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Peter Wachtel: “Let’s Build It”

Teacher: Peter Wachtel

Grade/Subject: High School 9-12 Architecture & Product Innovation & Design

School: Adolfo Camarillo High School, Camarillo, CA

Peter Wachtel is not just an educational play advocate, he’s a designer, inventor, educator, and a Guinness World Record holder! We were happy to snag an interview with him for this quarter’s My Classroom feature!

Can you tell us a bit about your Guinness World Record design and creation?

We wanted to do something big, and everyone knows about Guinness World Records. Last year while at a Harbor Freight Tools for Schools “Let’s Build It” teacher idea get-together, we thought of the rough idea. Then I asked my students–what could we create, build and do that is World Wide, has cross collaboration, and includes skills, learning and talent built in. It was epic! More than 50 students used our 65 year-old gym bleachers from the school's basketball court to create the world’s largest charcuterie board. It had over 500 pounds of food, most of which was donated by families and local businesses.

By the Numbers…

  • At 204 ft 7.8 in, the record board was longer than two blue whales and, stood on end, taller than a 13-story building.

  • The board topped the previous 150 foot record, set in 2019 by a Chicago-based food industry analytics firm, by more than 50 feet.

  • 50 students put more than 100 hours into stripping, prepping and joining the recycled gym bleachers into a charcuterie board.

  • Culinary students from Pacifica High School spent almost four hours preparing and laying out more than 500 pounds of cured meats, cheeses, dried fruits, nuts, olives, and fruit preserves. All food was eaten or given to a local shelter.

  • As a smaller project, students cut the board into at least 65 smaller charcuterie boards as gifts for donors who supported the project.

Did you have administrative support to go after this goal?

Yes! Our Admin is always very supportive of new endeavors. Our Principal, Assistant Principals, teachers, district and community all pitched in! From logistics, to food donation and preparation, to fundraising and social media. We started a GoFundMe to help raise the funds for Guinness– the food and supplies, our school bought over 30 tents to cover the board! Our cafeteria workers helped prepare the food, and our district contacted local news and media to spread the word. Local Southwest Carpenters donated money and were the “Official” measurers of our board! It really does take a village!

How does creativity and play factor into your teaching during the school year?

Creativity is King–my motto is “I Play Therefore I Am”. I still design and invent toys with my company KidToyology, and teach using my experiences- showing students that you can have a lot of fun with your career, and that it can take you anywhere. We do a variety of projects from designing toys, to animal habitats, and theme park attractions where students’ work is reviewed by professionals (Real World Learning). When students design something fun, they learn in the process! If you can think it, you can do it.

Can you share another playful project your students completed that had an impact on your community?

During the year I ask students what they can do to give back to our community. Coincidentally, when we had a toy project coming up the students wanted to design and make toy cars. During my time in college at the Columbus College of Art & Design, we made wooden toys for a children's hospital. My students knew this was a great idea and I knew this project would be the perfect combination of giving back and toy making. Our district contacted Mattel’s UCLA Children’s Hospital to see if we could donate some cars to their cause. The students then designed, created, and donated over 100 wooden toy cars for the children admitted to Mattel’s UCLA Children’s Hospital this past spring.

What did you hope your students would learn and take away as a result of doing this project?

Students learned how to give back and collaborate with others using their skills and talents as they contributed to something bigger than themselves. They brought joy to children during a time when there is typically little happiness. This playful project truly turned into a passion project for good! For the upcoming school year we are looking to partner with NASA in some capacity.

How has play allowed for a breakthrough with your students?

Play is learning–it is the highest form of research–and when you are sincerely pleased you are nourished. These students look for the play to learn value in everything. If they like it, they can do it and learn from it!

What or who has been a major influence on your teaching?

I started teaching toy design at Pratt, Parsons in NYC, and then Otis College of Art & Design. I always wanted to share my experiences and curiosity- the Good, the Bad & the Ugly. Creativity and play have always been at the forefront. My teaching philosophy and passion came from my experiences, and in part my Mom & Dad, a few teachers from High School (Mr. Rydell & Mrs. Leighton) & College (James Orr, Richard Ashenbrand (CCAD) & Bruce Hannah (Pratt), my internship toy mentor Jesse Horowitz, and a few elementary teachers who taught my kids (Mrs. Guiang, Mrs. Narasaki & Mrs. Medina). Their foresight, thinking, creativity and attitude showed me how to be a playful teacher, who shares and inspires my students, which led to my designing, inventing, and continued creative teaching style.

Do you have any advice you’d like to share with other teachers on how to incorporate more play into their curriculum?

What we do in life echoes in eternity (Gladiator.) Dare to be different. Make projects that are challenging yet fun. Show students that what they do matters. Encourage students to watch the end credits of a movie– all the credits are careers and experiences they could pursue in their future!

To see some of our students’ amazing projects, check out our Student Portfolio!

I’d love for you to connect and follow me: @Kidtoyology

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