Newspaper Tables

Last Thursday, I was one night away from turning in the defense draft of my senior thesis. Needless to say, I was not in attendance at our regular Thursday night book club planning meeting. During the drive to the Serbu Center, I was briefed on my role for the day’s session: to lead a small group discussion about how to build a table out of newspaper. I would distribute half-sheets of paper that each contained a few quotes from a relatively complicated article on the utility of the triangle in building prisms, then I would encourage the groups to think about the use of bracing in their table designs. Each group would chat about their experiences with tables, and then start to think through elements of design.

This session fit into our larger goal for the term: to think about the role of education in our lives, and to consider ways to improve our classrooms and schools. During this session, we attempted to meet a single objective (an understanding of how to build a table that would withstand books using only newspaper and tape) using three teaching techniques: lecture, small group discussion, and hands-on experimentation. We talked about the pros and cons of each as we went, and we tried to draw out each person’s reaction to different teaching styles.

Going into the session, we (the outside students) were not sure how the session would go. There were only three of us, instead of our normal eight, because most people were at the Dalai Lama’s lecture on campus. We all agreed it was a creative lesson plan, but it was also one that would either flop or fly, and we didn't know which.

As soon as we brought out the newspaper, however, I knew it would be a success. The first two segments (lecture and discussion) were pretty dry, although some of the youth were already clearly invested in drawing table designs and discussing what would make their tables withstand the most weight. For the last segment, each group got a pile of newspaper and four long pieces of duct-tape, and within minutes, UO students, youth, and the classroom teacher were down on the floor rolling, folding, ripping, and taping.

I heard conversations about bracing, and angles, and material density. Every single person in the room was on their hands and knees, and for almost the entire time, everyone was fully engaged in the activity. I was surprised to see that within twenty minutes, every group had managed to make a table that withstood at least one fat literature textbook and some withstood at least four (I’d guess around 15 pounds).   Even though we ran out of time to have a full conversation about what teaching style worked the best for them, it was clear to all of us that working with materials, experimenting, and moving around caught everyone’s attention.


Inside-Out UO Alumna