Montgomery Catholic middle school science teacher Karla Gier is used to teaching students how to be hands-on and resourceful with the various science lessons and projects she teaches. This year, she introduced a new elective class, Craft by Design, and many students are learning that working with their hands can be hard work, but the results are beautiful and rewarding.
The craft projects are seemingly simple—a drawstring bag, an origami mobile, a pillow with buttons, a friendship or paracord bracelet—but each project introduces a different challenge in fine motor skills, planning and design, and finishing touches. Sometimes the students pick the skills up easily, and sometimes the tasks can be time-consuming and difficult. But the main goal of the class is for the students to learn something different that is tactile and takes some skill and patience to accomplish.
When it comes to finding a teacher who is uniquely qualified to lead a class like this, Karla definitely fits the bill.
“I love working with my hands,” she said. “I enjoy knitting, woodworking, and beekeeping, and I love using power tools. I have made all of the curtains in my house and many pieces of furniture.”
When coming up with the curriculum, Karla aimed to teach lessons that used a broad spectrum of skills.
“I wanted a creative endeavor with different materials,” she said. “With the needlework lesson, I wanted them to learn different techniques, so they learned different stitches, how to sew a button onto fabric, and how to design, decorate, stuff, and close a pillow. The idea for origami actually came from a student who told me that he wanted to learn it.”
To assist in some of her lessons, Karla enlists the help of people who are advanced in their crafts, such as a faculty member with Japanese heritage to help with origami, and the ladies from the Dorcas Society at St. Bede, a group who knits and crochets projects for various charities in the area, to help with crochet.
“Some of these crafts just take patience and a steady hand,” said Frances Harbin, who helped to teach the origami lesson. “I think that anyone can learn to fold paper, but the bigger lesson is in overcoming the initial frustration that can come with learning a new skill.”
And while crochet can be difficult to master, the Dorcas Society ladies and the students both were determined to figure out the art of deftly interlocking each strand of yarn. The first day of the project produced varied results.
“Most of the students got a single crochet, and that’s half the battle,” said Joan Treadaway, a volunteer with the Dorcas Society. “It just takes practice and getting used to feeling a needle and yarn in their hands.”
At the end of each quarter, the classes will have completed several projects that they can display, wear, or use. The students seem to enjoy the class, despite the challenging nature of each project.
“It’s really hard, and you have to be really precise,” said 7th grade student Sophia Lopez about the origami project. 8th grader John Scott Jackson agreed, but with a caveat.
“It’s hard at first, but once you figure it out, it becomes really easy and it’s interesting.”
After completing each project, the students feel a sense of accomplishment, in spite of the initial difficulty. Sophia affirmed that completing tasks and having a tangible product at the end is rewarding. “It feels really good because I achieved something,” she said.