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When Innovation Meets Reality

(2) Comments | by KeAnne Hoeg |

One of the workforce criticisms lobbed at the students of today is that they learn mostly theory and have little practical, hands-on experience.  Yet the pressure is on schools to perform, with performance metrics coming from testing. How can public schools incorporate real-world projects and problem solving into their curriculum with such constraints on time and resources?

In 2010, Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller decided to answer the question. The duo started Studio H, a "'design/build' public school curriculum that sparks community development through real-world, built projects."  They chose rural Bertie County, NC as the location for their program.  The duo would teach the fundamentals of design, architecture and construction to high school students, but it would be up to the students to decide what and where to build. The program would give students in this impoverished area the ability not only to obtain valuable skills but also to transform their communities.

Unfortunately, this innovative program was doomed almost immediately due to local politics and skepticism. Forced to fund the program themselves after their budget was cut, Pilloton and Miller continued the program for the school year but finally relocated the program to California.

The ups and downs of Pilloton and Miller's year in Bertie County was filmed by acclaimed filmmakers Patrick Creadon and Christine O'Malley.  Titled If You Build It, the documentary opened Friday in New York City and will continue in select cities throughout January and February, including Winston-Salem, NC on February 21

View the official trailer:


  1. {{|e}}'s avatar
    Gray Rinehart
    | Permalink

    What a cool idea!

    For some time now I’ve thought about trying to start a school that would emphasize what I call “sphericity,” or the property of being well-rounded (along the lines of Robert Heinlein’s injunction against specialization). I haven’t gotten up the gumption to take that risk, though.

    Thanks for sharing this,

  2. {{|e}}'s avatar
    | Permalink

    Design. Build. Transform: that’s a great motto! We should make school exciting. A little less theory, a little more practice. I’ll watch the movie!

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