Prioritizing Practical Education: Building Fundamentals at GOD Elementary

Mr. Olson works with Asher to help construct supports for the school-wide puppet show. The students built the entire set, and loved learning to use the drill to do it!

Mr. Olson works with Asher to help construct supports for the school-wide puppet show. The students built the entire set, and loved learning to use the drill to do it!

What do compost bins and puppet theaters have in common?  Or creating vehicles from limited resources and building potato boxes for growing root vegetables?  If you haven’t guessed it, they are all part of a class at G.O.D. Elementary called "Fundamentals of Building."

Upon observing classes at G.O.D. Elementary, it is immediately noticeable that the curriculum is not composed of your standard reading, writing and arithmetic classes.  While these core skills are certainly incorporated into the school’s curriculum, they are embedded into a variety of courses that help students begin to learn practical skills from a young age.

Recognizing that children naturally have different learning styles and demonstrate intelligence in a variety of ways, Joel Olson, the Fundamentals of Building teacher, creatively plans his lessons to cater to students’ various learning styles.

Luci and Kiah learn to work with concrete and the ways that it can be used in the building process. All the students got the opportunity to mix their own concrete and utilize it for an artistic project.

Luci and Kiah learn to work with concrete and the ways that it can be used in the building process. All the students got the opportunity to mix their own concrete and utilize it for an artistic project.

“Building is a basic need for all people.  It is also an excellent way to incorporate mathematics, problem solving, art, language arts, communications and many other subject matters,” Olson reflects concerning the need for such a class in an elementary setting.

With an extensive background in construction and building design, Olson is passionate about his work and is excited for students to be learning such practical skills while they are at such an impressionable stage of development.

“I love watching the kids’ eyes light up when they make connections.  Whether it is a concept I’m teaching or hammering a nail, it is inspiring to see the students get something, and apply it immediately to the world around them.”

As the semester comes to a close, Olson is eager to continue giving students opportunities to use their developing skills and knowledge in fun and creative ways.

“This week we constructed produce boxes that hold fruits and vegetables that the students can use to take fresh produce to widows in our neighborhood.  Before the end of the semester, I want the students to go through the process of making chairs from only cardboard and tape.”  This will enable students to gain skills in structural support, the design process, and learning to manage a project from start to finish – all in elementary school!

As students continue to become acquainted with the fundamentals of building, it is our hope they will grow into competent adults who have innovative and safe building ideas that will contribute to the well-being of their homes and the communities in which they live.

Olson reviews students' hammering skills by creating a relay. The class consists of learning both basic concepts of building as well as actually learning hands-on skills that allow them to implement the concepts in action.

Olson reviews students' hammering skills by creating a relay. The class consists of learning both basic concepts of building as well as actually learning hands-on skills that allow them to implement the concepts in action.

The students are always eager to find ways to implement the hands-on activities they are learning in class into their day to day. After learning some basic plumbing in his building class, 7 year-old Reagan came home and looked under the kitchen sink and told his mom that they didn’t have a P-trap, a plumbing part that prevents sewer gas from making its way into a home.  Just that day, Reagan learned about the design and purpose of a P-trap in his building class. At 7 years old, he asked the proper questions about the basics of plumbing that led to improving his home.

8 year-old Justice Garner, enthusiastically expressing his appreciation for the class, remarked, “I love Mr. Olson’s class; he needs to have his own PBS show!”

As an organization, we are eager to continue teaching children to learn these skills in order to gain competency to be a benefit to the communities in which they live as they transition into adulthood.  Unfortunately, so many young people go through many years of education only to develop very few of these practical skills.

As our organization becomes more involved in development work in areas like the Philippines, where millions of people are still without homes due to a typhoon that struck almost 6 months ago, such skills are more than just fun to learn in school, they become a means of helping people rebuild their lives.

Personally, I can’t wait to see how this story plays out!