Shop and Science

As a chemistry teacher, I try to inject some science into everything I do for the students. The lessons, of course, are pure examples of the basics that this age group should master. I also teach an elective class in woodworking, one of two shop classes still offered by the school (the other being metal work and welding). I am glad that the administrators still see fit to keep these practical programs, when everyone else is cutting them along with the arts and music. What a shame, but it is all about budget I am told.  What does this say about the state of our educational institutions in this country? Science is being diminished along with penmanship, considered an old-fashioned ability. What is left? Even history has been completely rewritten and condensed.

Nevertheless, I do what I can to make the woodshop curriculum meaningful and education on several levels. Sure, the kids learn to use woodworking tools like an electric saw, shaper cutter, nail gun, sander, router and drill. Notice that they are all electrically operated. This leads to an obvious need for a lesson in how electricity is harassed and produced, who discovered it, and what chemical principles are involved. They come in later when we discuss the various stains and surface treatments of the wood being used to build a table, chair, or cabinet. There are various agents involved that react differently to produce the desired results. If you want to be a chemical engineer, this might be the sort of knowledge you must study.

While shop classes entail a lot of show and tell, or my assistant demonstrating a particular skill, there is a time and place for a lecture or two. Chemistry fascinates the shop students because this might be their first exposure to a fascinating subject. They often go on to take the series of chemistry classes I offer for science majors. The school also includes physics and physiology in their program. I do double duty sometimes, covering a variety of material.  Of course, it is on a fundamental level at this stage of education.

I love making science come alive by showing how it pertains to everyday life. It is not just an abstract, academic subject for eggheads. I believe that every kid should have some exposure, even if it has to be in shop class. Most schools don’t have a science requirement anymore beyond a simple “intro” class. So be it, but I try to squeeze it in wherever I can to make it interesting and relevant. When students, who would otherwise not take shop for a future career in the construction industry, come to my class for its novel approach, I am more than thrilled. For me, this is what teaching is all about. Let me close this blog with a hearty “long live science.” Encourage your kids to ask for shop in their school.