Meridian teacher creates ‘coolest classroom on campus’

It’s a classroom with radical tools — no pencils, notebooks and textbooks. Students at Pathways Middle School instead use pipe cleaner, cardboard, scissors, wire, robots and coding techniques.

“I want to have the coolest classroom on campus,” said Susan Woodard, a teacher at Pathways Middle School, an alternative school in the West Ada School District.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students are to be visionaries in Woodard’s classroom. She teaches three “maker labs” — a laboratory filled with art supplies, technology and tools designed to teach students how to invent solutions to real-world problems.

“This class allows students to vision what their future could look like,” Woodard said.

Students are given the freedom to program and explore using technology. The maker lab is created for classes, but also is used before and after school and during lunch.

The maker lab features:

  • Take-apart station: Students take apart technology to discover how equipment is created.
  • Bike lab: Students learn the ins and outs of a bike tuneup.
  • Creation station: Students create new things using a sewing machine, laser cutter or art supplies.
  • Coding station: Students learn to code.

The class is new and Woodard created her own curriculum through Project Lead The Way and a West Ada teaching coach.

“This is an experiment,” Woodard said. “I’m flying by the seat of my pants.”

The objective of the class is to focus on argumentative writing. Students are to defend solutions to problems while focusing on schoolwide and global issues and learning empathy.

“The past has been about discovering new things, now it’s time to make things,” Woodard said.

While eighth-grader Marshall Caine takes apart a wireless keyboard, his eyes are wide and he’s smiling.

“This is crazy,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this right now.”

Marshall is amazed with the electronics inside the keyboard. He wants to pursue a career in engineering.

Marshall Caine

“I didn’t know taking things apart could be this fun,” he said. “I never took things apart as a kid.”

Woodard’s new class wasn’t cheap. She supplemented her school supply budget with nearly $50,000 in grants.

“I want my students to have the best without me having to pay thousands of dollars myself,” she said.

Woodard received grants from Donorschoose.org, Micron Foundation, West Ada Education Foundation and Verizon. She is working on three grants for more classroom technology and supplies. Her class vision is for students to keep the projects they create. Her goal is to receive enough grants to self-sustain the budget.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” Woodard said.

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