The high-tech return of high school shop class
Analy High School students watch while a 3-D printer makes a tetrahedron die in their Project Make class.
February 28th, 2013
09:31 AM ET

The high-tech return of high school shop class

Editor's note: Check out CNN Living's story about a college program creating jobs by training students to revive a 'dying trade.'

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - You can almost hear the old shop teacher asking - so, how is this going to work?

In his State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama talked about redesigning schools for a high-tech future. He gave a shout-out to a technical high school in Brooklyn, and to 3-D printing. In a moment of seeming agreement, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio mentioned incentives for schools to add vocational and career training.

But long gone are the days of shop class, or even "vocational training," said Stephen DeWitt, the senior director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education. For many years, he saw career and technical education cut by shrunken budgets or "literally and figuratively left in the back of the school, separate from academics."

What's emerging in schools now is something tougher to pin down. In one district, it might be a fancy new school dedicated to teaching tech. In another, an apprenticeship program. Some schools design career and technical classes to line up with college-prep courses that guide students to become engineers, chefs, CEOs or doctors. Almost 80% of high school students who concentrated on career and technical studies pursued some type of postsecondary education within two years of finishing high school, the U.S. Department of Education reported in 2011.

"We’re hearing policy makers talk about it more often. Certain districts are looking at career and technical education as a way to reform schools," DeWitt said. "The focus on project-based learning, how to get students engaged more, is something that’s caught on."

That might mean more maker spaces sprouting up at schools, too.

Students helped build out the maker space at Analy High School.

They are exactly what they sound like - a space to make things. The workshops and warehouses have taken off in communities around the country during the last few years, but the push to add them to schools is still fresh.

"Maker spaces aren't in schools and they need to be," MAKE magazine founder Dale Dougherty told a crowd at Maker Faire in Michigan last summer. "Not just a summer camp, not just an after-school program."

MAKE secured a grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to build the "hacker spaces" in schools - a move some criticized because of its military ties. The money helped to launch maker spaces at a handful of Northern California schools this school year.

The goal: more than 1,000 by 2015.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNschools

Administration, costs, tests - yes, all those things could get in the way of a space dedicated to hands-on learning, Dougherty said. But what educator, what economist, wouldn't want a classroom of engineers, creators and entrepreneurs?

"It's hard, in some ways, to change schools, but I'm not feeling resistance," said Dougherty, who will speak at SXSWedu in March. "A lot of schools have machines from old shop classes. Recover that before it goes to the dump."

That's what happened at  Analy High School in Sebastopol, California. Students there took over a room at the nearby headquarters of MAKE magazine to get more hands-on learning, and last fall, they moved into a 3,200-square-foot building on their own campus. For years, the space had sat empty after metal shop and agriculture classes dropped off the curriculum or moved to other spaces. Now, nearly 50 kids are there every day, learning to make LED-lit shoes with built-in GPS, high-tech, steampunk-styled airships, and a "drawbot" that works like an oversized, programmable Etch a Sketch.

In the last few weeks, students designed those projects, created budgets and pitched their ideas to local Rotary Club members, school officials and a MAKE engineer who agreed to fund the best of them. Building will begin soon on the kicks, ship and bot, along with at least three other projects.

The students spent much of the first semester building out the space, but they're already incorporating new tools and technology into their ideas, said Casey Shea, their teacher.

"When they were doing their proposals, how nonchalantly they were like, 'Let's 3-D print that piece,'" said Shea, a math teacher who took on the Project Make class between algebra and pre-calc sections. "It's not magic to them. They’re used to seeing crazy things and thinking, 'Yeah, I can do that.'"

CNN checked in with Shea at the start of the school year, and again this semester. Here, he explains how Analy High School's maker space works, and how it has changed the way students learn.

CNN: What kind of equipment do you have?

Shea: We've got the 21st century tools  - 3-D printer, vinyl cutter, laser cutter, a hand-me-down from MAKE. We’ve got the sheet metal tools that were left from the old days. We can bend, cut, spot weld. Basic woodworking hand tools - we have a full wood shop (in the school), so we don't have a lot of that. Then the electronics area is really coming together, oscilloscopes, old test equipment, old motors. I just filled up a truck with stuff an old teacher had from 15 years ago that he was just now finally able to let go.

The vinyl cutter, I got on eBay. It was a starter kit, less than $500. It's the perfect entry into computer-aided design. You allow kids to really come up with their own ideas. You can make stickers, banners, anything you can type or design on a computer. We've made banners for a dance and career day rather than outsource. It's saving money.

The laser cutter is probably the most versatile. It can engrave, cut, make different, cool 3-D things, make 3-D cardboard models. The 3-D printer is probably the most sexy. It's getting all the press. It's a longer journey to be able to design your own things. It's got the glamour, but more sizzle than steak at this point. But it's really cool.

Project Make students worked on an Arduino microcontroller.

CNN: Did you manage to get a diverse cross-section of the school in the class?

Shea: When I was walking around trying to sell it, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a room full of geeky boys. I was asking girls in my geometry class, "Could we do this kind of stuff, but make it cooler? What kind of stuff would you want to make?" They were like, "Duh, girls like this stuff, too."

Our percentage of girls this year is lower – a little less gender-distributed, but certainly the academic levels are varied. It's interesting to see how they intermingle. It's rare to have a class of a mix of ages and abilities. I really do think the kids at both ends get something out of having their hands on something, rather than all-theory or a complete void.

CNN: How does it change the way students are learning?

