Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Three things.

If you watch children at play, you will notice two things, which leads to a third observation. First, they want to be doing things and they learn by doing so. Secondly, they want to be socially engaged with each other. So this brings us to John Dewey, who noticed that schools should not be a means of extracting children from society, but should utilize the natural processes of society in microcosm, to build student success.

When a child makes something in wood shop, it is not only to please his teacher, but to demonstrate important things to his or her peers, to receive their commendations and to please him or her self.

In other words, a classroom setting in which children are enabled to engage in group work, or a classroom in which children are allowed to engage in individualized activities that engage the attention of peers in a positive way, offer an ideal setting for learning. One-on-one tutoring is not as effective as group work, nor will lecture in large classes reach an optimal learning efficiency.

Human culture must arise anew within each generation. It is not enough that we provide a structure through which adult values are imposed. Get the ball rolling through activities that foster the growth of creativity and craftsmanship. You may then witness as children adopt human values on their own and shape human culture within their generation.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I had asked my students to help me by making pinwheels for an upcoming fundraising event. They made some, working together, then launched themselves into experimentation, taping sheets of cardstock together to make larger pinwheels. Then they asked if they could go outside to test them. I said yes. Interestingly, the very large pinwheels would not work if the students ran fast, as they would compress flat against the stick, but if they walked very slowly, they turned in the slightest breath of wind.
No one will therefore doubt that one boy sharpens the genius of another boy more than any one else can. – Comenius
That simple statement should explain the value of group work in schooling. As two girls were making large pinwheels, another began using the same technique of taping paper together to make a large gift for her teacher.

Today, I had my home school students in box making class as you can see in the photo above. Also, I've sanded boxes and have applied a first coat of Danish oil.

Make, fix and create...


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

teaching is easy or hard

Teaching is easy or hard, depending on the circumstances. The structure of public education makes it overly difficult for both students and teachers. For instance, a perfect learning scenario would make use of the student's natural inclinations. So, activity would be called for. Activity makes messes of things, so in large groups is ill advised and unmanageable. Students enjoy engagement with each other. So group work would be called for. But group work is noisy and it's easy for groups to get off track, so in large classes, groups are unmanageable and ill advised. Students need to have their individual intelligences recognized and encouraged by their teachers, but the structure inherent in classroom learning rarely leaves the teacher with time enough to engage each student in the individualized manner required. That third point is the most tragic result of overloaded classrooms. Students do not receive the individualized recognition their intelligence deserves or their growth requires.
Making envelopes and wall pockets in paper Sloyd
Today at Clear Spring School I had my primary and middle school classes. I asked both classes to help me with paper Sloyd. For a Wisdom of the Hands fundraiser on May 1, I want to have a large bouquet of pinwheels to serve as the centerpiece in place of flowers, and for guests to carry home. So, I will do a few simple exercises in paper Sloyd and then ask my students to help make pinwheels. We've done them in the past.

It seems these days, I'm getting too little time in the wood shop, though yesterday I did manage to begin sanding business card holders and to assemble and begin sanding a few boxes. Today, after school and before a meeting, I'll attempt to sand more and hope to get the Danish oil finish applied.

I learned that Professor Matti Bergström died last summer (2014) at age 92. He was the one who came up with the concept of finger blindness which I have described earlier in the blog. He wrote of the electrical interconnections between the inner world of the brain, and the outer world of all things and of the mind's efforts to find order within chaos.
The value, significance of all this begins to become apparent: we evolve in order to unite the world we live in into a wholeness. ...This is why the unifying force, the collective principle ... assumes ever greater importance in our lives. It becomes apparent in our thirst for peace, accord, and harmony, goodness, a social and religious paradise, love of our fellow humans and nature and an ensouling of nature. ...Even in our science we wish more and more to be rid of one-sided analysis, divisiveness and disjointed knowledge to create instead a method of research that tends toward synthesis and holism, wholeness and cohesion, where values can coexist without battling each other. We increasingly want the selective forces to serve the collective.
My students were excited to make useful things from folded paper. In fact their enthusiasm was as great as is usual when making things from wood. My middle school students, too, wanted to make pinwheels even though most of them had made them in their earlier years at CSS. I had planned to have 30-40 pinwheels for the event, and I already have about 15 made thanks to my students. Please let me assure you that in wood shop each student receives the attention he or she may need to further his or her growth.

