by Dr. David Devier
President, Glen Oaks Community College

Some of you may already know that I am a technology teacher – what we used to call “shop teacher.” I have taught literally thousands of students over the past 42 years.  I continue to teach a “Manufacturing Processes” course each semester.  The one sure thing I know is that students learn better if there are hands-on activities that reinforce “book learning.”   Many of you can relate to this fact based on your experience in school technology and/or Career and Technical Education offerings.

The unfortunate situation in K-12 education today is that many of these “Classes” have been eliminated from schools.  The pressure to have all students load up on “core” college-prep courses has pushed many of the traditional “doing” offerings such as shop, music, art, business, and consumer science off to the wayside. The focus of this piece is on technology courses or lack thereof, but one can also lament the loss of art, business, and consumer science.  All of these subjects were offered for decades in all schools and only in the past decade have they been eliminated.

The importance of applying hands-on activities to reinforce learning was well supported in a recent research report, “Learning Better by Doing: The Final Report of an ITEEA/FTEE Research Project, 2018.”  In section one, “Doing: A National Education Imperative,” the researcher provides the results of an earlier study; “Learn Better by Doing,” which surveyed 5,900 K-12 teachers of science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) concerning their use of doing activities to help students learn.

Just a few of the findings from the study will be listed here but the significant influence of all activities will be apparent.

  • Over 99 percent (5,877 of 5,910) STEM teachers feel that their students benefit by doing activities.
  • Over 94 percent of the teachers would have their students do more doing activities if they had time and resources.
  • More doing activities are carried out in the technology and engineering classes (75 percent) as compared to science and math classes.
  • Students are engaged in design and modeling in technology and engineering classrooms at a significant rate (80%) (pages 3-7)

While not directly cited in the study, the doing courses surely provide K-12 students with important career interest activities.  As we struggle in St. Joseph County to attract students to pursue CTE subjects while in high school and after the almost complete absence of technology lab courses in our schools create a vacuum of experience that leads to hands-on careers.

It might be easy for the reader to agree with the facts presented here and say, “What can we do about it?”  This writer suggests that parents and educational leaders, school board members, and employers band together to cause “doing” courses exposing students to as many career paths in such areas as machining, welding, robotics, HVAC, auto/diesel tech, wood tech, computer aided design, information technology, including hardware and programming, and all the medical fields to be re-introduced.

Our employers are experiencing a significant shortage of skilled workers for their well-paying positions that do not require a four-year college degree as cited above in what we used to call the “trades.”  If we do not determine how to prepare more students via CTE and GOCC technical training, we will slowly lose our industrial base and millions of dollars from our local economy.

GOCC is ready to do its part in this mission by providing space and equipment for technical programming for hosted CTE offerings and certificates and associate degree majors in these important career pathways.  But much needs to be done to build K-12 offerings in middle and early high school to acquaint student with their options leading to a life-supporting income in exciting hands-on careers.  Let’s work together; parents, teachers, administration, GOCC-CTE, to bring back “learning by doing” in our local educational settings.

If you are interested in helping with this endeavor; please contact me at ddevier@glenoaks.edu or (269) 467-9945.