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Contemporary Industrial Arts

Posted by Earl Powell on

Contemporary Industrial Arts

How should a contemporary Industrial Arts program be structured? We can’t simply pick-up where we left off decades ago. But today we can provide several examples of what the Industrial Arts programs of old could have evolved into over the decades and can suggest models for contemporary Industrial Arts programs. While an effort to envision what could have happened can only be speculative, there are many clues, examples, and arguments to made regarding today's Industrial Arts, as seen in today's STEM and STEAM programs.

Paul Hewett’s approach to teaching physics was to focus on the ideas of physics rather than the often daunting mathematics. Why exclude students from science because they didn’t have the exposure and/or aptitude to execute the computational rigor often required. The conceptual presentation of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics are fundamental to today's STEM and STEAM programs, particularly in the lower grades.

It has been suggested that a major differentiator between humans and the other species is their use of tools. In 1968 Stuart Brand published the first “Whole Earth Catalog”, this spectacular publication exposed me to tools and then went further to provide access to tools. The human desire to use and have access to tools has long been demonstrated by the large tool sections in all the “Big Box” lumber and hardware stores. The problem of not knowing how to use tools has resulted in cries of, “bring back shop class”. People remember that in shop class you could learn how to use tools and “make stuff”.

At the new millennium we started to see the new phenomena of “maker spaces”, and the “maker movement”. My first exposure to makerspaces and the maker movement was at the Techshops in Silicon Valley. Today there are more than 2,000 makerspaces that are answering the call to bring back shop class. For years I have been suggesting the connection between the Industrial Arts of old and the current makerspace, maker movement. The makerspaces of today are different from the old shop classes in that the technology has changed, making them more relevant to a digital technology and a global economy. Today's digital tools are safer, lower cost, more relevant than the typical shop class tools of the past. Low cost multi-axis automation systems and digital manufacturing systems are readily avail as training platforms. Today you can buy 3D printers for $200USD, and Chromebook computers that require little administration for under $200. Arduino boards are $20 for schools. Cloud based 3D Modeling and other applications are readily available for free. There has never been a lower cost of entry to a digital education.

I want to finish this introduction to a contemporary Industrial Arts program with my most imaginative incarnation of what it could have been if we vigorously and enthusiastically continued to support Industrial Arts to today. By far my favorite example would be Arts et Métiers ParisTech founded in 1780 in France. The literal translation is “Art and Craft ParisTech”. It is acknowledged as being the leader of French higher education in the fields of mechanics and industrialization. I visited the Cluny campus of Arts et Métiers ParisTech years ago and was immediately overwhelmed by the feeling that “this is it”, “this is what it could have been.'' The missing piece might have been predicted by physicist Paul Hewitt when he suggested a strong conceptual foundation in physics would better equip the student’s understanding of the equations and formulas in their more advanced studies. It may seem fanciful to think that a fully supported Industrial Arts program could compare to an institution like Arts et Métiers ParisTech in just four of five decades, but maybe not!

  • Techshop
  • Maker Movement
  • Maker Spaces
  • Conceptual Physics
  • Paul G. Hewitt
  • Arts et Métiers ParisTech
  • STEM
  • STEAM
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