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Middle Schoolers Learn to Think Quickly and Adapt in Henry H. Wells’ Trades Class

eighth graders work to build bookshelf

Power tools, middle schoolers and teamwork. It may not be a classic combination, but in Glenn Palmieri’s Trades class at Henry H. Wells Middle School, it’s a formula that works. 

With large work tables filling much of the classroom, the space is set up for collaboration. Even when students work on individual projects, like smartphone stands or scroll saw lettering, they watch and learn from each other. Then there are other projects, like building a bookshelf or a standing bird feeder that require them to work as a team.

Students wearing protective glasses were sprinkled in clusters around the classroom recently, huddled over pieces of wood with tape measures and drills on the tables in front of them. In need of a place to store their books while keeping their workspace and the floor clear, the eighth graders were working as a class to build a bookshelf for the room.

Each group worked on a different piece of the shelf, measuring and building in tandem before coming together to assemble the final product. About halfway through the class period, a student noticed a mistake in the construction of one of the sides of the shelf. Palmieri, who noticed the error earlier, had remained quiet, waiting for students to discover it themselves.

“I wanted to see if you figured it out,” he said with a smile, responding to students’ disbelief that he hadn’t mentioned the slip-up and stopped them. “Sometimes this happens. We are just going to adjust on the fly. We have to remember to think about who is doing what and how it will assemble.”

Giving students permission to fail and the power to figure out how to adapt and try again is likely one of the reasons they seem so confident and eager to try new-to-them steps in the building process.

“I really like doing things that we don’t normally get to do,” Riley Kearns said. 

“This is my favorite class,” Hayden Carruth added. “The best part is at the end when you assemble all the pieces that you worked on separately and you get to see how it turned out.”

The course regularly incorporates key elements of the district’s Strategic Coherence Plan with students collaborating and sharing ideas while using critical thinking skills as they work on projects. Adaptability and perseverance are also required as mistakes like the one made while building the bookshelf are not out of the ordinary.

teamwork in Wells Trades class collaboration in Trades class Wells Trades students assemble a bookshelf