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Oklahoma Breakdown

Three things we learned while chatting with Nancy Harris on a recent episode of the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System podcast:

 

1.     Will Rogers was born near present-day Claremore, Oklahoma where Nancy Harris teaches at Northeast Tech.

2.     Southwest of Claremore and closer to Tulsa is the nation’s largest seaport. Okay, The Port of Catoosa is actually a riverport but it connects all the way to New Orleans.

3.     Oklahoma has a terrific, world-class model for career and technical training. It’s a statewide system and that’s what makes it work.

 

In all, the Oklahoma CareerTech system offers programs in 29 technology centers. (Northeast Tech is one of those.) Each center works closely with advisers from local industries to ensure students learn the skills that the local workforce desires. Or needs. Annual combined enrollment in CareerTech classes approaches 490,000 students.

 

What’s great about this model is it doesn’t leave career and technical training to the local school districts; it makes career and technical training a statewide priority.

 

For instance, says Harris, many rural school districts don’t have the financial resources to offer a science lab. Conversely, career tech centers are plugged right into local and state tax funding and don’t face tough money choices. “My public ed friends get jealous of me all the time,” says Harris, “because I can afford stuff.”

 

When Harris started at Northeast Tech in 2009, the school had one Anatomy In Clay MANIKEN®. “It was given to me by another campus and I said, ‘So what do you do with this?’”

 

Harris asked for more of the models to work with and soon was sent to Chicago for a three-day Anatomy In Clay® professional development. “It brought me so much more confidence that I came back knowing how to do it, why to do it, and the value they (students) can get out of putting this stuff together,” she says.

 

Today, Northeast Tech students have 16 full MANIKEN® models and 32 Student 2 models to work with. 

 

Harris often starts students with easy muscles, like the frontalis on the forehead or by building the orbicularis oculi. “And then my favorite is a sternocleidomastoid. That's so fun to say—sternocleidomastoid.”

 

Work continues building the brain, the spinal cord, and looking at how nerves innervate muscles. Harris allows students as much freedom to personalize their work as they go. As long as they can explain a muscle’s location and function, she says, that’s all that matters. 

 

One MANIKEN® is easily shared, says Harris, even among as many as four students working together.

 

“As long as everybody gets to have it at their station and they get to put their hands on it, I think that's the way to go,” she says. “Start small and then as you start seeing your value in Anatomy in Clay—then start asking for more, because once you can prove it to your principals and your directors, they're going to want to help you be more successful.”

 

Not surprisingly, Harris highly recommends attending a professional development in person, if possible, or taking one of the virtual classes. (One such online opportunity is coming up in mid-July.)

 

Harris recommends that teachers relax about expecting students to be master sculptors. “When we're working with our hands, we have to be able to make mistakes,” she says, adding that she encourages teachers to engage with Anatomy In Clay’s Facebook Teacher Forum for any general or specific questions about using the system.

 

Along the way, she adds, she’s found it’s important to teach the student, not the material. In other words, to understand each student’s learning styles and needs.

 

And that brings us back an old Will Rogers quip:

 

“There are three kinds of men. The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to touch an electric fence.”

 

(Our kind of hands-on learning is much less dangerous.)

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