Shea: It's the kids who came in with no experience, no background, no skills who get that sense of accomplishment. Without fail, nothing works the first time. It's something we don't get enough opportunity to do. In most classes, we have to move on, you either get it or you don't. Failure is a judgment rather than part of the process. In math, kids come in convinced, or someone has convinced them, they can't do something. We don't take the time to go back and make that failure a reflective process.

"You failed? That's great, what did you learn?"After you get those little moments of success, "That's great - remember how bad you felt yesterday, after three days of putting the thing together, flipping the switch and it didn't work? It's not over."

That's more like real life, rather than school.

CNN: What advice would you give to other schools and teachers that want to start their own maker spaces?

Shea: Start small. Start with an after-school thing. Get this stuff into the mainstream of the school. "We've got this stuff, what do you need?" As an assignment, (the students) have got to make something for a teacher's room. The whole idea is to open eyeballs and start to think creatively.

We’ve gotten an amazing amount of materials and support from the community. We’ve had a number of community builders coming in, ex-teachers, tinkerers who are moving, realizing they’re not going to get into their electronics stuff. You've got to just dive in, and you've got to know, it's like a tiger by the tail, but it's a great tiger.

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Filed under: Hands-on learning • High school • Math • STEM
soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. Michael987

    As a junior in high school who has taken 4 woodworking classes and one Intro to engineering. i think shop should he a requirement to graduate. I have learned so much more in those classes then any other one. i spend everyday at lunch in their having talks with the teacher about anything because i see him as one of the only teachers in my school who does something that really is teaching me something i can use in my life. also just to break up the day where i can think in all the ways i do in the other class but even more. in my IED class which is ran my PLTW (project lead the way) which is a national based organization working on growing young adults into engineers. i got learn about autoCAD and get to learn how to make drawing which is all things that if i would pursue that after high school i could use unlike a lot of things i learn in the academics.

    March 12, 2013 at 4:21 am |
  2. john heresz

    it was 1949 when i walked into that BIG machine shop, i was still in high school but was offered an apprentice ship, wow
    i have never looked back, the apprentice was not free and we did not get paid to go to school, we had to work extra hours
    to make up the school time, pay at that time was 1.081/2 hour for the apprentice, fifty two years later i look back and see
    our superintendent as he told us, "if you are not happy here and do not like the work, go else where, do not waste our time"
    god bless you jack kennedy, you were out super and mentor, you knew when we screwed up and did not say any thing, the fore men did the dressing down, fifty two years later, after doing every job in the shop, including final inspection, i was forced to retire, the younger guys needed the job.
    Bring back the apprentice programs and turn out the journey man in every trade !

    March 10, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
  3. John Boronkay

    I have a BS and a MSEd in Industrial Arts Education (1984). And for many years I have been a secondary school principal and now a director at a 4 County Board of Cooperative Education in Career and Technical Education. The middle level skills gap was self imposed- and now I have fully seen the results of the rush to have everyone attend college- it didn't matter for what- you just had to attend. Shame on us in K-12 for discrediting the skilled trades and students with kinesthetic learning styles. I hope my eye surgeon took a drafting class- and that the mechanic has a better than 85% grasp of my daughter's vehicles brake system.

    March 5, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  4. JJ

    Industrial Arts is not just for people not going to college.

    I probably learned as much in my 4 years of shop in HS as I did in any other sequence in HS.

    I have a BS in science in Eng, and a PhD in Mathematics, and work in the computing field.
    I still enjoy working with my hands. I've rebuilt engines, roofed my house, deigned and built a shed
    that matched my house.

    My son is one of the top kids in his HS class, and bemoans the fact that the Auto and Metal shops are
    closed in his HS for lack of funding for teachers. He is working with a 4-H program that puts pernets and mentors together with kids to teach fundamentals.

    March 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  5. autoteachersonny

    Does anyone know about How about ASE or NATEF? We are out there every day to help high schools develop quality automotive training programs, and have been since 1990s
    Give us a call or email if you want industry approved training and guidance.


    March 4, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  6. autoteachersonny

    Does anyone know about How about ASE or NATEF? We are out there every day to help high schools develop quality automotive training programs, and have been since 1990s
    Give us a call or email if you want industry approved training and guidance.



    March 4, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  7. Cantgetright

    Anybody notice the Cell phone?

    March 3, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Casey Shea

      It's actually an empty cell phone case that was made in the 3D printer!

      March 4, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  8. mmi16

    He who doesn't learn his way around basic mechanics and electrical principals and the tools required to diagnose and solve them – is bound for a lifetime of paying others to repair nickel & dime nusiance problems around the residence and autos. Not only the paying but the delay in waiting to obtain someone to fix them.

    March 3, 2013 at 12:46 am |
    • Nelba

      Great observation. Also not knowing even the simplest things about how things work makes you vulnerable to the few unscrupulous service people who can tell tall tales about how serious your prblem is even when it si trivial.

