When we need a classroom… we pick up a hammer
“Even then it was clear to socially minded people that the openness of possibilities was an opportunity, and that doubt and discussion were essential to progress into the unknown. If we want to solve a problem that we have never solved before, we must leave the door to the unknown ajar…doubt is not to be feared, but welcomed and discussed.” – Richard Feynman
At a Harkness table every one has equal access to the discussion. There is no back of the class in a circle – or an ellipse.
Over the semester, students have been building their critical thinking and communication skills in student-driven Harkness discussions. A few weeks ago in Saturday M-English class (Math + English), students utilized these same skills to build a round Harkness table for our English class discussions. Students from Geometry to Calculus put their math skills to practice, problem solving how we could design, shop for, and build this table (and logo) with our classroom budget. They worked in small groups – self-designated by area of math expertise – to break down the different steps. One group came up with the angles necessary to make our Alzar School logo table-sized. Another team calculated our supplies list, measuring the current conference table (which would serve as our base) for reference. Finally, our calculus students worked up a sweat determining all the angles necessary for cutting rectangular tongue-and-groove pine planks into one smooth ellipse.
Finally, after 4 hours in class together and many hours outside work, the masterpiece is finished. We built this table together as a community.
Dez and Caroline and their newly designed logo stencil
Students determine board lengths needed for ellipse
Brady cuts the wood with the help of Roxy the stabilizer
Examining frame for table
Martha places foci for ellipse
Dan draws the ellipse using Burke’s method: two foci and some string
Students double check numbers
Ellie very carefully jigsawing the ellipse
Measuring and laying out the stencil students designed
Blowtorching the logo
Delicate maneuvering for transport
Dan unscrews the final frame boards
“Harkness can be whatever we make it… Students can try on different opinions and hammer out compromises. They can become belligerent or bold, critical or kind, shallow thinkers or thoughtful citizens. They have to navigate evaluation, risk and inexperience. They may learn to speak and to listen. And they have to do it together, so that the result is not just many well-spoken individuals, but a community.”– Gloria Gong, Exeter student, class of 2003.