New Challenges & New Course Idea

It’s almost cliche to talk about new directions, new commitments, and new hopes this time of year, but there is a reason so many do that. I’d like to say that the new year has sparked new passion, but I’d be misleading myself and you. The truth is, I’m always looking for new directions, new challenges and new ideas. It is kind of my M.O. Here’s my latest where a little reflection took me from home project to course idea to brainstorming with colleagues. Let’s tentatively call it: “YouTube Challenge Course.”

From Home Project…

I spent the the better part of a week trying to install a wood stove in my old farm house.  Seems simple enough. After all, professional contractors do it all the time. Well…I’m not a contractor or a professional builder of any kind. I always say, “I can make it and make it strong, but it won’t look pretty.” That wouldn’t fly this time around. Here are a list of challenges that I had to address:

  1. Stabilize the floor: 6″ (yes that’s inches) of crawl space. Imagine a hand trowel, a hand hydraulic jack, cement block, sled, deer bones, dead rats, dust mask, and a trench.
  2. Build base for the hearth on a floor that isn’t level and three walls that are not square. Oh yeah, it has to be as non-obtrusive as possible. In other words, it can’t stick out too much into the dining room.
  3. Build a fire wall for the hearth (once again working with non-level and non-square dimensions and has to have a 1″ air gap built with non-combustible materials.)
  4. Access and secure the existing brick chimney (this is post inspection).
  5. Learn to lay brick to rebuild exterior portion of existing chimney.
  6. Put a 6″ round insert pipe into the existing 7″ square chimney.
  7. Join the insert pipe to the stove pipe through a brick chimney where it is safe.
  8. How do you get a 400+lb stove into the house which has stairs by yourself?
  9. Agree on tile!!!!?????
  10. Understand and meet building code (this should be number one).
  11. Manufacture / fabricate a chimney cap because my chimney is a non-standard size (of course it had to be non-standard).
  12. Insulate, insulate, insulate.
  13. Did you know that the width of a board changes when it is to join with another board where the joining angle is more or less than 45 degrees? I didn’t. I wish my geometry class was taught through the lens of building stuff. Figuring out angles is much more difficult than what I routinely did in the abstract world of 10th grade geometry, and I got an A+. Turns out that I don’t know much about applied (real?) geometry, and I can’t think like a mathematician.
  14. Kids (enough said because there are too many challenges to list).
  15. Meet all of the above as cheaply as possible.

Here’s the finished product. I’m happy with it and a little proud. We’re also warm now.


How did I manage these challenges? How did I learn to do things (not necessarily well)? My main resource was YouTube. I then followed links to articles and read. Finally, I practiced. I was blown away at how many videos there are. Not one had everything I needed, and my goal wasn’t to find THE ONE. My goal was to find as many as possible that (1) highlighted specific parts or dimensions of the overall project not necessarily the whole enchilada, (2) were fairly short (less than 10 minutes) meaning that the author sought be concise, and (3) linked out to additional resources like webpages and articles and comment lines with different perspectives/links. I couldn’t help but think what teaching a class using YouTube as the main (if not only) resource.

To Course Concept… 

Here is the basic idea behind the tentatively titled YouTube Challenge Course: What if we were to design a course where the only resource students could initially consult is YouTube? What if that course required students to create videos to fill YouTube gaps? Hmmmm.

Some of the core macro skill sets might include:

  • identifying and clearly articulating problems
  • bridging abstractions with concrete applications and examples
  • identifying, evaluating, and organizing resources
  • designing and creating resources / tools for dissemination
  • exercising discernible judgement in the selection and evaluation of resources
  • leveraging the affordances of the media

I’m using YouTube as a mere example, but other platforms could be used as well.  If you have a good one, please post it. Even the Khan Academy uses YouTube. Awesome, but kind of scary.

7 thoughts on “New Challenges & New Course Idea

  1. Nice wood stove! I really enjoyed the story and identified the challenges you had to solve. YT is a pretty amazing resource, especially for folks like yourself who are inspired and get energized by a DIY approach. Connecting the DIY theme to a course / learning approach is a short leap. It made me think that there are a host of ways to integrate this as an approach…modular / community driven / problem oriented…as you indicated. I have however become a less excited about fitting these compelling ideas into the “course” box…it seems to diminish it for me somewhat…like unnecessary packaging…but I do see the desire to move in that direction. Are we trying to save the notion of course? i don’t know…

    …what I do know is that it is damn cold here in Hamilton, NY…and I’ll be looking to install a pellet stove next year…you inspired me!

    1. Cold…that is a major motivator, the necessity of which is not easily (or at all) transferable to the classroom. I agree that creating such a course runs the danger of being merely a novelty. Focusing on informed resource identification and use is the bigger idea and such a course without out it is not what the idea of a “course” should be. Put the thinking first. It reminds me of our conversation about making the thinking visible, the meta concrete, the simple/fundamental powerful.

      Stay warm if you can!

  2. There might be something around the actual community (and its norms etc.) that is YouTube. How one starts to navigate both the buttons (functional things), the people (all things soft and fleshy) and then how do you circumvent/hack the former to do more with the latter.

    1. Social mores, norms, expectations! That’s the stuff to examine. Sounds like it could involve a sociology prof.

  3. Have you heard of I teach high school freshmen, and I could see this site being used to lay a foundation for the skill sets you’ve mentioned. Students could use edpuzzle to make their thinking visible by annotating existing videos before creating their own improved version.

  4. Very cool stove (and I hope some of my tools helped!). 🙂

    And very cool concept! The only skill set I might suggest adding would be something along the lines of “chunking” the problem into discrete steps and developing a flow for solution.

    I am also mindful that not everyone leans to visual as a process…and this acknowledges that cognitive science suggests that there are not learning styles…but there are learning preferences. Would a focus on YouTube bias tool selection or prevent participation by some whose preference lies in auditory areas? Just thinking out loud…

    1. Excellent questions and beautiful challenges. I wonder if there is a YouTube vide on it? 🙂

      One of my selection criteria was to find videos that have links to other resources. So, YouTube is merely the hook or lubricant.

      Your tools made the jobs possible. Emphasis on Tools and Community.

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