      March 3, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  9. rick

    As a "blue collar" business owner and having worked in several industries over the past 30 years, as well as having developed a shop program for a small school, I have often been disgusted by the "engineers" I have worked with over the years. Many too many had no idea of how things actually functioned in the real world; more than one asked for the physically impossible with the equipment they specified, and I can recall at least a half-dozen occasions when I designed something that the "engineer" then claimed as their own. Three of these designs ended up being patented as I designed them, but not under my name. When I designed the shop program for the school, I was sent all the "problem" children; This was in the early years of this century; the stigma is far from gone. And NONE of them were problem kids; they just wanted to learn something real! After I left that school due to contract differences, the program folded, and many of the younger kids were upset that they couldn't take part. Kids NEED some real world experience to make things; not all will create something beautiful or perfect; they don't need to. They need to learn to do things with their hands as well as their brains, if for no other reason than to understand that a good mechanic is no different than a good financial advisor or doctor; the medium is different, but the amount of knowledge and understanding required is similar, and those that are good at what they do deserve respect for their abilities they worked to gain. The legislation of vocational training out of our schools has resulted in loss of productivity and direction in this country. As an employer, I have difficulty finding people that are able to think in a logical manner about how things work without 6 months of training, because they have all been taught that you have to call a specialist for that. Vocational training opens doors and broadens horizons; it used to be required for at least a year when I was young, along with cooking and sewing (Home Economics); thanks to those classes, I've been able to keep myself and my family supported through some very tough times. This country is suffering from a serious lack of well trained workers, as well as engineers. Return vocational training to the schools, and we'll have a much better crop of both, as well as a better crop of humans in general. It's basic survival training.

    March 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • Max in AL

      I've worked my way to a position of responsibility and a good pay rate, with no more than high school shop (Industrial Arts) and a 2-year degree from the USAF, at a major university in the field of physics. The horror stories I could tell of PhD's being on the world with absolutely no idea of using basic tools.They no longer are expected to set up their own equipment or experiments. No. That would, if I allowed it, fall into my lap. I've locked horns with a number of fully tenured (and don't get me started on that) profs over this.
      I win. Every time as I have the ear, and full support, of the dean and department head.
      In higher education I fear this will never change. They make money getting kids in. No matter how ill-prepared they may be.

      March 3, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
      • Ed

        In order to get a BS in Engineering Physics from a major university my son had to take a shop class that taught welding, machine assembly and various other subjects like that so that the budding physicists and engineers would be able to make the things they needed in their labs in the future. This was a very good idea.

        March 3, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • DLS

      Ahhh the "grumpy machinist", complaining that the engineers are all idiots. And the engineers in the office complaining about the idiots in the machine shop who can't ever meet MIL-TP-41. There was some truth in that in the days of over-the-wall engineering, but that way of working is going the way of the dodo because it's wasteful.

      March 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
  10. gene grossman

    There's no excuse for a school to say they can't afford to teach a practical class that will help students in their adult life.
    When I was in high school I saw a bunch of cute girls in a class, so I wanted to get in there to meet them. It was a typing class, and as a result of taking that class not only did I meet my first girlfriend, but everything I did in my adult life was changed.

    In the army I spent my days as a clerk typist and left the service as a Staff Sergeant ('three up and one down').

    I went to law school and was one of about 30% of the graduates allowed to type my answers on the bar exam.

    When starting my law practice, I was able to type my own letters instead of hiring the secretary that I couldn't afford: my quick response to opposing counsel led them to believe that I had an efficient office staff, and not a one-man operation like many other new attorneys out on their own had.

    After retiring from the practice of law I turned to writing; my typing skills easily transferred to word processing and I'm proud to say that I am now the published author of 20 mystery novels and 21 non-fiction self-help books... all a result of that typing class in high school.

    Hi-tech classes are great – but if a school doesn't have the staff or equipment, I believe that every student should be prepared for the digital age by at least being required to take a class in typing – and the earlier the better. A student that can type will be a student who will read, become familiar with computers, graduate, go to college, and become a productive member of society.

    Gene Grossman –

    March 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
    • Bob

      wow cool!

      March 2, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  11. Mark Deadrick

    As a Mechanical Engineer myself, I can attribute my metalworking class in High School, and namely Mr. Totah as a great "kickstarter". (Aside from my dad, a retired Electrical Engineer and master woodworker) Mr. Totah was not afraid make sure the kids make their projects perfect, not easy for 13 year old freshmen nor 18 year old seniors. I was probably on the only kid taking both metal shop and calculus at the same time. Having graduated from college over 20 years ago, I'm really disgusted by the number of engineers that are educated beyond their intelligence. So many have fancy degrees with almost zero grasp of reality. Luckily a consultant to numerous companies, as a high performance composites expert, I can take advantage of that. BTW, I first saw 3D printing in both stereolithography (SLA) and Laminate Object Modeling (LOM) in the early 90s in Detroit. It's odd that 2013 is the year of 3D printing, as the technology is over 20 years old. But if this trend toward home 3D printing picks up, it will probably be necessary that people know how to input 3D models to the printer. The precursor to the printing process is the more difficult part, pressing print is pretty easy.

    March 2, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • Thomas

      You are so right on, I have a # of engineers that work under me designing machines that use robotics and servo drives.
      The ones that will get into the inside of these machines and just can't help themselves from taking them apart and seeing how they work are so much better at designing the NEXT generation robots and machines, the ones that just want to read the material on line and learn at their desks are just not as good

      March 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
      • Randy Buchter

        I am a 54 year old underemployed mechanical engineer. I can set up and run milling machines, lathes etc. I have years of experience designing cost effective injection molded parts, metal die stampings, etc. I design parts with assembly in mind. I can pretty much make anything I design, yet I can't get a job in engineering because all of the job listings these days specify recent college graduates. Most recent college graduates can't make anything, and they have no idea how anything is made. The downfall of US manufacturing began when academic administrators and 'guidance counselors' declared that shop classes were no longer useful or needed. My days are mostly spent repairing furniture, and I often fix stuff that the owners believe is not repairable. I make my own replacement parts, and a lot of times have to improvise repairs. Many times I make a replacement part rather than buying a replacement. Most recent high school and college graduates can't fix anything. If it breaks, they throw it out and buy a new one, or pay someone like me to fix it. We definitely need more shop classes, and more young people that are not afraid to get their hands dirty.

