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Reimagined shop class teaches vital STEM, life skills through hands-on learning

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Posted at 4:26 PM, Aug 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-30 18:33:36-04

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio — A unique, hands-on course offering available at several area schools, including Magnificat High School in Rocky River, offers a new spin on the traditional workshop class. Instead of building birdhouses or fixing lawnmowers, students are tasked with disassembling a motorcycle engine only to have to put it back together.

A registered nonprofit, the Motogo program’s mission is rather simple: Teaching kids and young adults vital problem-solving skills through motorcycles and fostering confidence and self-reliance in the process. At Magnificat, the semester long course has doubled its enrollment over the past few years, resulting it becoming a course only offered to seniors.

Students are encouraged to fail throughout the course because success is nothing without failure, Motogo ‘head coach’ Brian Schaffran said.

“There is going to be failure after failure after failure. After a million failures, they’re going to have a running motorcycle,” Schaffran said. “[We’re teaching them] how to learn by failing and how to succeed by failing. We believe that failing is success.”

From the first day of class through their final exam, which includes having the students "kick start" the motorcycle engine that they had previously disassembled, Schaffran and co-coach Gregory Boyd said the students’ problem-solving and critical thinking skills are tested time and time again. Their hands-off instruction — only stepping in as a last resort or for student safety reasons — makes the hands-on learning experience more impactful, Schaffran said.

“We have thumbs for a reason and it’s not phones. It’s so that we can use tools and fix things and manipulate things,” Schaffran said. “It’s just to let the students know that they can learn by using their hands. It’s not just sitting in the classroom and looking at a white board or smart screen. It’s using your hands and brain at the same time. It opens up the entire world of possibilities of everything you can do in your life.”

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The main goal of the program is not to develop scores of future mechanics. In many respects, the goal is quite the opposite. Through the program, students are forced to develop and improve a litany of other skills necessary for success in other fields and subjects.

“Fighting through the motorcycle build, I’m hoping that using their hands to learn is the motivation to all the sudden just decide to learn everything. Of I can wake all these students up to the fact that learning is rad and life-changing, the goal has been achieved.”

And, in the case of one student, the Motogo program served as the ultimate motivation.

“The reading specialist came running into the room in tears. She said, ‘I’ve been chasing this student for two years and he refuses to learn how to read and doesn’t want to work with me. Now, he wants to work with me because he needs to read a manual to work on a motorcycle,'” Schaffran said. “She gave me a big hug. Literacy is a humongous part to this. It was unbelievable.”

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Chloe Schultz, a senior at Magnificat, wanted to join the program after hearing rave reviews from a few of the course’s graduates. Although she’s planning on going into the field of dentistry, the Motogo class is already paying dividends, she said.

“I love the hands-on experience that we don’t get in an every day class. The environment out here is fun. It’s different,” Schultz said. “The hands-on experience, knowing the tools and how to maneuver my hands and everything could [be important as a dentist].”