Learning for the Sake of Learning

For my EC&I 831 course, I have been given a gift: Learn anything you want.

There’s a little more to it than just learning something: we need to use open, online resources and, most importantly, share our progress as we go. Being an advocate for Genius Hour in the classroom, this sounded like an amazing opportunity and finally an excuse to justify the time it would take me to explore something on my own time. I’ve been thinking about doing my own personal genius hour ever since I read John Spencer’s blog post Teachers need genius hour, too. In his post, John suggests that we become stronger teachers, and gain a better appreciation for the struggle of failures and learning – something that I think many of us advocate for in our classrooms, but have a difficult time sharing with our students.

My initial excitement for this learning project opportunity soon turned into panic. Five days passed and I was further than ever at deciding what I wanted to explore. Every time I sat down to try to narrow down my ideas for my project, my list seemed to grow by a few more items. Before I knew it, I had a list of just over 50 ideas. Luckily, I’ve seen this problem before. I finally understood why my students had such a difficult time picking their Genius Hour topics. And, even though I had never been in this position, I knew I needed to outline some rules to narrow down the search.

My rules:

Make something.
Something I have never made the time to do.
Unplug. No screens.

My list of about 50, quickly cut down to three. Ultimately, none of those three were enough to get me excited to learn and write a blog post about it (hence the delayed start to this process). I settled on an idea that is simple, challenging, and meets all of my rules.

I’m going to build a coffee table from scratch.


A quick Google search showed me that there are plenty of websites and videos already out there. As far as social media goes, it looks like there are plenty of communities and forums ready to share and welcome a rookie. I’ll be checking out Make and Instructables as I try to figure out sort of shape my coffee table will take. Reddit has a large community of DIYers sharing projects and tips quite often, r/DIY. I also know some people who are willing to share tools and space with me as I try to figure this out.

My very rough plan for this learning project will be:

Research, research, research. Find out as much as I can about different designs, tools, and materials that could be used. I’ll find an open tool that I can collect and share ideas and resources that I find.
Make my own design. Hopefully, I can use a free tool like Google Sketchup to make a digital plan, but I’ll explore other options here as well.
Learn the tools. Spend some time practicing different cuts, drills, and whatever other skills I’ll need.
Start building. This will be interesting. I just hope to keep all my fingers.
Fail. Fix. Repeat. This is optional, but I fully expect that I will make a bunch of mistakes in the building process or things won’t go quite as planned.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to diving in and am thankful for the opportunity to learn for the sake of learning. Stay tuned for more!

Photos from Unsplash: Mikesh Kaos and Mathieu Nicolet

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Comments 18
  1. Kyle, I can’t wait to see what kind of design you come up with. If you’ve never built something before, just wait until you feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of this project- something tangible you can look at everyday and say I designed and built that! Interesting how you linked this to Genius Hour. I was checking out the link and this intrigues my for my classes. I’ve heard about some companies doing this, but applying it to the classroom sounds like a great experiential learning strategy. I will have to ready more about how to make Genius Hour work in the classroom.

    1. Nathan, I actually have “built” some stuff before, but never completely on my own, and not since I’ve started teaching (where does on find the time!?). As soon as Alec and Katia introduced the project, I started thinking: “This is just adult genius hour, isn’t it?”. If you ever want to pick my brain about genius hour in the classroom, just let me know; I’d love to share!

  2. Your goal to fail requires making more than once. You may not want to commit to a series of coffee tables, most destined for the fireplace. One step you can take to allow for and promote failure is to do paper/cardboard mockups of your design, either in full or fractional size. The approximation of your design will demonstrate problems with the “look” before you commit to the real build. Have fun!

    1. Thanks, Algot. I hadn’t considered the waste I might generate from the project. Some mock-ups will certainly save me some money and help me understand the challenges of my design prior to starting.

  3. I am having troubles deciding what to do for my project as well! I was hoping to do something with Project A but there are so many possibilities! I think making a coffee table is a great idea– looking forward to seeing the progress you make.

    1. I went back and forth on A and B for quite a while. Ultimately, I realized I do a lot of A in my classroom already (trying out different tools, ideas, sharing with my students). However, I never ever make time for myself to learn something for the fun of it. No brainer to go ahead with this type of project.

  4. I’m looking forward to this. I hope to do my own #learningproject soon and it will likely be something similar – either food or carpentry related. Both of these remind me of my dad, and I think just being involved in something like this … something that we don’t often get the chance to do … will take me to a place that I need to be in a time of so many digital distractions.

    1. I appreciate you sharing about your dad, Alec. When my dad passed away, it was tough to continue doing the hands on projects he was so great at sharing with us (he was a mechanic, and embodied the definition of a tinkerer). I’m excited to reconnect with him in this way and I can’t think of a better way to disconnect from screens and the nonstop notifications of my current day-to-day life.

  5. This sounds like a great idea! Carpentry is a blast although challenging at times it is very gratifying. This past summer I had the opportunity to finish my basement and knew absolutely nothing about framing, insulating, dry-walling, etc. You are going to find some valuable references and life skills. I am looking forward to keeping up with your progress!

    1. I might be reaching out to you for some tips with your recent experience! I do hope that this can evolve into something more than just one project. If I can make my own stuff, the exact way I want it, why wouldn’t I continue with it?

  6. I agree – what a gift to learn something new, that isn’t forced. I am excited to see your progress on your coffee table. A really great documentary I watched on Netflix that documents the learning process is Tim’s Vermeer. I highly suggest you give this a watch as it really reminded me of Genius Hour in the classroom as well.

    1. Kristina, I have not seen that documentary. I just looked up the trailer, and have immediately added it to my list on Netflix and will watch soon. It looks really interesting to watch someone go through the ups-and-downs of really, really exploring an idea to it’s full length. Thanks for sharing this, I’m looking forward to watching it.

  7. Hey Kyle. I completely agree with you that this learning project is a great opportunity. Alec had mentioned you decided to do something along the same path as my learning project. So I though I would check your blog out. I think your idea of starting from scratch and building a coffee table is awesome. I am looking at refinishing a few pieces of furniture that are already built (coffee table and end table). Are you planning on buying all the wood new? Maybe we can do some troubleshooting together when you get to the point of sanding and staining. I am excited to see how this project progresses. 🙂

    1. Kayla, this is exciting that our project is similar – hopefully we can build off one another!

      I haven’t figured out exactly where the wood will come from. I imagine it will be new, but I’ll look to re-purpose some old wood first, if that’s at all possible – I’ll have to look into this (look at that, more learning!).

  8. What a meaningful project you have decided on. I have chosen option A as I don’t feel I incorporate enough edtech in my daily teaching, but I am a bit envious of all of these option Bs I am reading about. What a great opportunity for personal growth. Best of luck to you Kyle!

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