StrimmerStrimming, weed whacking, weed eating, call it what you like, it’s a crazy process. Take a piece of nylon string, use a 2-stroke petrol engine to spin it around real fast, and then use that force to hack away at vegetation. As part of my Art of Physical Labour programme, I try to get students to understand machines, how they are useful, why they are potentially dangerous, and what their limitations are.

So, after a session of hand weeding, I thought I would introduce something new, and have students look at, pull start and (for the more responsible) use a strimmer. If you have never used a strimmer before, you could be forgiven for underestimating how intimidating they are to new comers. It’s not just the danger of being lacerated, but also flying stones, the noise of a 2-stroke engine, the heat, fumes, vibration. This is not something to approach lightly.

At first sight of the strimmer, students were excited by the prospect of using a power tool, but at the same time I could see some trepidation from some of the younger kids. I asked them some questions as to what this thing was, how it worked, and why it could be dangerous. We discussed the measures we could take to protect ourselves, including being sensible, knowing the machine, wearing safety goggles, long trousers and closed toed shoes. For extended use we discussed the importance of ear protection, and on sandy ground, or when going right down to the ground, the importance of a heavy apron.

Each student then had a turn starting the strimmer, using the pull cord to manually ignite the full. This is not an easy process, and every student in the group underestimated the force required. After starting, students used the kill switch to stop the machine, which we also discussed in terms of safety. Once all of the students had a go starting the machine, three students were selected to whack some weeds. I worked individually with each of them to make sure they machine was handled correctly. I helped them load the started machine onto their backs (not as easy as it sounds), and then worked to direct them to safely operate it (form a safe distance of course). All three students clearly enjoyed the process, but came away a little shaky at the power and heat of the machine.

All too often, schools attempt to keep students safe by banning supposedly risky activities. However, this is a very short-term fix, as students are shielded from potential danger, and so never learn how to judge, mitigate and handle danger. I love this activity precisely because it exposes students to danger in a well managed, safe way. They learn to appreciate the danger of powerful machines, but also that this power can be harvested and used wisely.

Next lesson? Power drills, working up to hammer action.

Image Credit: Strimmer image by David R. Yeo on Wikipedia, shared under CC BY.