Monday, February 20, 2017

hands-on thinking

It may appear to some, particularly those of an academic persuasion, that thinking is just a head trip. It may be for some, but it you are involved personally in the real world, it's not likely that all of your thinking process would be in your lonely old noggin alone.

If you are a mathematician standing at a blackboard, chalk in hand, is the whole of who you are a head trip, or do the blackboard, the chalk and the hand holding the chalk have a say in the matter? If you are a dancer, your feet might be involved. If you are a tinkerer of some kind or an artist you will use your hands as tools of contemplation and use actual objects in your consideration of things. My thanks to Lisa for the article, Thinking with our hands can help find new ways of solving problems, research reveals

With all the turmoil in our world of late, I have been reading John Dewey's book Democracy and Education. In it, in attempting to describe the ways in which education may be used to sustain a democratic society, he describes the essential relationship between actual experience and effective learning.
An individual must try, in play or in work, to do something with material in carrying out his own impulsive activity. This is what happens when a child begins to build with blocks, and it is essentially what happens when a scientific man in his laboratory begins to experiment with unfamiliar objects. Hence the first approach to any subject in school, if thought is to be aroused, and not words acquired, should be as unscholastic as possible.
Jean and I are in New York to spend time with our daughter over Winter Break.

Make, fix, create, and insist that others learn to think likewise.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

testing infinity (system)

Infinity is a long way off. But the infinity dovetail spline system is easy to use. I began my testing of it today by adding dovetail keys to a box.

I used a 8 degree dovetail bit to rout the spaces for the keys to fit, then after installing walnut keys, I used a smaller bit to rout the space for contrasting cherry dovetail shaped keys.

Testing this system was suggested by my assistant in my box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I arranged with editors at Fine Woodworking magazine to do a review, and this box, when complete, will be sent to them for photography, unless I choose to do another like it.

It would have been easy to understand how the jig operates, but it makes more sense and provides greater truth for me to test it in my own hands. My own credibility as a woodworker is placed on the line. If I do not test it in my own hands how will readers trust what I say about it?

The same is true in the political arena as well. We live in an awkward time in which people choose to believe one way or another without considering actual evidence. That is a dangerous state of affairs. We have been conditioned for it by having religions in which membership is based on faith in the unseen and unknowable. So a willingness to keep coming back to the hands, to test things in real life and form opinions based on actual evidence and not on what you have been told and expected to believe is crucial to the preservation of democracy.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

veneered tops..

Yesterday I demonstrated making veneered top panels for boxes and my high school students are now enthused about making boxes using these techniques. Doing my demonstrations for two classes, I came up with 6 different top veneers, and when one had chips torn out in an obvious place, I experimented with using hole punches to add repair pieces that will also serve as additional accents. I had used a paper punch previously to add small accent dots in fields of veneer but the full set of hole punches offers a variety of sizes.

Sir Ken Robinson said the following about the effect of shop classes in schools:
Students who’ve been slumbering through school wake up. Those who thought they weren’t smart find that they are. Those who feared they couldn’t achieve anything discover they can. In the process, they build a stronger sense of purpose and self-respect. Kids who thought they had no chance of going to college find that they do. Those who don’t want to go to college find there are other routes in life that are just as rewarding.
Manual arts training for all students is important for the society at large. To borrow 19th century terminology from Jonathan Baldwin Turner, the object is to build a society of "thinking laborer" and "laborious thinkers," that may be united in their common thoughts and shared experience and provide a firm and lasting foundation for democracy.

Educational policy makers divided schools into two opposing arms. Woodrow Wilson had asked for a two branch educational system:
"We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."—Woodrow Wilson
In the meantime, and as a result of creating a divided educational system with differing objectives we can observe how deeply divided our nation has become.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that we find common ground in all learning likewise.

Friday, February 17, 2017

in reflection...

In my home shop, I've been making boxes with veneered tops.  Some will be given as wedding gifts, and at least two will be used to test the Infinity Dovetail Spline system. This morning I'll take my Dewalt Scroll Saw to Clear Spring School, so I can demonstrate making patterned veneered tops for my students in high school. They will be given a choice of either making veneered boxes, working on the lathe, or making practice swords for martial arts.

The boxes are of cherry with panels veneered with zebra wood (an exotic) and with burled elm. (a native wood)

This blog serves as a tool for my teaching. It helps me to plan my day, but it also serves as a memory device, and a means for reflection on what I've done and where to go next.

Einstein had said that his pencil and he were smarter than he was. Jerome Bruner discussed the ways we offload cognitive content into our surroundings. Einstein and Bruner were thinking more about the way we write things down in notebooks and chalkboards and thereby keep them at hand. But even the way we organize tools in a wood shop  or steps in a procedure are expressions of cognitive development and capacity.

The brain is much more than a storehouse of information. It is a processing center for all that is at hand. Bob Dylan was asked by a reporter about his long hair and he told how some people have their long hair on the inside where it fuzzies their thinking.