Today I asked my middle school students to each write something about wood shop. One wrote that she likes wood shop"Because you can make useful stuff and its fun." It is actually easy teaching wood shop because the students enjoy it so much. I don't have classroom management problems except when I have to tell students it's time to finish up and leave class.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, March 30, 2015

lively minds...

Yesterday, one day late, I referenced Comenius' 423rd birthday. There was no party for him in American education where we seem to have neglected to watch children at work. Lilian G. Katz, like Comenius, recognizes that children have "lively minds", and that there is a difference between keeping them intellectually challenged, and academically challenged, with the former being more important to their lifelong learning than the latter. Her paper "STEM in the early years," spells it out.

When you look in on an American classroom and observe children squirming in their desks, it's not because they are not prepared to learn. They are each itching for that. But you will often find that their interests fall out of the scope of studies, that have either bored them or passed beyond their comprehension. The problem stems from the idea of classroom learning. And because children are itching to learn by getting up from their seats, all kinds of classroom management strategies must be brought into play, and teachers spend more time wrangling children's attention than teaching. It's not a good thing for children, and certainly not good for teachers either. As described by Lilian Katz:
...academic instruction puts children in a passive and receptive role, rather than in an active and interactive one. On the other hand, in investigations or projects, the children are active and take responsibility and initiative in determining the research questions and how to collect the relevant data, how to represent and to report it, and so forth.
Thus we can begin to see that Otto Salomon was right in his assessment of things, that classroom studies paled in comparison to individualized instruction. But we know also that the absolute singularity of individualized instruction does not meet the needs of children either. They rapidly develop as social beings. For a child to sit all day under the controlling situation of one on one instruction would lead to rebellion. So, the best way to both instruct effectively, and to manage a classroom is to move between three forms of engagement.

My daughter demonstrated this when we were visiting her in New York. She had a classroom session with her standing at the board, listening to her students' responses to a question, then she went seamlessly into group work in which the students worked in a social and collaborative manner. While they were at work, she was able to travel around the room giving individualized attention and encouragement as was required. Teaching is truly an art that must be practiced and which requires as much sensitivity as any other art form.

In Annapolis Maryland, members of the Annapolis Woodworker's Guild have been busy milling hardwood lumber to make boxes, and I will arrive there on Thursday April 9 for three days of box making classes. Today I'll assemble a box of show and tell boxes and supplies to ship off via UPS so that they will be there upon my arrival. I am also working on boxes for Appalachian Spring in Washington, DC.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March 28

Yesterday was Johann Amos Comenius' birthday, and if he was alive he would have been 423. Although born only 100 years after Columbus discovered America, he had discovered the true continent of learning, which schools continue to ignore. In his honor, though one day late, I share his perspective on education, collected and published in School Life, 1921
To instruct the young is not to beat into them by repetition a mass of words, phrases, sentences, and opinions gathered out of authors; but it is to open their understanding through things. We must offer to the young, not the shadows of things, but the things themselves, which impress the senses and the imagination. Instruction should commence with a real observation of things and not with a verbal description of them.

From the unalterable nature of the matter itself, drawing off, as from a living source, the constantly flowing runlets and bringing them together again into one concentrated stream, we may lay the foundations of the universal art of founding universal schools.

If universal instruction of youth be brought about by proper means, none will lack the material for thinking, choosing, following, and doing good things. All will know how the actions and endeavors of life should be regulated, within what limits we must progress, and how each man can protect his own position.

