Hands on is Minds on

The brainchild of Coalesce Design partners Greg Vanderbeek and BJ Titchenal, Coalesce Academy of Manual Arts and Design addresses what Greg says is a child’s most basic need.

“The most basic need for kids is to develop cognitive awareness by doing things with their hands.”

When working with various engineers, architects, and designers, the metal fabricators realized a lot of these professionals, though very good at their jobs, had no idea how to actually build what they were designing.

Professor Jennifer Blacklock noticed the same trend among her mechanical engineering students. She facilitates the capstone course for mechanical engineers at the Colorado School of Mines and was astonished to find that many of her top students couldn’t apply the concepts and theories they knew on paper when asked to build tangible representations of these theories.


The Academy focuses on taking kids back to the basics and using hands-on learning to teach everything from history to physics.

“Hands-on is minds-on,” says Vanderbeek, “I do more problem solving right here than I ever did at a desk,” he added, referencing his workshop. Vanderbeek holds a masters degree in electrical engineering and worked in the industry before trading in his tie for a table saw.

“Whether you’re a visual, and audio, or kinesthetic learner, these classes help kids discover the world using all their senses,” Greg says. He wants the classes to teach kids to “take it slow—measure twice, cut once, and to take pride in craftsmanship,” and instill confidence by ensuring kids understand that “failure is part of problem solving.”

“When you know how to build—how to create—you look at the world differently,” says Greg, “It helps you realize how to manipulate things to create a change.”

Budget cuts force schools to create curriculum suitable for a 1:30 teacher-to-student ratio, largely eliminating hands-on courses. The founders hope to bring the Coalesce Academy of Manual Arts and Design into Boulder schools in the future. The Montessori approach means each Academy student has his or her own work station and plenty of one-on-one time with the instructor.

Classes will take place during nine, one-week sessions throughout the summer and are open to kids ages 8-16. Students will build something new to take home at the end of each class. Stay tuned to The BoulderSource for more information on Coalesce Design’s August fundraiser, PRO-AM CRAFT BEER FUNDRAISER, that will create scholarships for local underprivileged kids to attend Coalesce Academy of Manual Arts and Design.

2 thoughts on “Hands on is Minds on

    • Thanks for visiting, Anneliese! Please let us know if there is anything around Boulder that you think would be a good fit for the site, we’d love to write about it.

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