Early educators had been concerned that students were becoming "one-sided," meaning that they were being overburdened with academic content, and thus missing out on what it meant to be a fully functioning human being. Most schooling involves the absorption and supposed retention of information that children can do nothing with. Making has a way of fixing a few things.

Make, fix, create, and build a future in which others are empowered to learn likewise.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wooden clocks and telling time.

Yesterday in the school wood shop I made wooden clocks with my first, second, and third grade students. They've been studying telling time, and had made paper clocks in class, but wooden clocks that you've made and decorated yourself, carry lasting lessons.

One student did not need the lesson, as he was already good at reading the time from a normal clock. I suggested he make one for his younger sister. But he decided to stamp his name on his anyway, and he can still use it to help his sister learn to tell time. The students are proud of their work, and I hear from other teachers at all grade levels that wood shop is their favorite thing in school.

In the photo note the happy face made of tiny nails on the new airplane. Would you not have wanted to have made that yourself?

When the clocks were done, my students asked, "Can we make something more?" It's what happens when children learn to use real tools and real materials to make things that interest them.

Is it to much for me to repeat the principles of Educational Sloyd over and over again, and may I do it without boring my readers and driving you all nuts? Have I gone off the deep end?

Well here goes.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown, 
  • From the easy to more difficult, 
  • From the simple to the complex and 
  • From the concrete to the abstract. 
Use this as a simple checklist in every area of education. Even in college. In every field of study, regardless of how abstract, effective learning demands that it be brought home to the hands. And students of all ages love learning when it is real and fulfills their most natural inclinations, which include being of service to family and community.

My fourth, fifth and sixth grade students  have been learning to turn on the lathe, and one of the most challenging things is to get the mind to slow down so that the hands can take greater control. Moving the lathe tool helter-skelter will not do. In fact, turning is a form of deliberation and meditation, and to surrender oneself to the process is a cure for the kinds of stress that ails students of all ages.

Make, fix, create, and extend the notion of hands-on learning to others that they might find joy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

just to see what comes out

Some days I find I have almost nothing to say, so I start writing to see what comes out.

When they cut down all the trees, they looked around and discovered something important was missing. In remediation, and redemption of their own souls, and seeking a renewed sense of beauty in their lives, they began planting trees. It is an age old pattern. Human beings seem to run hot and cold to the extremes.

We did the same thing with the elimination of manual arts. First they made the colossal error of thinking that only a few children needed tactile engagement in the real world, making beautiful and useful things as others would be shuffled off to college. Then when a furor arose that some children were being singled out for abandonment in "the trades," while others would get the glories of a college education, it became a mantra, that "all children would go to college." (whether it led to a degree or not).

A few years back, the superintendent of schools in Rogers, Arkansas had told her teachers that they will have failed every child who does not go on to receive a 4 year college degree. That sort of thinking didn't work out so well. Being schooled primarily in the abstract, without manual training and the arts left a large number of students disaffected and disengaged. Some dropped out of high school. Some dropped out of college. Others attended college, but became burdened by debt for educations they will not use.

So without the trees to humanize the landscape, education had become a dismal place indeed. Have we turned a corner, and are we ready to allow children to do real things in schooling? Or shall we just put pictures of trees on our iPhone screens and let it go at that?

Today, the wood shop at Clear Spring School is a mess, and I must go in to straighten things up. This afternoon, I'll have students grades 1 through 6. The older ones are beginning instruction on the lathe.

Make, fix, create, and increase the propensity to learn likewise.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

the dirt..

Yesterday my 7th and 8th grade students helped in the garden, as we strengthen the garden fence, and filled the compost bin students and I had made last year. It had been neglected. In fact, the whole garden had been. Steel tomato cages had been thrown aside and trampled, so they will need to be replaced.

In the compost bin, we gathered wood chips and organic debris so it could be properly composted and turned into dirt for the garden beds.

My upper elementary school students worked on the lathe while one, having been dissatisfied with his first attempt to make a pencil holder asked for help in making one where cuts were square and edges aligned. His second attempt was better, and if he will try again, a third attempt will be better yet, provided the level of attention and care increases in the process. Some things on the surface may appear simple and mindless when in reality they are not.

When children are proclaimed wonderful without having been tested by real circumstances and without having earned self-respect on their own and by their own efforts, it can mystify them when things don't automatically work out. It is not unusual for human beings to have a form of magical thinking in which we just do things and expect the world to comply. I remember being in pottery class, having the teacher suggest that clay has to be thin to survive the drying and firing process and then having things explode in the kiln. Was I not listening? I can assure you I had not fully understood, as I had assumed myself so blessed in my creativity as to avoid the actual circumstances of reality. That is the real dirt.

In an age in which we have delivered to us, so many fancy things with the actual environmental and social costs and consequences hidden from view, I have deep concerns. Perhaps the most important objective we can develop in schools is for students to be fully engaged and to learn to care: To care about themselves (honestly earned esteem) and for each other, and for the planet in which we are engaged together.

Today I will be developing a tools spreadsheet... things that need to be ordered for the ESSA wood shop.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn likewise.