Category Archives: Classroom Stories

Critical Skills and Tech Ed

Today, Peter Eppig (or “Pappa Critical Skills,” as I like to call him) and Erin Hunter, Carpentry Educator from the River Valley Technical Center depart for the Association of Career and Technical Educators conference in Memphis. Their presentation is entitled: The Critical Skills Classrroom: How to Develop 21st Century Workplace Skills Alongside Technical Skills. As we’ve often discovered, a picture is worth a thousand words. I guess that means a video is worth a zillion then, isn’t it? Thanks to the hard work of Erin, her students RVTCs Zack McNaughton Zack McNaughton, we bring you not only this:

But also 9 other videos in which her students explain how the Critical Skills Classroom plays out in their classroom work. Check them out- you’ll be impressed!

So what about everyone else? I know lots of you are reading this (I get reports!), so put those digital video cameras to work and document your progress! I can’t wait to see what you produce!

PS- Here are the files that Peter and Erin used in their presentation!
Problem Based Learning – ACTE
Critical Skills Overview – ACTE


Being a Student Today

While this video is largely about the experience of being a college student, I think a lot of it is appropriate for high school students as well. What do you think? Could Critical Skills change this experience at the college level? Could kids from Critical Skills Classrooms change it?


CES FlowerNearly a week has passed since I boarded a plane headed for Maryland. It’s rare that I have the chance to visit schools just for the joy of being in them, but this trip had the perfect hat-trick necessary to justify it: service to a colleague, observation of good teaching and learning, and the development of new work around Critical Skills. The experience was everything I’d hoped it would be, but I was most impressed and surprised by the second element- my visit to Celebrating Using Minds Well Exhibition Night at Salem Avenue Elementary School in Hagerstown, MD. (This is part of the National Exhibition Month project from the Coalition of Essential Schools.) I expected a few parents, a few kids, some science-fair type presentations- you know, a general “feel good” evening. What I got was a whole other ball game.

I (along with 1500 of my new friends from the Hagerstown community) listened to kids tell me why the world would be a different place if Harriet Tubman hadn’t been in it. I learned why some of the students think “We the people” are the most important words in the constitution. I got advice on shrinking my carbon footprint and I heard The Flower Rainbow read (by its kindergartner author/ illustrator) so sweetly that it brought tears to my eyes. I witnessed a group of kids from every possible combination of race, family structure and socio-economic status creating a circle of community which included me- some strange chick from up north- as well as their own families, the families of their peers, their teachers and folks from town. In short, I saw the work that we’re all striving to do, done very, very well.

They have built a solid foundation for their future work- a collaborative culture- with the help of some bang-up school coaching from Mary Helen Spiri and Pam Ayres Chesapeake Coalition of Essential Schools. I’m exciting to think that, in the future, Critical Skills could become a part of their journey because I can barely contain my excitement when I imagine how this powerful community is going to take the Critical Skills Classroom to amazing new heights.

I think that a lot of us have had to be satisfied for a long time with “scattering seeds;” doing the work in a hostile political and social environment with limited resources. We’ve watched projects wither and tried to comfort ourselves with the idea that each fading project would scatter its seeds into the larger educational community and that those seeds would wait until sun, rain and fertile soil created conditions right for growth. In Maryland, I’m happy to say, things are blooming nicely.

Who Knew Learning Could Taste This Good?

ANE held its graduation yesterday. A whole mess of students crossed the stage and, like all events of its kind, it was a bit of a roller coaster ride emotionally. The high point for me, though, was after the graduation. The Education Department’s reception was held for the first time at the Cheshire Career Center’s on-site restaurant. Last winter, Scott Rogers, director of the culinary arts program (an ANE alum and a Critical Skills Concentration student to boot!) gave his students the challenge of putting together a reception (featuring local foods whenever possible) from “soup to nuts” as it were. They rose to the challenge admirably, providing not only delicious fare, but high quality service as well. These kids really knew their stuff and it showed! Thanks to them for the perfect ending to a wonderful day!