Not the children of the rich or powerful only, but all alike, boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages, and hamlets, should be sent to school.
 Make, fix and create...

mopping up...

Kings River substation site.
We asked for what was deemed impossible and managed to stop SWEPCO from building an extra high voltage power line through Northwest Arkansas that would have ended at the field shown in the photo above.

Following the SWEPCO debacle, that posed the threat of tearing our community apart, but brought it together in united opposition instead, we have a few mopping up exercises to do. The APSC refused to require SWEPCO to pay our legal fees. We knew that we would win in the long run, even if that required standing in front of bulldozers, so not being awarded legal fees is OK. We won.

On the other hand, SWEPCO paid $600,000 for a 40 acre cowpasture on the Kings River that was intended as their extra high voltage substation site. That site would have served as the connecting point for a whole series of extra high voltage power lines running off to the north and east. We are now hoping that we can divert that site to a more wholesome use, as a solar park/garden that would serve our community in better ways than being the destination for an unnecessary power line that would have torn our community in half.

So, between assembling and sanding small objects to ship to Appalachian Spring Gallery in D.C. I am working with our attorneys on a settlement proposal that would clear the air between my small environmental organization Save the Ozarks (STO), and SWEPCO/AEP and the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC).

Here is what I have in mind, based on conversations with a variety of parties, including the head of the design firm that built a 40 acre solar farm for City Utilities in Springfield, Missouri.

Sites of this size have been used to hold as many as 28,000 solar panels. We would want to have far fewer than that so that it would be more of a demonstration project, having multiple uses, including a community organic vegetable garden, and features including the display and growth of native plants. We would want adequate green space to keep if from appearing as just one more industrialized landscape.

I was assured by the design firm head in St. Louis that there are investors waiting in the wings for solar investment opportunities. He said part of his job would be to connect us with those investors. Part of the rationale the utility corporations used to put forth the Shipe Road to Kings River project had to do with "constraint" (pricing) at the Springfield Flowgate which means that during peak demand periods, the cost of electricity from Springfield, Missouri is high. (Utilities determine where new power infrastructure needs to be built, by monitoring the costs of electricity passing through "flowgates" between partners in the grid. Cheap power allows them to make greater profits. When they have to pay more, they use it as a rationale to raise rates, but then do everything they can to make certain that they buy power at a cheap rate, thus improving their profit margin. Developing this land as a solar site, which would produce its greatest power at the time of peak demand would be a reasonable investment for either SWEPCO or AECC or both.

1. The utilities could develop this property as a solar park on their own, and as a last resort, they should be encouraged to do so. Personally, I see some potential advantages to them and to us, that we take a leap together in a more wholesome direction. We would help them to reclaim some good will from any effort in the right direction, which in our view involves distributed solar power rather than hugely destructive extra high voltage transmission lines and the permanent scar they leave on the landscape.

2. Some of my resources have suggested that the property be developed and held by a Property Owners Association in which people could buy and hold shares and solar panels within the property that would offset their own energy use. Ideally, those who cannot have solar panels on their roofs or in their back yards could have them here, with a small deduction (10%) going back into the POA for management and maintenance. Software available for iPhones would allow individual members to track the production of their own panels. Membership should be open to any customer of SWEPCO, or Carroll Electric through participation of AECC. This could be done in partnership with both SWEPCO and AECC, or without one or the other, but my preference would be that they own no more that 40% of the panels installed, leaving room for customers to invest. This would be a project falling under the rules for net metering which allow for customers to own panels off site. There are many examples of successful community solar projects and this would be the first of this scale in Arkansas.

3. A third scenario would be for SWEPCO to simply deed the property to Save the Ozarks as a form of settlement. In that case, I have been assured that we would be able to find outside investors to build a solar park as one appears to be needed in the area to reduce electric costs during the peak demand, which happens to correspond with summertime heat when the sun is at full force. We would be applying to various foundations and local industries for grants, and think it can be done without SWEPCO’s further participation. For instance, small manufacturing companies in Berryville might want to invest in solar and make use of net metering regulations to cut the costs of their own power.

