Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Shop Class, A Lesson Learned.

Before you begin you may want to view my previous post as it leads into this one. If not carry on then.

 While teaching in a high school I was instructed to add as much literacy and math to my teaching in the shop "as possible". Doesn't sound like they hold much hope of any academic gains in "the shop". Apparently we are having a huge problem with literacy and math in our education system. As the students say, "No duh!"

  "No problem", I said, "I can do more than that". I received some strange looks. Is my shirt on backwards? Nope, I can feel the tag behind my neck. It's unfortunate that shops are being used as a dumping ground for struggling students to get course credits. Used properly a shop can provide lots of learning regardless of the student's situation or special needs.

  At this point I will climb onto the pulpit and pontificate my message.

  Firstly, remove all the machines from the shop. The machines scare some of the students right out of the class. No more lost fingers or torn out hair.  Lowered insurance costs for the school board. Machinery maintenance costs gone. More space in the shop for more bench tops. Healthier breathing environment. With the right teacher and proper supplies a shop can make concrete connections between academic learning and how it can be applied.

  Secondly I would rip those friggen blinders off of the educators so they can see the whole picture. Computers will not teach anything. Teacher's teach. Computers are tools for learning. Like a pencil and paper. Use them right and get it right.

  Thirdly, whilst I am drunk with courage, shop class should always be a part of the curriculum, in fact it should stay a mandatory class everywhere. Not all students do well with abstract situations. Some can only learn through physical application of ideas.

  In a wood working class you can apply everything learned in all the other classes at school while outfitted only with hand tools. I'll prove it to you. Here are some disciplines of study and how they correlate to hands on study in shop class.

Physics:  Physics is discovering the fundamental explanations for observed natural phenomenon and applying them to projects. Wood is pliable due to it's molecular structure. Strike it with a hammer and it leaves a dent. Why?, refer back to physics.

Math:   applied by reading numbers through measurement using rulers, multiply number of parts, dividing to find centers, laying out measures on parts. Geometry, you bet, using lines, angles, curves, squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, all this is used constantly in wood working.

Statistics:  Statistics are employed to help in projecting the future rates of deforestation around the world. Let's take a look at the longevity of the woods we use in the shop.

Logic:   In wood working all things must go together in a logical order or it will not fit together. Go ahead, try it, see if it works out.....

Decision Theory:    I quote,"...issues relevant in a given decision, its rationality, and the resulting optimal decision". If we build a bird house and neglect to drill a hole in it how will a bird get inside to nest in it. No brainer here.

Engineering:  Wood has a great weight to strength ration and is a wonderful building material. Lets put some together in different configurations and see which will support weight.

Language:   Reinforced through reading written instructions on a drawing, writing notes on a drawing. Communication with other classmates through brainstorming ideas for a design.

Arts:   Drawing sketches of ideas, keeping in mind proportion and pleasing the eye by applying the golden mean. Studying work of the great makers of the past. I would bet Leonardo Divinci could work wood, he did everything else.

History:   Cave dwellers made spears with wood shafts to kill mastodons. Now that's an interesting history class. Need food, make spear, get food.

Biology:   The wood we work was once a living tree converting carbon monoxide to oxygen. We need to breathe for goodness sakes, that's a direct correlation to the human body.

Chemistry:  The tree uses photosynthesis, a perfect example. Think about it, it's right in front of us every damn day, it's not hard to understand. Light energy converted to food for the plant. The end result for our class is useable lumber.

Zoology:  Trees create habitat for mammals, birds, fish. Field trip please.

Botany:  The study of plants, what is wood but a plant.

Earth Science:  Study how trees work in the planet's ecosystem. Field trip to a forest.

Life Science:  Biologically altered trees to fight infestations. Infested woods are easily investigated by cutting them open and looking at the damage caused within the wood. You require working knowledge of a saw to make that happen.

Human Biology:  The dust from some woods can affect our respiratory system and in some cases cause rashes on our epidermis (that's skin if you flunked biology)

Medicine:  Two words here, Rain Forest. The blueprint for aspirin is derived from extracts of willow trees. An interesting fact. Just making connections here.

Social Science:  Study the logging industry and how it effects people involved in it. Some families have been loggers for generations. How would they be affected by a decision to not use wood for structures anymore? Classic example, you bet.

Geography:  Not many trees in Dubai. Wood is harvested only from certain geographical areas. There's your connection.

 There are more examples and many ways to test our theories but I'm out of breath.

  Can it be funded? Lets look at some numbers because high school funding is all about numbers. To outfit a wood shop with machines, one table saw, one 8" jointer, radial arm saw, 18" bandsaw, three 14" wood lathes, 24" planer, drill press, mortiser, sanding station costs roughly (in Canadian funds) $34,400 before they are even hooked up to electrical power. Lets include clamps of which you always need one more than you have (averaging price for all different types $25 each x 50 = $1250) for assembly, bench vises for holding work ($ 80 x 24 = $1920), 5 to 6 simple maple top square work benches with steel legs seats four students (approx $600 x 6 = $3600). And don't forget the $ 30,000 for the dust collection system plus installation. $71,170 (+) is a lot of money for a school board to put into one classroom to service a small percentage of the school population. I would hazard a guess that one wood shop could cost upwards to $200,000 Canadian dollars once all is operational.

  Let's hold onto the benches, vises and clamps at $6770.00 and add 24 student tool packages.

  A basic set of hand tools for a student, rip and crosscut saw, coping saw, dovetail saw, jack plane, jointer plane, smooth plane, spokeshave, set of card scrapers, low angle block plane, sharpening stones, 6", 12" and 24" steel rulers, 1/4" to 1" 4pc chisel set, mortise chisels 1/4 & 3/8, combination square, try square, marking gauge, bevel gauge, marking knife, yankee screwdriver, drill bits and hand drill, wood mallet, small claw hammer, dead blow hammer. I'll say somewhere in the $1500 to $2000 dollar range. Could be less but lets plan for the worst. Multiply by 24 students is $48000 plus the rounded off cost of $7000 for benches comes to a total of $55000.

  At the time I was teaching I think the average student computer setup brand new was around $2500 each, and they would put in at least 28 PC's in a lab to cover max student class enrollment. That is 70,000 dollars and it is obsolete in 3 years.

 Realistically, tools in a shop can last 15 years before replacement. But the school would probably replace all the tools over that period piecemeal over that time. So $ 55000 seems a small amount to teach so many disciplines in one classroom.

  If your school board is closing shops down due to costs or insurance issues send them a link to this post.  If you know a teacher struggling to maintain a working shop send this post to them. This may be just the ammunition they need. Let's change some minds out there folks.

 There, I've said my piece. I have been chewing on this one for a while, May of last year if memory serves me right. I promise to return to blogging wood working projects with lots of pictures and witty insight in my future posts.

Thanks for reading

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