When we were growing up, the typical high school offered a long list of shop courses. There was woodworking, metalshop, auto body and engine shop, ceramics, electrical, carpentry, mechanical drawing…. Today, those courses are mostly gone. In most high schools, they have been replaced by a “technology” department that is limited to a computer lab with, perhaps, if students are lucky a course in Computer Aided Drafting and Design but no way for students to actually build an object after they’ve designed it in CADD.

There are many reasons for this. School budgets, liability concerns, and Federal regulation (“No Child Left Behind”) have all played a role. So, too, has the growing emphasis on college preparation. Shop classes have traditionally been viewed as second-class education, for the students who were never going to make it into college. As more and more educators started to embrace the idea of a college education for everyone (a goal that, truthfully, doesn’t make much sense), the relevance of shop classes seemed to be greatly diminished. That is unfortunate, and not only for those students who are simply not equipped for college-level work. Even students who are college-bound can benefit from the skills learned in shop class, and in many professions, those skills are essential. Scientists need the ability to build and maintain experimental equipment. An engineer who sits down at a CADD station to design a new product needs the experience to know that what he’s designing can actually be built.

For that reason, we’re pleased to hear about the Makerspace program.  Developed by Make magazine editor and publisher Dale Dougherty and Dr. Saul Griffith of Otherlab, the Makerspace program is supported by an award from DARPA’s Manufacturing Experimentation and Outreach (MENTOR) program.

The Makerspace program is reinventing the shop class and the computer lab. Modeled after hackerspaces, makerspaces will be places for students to explore their own interests, learn to use tools, and develop their own projects. Makerspaces can be embedded in existing organizations or standalone entities. The Makerspace program will develop modular specifications for low-cost makerspaces in educational settings. The program will develop teacher guides for maker projects, build a collaborative online platform for teachers and students, integrate new tools for Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing, and prototype a low-cost open-source CNC machine for schools.

The program’s goal is to have makerspaces in 1000 high schools in three years. We urge teachers, students, parents, and other interested citizens to visit makerspace.org and check it out.


Written by Astro1 on April 10th, 2012 , Citizen Science (General), Education

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