TreeHouses: A Middle School Design and Build Maker Project


The Tree House Project

I love that middle school learners are quick to jump in and activate as learners when given a context for learning.

 They may float between being semi-adults and semi-children and are at times the most stable and fragile of people, but they are explorers of life – through relationships, humor, risk taking, movement, music, stories, design, technologies and community.


Anyone can build

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had several occasions to watch middle school students working with each other and with teachers, parents, community members, their assistant principal and principal, and Alex Gilliam of Public Workshop fame.  Want kids to think mathematically, apply physical science principles, communicate effectively both verbally and non-verbally, work together and hold each other accountable for quality work?

Let them design and build tree houses – in the cafeteria – with power tools – and squares, measuring tapes, hammers, glue and handsaws.  Let them prototype, test, research, deconstruct, and rebuild to get the structures right.

Listen to their ideas, their strategies, their solutions and let them try – fail – and then succeed.

Adolescents are both experimenters and traditionalists, taking lessons from adults around them about the importance of both ways of being.

waltonwork movinglog

Let them explore the woods to find the perfect tree for a log they need to bolster their tree house. They’ll problem-solve how to move a few hundred pounds of tree indoors.

Ask them questions and they’ll figure out how to be safe and also have fun as they climb high on the structure and hang off of it to drill screws into the wood, tightening each joint and snugging up boards in the platform as they build higher and higher.

They are fun learners to be around

parents and students

parents as partners

Need a crew to mobilize to bring a truckload of lumber inside the cafeteria? Turn it over to the kids and they’ll text up a crew in a matter of minutes. They’ll take selfies and cool pics of each other as they build. Then they’ll load their pics to Instagram and share their experiences with family, friends, and the world.

They’ll work through lunch. And, stay after school to keep working. They’ll even come back for a long evening of work to finish their tree house project and drag a few of their parents with them to help.

 Middle schoolers understand community as it has always been for us humans.

designteamThey’ll take care of each other. Some team up to cook a dinner meal of hotdogs and mac and cheese on their last “build and finish” night. Others remember to remind each other to “be careful” climbing all over the structure. Everyone helps pick up stray nails and put away sharp-edged tools.

They become team.

You can’t measure what these kids learned with a standardized test.

Maybe, as Alex says, they worry as much or more about being safe as their adult building counterparts. They certainly managed to take risks and stay safe while doing something that many adults worried about them doing.



They designed and built not one but two sturdy and whimsical tree houses for their cafeteria over two weeks. They built inventive tables and a bench or two. They finished the job – on time and on budget.

The Final Word ….

From the  Public Workshop Facebook page:

“I would like our ideas (tree houses) to go to other schools + spread it all around the world and I would really like to help others do it ….”

  – Alecia, grade 6 ‪#‎acps‬ #‎buildinghero‬

“Alecia was duly featured in a report on @nbc29 about our project w/Walton Middle School. The part about her wanting to help + train others to build their own ‪#‎treehouses‬ surprisingly got cut.

It was unprompted + awsm. Alecia rocks.…

– Alex Gilliam, Public Workshop #acps #buildinghero


Public Workshop’s Alex Gilliam

Tool Users

Tool Users

3 thoughts on “TreeHouses: A Middle School Design and Build Maker Project

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