Posted by: crudbasher | October 3, 2012

What Is The 21st Century Shop Class?

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now and think my writing skills have improved. It has also given me a better appreciate for good writing so when I read this article on Gizmodo today it really struck home.

The article is a excerpt from a new book called Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson. It is all about the new technology of additive manufacturing, also known as 3d printing. I have written about this for a while because I look at it as a very disruptive force to change society and as you now know, you have to look at the future of education in the context of everything else.

What really moved me in the excerpt though was this paragraph where the author describes his childhood.

At home, I made Heathkit electronics kits, which involved soldering irons and weeks of painstaking work with wires and components but were the cheapest way to obtain something like a citizen’s band radio or a stereo amplifier. Chemistry kits had actual chemicals in them (as opposed to little more than baking soda and a ream of legalist warnings, as is now sadly the case), and were great fun. Anybody with a cool or temperamental car spent the weekend under the hood with a wrench, hopping it up and otherwise tinkering with its mechanics. “Taking things apart to see how they work” was just what kids did, and finding users for the parts launched countless fantastic machines, some of which actually worked.

(cc) mtneer_man

I remember those days too to a certain extent. I grew up right on the transition from practical skills like electronics to more cerebral skills like programming. It seems though those practical skills might be have a bit of renaissance thanks to 3d printing. One of my cardinal observations so far is the Internet will be most empowering to the creative types. Imagine being able to custom order a product from a skilled 3d printing craftsman, and then have your home printer generate the object. 3d printing will soon be able to print electronics as part of the object so we might soon see a whole new generation of consumer electronics. This is a society based on mass customization and that changes manufacturing, economics, regulation, government, social stratification and business.

Schools can become a lot more relevant in this new society by creating a 21st century equivalent to the shop class where students can try out all sorts of new technologies. By the way if you read the Gizmodo article pay attention to the comments. There were some people talking about their schools already doing some of this. A commenter named vivlock wrote this one:

I took a fantastic class in middle school called Exploring Technology where there was something like 15-20 cubicle-like booths set up in a room and you’d pick one and do it for a week or so, then move on to another. I took it twice. I played with little robots, CAD, a flight simulator, made a little wooden racecar (one of those CO2 canister powered ones), learned to solder and played with circuitry, and on and on. I took wood shop in high school (I was the only girl in it) and art classes, and computer classes (the computer teacher was useless, she played solitaire the whole time, but we had the resources to teach ourselves, and I did).
I wish there had been more things available like that Exploring Tech class. I feel like it really gave me a chance to feel things out and find out what I liked, and I always looked forward to it.





  1. Ahh, the good old days. I, too, had a chemistry set full of chemicals that no one would allow any child within ten feet of today. “Hands on” is a great way to encourage learning.

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