Getting Our Hands Dirty 

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Building a fence, putting together a garden, or following a recipe while cooking is covertly helping students assimilate information at Pace Academy in Harlingen. Students at Pace are getting their hands dirty by taking academic concepts and turning them into projects that perform double duty to help in real-world situations. Utilizing hands-on learning keeps Pace students happy in educationally challenging situations with a final product that makes learning worthwhile.

“The premise around Waldorf education is that children and humans in general do not actually assimilate information unless they are able to put that information to use. They can remember it for a short amount of time, but if they don’t actually get to use it in daily life, they will eventually forget it,” said Robin Wilson-Clipson, principal and teacher at Pace Academy in Harlingen.

One of the school’s recent woodworking projects coupled as a geometry and measurement lesson, making a wooden flag out of wood pallets. In the past, students participated in building planter boxes for their garden for a similar math lesson.

“If you want your kids to really understand geometry, then you have to let them build stuff, right?” Wilson-Clipson asked.

For instance, a marketing project aimed to draw people to Hawaii using only the geographical and historical highlights students learned in their history lessons. In other cases, math lessons are infused with economic principles like paying bills and taxes.

Pace also utilizes a “main lesson book” to replace traditional tests. In these books, students present information about their studies using appropriate visuals and self-created notes. Wilson-Clipson explains that these books accurately resemble portfolio-style presentations, a skill utilized in most workplaces today when presenting information.

“I hope that the kids have more than just an academic understanding of the world,” Wilson-Clipson said. “A misunderstanding in education is that just because someone’s studied something, it doesn’t mean that they’ve learned it. They’re going to have to actually put it into use more than once in order for them to truly assimilate that information, making that information readily retrievable. Things created in muscle memory, things that need hand-eye coordination like hammering a nail in place is not a skill you can reproduce from watching another person do it.”

Pace Academy motivates kids through practical problem-solving lessons all designed to help them retain information better. And according to Wilson-Clipson, all the kids love the approach.

“Our philosophy is head, heart, hands — learn it in your head, love what you’re doing, and then put it to use,” she said. “Anytime you combine those three things, you make learning fun. Kids will learn anything if you can make it fun. They’re going to want to get in there and do it right. But it really takes that third element of putting it into use for them to grasp the subject. And I think that is what really makes some of the more complex subjects that we tackle possible.”

To find out more about Pace Academy, visit their website at paceacademyschool.com or visit their Facebook @paceharlingen.