How We Built a Little House

In this week’s video, Darrell tells the story of a project that encouraged his students to develop real-world communication skills, leadership, and resourcefulness outside the classroom.

So last year we had a group of three twelfth grade boys and there’s an eleventh grade boy as well who was included in the group. These students were very strong in academics but I wanted to ground them in some practical skills. And I wanted to do a project with them that would that would teach them some of the trades, as well as give them a place to work on leadership skills and to help them develop other skills that you use in business like talking to people on the phone and planning things–just thinking through a project step by step and doing it. There’s lots of trades that we think would be valuable for our students to know—the common trades that are very useful in everyday life, in many situations, no matter where you are. Skills that have to do with house building like carpentry, plumbing, electrical—and these are things we talked about doing in one way or another but were never quite sure how to pull it together.

And then it hit me that a tiny house project might be the answer. And what a tiny house is, is a tiny house. It’s a very small house and often they are on a trailer frame and they’re usually, you know, ten by twenty or ten by thirty or something—not very many square feet at all. And it is a movement that’s been growing. There’s a lot of information out there about it. The board was good with the idea. The students were excited about it and we started talking about building a tiny house and that would give experience in all these different trades all at one time and it would pull it all together and show them how they are connected to each other. Then another opportunity came up and that was building a house for another brother who needed a place to live. So my deacon wanted to provide this man with a place to live.

And so he had already started this house project and it ended up being a very small house. It’s not technically a tiny house but it was actually about ten by thirty two or something like that and it was kind of modeled after storage building concept but it was much more beefed up than the typical storage building. So my students and I had to decide which project to go with and up so part of that the project was having students give a PowerPoint presentation trying to advocate for one of the projects. There were actually four projects that we were looking at. And it became clear as it went on that this particular project for my deacon and for this brother was the one to work on because it was helping somebody with a real need.

So we studied up on building skills at school before we started. We had some text books. We watched a video on tiny house construction. And then we went to work. And how we did this was, one day per week the boys would go out and work on this project. They usually started around eight o’clock and often worked until four, four-thirty, five o’clock cleaning up. They put a lot of time and dedication into the project which—I was really, really pleased with how they plugged in. The boys took turns leading the group. So one week one boy would be in charge. For the whole week preceding the time they went out he would be trying to think about what they were going to do. Him and I would be talking about how to do what they’re gonna do and we’d be reading up or we’d be calling people. We’d be getting supplies lined up. He would be making calls to the building supply company. He would be making trips to Lowe’s sometimes.

No one really had any construction experience. I mean they obviously they knew how to run a drill and they knew how to pound a nail and run a saw. They had some very basic tool experience, I think, but one of the first things was teaching them how to run an air nailer. And one of the brothers from church who loaned us his air nailer, he came out and he had a little safety demonstration for them. He wanted to make sure that they were safe with this thing. We try to make sure they had a really good idea of how to do what they’re gonna do but when they went out there they were actually on their own. Which was not ideal in many ways but in many ways it did give them an experience of having to figure things out on their own, having to exercise leadership. It gave them a real sense of ownership. Along the way, we would ask people how to do stuff. So we had a framing people we talked to, roofing people, plumbing, electrical, all of those things. We would talk to people, get people come out and talk to the boys about how to do something, but for the most part after the explanation was over it was up to the boys to actually do it.

At one time during the project the funds ran low because the funds for this project were donated. And so the boys prepared a presentation to give at church. And they showed what all they had done so far. And they also had to come up with an estimate of what it would take to finish. And so different of the boys were assigned to come up with an estimate on how much it costs to do the insulation, how much it would cost to do the flooring, how much it would cost to finish what we were currently working on. And they put a lot of work into this and presented a presentation to the church. It was very interesting. And the funds did come through.

One of the things that kind of pushed the boys along was the knowledge that the inspector would come and he was going to look at all this stuff and decide if it was good enough or not. And that was a big worry: “Is our work gonna be up to par?” And so the day came when the inspector came. He was coming out to inspect the framing and the plumbing and the electrical. And I don’t think it passed right on the first go, but it was very close. There was just a few very, very minor things. And was a great day when we got the approval for the work they had done.

They earned a credit and a half for this. It was kind of a tough call on exactly how much credit it was worth.

We ended the project in March or so about three quarters into the school year because that was the timeframe we had to work with at school. And they weren’t finished. We didn’t get as far as we thought we might. But still we got that we got the rough-in plumbing and electrical done. We got the framing up, the roof on, the windows and doors in, and from then it was a matter of other people finishing it.

It was a group of students that it worked very well with and to their credit they were very mature responsible people. And it wouldn’t work if your students were irresponsible. This particular situation is never going to happen again, but I keep thinking about the tiny house idea, because that would be more portable—you could do that anywhere, and wondering if we can’t do that in some form with another group of students.

Of course, lots of mistakes were made along the way. That was kind of the story of the whole project, was all this trial and error that happened. And you could consider that wasted time, but really it was a very valuable learning experience.

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