Teacher Profile: Mike O'Brien

Meet Mike O'Brien, teacher, woodwork, artist and super dad. A former student of Ted Hunter's, Mike has adapted Roarockit into the classroom and the students are stoked! I sat down with Mike to find out more about himself and the kids of Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School.

Hello Mike, Can you tell me a little about yourself and what you do? 

Mike O’Brien. I make stuff, I do stuff, I like to travel and see stuff.

I do a fair bit of woodworking, airbrushing, ceramics, drawing, mountain biking, snowboarding, boxing, dirt biking, playing with my kids and seeing as much of this beautiful continent as possible. Alberta is the perfect basecamp to provide for all of this. 

 Mike O'Brien at home woodworking with his son. 

Mike O'Brien at home woodworking with his son. 

 Hand painted board by Mike.  A crowd favorite is the Big Lebowski board

Hand painted board by Mike.  A crowd favorite is the Big Lebowski board

 Some of Mike's first Roarockit pressings modeled here by his daughter.  

Some of Mike's first Roarockit pressings modeled here by his daughter.  

You have some amazing creative art. When did you start painting on longboards? What are your inspirations? 

Thanks. I paint a lot of helmets and bikes and, well, anything that will hold paint. I painted my first good skateboard as a kid. It was an original Mike McGill deck and I saved forever to buy it. When it started getting scratched I was upset about it, so I tried to repaint the image. It kinda continued from there. My first Sector 9 longboard had a lame graphic so I painted over that.

 Classic scene from Reservoir Dogs 

Classic scene from Reservoir Dogs 

 Fire and cards painted on a classic street shape

Fire and cards painted on a classic street shape

How did Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School get involved in making skateboards? 

I had a unit where we made like, fake, surfboards out of styrofoam. They were cool but I wasn’t allowed to fiberglass them and I wanted to make functional art, so I started looking into longboards. Ted was one of my art teachers at OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) and his part in Roarockit made it an easy fit. 

 An actual ad used by the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School!  

An actual ad used by the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School!  

These children must be crazy stoked. How do you feel this program benefits the classroom? 

It makes everyone stoked. Any student, parent or visiting guest in the school usually ends up asking when they get a chance to make a board. There are more benefits than I can share or remember even. So far I believe that we have built over 240 longboards, and we have a 100% satisfaction rate. More than that if you consider the visitors. The connections to personal interests, functional art, legitimate rideable skateboards, something you make with your hands that you can keep forever - are all very valuable parts of the experience, and they resonate. Kids want to participate and they appreciate it. The cross curricular connections are easy to envision and various (seemingly) non traditional art connections become celebrated. Like, the science and math involved in making these work. 

It also demands commitment, and in this age of instant gratification, kids learn the much needed art of hard work and perseverance.

 A classroom full of talent!  

A classroom full of talent!  

That's a lot of boards! Skateboard building is not a typical classroom activity. How do you work this into your curriculum? 

It’s so easy, and such an obvious platform for curriculum/cross-curricular exploration, that any school could benefit from it as a project. Working it into the curriculum is not an issue at all, the curriculum is lucky to include projects like this, because the learning is student led, the interest is self-actualizing, and the values experienced within the projects resonate with the kids.

 Superstar student Kate showing off her amazing creation!  

Superstar student Kate showing off her amazing creation!  

Are the students riding their boards afterwards? Or is everyone to busy enjoying the amazing art? 

I’d say its 50/50. I am of the opinion that bikes are meant to ride, jeans are made to get dirty, noses are made to bleed, and skateboards are made to be ridden. The kids agree a lot of the time, and many of them throw wheels on right away, but some kids just end up being so proud of the work they completed that the boards end up becoming art on walls. Which is totally cool as well.

 Students crazy stoked on their work! 

Students crazy stoked on their work! 

That's amazing! Do you skate? 

I’m 45 years old, and I have a long history with sports and recreational activities that tend to break my bones. I ride a longboard a lot, but it's just cruising. Downhill mountain biking, snowboarding and motocross are my retirement activities these days. Skating ain’t easy when you no longer bounce off stuff. 

 Mike's crazy cedar and maple pintail creation

Mike's crazy cedar and maple pintail creation

 Objects that are truly Mike's

Objects that are truly Mike's

Thanks for your time Mike. Any last words? 

No sweat. Parting words? It's not until you create something with your mind and hands that an object truly becomes your own.

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