Easiest for us would be a partnership with SWEPCO and AECC. The devil we know may be better than the devils we don’t know, and I hope they would see the value of making an investment in the community that would serve as a showcase for the future, their future and ours… Whereas outside investors might want to see the 28,000 panels laid out in an industrial fashion, not the solar park/garden that some of us have in mind.

Whether a making a gift to STO or joining in partnership with us, each scenario would allow SWEPCO and AECC to reclaim some of the good will that they squandered with their unfortunate proposal and through their protracted defense of it through hearings at the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Along with any of these three scenarios we would file a grant request for $150,000 to SWEPCO/AEP’s foundation for the environment. If they chose the first scenario, building the solar park themselves, we would use the $150,000 from the AEP grant to build a solar park/native plants garden at the former Eureka Springs High School property that is being re-purposed as a community center.

Of course, SWEPCO is most likely to say no to all of the above. But if we never ask, the answer is always no.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tiny boxes...

Much of my work on the Froebel book is now complete and in the hands of the publisher, so I am getting ready to start a book about making tiny boxes. Tiny boxes in my mind are not scaled down to a size in which they are useless. I simply use the term to describe a range of size smaller than what box makers normally make. They can be used for any number of things, but because they as so small, they invite close examination, and thus require a higher degree of precision in their making.

As with my other books, Tiny Boxes will offer a variety of boxes using a variety of techniques, ranging from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract. So, in that I believe that you can discover just as I have that the principles of educational Sloyd can apply to more than just woodworking education.

Yesterday I wrote about the closure of SWEPCO's case at the APSC to build their monstrously destructive, unnecessary power line across the Ozarks. The wide clear cut swath of its right of way, kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations would have divided our community but brought it together instead, in vociferous opposition to it. SWEPCO's Shipe Road to Kings River power line would have been the second leg of a disruptive power transmission system ranging all the way across our state, with no leg of it needed for anything but SWEPCO profits. So our small victory is actually a large defeat for SWEPCO/AEP's quest for hegemony. Not only did we manage to keep it from happening here, we have effectively shut down their plans for stringing extra high voltage power lines all across the state.

The Southwest Power Pool (the regional transmission organization that SWEPCO is a member of) was expelled from most of Arkansas when Entergy left it to join MISO (Mid-Continent Independent Systems Operators). So, building this massive new network of extra high voltage power lines would have been a way for Southwest Power Pool to have leveraged its way back across the state. This SWEPCO fiasco was a disaster for the SPP, as it had to be confronted with its malfeasance, and held accountable for having embarrassed its members.

In granting SWEPCO's withdrawal and the termination of their application, the APSC refused to strike our expert witness testimony, thus allowing it to remain part of the public record so that anyone can go and read about their intended malfeasance. I hope that this document serves as a warning to power companies that they won't always get what they want, and they'd best not misrepresent the facts of a case. The expert testimony by Dr. Hyde Merrill, addressing their malfeasance and misrepresentations begins on page 10 of this document.

In any case, it appears that my own horizons are being cleared for making boxes. Tiny ones.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, March 27, 2015

case closed...

A router jig to guide cutting of hinge mortises
We are coming upon the second anniversary of AEP/SWEPCO's application to destroy a huge swath of Northwest Arkansas to build an unnecessary 345 kV power line. Its towers, placed 6 to the mile would have dwarfed our tallest oak trees, and the clear cut right of way would have been kept sterile of natural forest growth for generations by the use of toxic herbicides.

If alternate route 91 had been selected and approved by the Arkansas Public Service Commission, it would have traversed my own 11 acres from one end to the other, with the clear cut dead zone falling just 75 feet from my deck. Maintenance by helicopter of the 150 foot wide right of way would have launched the horrific beasts whirling at eye level across back of our home.