        March 3, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  12. paulacvdw

    We've certainly moved on since 1964 when I tried to get into a high school mechanics class. I was denied entry because I was a girl and would be a "distraction."

    March 2, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • MattieN

      I had the same problem in the 60s. I believe it was in Junior HS–I had to fight to be allowed to take a ceramics class because I was a girl and was scheduled to take Home Economics. When I worked for the government, I was proofreading/editing and making suggestions for improving the regulations. At this point in my life I am designing/creating home and wearable textiles for sale and personal use. I welcome a return to teaching our youth how to survive in the real world by using their brains and not only electronics.

      March 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
      • Ed

        My junior high required all boys to take a full semester of home economics, mostly survival-as-a-single-guy cooking. All the girls had to take a full semester of shop, mostly wood shop. A great idea, but now no one takes any of those things.

        March 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  13. Scott Crowell

    It's great to see all of this. I'm a middle school Technology teacher (shop with an engineering twist). It's great to see the lights come on in kids. We'll be working on something and they will stop me and ask why I'm teaching math, science, social studies and ELA. They get the opportunity to see how some of the concepts they've been working on in their academic classes actually fit into the real world. Vocational and Technical education does it all. It gives kids a connection that is real and they can actually feel in their hands. I have so many students, girls included, walk away with a project they can not believe they created. They started with a idea, sketched it out, created it with CAD program and go out into the shop and used real tools and machines to create it. Nothing is better than to see the kids faces light up.

    Someone in an earlier post mentioned something about failure. Kids need to fail or make a mistake once in a while. We need to teach kids to take chances and be creative... responsibly. We have put such a stigma on failure that kids will not even try. Failure is good... as long as you understand it and learn from it.

    I'm getting off on a tangent but go to TED talks ( and check out "Gever Tulley: 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do". Another good talk is "Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play".
    We are so stuck on testing our kids. We need to let the kids be young, creative students. They need to explore and learn!

    March 2, 2013 at 5:18 am |
    • kitcole

      My husband was a Vocational Agriculture teacher in rural mountain area of North Carolina. All of the students learned first hand how to build things in shop (and it was primitive work back then compared to now) and every student had a farm project. He spent many hours visiting each student in their home....some had a calf, others a pig, etc. And in shop they were able to build furniture and other items. He was very positive person and the students were drawn to him. He even set up new programs in schools that had none. Students in the back woods needed that kind of hands-on education. Some of their parents could not read or write, and many homes had no running water or indoor bathrooms.

      March 2, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Thomas

      I can't tell you how many times i have failed in the design of the robots that we make for the automation industry, we were the first to incorporate a true vision system onto a very high speed fully automatic muilti arm assembly robot a # of years ago believe me it did not work the first time or the second or the third or the fourth or will I think you get my point

      March 2, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  14. Jeannine Huffman want to make ... you cannot stop them!

    March 1, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  15. bruce thompson

    I was probably one of the first guys to program & produce 3-D objects...I used my Unimation Unimate 2005-F M.I.G. welding robot to scan and create an ashtray from memory...It looked like a bird nest but proved my point in 1981. I am so ready to get teaching now my certificate came in.

    March 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  16. Sadie DeMarta

    Just to inform everyone that Agriculture classes have not dropped off from Analy High School campus. The agriculture department is thriving and flourishing in so many arenas. The Agriculture did move rooms on campus but in NO shape or form has it been eliminated from this amazing school!

    March 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Hi Sadie! Thanks for clarifying - I've updated the story to reflect that point. Have a great weekend!

      March 1, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  17. Mary F

    Shop and FFA classes are alive and well in downstate IL. My son is welding, putting up drywall, painting, and changing oil for the buses and drivers education cars. For FFA they are juding animals, learning record keeping for crops, and they each have a money making project at the school for their Senior Trip. They built a float out of plywood and decorated with a Monopoly theme for homecoming parade. His dad has always told him its these life skills that are always going to get you through the good times and bad and save you some money along the way.

    March 1, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • kitcole

      My husband taught vo-ag in rural mountains of North Carolina – he formed one of the first FFA in the two schools where he was active. He took students to Regional and State meets – they learned so much that way – and had a good time.
      He was glad to be of help, even though he was not "paid" to be an FFA advisor. He felt it was a great way to help kids.

      March 2, 2013 at 9:55 am |
  18. John S. Weidl, City Administrator, Princeton, WI

    The innovative approaches described above are taking place all across the US. I believe that these programs are especially essential in rural areas where access to technology is often more limited in terms of funding and proximity.

    Princeton Public High School has partnered with a Red Fusion Studios, a local and fully integrated design and development firm, and the Koss Corp. to develop and implement a new program called CEED (pronounced ‘seed’), Collaborative Education in Engineering & Design. Eventually, the goal is a self-sustaining program that runs the spectrum from product ideation, industrial design, engineering, manufacturing and marketing.

    March 1, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  19. Norm

    I think this is a great idea. I can recall and incident a number of years ago with NASA when thier engineers and technicians had to come up with a way to fix a space capsule which was approaching the re-entry phase and had a very serious problem on board. They only had a few things to work with but they made it work and ended up saving the lives of three astronauts. Hollywood even made a movie about that. Creative thinking is what saved the day.

