If only we had 1,000 more teachers like Trevor Smith, I think the future of woodworking would be safe and sound.
Smith, a physics teacher at Troy High School in Michigan and an avid woodworker, manages to weave the craft into his curriculum in surprising ways. And after spending a day with Smith and his students, I think that what the world needs is more boomerangs.
All of the students in Smith’s Physics II classes make functional boomerangs to learn the principles of airfoils and flight. They make them using high-density plywood, a band saw, a spindle sander and a few files and rasps.
Most of these high school kids have never had any woodshop experience. Smith surveys his students about their woodshop experience, and when he asks if they know what files are for, the most common answer is: fingernails.
But after a few weeks in the shop, the students are like pros. We spent a morning session with a class in the school’s woodshop where Smith’s students refined their boomerangs with files and sanding. They ran the band saw and spindle sanders like shop rats. I was even amused to see how several of them had mastered clamping with handscrews (something that even old pros struggle with).
Then the students took their boomerangs out onto the field after lunch and threw them for about an hour. Most of them worked remarkably well.
But the best part of the whole project was how enthusiastic the students were about the project. Many of them decorated their boomerangs, and Smith says they carry them around in their backpacks and even trade and sell the things.
Near the end of the school day, one student brought three boomerangs into the classroom; two of them were completed and one still needed work.
That was the one her father was making. Her dad had gotten so excited about the project that he wanted to make one.
“That happens all the time,” Smith says. “The kids are so enthusiastic about their boomerangs that the parents or the grandparents start making them, too.”
I must have seen about 50 boomerangs on Thursday, but I definitely had a favorite. It was made by Will Schwarz, who plays on the football team at Troy High School. He said his nickname on the field is “The Schwarz,” and so he gave his boomerang the same name.
We’ll be publishing a complete story on Smith, plus plans for boomerangs, in the October 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking, which goes on sale Sept. 1.
– Christopher Schwarz