Prescott, Arizona is loaded with young men and women excited about
woodworking, thanks to woodshop instructor Tom
Bockman. While high school woodworking programs
have been under siege nationwide in recent years,
enrollment in Prescott High School’s woodshop program
has quadrupled, requiring the addition of new
classes and a second teacher.
There’s more. Tom’s students are respected at
school and throughout the city. Woodshop students
develop conceptual and business skills. They learn
the value of teamwork and experience the satisfaction
of community service involvement. When we
talked, Tom eagerly shared his teaching strategies.
You’ve been teaching for 28 years.
What was it like when you started?
I was blissfully unaware of what I was getting into.
Woodworking was popular, so it wasn't hard to attract
students. But when Arizona authorized charter
schools, about a dozen small, alternative high schools
quickly appeared in town. To keep my classes filled, I
had to learn how to successfully compete for students.
How do you explain your
program’s amazing success?
Good publicity has been one of the most valuable
tools for strengthening our program. Parent and student
interest spikes whenever woodshop activities are
spotlighted, so when my students do great things, I
make sure they get noticed. Over the years, our program
has benefited from dozens of local newspaper
articles. We’ve even been featured in magazines and
How do other faculty members
view your woodshop program?
Positively. I make every effort to connect woodworking
with academics, because I’m convinced that woodworking helps my students learn how to
think. Studies show that hands-on experience
makes it easier for many students to understand
abstract concepts. For example, using a try
square to draw a 3-4-5 triangle helps to illustrate
the Pythagorean theorem.
Earlier this year, mathematics students studying
probability visited the woodshop to make
spinners, like the one used in a Bingo game.
Woodshop students used lasers to produce
parts for the math students to assemble.
During the activity many math students told me
“this is cool!”
Why do you promote student involvement in
community service projects?
Involving students in service projects is a top
priority, because it helps them develop the habit
of good citizenship. These large projects also
emphasize the value of teamwork. Part of each
team’s job is to analyze and solve problems that
arise during the project, and these challenges
help students learn to think creatively.
Developing individual projects is no different.
I encourage students to create their own designs
instead of relying on printed plans or patterns.
Designing a project helps a student develop
thinking and problem-solving skills.
Because of our reputation, community members
freely suggest challenging service projects.
They know the terrific capabilities of woodshop
student teams. Recently, student teams worked
with the fire department to install smoke alarms
in the homes of residents who depend on “Meals
on Wheels.” Teams have completed educational environmental displays and constructed new furniture
for the school board’s meeting room.
They’ve built trophy cases for both middle
schools and even a wishing well—a community
“thank you” gesture to the founder of the international
“Make-A-Wish” Foundation, who lives
Do students ever profit from their work?
Of course. The chance to make money can be
a great motivator. Woodshop students sell projects
to libraries, furniture stores, city government
and private citizens. Connecting with local
businesses gives woodshop students a chance to
learn business skills and profit from creativity
and hard work. Some students set up their own
businesses, making pens for example, or laserengraved
We also help our students develop employable
skills. I encourage local industries to provide
opportunities for on-the-job training, internships
and apprenticeships. Many of my students
have gone on to work in cabinet shops and other
woodworking-related industries; others have
become business owners.
What role does new technology play?
Students embrace technology, so a woodshop
full of cool new equipment attracts them like
moths to a flame. Using state-of-the-art equipment
helps students understand the changing
nature of woodworking. New acquisitions also
keep our program in compliance with state
Department of Education requirements and
standards. Recently, our program received a
state grant to obtain a computer-operated laser
engraver—my students love using this machine;
it never sits idle. Donations from the Prescott
Area Woodturners Club allowed purchasing a
How do you attract new students?
Well, that’s the $64,000 question. I actively
recruit new students, and I use the best salespeople
I’ve got: woodshop veterans. Before 8th
grade students register for high school, they
attend an open house to learn about our Career
and Technical Education (CTE) programs. I
have woodshop students make the case for
The 8th-graders also receive an interactive CD
with information about each CTE program. Both
parents and students tell me the woodshop presentation
is very effective. It includes digital photography,
video, documents and sound to deliver the message that woodshop is cool.
Historically, attracting young women into woodworking
hasn’t been easy. And now governmental
standards require achieving 30% non-traditional
enrollment to stay funded (in woodshop, females
qualify as non-traditional students). We’re committed
to being the first woodworking program in
Arizona to reach this goal, so a portion of our woodshop
CD focuses on young women working on fabulous
projects and talking about their unique experiences
At the most recent CTE open house, our female
demonstrators drew such large crowds that one
mother asked me if there were any woodshop classes
open for boys! As a result of attending the open
house or viewing our CD, more than 50 girls have
signed up for woodshop.
It’s also very important to coordinate recruiting
efforts with the counseling staff. Last fall, during the
days of standardized testing, our counseling staff sent
groups of students through the woodshop. Many of
them expressed interest in enrolling.
What does it take to sustain this program?
It’s a huge balancing act, really, between maintaining
enrollment, refining the curriculum, providing
cool hands-on experiences and developing new
recruiting strategies. Full enrollment brings its own
set of challenges, like space for projects, machine
wear and tear, and overcrowded classes. On the flip
side, increased popularity strengthens the woodshop
program and makes its future more secure. I believe
most instructors would welcome the challenges
rather than face extinction.
Tell us about a dynamic woodworking school or vibrant teaching program. What makes it work? Point out notable teaching strategies
and student accomplishments. Explain how the program excites students about woodworking and tell us how it helps them develop
woodworking skills. Whether the program operates in a public school, community center or a private workshop, we want to hear about its
success. E-mail your story to email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2007, issue #130.
September 2007, issue #130
Purchase this back issue.
Click any image to view a larger version.
Instructor Tom Bockman
between a shop drawing,
a cutting list and a cutting
diagram. Tom is convinced
projects help students
develop cognitive skills.
Projects by Prescott High School’s woodshop students
are frequently featured in the local newspaper.
Jonathan Novak and Dustin Olague begin work on a trophy
case project for the middle school.
Devin Dennis and Zach McClintock build miniature chairs
to donate to the Elks Theater restoration fundraiser.
Elliot Logan trims the edging on a new table
for the school board’s meeting room.
Jodi Clayton sets up the laser engraver.
Jonathan Novak mastered the Craftsman CompuCarve machine.
TJ Shermann finishes a custom-order project.
Woodshop veterans Lindsey Dill and Denise Harrison
recruit new students by talking shop and handing out
CD and naming