    March 1, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  20. Chase

    Just make sure that teachers that care about their jobs are hired. I had shop for first block and carpentry for second block. So I had half the day to sleep and smoke cigarettes basically.

    March 1, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • kitcole

      Chase, was that the teacher's fault or yours? Even with a "poor" teacher, a student can apply him or herself and learn. My husband taught vo-ag and had student's who were only in school because to drop out meant the family would not receive their welfare check. Those students were a "plague" in the classroom and disruptive. Was that the teacher's fault? There are two ways of looking at things – hope your experience in other classes was better. By the way – hope you are not still smoking cigs – bad for health!

      March 2, 2013 at 9:58 am |
  21. Sam Curcio

    Here's an idea for shop teachers. Use your 3D printers to produce parts for new printers to sell (or give away) to schools without printers. It teaches students skills in production, inventory control, and sales.

    March 1, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • alexfranke

      Even better: Have the kids research, source, and build the machine themselves, and then teach another school to do the same thing. We're doing that with a local elementary school, with the kids broken up into several teams, including accounting, materials, blogging, membership, making, and build planning. It's a fantastic project - we're also making our materials available.

      March 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
      • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

        That's great! What kinds of projects are they coming up with? Casey, the teacher I interviewed, mentioned that he's hoping to work out several "modules" that could be distributed to other educators leading maker spaces (or even just trying to get one started.) Of course, it requires time to get those things laid out and ready for distribution, and it sounds like they've had their hands full getting their space up and running.

        March 1, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  22. rogerfeeley

    I was a shop teacher for 8 years and got out. In my case I just didn't have the gift for teaching. But I stayed in touch and many wonderful shop teachers left over the years for a variety of reasons:

    - funding. Gotta have machines.
    - Dumping ground for behavior problems. The counselors would shuck their problem kids off to shop because they didn't know what else to do with them. Behavior issues + bandsaw = trouble.
    - Liability. One woodworking program in Colorado was told by the district that they couldn't have power tools because of insurance costs. They hand-cranked their bandsaw.
    - Lack of respect. You know all those posts about failing schools and how teachers are a bunch of union leeches. What do you think the good teachers do when they read that bile?
    - Better pay in industry. As posters here point out, there are jobs out there. You can make a lot more doing than you can teaching.

    Programs have been shutting down for lack of teachers (see above) and for liability issues. Also, No Child Left Behind doesn't account for skills with hammer and saw. As the vice closes on assessments and schools concentrate on what IS on the test, they ignore what isn't on the test.

    March 1, 2013 at 8:46 am |
  23. Grace

    While all this advanced voc training is a great idea, how about the basics? Electricians, plumbers, carpenters? So few coming up in the ranks that the company my husband works for as a Master Electrician is scrambling to find younger people to take the jobs of the older folks who are now retiring. Hubby has 40 yrs of experience to pass along and no one to pass it along to. In 10 yrs, when he and those of his generation have retired, there will be a real problem finding well trained experienced tradespeople. Already some companies are relaxing their rules and allowing those with less training to do the work legally permitted to only those with Masters' licenses. There are good livings to be made out there for those with some smarts and who like to be hands on with tools. Male and Female. The future may be in electronics but electronics will not run without electricity!

    March 1, 2013 at 4:54 am |
    • truebob

      I am a lifelong wood worker and all around mechanic and I also feel like I have a lifetime of knowledge and experience making and fixing things that has no real value to the next generation. The problem is that so much of what I can do used to be due to my expertise, equiptment and training, and now a novice can do it with instructions on the back of the quik-connect package from Home Depot. No more specialized tools, or master level skill required. Add to that the cheap disposable nature of so many component (cheaper to buy a new faucet or microwave than to repair the old one) and there is a shrinking demand for quality people.

      March 1, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Interesting point - I wrote a couple years ago about the idea of apprenticeship programs in the United States, and I suspect a system like that would address that need. I noticed Obama mention "those kids in Germany" in his State of the Union, which was a reference to the volume of apprenticeships there. There are clearly some challenges to implementing such a system here, but it seems it's getting more serious discussion right now. Here's a link to that story: Do you think this would help your husband, Grace?

      March 1, 2013 at 9:49 am |
      • archchuzzlewit

        Germany does have a number of apprenticeship programs. Some of them are great, some of them are terrible and just dumping grounds for "troublemakers". I like the idea of implementing some version here in the U.S. because there is absolutely NOTHING wrong, or bad, about learning a trade. We have to get over the idea that "vocational school" is a bad word. In all honesty, medical school and law school are (or are at least supposed to be) basically a vocational school, so why it is not okay for someone to go to school to learn to be a plumber or carpenter?

        March 1, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Jeff

      If you really want to find out whats behind the demise. look no farther than the parents. they dont want there kid working in a "dirty factory" they want them to go to college and be an IT guy or go into nursing. so they cut the funding in the shop programs and now they are gone,and there not coming back. the machinery that was sold of for pennies on the dollar are expensive to replace, so to think that were going to spend Hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the equipment needed is insane.

      March 1, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • kitcole

      Community Colleges are working on that idea – many now offer shop courses – electrician, plumber, construction, even beauty shop operations. Others offer health care courses and degrees such as Lab Tech and Pharmacy Tech – I think that is the way to go for students not motivated or who cannot afford regular college.

