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John Arthur's Umbrella

John's Umbrella Project

John Arthur is in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Westminster College. He is from Salt Lake City, Utah. This is his reflection about a unique learning activity.

Sewing Umbrella Project, John Arthur

In Tim Carr's class on learning theories this past fall, we were assigned a seemingly simple task: learn something new. A strange thing happens when you are told you have four months to learn something—you come to believe that you can learn anything! I decided to learn how to make an umbrella using SPF fabric as a Christmas present for my girlfriend, a survivor of melanoma who constantly has to avoid the sun. See, anything! Because I knew the most difficult part of the assignment would be learning how to sew (which is well outside of my zone of proximal development), I enlisted the help of a friend, classmate, and talented seamstress Robin Ashton. Robin graciously shared her expertise with me by showing me how to operate my sewing machine, working with me as I fumbled through, and checking in with me as I continued to work independently at home.

Homemade Umbrella

During winter break, Robin and I spent eight long hours sewing, deconstructing, reconstructing, and polishing our very own SPF umbrella. We didn't do it for a letter grade or to fulfill an academic requirement; we put in the time and finished the umbrella because the assignment was meaningful, and it motivated us to test the limits of our potential, a lesson I hope to carry forward with me into the classroom.