Reflections on teaching boat building, virtually

As the distant learning aspect of the school year is coming to an end this week, I’d like to share my experience as a virtual instructor for Engine’s Compass Project at Biddeford High School for the year of 2020-2021. For the past seven months, I’ve been logging onto Zoom at 9 a.m., ready to engage with wonderful high school students in which I had never gotten the opportunity to meet. Despite the lack of in-person connection, this past year has taught us to find valuable relationships and growth away from one another. Most teachers have typically at least met their students at one point or another throughout the year, due to the hybrid learning model. However, the Compass Project took a different approach with one strictly in-person instructor, based in the woodshop at BHS, and myself, based at my kitchen table covered in wood glue and scraps. While it did take some time, the Compass Project students and I were able to form connections over the computer screen, and they were able to successfully and independently learn to create and build.

The two different environments for this class allowed students to focus on two different yet related projects. In person, Justin worked with students on building a full size boat throughout the semester. The process of using tools and working alongside other students was incredibly valuable. On my end, two days a week, students worked on assembling a model wooden boat from Community Boat Building in Boston. The kit came with pieces of balsa, tape, glue, scissors, sandpaper, paint, a ruler, and blueprints to use to create each shape. Eventually, these pieces would come together to create an adorable 10-inch wooden boat.

I virtually instructed this course over two semesters and with a total of 6 classes. As the instructor, it took a semester to feel fully comfortable with the kit itself, and it was definitely a learning curve teaching students for the first time virtually. Right as I felt I was developing a stronger relationship with the students, the semester ended. I found this to be true for this semester as well. We weren’t expecting a full return to in-person learning, and while I am excited for the students to experience solely in-person learning for the remainder of the school year, I will miss their eagerness to learn and apply their creativity to this course. It is not easy building a model boat independently, instructed only by audio and video. While I was there to guide them, answer questions, and be of help, I was never there to explicitly show them on their wood what the next steps were. I found that students and myself gained a lot of listening skills and the ability to work independently. I admire them immensely for their patience and creative energy.

Brie Nicolau, Compass Project Virtual Teacher, 2020-2021 School Year