Students and teachers in the United States unite, you have nothing to lose but your boring textbooks (apologies to Karl Marx)! A revolution is in the Making -- pun intended! We must overthrow the dull, unimaginative educational processes that have sent so many of us running from the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). It won’t be easy; the present system has centuries of tradition and billions of dollars behind it. A direct onslaught won’t win this revolution ... we’re going to have to become subversives! Or, as Dale Doughterty, founder of Make Magazine and Co-Founder of Maker Faire put it last month at the 9th Annual Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA.,“I could probably make it easier for all of us if I said that [Making] aligns perfectly with all the educational standards and all the mainstream thought in education … But I think it’s actually subversive ... subversive because it’s causing change, and innovation … It’s a desire to change the way things are, and making in schools needs to be subversive if we’re going to invite kids to actually do things that are meaningful to them.”
Mr Doughterty’s words came back to me the other evening while watching a documentary on Public TV about training workers to build BMW’s in an up-to-date plant in one of the Carolinas.
Manufacturing, moribund in the US for the better part of the last 50 years, is making a comeback. But this isn’t, as advertisers used to say about the Pontiac car, 'your father’s manufacturing.' This manufacturing doesn’t depend on the sweat of your brow or the strength in your arm, but rather the gray matter between your ears.
The auto workers weren’t grunting, groaning and getting greasy and dirty as in days of yore; no, the robots under their control were doing the dirty work of welding auto body parts and doing it faster and more accurately than any man or woman ever could. The human workers held electronic test equipment rather than wrenches. As one young lady pointed out, “I never get dirty!” That’s right, 'Making Things' is the new 'White Collar!'
But we have a problem in this country before the new white collar paradigm can be implemented completely. That was one of the things that the documentary discussed: in manufacturing as in everything else our students spend too much time in a classroom looking at pictures and text and not enough learning to make things. This results in many dropping out of school early from boredom. They need education that is relevant to their lives and relevance for many is not found on the printed page. This documentary’s answer was the old European apprentice system allied with our community colleges.
Under this system the students labor as they learn and at the end of their two years they walk away with an Associates Degree and a good job with an involved manufacturer -- in this case BMW. That’s great! Problem is, there just aren't enough of these programs to supply the necessary employees for existing jobs in the greater economy, much less future employment needs, and the apprentice system is expensive and therefore limited to manufacturers who can afford to pay for it. That’s going to leave out a whole lot of smaller companies that actually make up the bulk of the hirings countrywide, to say nothing of future startups looking for employees with experience in making things. That means going foreign in their search for employees. That’s why a real revolution in K-12 education is underway here in America.
Makerbot, maker of the revolutionary Makerbot 3D printer is one of the subversive elements leading that revolution. Makerbot has sworn to put a 3D printer in every school in America with its Makerbot Academy and the help of crowdfunder Donorschoose which allows teachers countrywide to request Makerbot 3D printers for their classrooms. RobotsLAB’s own STEM BOT is yet another subversive element that will help revolutionize STEM education in America. The STEM BOT curriculum explains how to print a robot, assemble it and program it using SCRATCH. On to the barricades, brothers and sisters!