the device would not fire at all!

John teaches three different courses this semester, and in one of them students are creating video game software.  This is another project where he hopes students can bring knowledge from other disciplines and incorporate it into an educational game they have created.  These courses are amazing for students of a variety of learning styles, and core teachers could easily differentiate by allowing students who happen to be in one of these classes incorporate a project into their coursework and share with their peers.  It’s no surprise that Calloway students have been recognized at the state and national level for their projects under the leadership of Williams and fellow tech-ed teacher Jeff Slaton.  The education they are providing most definitely allows students to expand their range of experiences as problem-solvers and critical thinkers.  Hats off to their program, and to all the other educators out there who find ways to reinforce content from other disciplines into their courses and provide instruction and opportunities that are meaningful and definitely memorable.  Most importantly,  they aren’t limiting themselves to math, science, and history.  Students are currently planning for a visit from peers in a health class who will witness their demonstration of a heart blockage and bypass operation.  In true John Williams’ style, he (of course) will be dressed in scrubs.

What are some creative ways you have collaborated with other disciplines?  What unique course offerings does your school provide that might allow for historical connections such as those being made in this classroom? 


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