Monday, July 15, 2013

Chapter 3: Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew B. Crawford

"To Be Master of One's Own Stuff"

A couple of things came to mind as I was reading this chapter.

#1 The "Idiot Light": Lots of things in life have been simplified, maybe even over-simplified (at least to the common person). Not only do we have "service needed" and "check engine" lights in our cars, but we now have cars that will park themselves, brake if an object is in the blind spot, and start without a key in the ignition. While these are wonderful amenities for people, they take away all of the hands on skills. One of my family's close friends is the owner of Bangor Radiator. He commonly comments on how much more complicated it is to work on cars, even simply changing the oil, because of how complex cars have become.

#2 "The Problem of Technology": Going along with my first point, technology has made things easy for people, especially the children in our classrooms who have grown up with this incredible tool. Technology is incredibly beneficial, don't get me wrong, but it has also made some of the younger generation lazy (for lack of a better word). I remember during my first year of teaching, I was doing a vocabulary lesson with my LA class. Part of the activity required students to look up synonyms/antonyms for the word "cronies". As always, students used the online Miriam-Webster Dictionary. When students looked up the word, they were able to find the definition and synonyms, but it did not list any antonyms. Rather than take 2 seconds to think about an antonym for "friend", students quickly whined that there were no antonyms.

Technology can give you almost anything with the click of the button, or now the voice command, but many people use it without ever thinking how it works.  Thinking back to STI at the end of June, one of the things I remember hearing in an afternoon session is that one of the most useful skills we can teach our students is about coding. Technology isn't going away, so why not teach them how computers, cell phones, iPods, etc. work. Teach them how to fix problems, rather than relying on Best Buy or Apple, or even spending money to replace the device. If technology is going to run our lives, we should learn how to run it!


  1. Ilyse-- I love your point about teaching our learners how technology works so that we have a better understanding of how to use and fix it. I bought a new car last week and I opted against a very nice brand new one that had a built in GPS and several other features because I saw all the added bonuses as things that could potentially go wrong and cost a lot of money to find someone trained to fix them.

    Part of my district's vision is that we will give our learners "voice and choice" in the classroom. The last two chapters have really made me think about the types of choices that I'm giving my learners. Realistically, showing me that you can add integers by doing a worksheet, a book assignment, or an IXL lesson provides very limited options. As Crawford says these are all "playground safe options" (Kindle page 69). Really, learners have to pick the lesser of three 3 evils and get it done, so it's not any more customized than the traditional classroom.I was new to the district last year and I think that this approach was a good starting point, but I want to do so much more.

    I also liked Crawford's point that "choosing is not creating"(Kindle page 67 & 68). We know that giving learners choice increases their motivation, but I would much rather my learners be motivated through a more challenging taxonomy level that also increased engagement and the quality of the work.

    1. Maybe you could consider getting your students input on creative ways they could show they know a certain Math skill. For example, when my students got to angles I had them practicing online and doing worksheets. As the teacher, I found that boring so I asked the students if they had any unique ideas. I had a few myself but they came up with designing stadiums or buildings and measuring the angles, making a name tag and measuring the angles in their name, and a few others. I know with Standards based your students have a specific standard they need show proficiency in before moving on. After we unpack the standard, I brainstorm ideas with the students about how they can show me they know the standard. They would often suggest the same ideas over and over but you can say not this time(for example keynote and making comic strips were nominated essentially every time). Anyway, my point is, your students themselves are a great resource to help you come up with creative, new ideas.

  2. Oh- I also forgot to mention that I saw on CBS Sunday morning news a clip about scientists and doctors teaming up to use a 3D printer that prints cartilage and can create human body parts (this clip talks about ears). It's not a very long clip, but definitely cool!

  3. Lindsay, I like your point about choice for students. I find this an especially powerful tool in reading. It is tough to get some (maybe most) students to read, but by giving them choice through the reading workshop model I've found that even my lowest and most reluctant readers can find an author or series that they are interested in reading. I also try to give choice when it comes to final projects, how students want to display their knowledge. If I can't give choice I like to vary things, so that it's not always paper/pencil tests. Choice is definitely a valuable tool.

  4. When I started reading this chapter, I was thinking, “yep. That’s me. I am very dependent on other people to fix my car.” When something is wrong with my car, I call my dad and/or the garage to help fix it. I have no idea what is wrong with it, and I’m the type of person who just wants it fixed.

    That being said, I am self-reliant in many other aspects of my life. I agree with Illyse when she mentions that we need to teach students how to fix problems and understand how the technology works. We rely on it so much, it would be better if we were self reliant instead of reliant on other people to fix the problems. I think that is true for many things, including technology. I really try to teach students how to be self-sufficient and be independent.

    A quote that stuck out to me is “choosing is not creating.” Choosing different accessories to be creative is not unique. Creating something is truly unique. I’m trying to think of ways to apply that to my classroom…

    Also, I didn't actually see the airing of it, but they were talking about 3D printers on WCSH6. They are definitely getting more public attention!

  5. It's funny Crawford used the example of the guy who goes into the dealership to have his car fixed and they essentially tell him it's not worth fixing up. Last Summer I had a similar incident with my wife's Blazer. We were told it was going to cost more than we wanted to pay for it to pass inspection. So, we put it up for sale. The place we had it inspected had given us a list of things that needed to be fixed to pass inspection and I was showed the list to whoever came calling. Well, one guy showed up claiming to be a guy who fixed up Blazer's as a hobby. He starting crawling around under the Blazer, checking this and that, took it for a spin and then came back and told me all the other things he thought were wrong with it, in a tone that suggested I was trying to pull one over on him. I told him I didn't know enough about cars to trick anyone and he left. I was pretty angry for two reasons: 1. The dude had questioned my integrity. I know there's a lot of dishonest people out there but my problem is the opposite - I'm too honest sometimes. And 2. I had no idea if what he was saying or what the inspection shop had printed off were true. I actually felt pretty inept.

    I'm one of those people who wishes he knew more than he does about mechanical stuff. I know enough to pull pieces off my lawn mower and put it back together but can only diagnose so much. I know enough to know when to ask someone else for help but not enough to go too far and make a mess of things. I'm thinking of going upto KVCC and seeing if they offer something. Crawford talks about the differences between creating or actually interacting and fixing your machines as opposed to just choosing unique accessories for someone else to install. At some point I'd like to be a creator, a fixer not just a chooser. Maybe the mower would be a good, safe place to start!

  6. It is amazing that we are being pushed farther and farther away from being able to fix our stuff.

    I tell the kids there is a huge difference being a USER vs a Creator/Programmer.

    Who has more power?

    And I am always amazed at when people ask me "How did you learn to do that?" either my computer or mechanical knowledge around my car.

    I just say... I tried it... if I could teach my students anything it would be the ability to trouble shoot.

    The most amazing thing is the experts are now at your finger tips.

    I just replaced my front disk brakes on my truck.... my wife was standing there holding our ipad while I watched a step by step video on how to do it....