The Maker Movement: Breathing New Life into Learning
If you went to high school 20 years ago in the United States, you probably remember taking a shop class — building, crafting and creating with tough media like wood you would never find in your art class. If your education began elsewhere, you might remember a design and technology class instead.
In the last two decades, though, shop classes in the United States, like many other elective classes, have disappeared in favour of Common Core classes and making sure students can pass their states’ standardised tests. In other countries, such as the UK, some schools have either phased out these classes or changed them into something unrecognisable.
While Millennials might have missed out on learning how to work with wood, the maker movement is starting to breathe new life into long-dead shop classes.
What is the Maker Movement and why haven't I heard of it?
Chances are, you probably have, but just didn’t realise it because it was called something different. Have you heard anything about libraries giving up their space to crafting classes, or high schools hosting woodworking classes for their students, outside of normal school hours? This is the maker movement in a nutshell — encouraging everyone, no matter their age or experience, to work with their hands and learn to create.
Even if high schools aren’t bringing back shop class, there is still a demand for these types of hands-on classes that is leading people to find ways to build, both in and out of school.
Many skills you would learn in shop class might be outdated, but that doesn’t mean there is no benefit to these courses — especially when they can be altered to work with computer technologies that are changing the manufacturing industry around the globe.
The future, quite literally, looks like silicon chips and keyboards — industry experts are predicting there will be around 1.4 million computing-related jobs by 2020, just three years from now. Unfortunately, they’re also predicting there will only be 400,000 graduates to fill these positions. Many countries in the European Union have started requiring computing classes to give their students an edge — Estonia started requiring these courses in 2012, Greece in 2013 and the UK in 2014.
These skills can easily transfer into the professional world, and also encourage more students to pursue college or other post-secondary schooling after they’ve graduated from high school. The maker movement isn’t here to change what kids learn — core classes like math, science, and history are still vital parts of education. Instead, they’re trying to change how kids learn by reintroducing more hands-on education to high schools.
Not just for students
Students aren’t alone in their desire to take shop classes or other vocational education classes. Many communities are asking for more focus on these vocational-style classes, as well. Shop classes help students better understand their core subjects, like math and science. Building something tangible provides a real-world example for students who just don’t understand why they need to learn advanced math because they think they’ll never use the information in real life.
Crafting a simple birdhouse is a lesson in volume and geometry that can be applied as early as elementary or middle school — you want to make sure that the interior of the birdhouse has enough room for any feathered inhabitants, after all!
It’s also a good way to encourage kids to pursue their education after high school — around 80 percent of students who focused on technical or career-based studies in high school went on to some form of postsecondary education.
By comparison, only around 69 percent of students who exclusively take core classes head to college after they’ve graduated high school.
The U.S. isn’t the only country trying to improve their maker movement — Roma Makers, a makerspace movement in Italy, spent the majority of 2016 trying to set up makerspaces in 20 schools around Rome. Instead of focusing on carpentry or electrical skills, these makerspaces provide students with the tools to learn skills like programming, 3D printing, and laser cutting.
Old classes, new technology
Shop classes don’t have to be focused on woodworking or other hands-on building programs. Just like school has to change with the times, shop classes should try to catch up, too. This is why many schools are investing in the newest technology — 3D printers, computers, laser cutters and other similar equipment — to breathe new life into their shop programs.
This moves shop class into the 21st century and helps teach students not only the vocational skills that will serve them throughout their lives but technological skills that can help them build a career. Using a 3D printer requires art and programming skills, which can come in handy in a variety of careers.
For example, knowing how to program a 3D printer could get these kids jobs with NASA — the space program is already using a 3D printer on the International Space Station to create specialised tools and replacement parts that would otherwise have to be flown up to the space station.
It’s past time for the politicians who make educational policy to step back and remember academic success doesn’t necessarily equal intelligence. Students of all ages can benefit from hands-on learning experiences, whether those come in the form of shop class, an agriculture class where they learn to grow food and tend livestock or a 3D printing and robotics class where they can learn to create anything their heart desires.
Shop classes were a staple of high school for decades before public schools decided to start phasing them out. Reinstating them, even in an updated form, can change the way we teach our youngest generations.