      March 2, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • aron


        March 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  24. Royal Flush

    Not everyone should or needs to go to college. There are many areas of the economy that need people trained to work with their hands.

    March 1, 2013 at 2:10 am |
    • truebob

      Not for long.

      March 1, 2013 at 7:45 am |
      • truebob

        ...and not for much money in the mean time.

        March 1, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • Don in Mo

      You're right Royal Flush – true bob hasn't called a plumber, electrician, air conditioning repair or carpenter in his life if he believes it's all low wage.

      March 1, 2013 at 9:13 am |
      • DLS

        Trades may not necessarily be low-wage, but a lot of them, especially the building trades are hard on your body. Almost all of my plumber/roofer/electrician etc. friends that are now in their mid 40's are looking to get out and do something else because of the toll their work has taken on their bodies.

        March 1, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  25. Amy Zimmer

    I love this. It is totally meeting the creative needs of the nation and is hitting the sweet spot on creativity and schooling. I love Shea's comment about failing being okay, and just part of the learning curve. Next Barack is going to be talking about Analy!

    March 1, 2013 at 1:31 am |
  26. Crop1981

    I'm a Research Agronomist with all three degrees from major Universities. I use my skills in biochemistry, physiology, statistics, language arts, tech writing and etc. daily along with typing, which was not a cool thing for a boy to take in high school. I also frequently use my skills in welding, shop tools and process, and farm power and machinary both on the job and at home. Out of some 70 plus other scientists at the research center where I work I'm one of maybe only five that can operate and repair the machinary we use in field research, saving time, research, and tax dollars in the process. Most of my fellow scientists are at the mercy of technicians that may or may not have time or the know how to get their work done. Our nation would be far better off if we spent less time teaching Shakespear an more time teaching shop.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  27. Philip Huff

    I have long agreed with the idea of industrial arts in schools. I took a sequence of six shop classes in the 7th grade, and took electric shop the rest of the time in jr high school, thru the 9th grade. One day in 8th grade electric shop I said, "I'm going into engineering". My goal was set, and I have worked as an electrical engineer for 50 years and counting, the last 25 as a consultant working from home. Hands on training is vital. Of course there were no computers then, and I didn't do much with electronics, but made things like 120 volt electric motors, some of which I still have.

    I feel it is vital to grab the interest of kids early, well before high school. I have a 7 year old grandson who is in the 2nd grade. Recently I visited his class, having asked the kids to all bring oranges. We made batteries from them and connected them in series. I told them a little of how batteries work, wrote vocabulary words on the board, and even did a little math. My grandson has visited my project sites since age 3, and wants to follow in my foot steps. He is attentive when the electricians and I explain how things work. I also take him to things like my dentist, so he can observe the procedures. The dentist knows him. My wife helps him with cooking and gardening. We do many other things with him. He loves math and science and likes to build things. In school he gets all A's except B's in cursive handwriting (what boy has beautiful handwriting?).

    Getting kids interested in something that can develop into a saleable skill requires the presence of parents (and grand parents). The schools can't do it all, especially with the hands on courses having been eliminated. I feel the minimum would be wood shop, and that in the lower grades. High school is really too late to generate much interest in such things as vocational work. Hence the need for a small high tech class as the article said.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Thomas

      Great share! I wish I had the good fortune to have better mentors when I was a kid !

      March 1, 2013 at 12:16 am |
    • archchuzzlewit

      Great post. Personally I only took woodshop (that's all we had) and we just made paddles...but that was back in the day at a Catholic school for "wayward boys".

      March 1, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  28. Vincent Turner

    Fifty years ago every town had two service stations each employing a dozen high school kids. They diagnosed and repaired cars. That was replicated a 100,000 times across America. That was education. Kids learn by measuring and manipulating the world with their hands. But the last palce that you can count on innovation will be in the schools.

    February 28, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • Patrick Biggerstaff


      I would like to personally invite you to visit Area 31 Career Center, in Indianapolis, IN. I am not sure when you last visited a premier U.S. high school, but your suggestion that "the last place that you can count on innovation will be in the schools" is more perception than truth. As a result of creative instructional design, increased performance expectations, and strategic relationships with postsecondary and industry partners, we are able to develop innovative and technically skilled graduates. As Steve Dewitt said in the above article, most of these students continue their education beyond high school. If you are unable to visit us in Indianapolis, please ask to visit your local school districts. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

      March 1, 2013 at 8:59 am |
  29. Keith

    There was shame painted upon folks in the 1980's who worked in the skilled trades. Remember when Bud Fox told his dad in Wall Street in how he looked like the Rotor Rooter man? If you look at the southeastern United States, manufacturing jobs are returning to include Boeing, KIA, Toyota and CAT. This is a trend which will increase as companies are looking to shorten their supply chain. If we can produce a new generation of workers with the required skill sets, we will see economic growth with jobs that will pay living wages. A white collar worker is no better than a blue collar worker and vice a versa. Hopefully we can get it right this time around...

    February 28, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
  30. bro

    this is great news, finally, maybe schools going the right direction, my high school two year machine shop classes prepared me for 42 years as a machinist, a career I never regretted and enjoyed so much,

    February 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
  31. Carl, Secaucus, NJ

    You hear that Germany still has a strong domestic manufacturing sector. I understand that's in part because they take vocational education seriously. All we did in my shop class was etch mirrors!

    February 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  32. movarth

    So will kids be suspended for printing guns?