April 3, 2015 has been named by the City of Eureka Springs,  Save the Ozarks Day in celebration of our having stopped the malfeasance put forward by SWEPCO's application filed on April 3, 2013. The whole project came as a complete surprise to all of us in our community, it having been kept in secret planning by SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool for years as they worked out details on various routes.

What became obvious after we saw the nuts and bolts of their plan, was that it had been designed on Google Earth and had completely missed an understanding of the significance of each small hill and hollow that hold such great an importance in our own lives. They planned to shove their plan through, without regard for what it would damage, and whether it was necessary or not.

The most obvious thing that came to the surface of things as we dug into their environmental impact statement and assessment of need was that they were lying to us. They proposed a monumental solution to problem that did not even exist.

We most fortunately came together as a community, hired an attorney, and  expert witnesses (the best in the business) and following nearly two years of battle forced the utility to admit it was not needed. They withdrew their application and just this last week, almost two years from the launch of the debacle, the commission closed the case.

April 3, 2015 will indeed be a day of celebration. In this case, rather than asking for us to gather in celebration, we urge each to disperse. We will breathe in the beauty of that which would have been destroyed. We shall stand in special spots of overlook, and hold to the image of what we see, knowing that those having contributed to Save the Ozarks have held it thus, that it will inspire others to see what stands before our eyes.

Yesterday in the wood shop, I used my new 4 position router table to complete parts for an order of boxes. It worked just as I imagined it would. I also routed the hinge mortises for the doors of my small chapels that will hold samples of various woods as shown in the photo above. In addition, I began inlaying about 50 business card holders, and spent about 4 hours of tractor time to repair our road which had been washed out by tremendous rains.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

size matters...

From an administrative point of view, an effective teacher can manage a classroom of 30-35 children. The New York Public school system will allow 35 children in a class, but some classes have 36 due to the expectation that any given day, at least one student will be absent. Yesterday I was telling a friend about my daughter's teaching in New York, and that she has over 30 students in each of her 6th grade math and seventh grade science classes. My friend has a daughter who teaches in a Montessori school and has 25 students in the primary grades.

The point here is not that a good teacher can manage a large class but that managing a class and teaching a class are two different things. In fact the idea of a "class" as an effective grouping for student learning is erroneous in the first place.

Anyone who has paid attention to the workings of his own mind, and has made some efforts to note its wanderings will admit that the attention necessary to learn in a classroom is fleeting at best. The teacher may call the class to attention and introduce a bit of new material, which will be taken up by individual students at varying levels of comprehension, based not only on the students'  intelligence but also on the students' experience and interests. Not all students will have the same level of interest and attention at the same time. Fortunately some students have the ability to assemble discrete packets of  information into a holistic comprehension of the subject matter as the mind's attention moves in and out of range of materials being presented in a classroom setting. But within a "class," consisting of students with varying levels of intelligence and diverse prior experience, and in which students are burdened with circumstances outside the school that none-the-less have real impact on ability to be present and attentive, the range is too great for even the best teachers to overcome.

Nearly every good teacher in the world will describe the challenges that arise when they have too little time to give individualized attention to each student. And yet, in administrations and in the halls of Congress, nothing is done to reduce class size. The idea in American education seems to be that by crowding students into a room and "teaching" them, they will conform to "standards," but the first standard that should be set would be for teachers to have no more than 20 students in a class.

If you were put in a situation in which you felt you were simply wasting your time, how long would you linger? Children and teachers face that situation each and every day.

Clear Spring School is out this week for Spring Break, so I am attempting to make products to fill an order for Appalachian Spring. The box design at the top of the page is one I worked out in my waking hours of the night. It is a small box in which the wooden hinges is integrated in the lid and back. I am about to sign a contract with Taunton Press for another box book, this one about making tiny boxes. So, in teaching and in other things, size matters.

Make, fix and create...