Craft Education: Teachers Can Find Inspiration in Craft Beer

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December 27, 2017

The craft beer revolution has taken over the United States. No longer are people flocking towards factory-produced mediocrity. Instead, they are savoring the unique flavors that are being batch produced through innovative brewing processes with interesting ingredients.

What can education learn from this whole craft beer movement?

Start by thinking of our students as the product of an intentional brewing process. Currently, we are standardizing curriculum, standardizing teaching practices and standardizing assessments, which looks a lot like the factory model for mass producing beer. The product we are trying to produce is a standardized, ready-for-college robot.

This may have worked well in our world 50 years ago, but the world has changed. Our world demands a community of diverse and individualized thinkers in order to solve complex issues. And we need to start cultivating these problem-solvers in our classrooms right now … using Craft Education.

Here are the top 3 strategies for achieving this outcome:

1. Provide students with choice in their learning.

Each individual student has their own interests, passions and struggles. Each has their own motivation for success. Each has their own method for constructing new learning. Providing choice for students allows each to connect with their own natural curiosity and to create their own individual path to understanding.
  • Design a project where students get to decide the topic.
  • Give your class two options for the context that you will use to teach the next unit.
  • Allow multiple types of assessment (tests, presentations, videos, paper, etc.) and allow each student to choose their own method for assessment.
  • Give a homework assignment with parts that are optional.

2. Develop lesson plans that are interesting and relevant.

We must stay in touch with our students’ interests and goals so that we can develop learning opportunities that can connect with each student. What are your students doing outside of school? What movies and shows are they watching? What do your students want out of their future? Answers to these questions can help us to design better lessons.
  • Survey students at the beginning of the school year to get an interest inventory.
  • Let students pose the questions to be answered for a lesson (inquiry-based science instruction, Dan Meyer 3-act math)
  • Be willing to modify or let go of a lesson plan that you really like in favor of one that is more relevant to students.
  • Use context whenever possible. Tell a story that goes with the learning.
  • Google search “lesson plan for _____” to find out what other teachers are doing.
  • Ask Twitter for ideas on a lesson that you would like to improve.

3. Use a variety of instructional methods.

Each student constructs knowledge in a different way. It is important for us to provide a variety of instructional methods to be sure that we are connecting with each student. Some students do best by reading some text and then writing about it. Other students need to have engaging discussion with their classmates before they can fully understand a new idea. The bottom line is that we need to abandon the lecture-only classroom.
  • Use direct instruction in small time chunks.
  • Pose a question to the class and have them discuss in pairs.
  • Start class with a question and let students work in groups to work towards a solution.
  • Use technology to help engage student interest, enhance their understanding and extend their opportunity to learn.
  • Consider “flipping” part of your class, where students watch videos at home and then engage in problem solving in class.
  • Provide students with optional additional resources. Those students who need additional support have access to what they need.
Using Craft Education, we can create a community of diverse thinkers who are ready to engage in our global world and find solutions to problems that don’t even exist yet. To achieve this diversity of thinking, we must acknowledge and celebrate differences in our students – and to appreciate each student’s unique flavor.

For more details on the idea of Craft Education, see my TEDx talk from University of Michigan-Dearborn.


Luke Wilcox is Michigan’s Teacher of the Year for 2017-18, and Meemic is proud to partner with the Michigan Department of Education for the program. He’s the mathematics department chairperson at East Kentwood High School in Kentwood Public Schools, where he’s spent his entire 16-year career.
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