Skip to main content

Breck School

Breck School

Search form

You are here

Dan Ratliff: A Year In the Learner's Seat


A Year in the Learner’s Seat

“On my sabbatical in 2015-16, I spent the year in the learner’s seat delving into the ‘maker movement’ – an umbrella term for a loose network of inventors, designers, and technically-inclined people who build things. 
I attended conventions, workshops and classes, but instead of building many things, I ended up going deep into how to build complex things. I built a working 3D printer, a vacuum tube guitar amp, and a guitar. I challenged myself to complete projects I had never before tried - to experience what my students experience on a daily basis.
My sabbatical experience has already impacted my teaching. I discovered I'm more willing to work with students to jump in and try things, and I'm also more willing to fail and keep trying. Toward the beginning of the year, I put this to the test by having the students design and 3D print fins for compressed air rockets. We had never done this before, but we just went for it. We failed several times before we finally came up with a good system. It turned out to be a great project! 
I also have a better understanding of how new concepts and techniques come across to my students. A perfect parallel is the solar car project we will do in the spring. It takes a lot of time and attention to detail to build a really good one. Many students don’t understand the level of precision needed coming into the project, but by the end, they get it. This was exactly my experience in building my guitar.”

— Dan Ratliff, Middle School Science Instructor