Career and technical education (CTE) courses like photography, woodshop and cooking are typically a refreshing deviation from core classes during a student’s high school experience.
They offer a chance for students to get out of the monotony of a standard classroom, to get their hands dirty, to learn new skills, new crafts and to get creative.
But classrooms and workshops alike were put aside this year in favor of remote learning amid the pandemic. CTE teachers at Lindbergh High School in Renton were forced to find ways to innovate and adapt their typically “hands-on” courses for a virtual format.
David Nelson teaches photography and videography and is the journalism advisor at Lindbergh. He said this is his first year teaching, so he really isn’t familiar with the “old way” of teaching anyhow.
Nelson said he and other CTE teachers were given freedom to adapt or develop their curriculum and lesson plans for the virtual learning format. For Nelson, this meant giving students more space to be creative with their own projects.
“Here are the parameters, the rest is up to you,” Nelson said of his instructions to students.
Nelson said his students were largely able to use their own phone cameras to produce video and photos for projects.
“It was amazing that kids were so creative,” Nelson said. “I am almost sold on keeping kids using their cellphone.”
Marlys Miller has been teaching culinary courses at Lindbergh for four years and has been an educator for about a decade. Miller said most of her courses and lessons during a typical year would be taught inside a kitchen with students.
When she was tasked with adapting her curriculum for remote learning, she said she thought, “how in the world could I possibly teach this class online?”
Miller said she was able to record herself cooking certain dishes instructionally for students to watch. She joked that she would often pretend she was the host of a cooking show. Then the students would practice preparing the dishes in their own kitchens, and if they didn’t have the ingredients, Miller would personally bring them to their house.
Although she has been flexible and embraced the changes, she said there are still parts of her curriculum that cannot be taught the same way online.
Miller said she is eager to resume in-person instruction and to see students in her classroom again.
Creed Tremaine Nelson said he has been teaching woods and metal working classes at Lindbergh High School for 18 years. Typically his lessons are taught to students through projects completed in either his woodwork or metalwork studio.
“Kids that are averse to computers to begin with take my classes because they don’t want to be in front of a screen,” Nelson said.
However, students in Nelson’s classes, like the rest of the remote learning courses this year, did not have the choice to not be in front of a computer.
The inability to teach students with tools and materials in the school’s workshops presented a challenge for Nelson. He said he is still devising ways to get students involved with hands-on projects.
Through the support of the CTE program at Lindbergh, Nelson was able to send students home with project kits and tools to keep.
In a normal school year, students in Nelson’s construction course would help to construct a house plan. Now, Nelson said students were given materials of a smaller size to practice the same planning and building techniques at a smaller scale.
Nelson said he had beeen trying to teach his courses remotely while keeping students’ time in front of a computer to a minimum.
“Through all of this we will become better teachers,” Nelson said. “And students will benefit.”