Thoughts · Workshops

Teaching: in search of the Sweet Spot

Years ago, I was tasked to design weekend outdoor education classes for city kids. What a hoot that was! I would come up with the perfectly planned weekend experience, which included sweet surprises. For instance, when orienteering led the group to a bog, there would be canoes there waiting for them. If the season was right, we might find ourselves surrounded by acres of blueberries, ready to pick. I felt great satisfaction figuring out what was just right for the group, the season, and the terrain.

In more recent years, whether the planning was for bookmaking classes with kids in schools or creating paper arts for adults, I still find that it’s the designing of the classes has great appeal to me. Here’s what I considered this past year when thinking about classes.

Chinese Thread Book variation, from 12 week class

The calendar year began with all of us isolating at home. This seemed like the perfect time to create a 12 week class because it could offer people (including me) a structure during this strange time. My thought was that it would give the people in the class something to look forward to, as well as a much needed sense of community while we waited out this scary time. It occurred to me that I might not be able to be consistent for 12 weeks, I asked Susan Joy Share to co-teach this class with me. It turned out to be true, that some weeks I just didn’t have enough of what it took to keep on keeping on by myself. What a gift it was to that Susan and I were able to work hand in hand.

French Link on Accordion Binding, taught as a single session

Not everyone wants a twelve week class, though, so I designed a couple of classes where, in just one session, something cool could be created. One session classes can be tough on me, as each one requires a tremendous amount of planning. I was glad to offer these classes, but it was a bit of mistake on my part to offer them during the same time period as the twelve week class.

Going into spring, I wanted to continue teaching, though first I needed a bit of break to regroup. I keep in mind that I should stop my teaching around the first of June. During the years that I had created programs at our local library, I discovered that, as soon as June starts, all of a sudden people have packed schedules: graduations, weddings, gardening, and all sort of other pulls on their time.

Pleated Folds, part of a four week class

For the spring, therefore, I offered classes that met weekly for just four weeks. I had noted that the people who had taken my twelve week class showed an interest in unusual folds, and in pleated structures, which is something I’ve also been fascinated by. This isn’t an area in which I have great expertise, but I do know more than most people about unusual folds and pleating, so that’s what I offered. As the spring was springing many people did find it hard to show up for all of the four classes, and many people found it challenging to make time for the folds between classes. This was not a surprise to me, nor was it unexpected as I knew we’d all be emerging from our covid era-cocoons. Because of this, I was careful not to scaffold the teaching: each class was nearly its own island of ideas and projects.

I learned that as soon as Fourth of July rolls around, there are people who are looking around for something to do. People tend to be in and out of town, so my planning for the summer looks very different than my planning for other times of the year.

At first I didn’t think I would teach zoom workshops in the summer, but a long conversation with someone who had taken my classes helped me form my thoughts about what to offer. Noting zoom fatigue amongst educators I abandoned my thoughts about workshops geared towards teachers and instead will be offering a series of workshops that have a central theme, but will be single class events. People will have the choice to sign up for one, two, three or four of these classes.

My desk, planning out classes

I’m calling these my Summertime Cool Paper Engineering Workshops.

Each class shows some concept that I have stumbled across and become enchanted by during my years of paper arts. What’s typical for me is that I become obsessed with figuring out the paper engineering of a structure, I teach it a couple of times, then it gets filed away. It has often occurred to me that I would like to share bits of this collection of mine, and this summer seems like the perfect time.

As I said, not all of the classes are listed at this moment, but here’s a peek at what’s to come. Each class will show a structure that has a generalized form, meaning that we will make an unembellished model that accepts (begs for?) personalization through embellishment. This means everyone starts with making something that looks like everyone else’s, then we will work independently during the class to make something more personalized, with me being on hand for questions. At the end of the class we’ll show off what we’ve each made.

Teaching this as a single session in July 2021

The first structure that I will be showing is the least complicated, probably the most classroom friendly, and the one that I have always found to be incredibly delightful. It’s a straightforward mechanism that works because a constraint is placed on the way the paper moves. Simply put, something appears to pop-up out of a box as the paper is opened.

The links to the first of the series at CBA are here (afternoon) and here (evening).

I will be writing a separate post about the rest. Now I better stop writing and get to finishing up the descriptions!

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