Patti RasmussenThe SignalPauline HarteRichard RiouxTim WhyteLeon Worden

Middle school students acquire basics in shop class

Patti Rasmussen · October 11, 1997

"Every child should learn to wire a lamp -- simple electricity."

I have been hearing that statement from my friend Ken Hasler, shop teacher at Placerita Junior High, since our two oldest sons were in kindergarten (both are now in their second year of college). Three of my boys took some sort of shop class in seventh or eighth grade, and although I never really knew what went on in those classes, I always loved the lamps and cutting boards they brought home. I still use them.

Junior high (or middle school) students are offered a wide variety of electives classes. Depending on their interests, they can chose from subjects such as home economics, drama, aviation and photo. These classes usually offer a small diversion from the required academics and can be a lot of fun.

Curious to know what the shop students are learning these days, I paid a visit to Mr. Hasler's first period electricity class. At Placerita I met Adam Williams, a seventh-grader who was sitting in the doorway waiting for class to begin. In his hands he held some sort of electrical contraption and patiently explained to me that his assignment was to wire this switch to some sort of plug and then take it all apart and re-wire this to that and "if the light comes on, you get an A." Uh-huh.

Why did he chose to take this elective? "I thought it would be fun," said Williams. Was it? "Oh yeah," he said, "next we get to wire a sound-activated robot car!"

Mr. Hasler arrives and I file into room 401 with fifteen teenagers, all boys. After roll call, morning announcements and waiting for a few stragglers to settle in, Hasler gets down to the business of explaining how total voltage drop must equal the input voltage. I was definitely getting lost in the technical verbiage until he explained how, while visiting Europe, he built a contraption that split the 220v in half so he could use his electric razor that required 110v. Now THAT was a practical use of voltage splitting!

Soon the class lecture turned to resistors, copasitators and transistors (I vaguely remember something out of Back to the Future that used all these things). The boys in the class, while not riveted to the lecture, seem to understand how to sink a transistor better so than I. After the lecture came the fun part -- the hands-on work. Out came the tool boxes, the soldering irons and the transistor boards needed to build the voice-activated cars.

I'm sure there are girls who would love to do some soldering and splitting -- "they all dropped out," according to student Scott Drapeau -- and I watched these boys attack this project with gusto during the last twenty minutes of class time. Some were still working on wiring that light bulb, but it was easy to see that the fun part was burning, soldering and making things go. With five minutes left, the boys were required to clean the shop and lock up their projects; then it was out the door and off to their second period class.

Hasler believes that basic electricity and basic carpentry are "life skills." William S. Hart Union High School District concurs. Currently, the Hart District has industrial art classes in place at every junior and senior high campus, but according to Dr. Gary Wexler, traditional shop classes are slowly being pushed aside as more emphasis is placed on academics. In an effort to balance the two, Hart District offers ROP (Regional Occupational Program) classes in high school. Efforts are also being made to bring shop classes into the 21st century with the addition of robotics. (Mr. Hasler has already added this lesson for his advanced students.)

At Placerita, the shop teachers receive strong support from principal Rob Gapper. Gapper realizes that the requests of parents for mandated classes such as keyboarding, and the addition of Spanish, has left less class time for the shop classes.

While academics are certainly the top priority in our middle schools, we parents need to remember that these students are twelve and thirteen years old. It's great that they have an opportunity to take Algebra in eighth grade, but we should also give them balance with some of the basic life skills that shop classes offer.

Encourage your son or daughter to enroll in one and you'll be pleasantly surprised how much math is used while creating or building projects. The skills they acquire will last them a lifetime.

As Mr. Hasler said, "When the earthquake caused $35,000 damage to my home, I called for help in repairing it. Not one person showed up with a computer."

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Patti Rasmussen's commentaries appear in The Signal on Saturdays.

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