    February 28, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  33. Stephen

    I think cutting all the hands-on classes was one of the worst things to happen to education. I am glad this school brought shop class back and in a high tech way. After all, it is the hands-on classes that make school worth coming to, whether it be shop, cooking, dance, art, music, drama, engineering, career tech education, computers, CAD, or other things. While reading and math are important, they aren't the only important subjects. Let's make restoring these electives a national priority, all we need are funding and the will of parents and school boards to make this a priority. If you look at how many schools have had their Career Tech labs closed, liquidated, shutdown, or re-purposed, it isn't even funny. Getting rid of the "teaching to the test model" of "No Child Left Behind" is long overdue.

    February 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  34. Susan

    I would love to see shop classes return to high schools. My son is a prime example of a student who would have found them useful. Instead he was forced onto the only path available when he started high school (in 2009) which was the university path. Well guess what - not every child is, or should be, on the university path. There will always be a need for people who do the "blue collar" or technical work. If everyone became a doctor, lawyer, engineer, professor, etc., who would build their homes, paint their walls, install their plumbing, pave their driveways, repair the cars . . . the list goes on. However, at the rate it is going, a lot of those highly educated people will find themselves having to figure out just how to do those things when they are unable to find jobs in their areas of expertise. They can't all be four year (or more) college graduates – and they do not all need to be. This area should never have been removed from the schools to begin with.

    February 28, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • egypt before the arabs

      migrants from south of the border. the pay is $ 100.00 a day 12 hrs. no medical or pension. they build most of the develepments. The contractors have the legal license, and cannot compete paying liveable wages so your kids can't work there. Union halls which teach for Free ( as all workers pay thru a payroll withholding ) welding, pipefitting,communications,mason,sheetrocking,electrical are being told by corporate america they are two expensive. Only if the workers take a 10-15 % pay cut will they get the work. They demand the give back of shift differentials, the pre approval of
      all overtime and the want to control your manpower levels. Here in the metro ny/nj area budweiser, bayway refinery,goldman,
      all have record profits and tremendous bonuses for upper management. the push down on wages is now the norm.
      these are non-goverment unions where you are layed off and return to the hall to shape up. Goverment union are completely different. Parents: Make your kids study banking and finance, international politics, high finance, U.N.poiltics, international finance. Get elected . Thats where the money is
      the rest of us will just survive

      March 10, 2013 at 11:24 pm |
  35. Ryan Miller

    In an ideal world all schools would be like a "Maker" factory where your course dictate what you learn and create.
    EVERYTHING would be hands on. You want to talk about a place to actually learn and gain passion for things that would be it. I was fortunate to have shop class in my high school and although at the time I didn't appreciate it as much as I probably should, the funny thing is I remember almost everything I made and still have a few things I did! How cool is that??

    February 28, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  36. Jonquil

    This is so exciting! It feels so fresh and forward thinking. My little brother went to a technical high school, even though other people discouraged him; they thought it wasn't academically focused, enough. It turns out that it was the balance of pure theory and hands-on experimentation that served him best. He graduated as class Salutatorian (he could've been Valedictorian, except he'd also started working part-time at 16 years old). He chose a State college because it was more financially sensible than a private one, graduated with a degree in "Mechanical Engineering" and is already advancing to Senior Engineer in his mid 20's.

    Taking away the "skills" classes, like Shop and Home Economics, has left a void in development in our young people, has perpetuated a throwaway culture where people can't problem solve in a hands-on way and barely know how to nourish their families. There needs to be balance in education, a more holistic approach.

    February 28, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  37. BlueCollarJoe

    I think this is a great idea. When I was in High School, I was bored in almost all of my "normal" classes. It was not that I did not know or understand the material, but that I was just bored sitting there and being lectured by (normally) a monotone speaker spewing out massive reams of facts and figures. Only if a subject really held my attention like Physics, Chemistry or Humanities did I really pay attention. Most of the time I would up "designs" in my head and end up doodling them on my paper that I was suppossed to be taking notes on. However, I did really well in classes like Drafting. I was able to create a project in my head, make a design and make it work then build it. It challenged me to think outside the box, problem solve and create solutions far more than most of the classes I took. I think these classes not only teach a skill set that we are lacking, but are benificial to teaching critical thinking. However, one of the biggest factors in "shop" classes that students and people in general need to get over is – "Shop is only for those students not smart enough for the normal classes, and that is the only way they can graduate". Fast forward twenty years later and I use a lot of the critical thinking skills that I developed in those classes everyday for my job.

    February 28, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  38. Richard

    Nice to see some form of project learning available to youngsters. As a former "shop teacher" I was in the classroom when the educational wisdom dictated that we would sweep up the sawdust carry out the machines and put down carpet and install computers. We lost more that day than we gained.....

    February 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  39. Jean Westcott

    My husband and I wrote a book on electronics for students and hobbyists. In doing our research we saw that California had a modern electronics curriculum. The marrying of electronics, mechanics & coding opens up a whole new world of creative invention to kids. Prices are coming down on sophisticated tools and the know how is manageable to learn. Get kids creating things that can move and that can follow instructions; talk about inspiring!

