STEM’s Shop Class Trades Woodworking for Motherboard Building

A Minnesota school high school swaps birdhouse construction for cutting edge computer building assignments.


Building a birdhouse might have been a worthwhile vocation skill in the 1970s, but as the vacuum of construction sector’s free fall is filled by STEM jobs, shop class needs a reboot. Minnesota’s Lewston-Altura school district is now giving students hands-on experience with the very circuit boards that power the technology world. Building computers in shop class is an innovative move that makes school more relevant, reduces costs, and gives girls confidence that they can, literally, construct the future of computers.

The mass undertaking had its roots in a simple problem: “Technology Director Gene Berg was setting up a new computer lab several years ago, four of the 24 new computers didn’t work,” reports NBC affiliate, WBIR news. The problem inspired Berg to turn to students to solve the problem. What began with a few fixed computers expanded into a full-fledged lesson. Now, Shop class includes a computer section where students learn about “components, rebuilding, and upgrading.”

Aside from the obvious benefit of introducing students to technology, the district discovered two other major bonuses:

1. Cost Savings

“Students fix about 70 computers during the session,” says the report. “Over the years, that’s added up to hundreds of computers, and thousands of dollars the district’s saved, all while educating the students.” Cash-strapped schools have increasingly turned to free or low-cost online tools, but this seems like one of the first student-powered solutions.


2. Girl Power

Unlike universities, high schools have few electives, offering one can be tantamount to requiring a large portion of the school to learn the subject. Inevitably, that means a sizable chunk of the female student body will be installing circuit boards along side their male counterparts. The report profiled two particular girls fixing a computer; “You usually think of technology as a man area,” one teenager said, and, immediately, her colleague jumped in, adding, “Like, women can do stuff men can do!” Yes, they can, and Lewston-Altura is on the forefront of helping all students understand their role in the future of our changing economy.

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[Image: Flickr user Patrick McConahay]

About the author

I am a writer and an educator. As a writer, I investigate how technology is shaping education, politics, Generation Y, social good, and the media industry.