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.
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.
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.