    February 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  40. Bob_Kansas

    Throughout our recent economic crisis I heard numerous times that one of the reasons manufacturing jobs were outsourced was because the U.S. didn't have enough skilled workers to build a companies product. This isn't a problem that just showed up. 20-30 years ago reports were predicting this very outcome and yet no one paid enough attention to try and help solve the problem. Instead, programs such as this were minimized to the point of non-existence to make way for the new teaching requirements that had complete focus on test scores as a means of showing progess in education. The educational reformers seemed to have a knee jerk reaction to lack of education progress and threw out the baby with the bath water. Good test scores and hands on learning are both needed to create a well balanced, educated workforce. Excluding one will eventually have a negative affect on the other. To support this: I worked for a company that couldn't hire enough skilled manufacturing workers to meet customer demand. I was included in this decision process and can guarantee that the final decision wasn't based on cost of labor or poor employee performance; it came down to the fact we couldn't get enough workers to build the requried product. 750 manufacturing jobs were outsourced to another country (mostly hands on learning), but when the ax finally stopped falling another 250 support and engineering jobs were also lost (mostly higher test scores). Our educational system shouldn't be an either/or situation for the students. It should be a well balanced education with opportunity to explore all aspects of learning and then let the student make a decision on which direction they want to persue. Before anyone jumps off the deep end screaming that there isn't any funding available; read this article again and see how at least one school made it work.

    February 28, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bob_Kansas

      I want to apologize for some of the wording in my post. Where i say "mostly higher test scores" I meant to say "probably some college education or college degree".

      February 28, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  41. Jason Sprenger

    Skills gaps are emerging in today's economy, and a solution that’s proven to make a difference in helping the economy thrive is investing in career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs, whether at the secondary, post-secondary or other educational level, boost student achievement and deliver increased career and earning potential. CTE also produces workers for the open jobs of today, and boosts business productivity and economic status as a result. This is just one example of a program around the country that's working in this area today.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new organization of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate/kick off CTE programs that work to curb the problem. For more information, or to join the effort, visit the IWNC website.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

    February 28, 2013 at 11:56 am |
  42. Engineer

    The sad fact is that most high school students do not even know what engineer is. I'm 24 and when I was in my senior year of high school when everyone was discussing what their college major would be, when I told kids I was going into engineering they would look at me and say, "you're gonna drive trains?" with a puzzled look. The reason I knew about engineering is because my father is one. I remember vividly how it was stressed to kids that they should want a liberal arts degree and how it would reflect your intellectualism. I was near the top of my class and had to watch as my classmates got into these small liberal arts colleges like a Bowdoin or Colby and had to listen to all the parents gawk over how impressed they were and would put these kids on a pedestal. It wasn't until graduating that I got the satisfaction that none of those kids were able to get good jobs, or were forced to go to grad school. I also got the satisfaction that when I saw kids and parents from my town at that point, engineering went from this obscure and inglorious profession to, "oh wow you must be really smart" or they would amaze at how impressive it was. I graduated having developed a new stroke rehabilitation device that was patented, had no issues finding a job, and work in the medical device industry where my company can't hire people fast enough because it is growing too fast. People say there aren't jobs anymore and that's simply false, it's just that the jobs have shifted away from the service industry.

    February 28, 2013 at 11:26 am |
    • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

      Interesting point. Were there any opportunities in your K-12 years to do hands-on work - projects that might have felt like the first steps to creating, building, engineering? Would you have used a space like this, and do you feel like your school would have supported it?

      February 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Thomas

      I am also am engineer, it is hard to believe that they did not know what am engineer was in you high school

      March 2, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  43. Brian Thetford

    I LOVE this. Here is a news flash, not every kid in the Country needs to go to a 4 year college. However, every kid should have the opportunity to understand how a motor works, a table saw is used, and how a plasma cutter, and a welding machine work. It is these vocations that literally hold this country together, if you like your BMW, your Hi tech gadgets, your furniture, your house, and your building you work in, you can thank the people in these vocations for building them, and keeping them running and repaired. High School is the first opportunity for a kid to be exposed to these types of skills, and for some it could be a life changing event. This is a step in the right direction.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Jason

      Agreed! This is pretty cool. Get's young folks interested in building, tinkering and creating. Also helps show the practical side of math and science education which was sorely lacking when I was in HS. Math never really clicked with me until I had a physics lab class where we built and tested experiments to confirm the mathematical formulas we learning. I went from a D math student to an B. This really could be life changing for a lot of young people.

      February 28, 2013 at 11:16 am |
      • jgumbrechtcnnCNN

        Nice, Jason! Once it clicked, did it help steer you into a career?

        February 28, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  44. Good Idea

    Gawd forbid HS students learn something marketable.

    February 28, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  45. Mary Leonhardt

    As a high school English teacher for 37 years, I think this is a wonderful idea. I remember the old shop classes from when I first started teaching. Having them right in the high school meant that even academically advanced kids could take time out for a drafting or auto repair class. Now the classes are all closed down. Even the computers that kids use during the day are so locked up with security systems that kids can't learn anything about how computers really operate.

    There have been a lot of losses due to this mania for testing and canned curriculum; this is all just one more.

    February 28, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • Philip Huff

      Mary, I appreciate what you said. In my comment below I wrote only about vocational education and how important it is to grab the kids' attention when they are young, not wait until high school. As an electrical engineer with 50 years' experience, I sometimes talk to future engineers and emphasize the importance of writing, using proper grammer and spelling. While I did reasonably well in high school English grammar and literature, I did not really recognize the value of writing skills until I started writing specifications. Often I review plans prepared by other engineers. Usually they have spelling and grammar mistakes, and my feeling is, 'what else is wrong with the plans'? I think one reason my 7 year old grandson does so well in school is that for years he has sat on my lap as I do my work, and verbalize whatever I am doing. He has his own AutoCAD drawing. He sees the value of quality work.

      February 28, 2013 at 10:34 pm |