Hands-on learning engages students, makes lessons memorable

Making beef jerky in the Teen Living class at Carpenters Middle are Chelsie Helton, Nadia Goodson, Joseph Hill, Dalton Vanderburg and Jessica Walker.

Photo by Sherri Gardner Howell

Making beef jerky in the Teen Living class at Carpenters Middle are Chelsie Helton, Nadia Goodson, Joseph Hill, Dalton Vanderburg and Jessica Walker.

Hands-on learning gets a new twist when someone walks into Melissa Crabtree’s class at Carpenters Middle School. It is a tasty twist, too.

The eighth grade students in Crabtree’s Teen Living class are making beef jerky to send to soldiers serving overseas. The classroom activities combines several projects into one, which is just what principal Mike Crabtree wants. One of the goals at Carpenters Middle School is to provide students with project-based learning opportunities that link learning with authentic, real-life experiences. In addition, the projects combine content from different subject areas.

Making the beef jerky, for example, is not only a lesson in cooking and nutrition, but a service project.

“This is their community service project for Hugs for Soldiers,” said Melissa Crabtree, who is Mike’s wife as well as the Teen Living teacher. “We make jerky and hard candy and Hugs for Soldiers out of Vonore does the packing. This is a project-based class, which is why the students enjoy it. Everything is hands on.”

Melissa Crabtree said students in her classes always seem to be engaged in their activities, which she knows is not always the case for the middle schoolers. “We have students who may not be the best in other classes, but they come here and they enjoy it. This class has practical applications, which helps. It’s a lot of fun to see them learn.”

The class is getting ready to make use of some software Crabtree purchased for an upcoming unit that will help them monitor what they eat.

“We’re going to track what they eat, and the software will tell them what nutrients they’re not getting enough of,” she said. “They’re excited because it shows them how they can apply what they learned later.”

Crabtree said she enjoys seeing the students apply what they learn. “Every student has the opportunity to succeed,” she said. “It’s really neat to get to see the kids grow to be successful.”

Comments from the students echoed what the teacher said. “It’s definitely better than doing regular class work,” Michael Harris said. “School work is boring, and this is original, and it’s fun.

Emma Graham liked the community service component. “We’re doing it for a good cause. We’re giving it to the soldiers.”

Hunter Kiser said he enjoyed the lesson. “It’s better than doing school work,” he said. “You get to make stuff and eat it.”

Crabtree’s class is one of eight related arts curriculum studies every student gets to experience. The other classes include chorus, computer technology, art, physical education, diversified technologies, library studies and remedial reading for those who need it.

Crabtree’s class wasn’t the only one where hands-on learning was the norm. In Kerry Hall’s Inventions and Innovations class, also known as Diversified Technologies, students at work stations around the room were learning about robotics, computer-aided design, animation and materials and processes for making injectable moldings.

But what captures the students’ imaginations is the sound studio and video studio rooms adjacent to the classroom. To get time mixing original music with Garage Band software or making video commercials where they write their own scripts and edit and burn their own video, they have to do their work and be on their best behavior.

“They really want to be back here. They try hard to make good grades because they really want to be back there,” said Hall. “They love this. It’s all hands-on.”

Hall said the class helps students be creative problem solvers. “Here the experiences are more meaningful because it’s more hands-on, more critical thinking,” he said.

Principal Mike Crabtree said the teachers at Carpenters Grade Middle School are professionals who do an excellent job. “The most important thing we do as administrators is stand back out of the way and support the teachers,” he said.

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