Friday, November 24, 2017

what makes a genius?

An article in this last week's Time Magazine asks the question "What makes a genius?" as it explores the lives of Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci. Believe me, or believe the article, they did not become geniuses due to their schooling, but in spite of it.

In every case:
"Being a genius is different than merely being supersmart. Smart people are a dime a dozen, and many of them don’t amount to much. What matters is creativity, the ability to apply imagination to almost any situation."
The article describes Da Vinci's insatiable curiosity. It also told how the answers to persistent questions often result from a willingness to ignore conventional wisdom and to look directly at reality as it presents itself.
"So it was that da Vinci learned to challenge conventional wisdom, ignoring the dusty scholasticism and medieval dogmas that had accumulated in the millennia since the decline of classical science. He was, by his own words, a disciple of experience and experiment–“Leonardo da Vinci, disscepolo della sperientia,” he once signed himself."
Just this brief article should open eyes in education. If we want our children to be creative problem solvers, we could do something about it. Music, laboratory science, wood shop, field trips, internships and more should be added to the public school plan. That which is learned hands on, is learned at a deeper level, having holistic effect.

It is black Friday and a good day to stay away from the shopping frenzy. It is a good day to hang out in the shop, planning gifts that you can make.

Make, fix, create...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Moxon Table Vise

Happy Thanksgiving. You may have noticed that I've been working on gifts for you in the form of designs for safely holding wood.

For someone with both welding and woodworking skills, this vise would be useful for attaching to table or desktop, and hold wood safely for being cut. This style of vice is named after Joseph Moxon who wrote the Book of Trades, a classic from the 17th Century.

Woodworking can be done safely in school and at little cost in comparison to the amount spent on other things of lesser value.

Black Friday is starting early, as many stores have extended it into the Thanksgiving holiday. Folks will be walking away stuffed from Turkey tables to go out and attempt to satisfy other cravings. We are a consumer culture and pay a price for it. Loss of creativity, loss of self. Our endless consumption of meaningless things, leaves us craving more and destroying the planet in the process.

This year, instead of heading for the mall, head for the basement or garage workshop instead. Instead of being engaged with rude bargain hunters, you will discover a new life.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are early this year, leaving us a number of making days prior to the Christmas holiday. A black Friday sale you may not want to miss offers 12 in. handscrews like the one used to make a bench vise in yesterday's post for $9.99 ea. Buy 4 to qualify for free shipping. Four of these clamps and a bit of effort would get 4 students busy working in your shop.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

hand screw table vise.

For years before I had a workbench with a woodworking vise I used hand screws to hold drawer sides for cutting dovetails. For those unfamiliar with hand screws, they are an ages old form of clamp used by woodworkers. They range in size from 6 in. long to 12 in. and longer. A couple of them clamped to a workbench can serve in place of a bench vise and provide an amazing amount of holding power. The wooden jaws will not damage delicate stock, and can be adjusted to irregular shapes.

Now, with some schools wanting to try a re-introduction of woodworking, I've come up with a simple woodworking vise based on the readily available wood bodied hand screw. The idea is shown in the illustration, and it allows woodworking to be done on a table top or desk. With this tool, woodworking can be done in any classroom provided other tools are supplied.

A twelve inch hand screw can be purchased new for under $15.00 and smaller ones are available for much less. Two "c" clamps are also required to secure the hand screw table vise to a table or bench.

A vise is the key to safe use of hand tools, and I believe this one will assist schools in getting their students started. More details will be shown after Thanksgiving.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

center frames

Yesterday as our students were involved in Trashathon, picking up road side trash as a community service project, I went to ESSA to get another step completed on the Bevins Skiffs. I am developing various parts as a kit, so that my students can be successful in our boat building project. They would not be involved without my leadership, and they will not be successful without my having done some of the complicated stuff.

The parts for the day were center frames. The center frames  require precision and careful thought that will not happen in a class full of kids. I had cut the parts from white oak and quickly learned the difficulty involved in hammering bronze ring shank nails into oak. Even with a pilot hole, the task proved impossible and rather than go home for a larger drill, I simply remade the parts from Catalpa. The photo shows the template for the center frame, the template for the gussets, and a gusset being nailed in place with Sikaflex adhesive and 1 inch bronze nails. The Catalpa, gussets, nails and glue provide a strong midpoint around which the sides will bend to form the shape of the boat.

My hope is that by December 4 we will be ready to begin forming the boat from the various parts, sides, stem, transom, center frame and bottom ply. Starting  on that day, many hands will make light work.

My first, second and third grade students have been busy making Barbie clothes, so I got an old  1950's Singer SewHandy sewing machine tuned up for their use. It was not working so I studied the mechanism, took it apart, put it back together and got it working just right.

Many years ago, my sister Ann had gotten a child's sewing machine as a gift. She was or seven and I was 4 or 5. I took it apart and it never worked right again. Perhaps my making this one work, and providing it to a classroom of very young fashion designers will make up in some small part for my earlier failure. When I left school for the day, one of the girls had already used the machine to make a pillow. Every elementary school classroom in America should be equipped with such wonderful machines and the chance to use them.

Unlike the cheap plastic toys of today the Singer model 20 was a real sewing machine made to last generations. You can find one for sale like it here:

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 20, 2017

the case against charters...

A number of large foundations and corporations are spending billions to privatize education. The following is from an email I received from the Network for Public Education:
In 1988, AFT President, Al Shanker, voiced his support for charter schools. His hope was that a new school model, judiciously used, would be an incubator of innovation.

However, as Network for Public Education President, Diane Ravitch, reminds us, by 1993 Al Shanker became disillusioned. Shanker saw what charters had become—a privatized system run not by teachers, but rather by non-profit and for-profit corporations who believe that schooling is a business rather than a community responsibility. Instead of supporting and sharing practices with neighborhood schools, most charters have become rivals that seek to attract the most motivated families and the most compliant children.
Many charters schools in their quest to prove their value through attaining higher test scores limit their enrollment to those students who are easiest to teach and who are already destined toward greater success thereby shifting the burden of teaching under performing students to the schools from which they have starved funding. Even with the cards stacked in their favor, many charters fail to deliver improved test scores. (And I'm not claiming here that test scores are a valid measure of school performance. They are not.)

Yesterday I shaped the 3 remaining boat sides. I laid the carefully shaped first side as a template over the remaining three and used a saber saw to cut just outside the line. Next, I used a template following router bit to rout the clamped together bundle of sides to be exactly the same shape. I also planed and cut the chines to their required size and shape and then formed the center frame gussets. My objective is to develop the parts of the boat into kit form as there are a number of steps for which the students have not developed sufficient skill or experience.  The photo shows a pair of center frame gussets, made to hold the parts of the center frame together.

Today at the Clear Spring School, my elementary school students will make toys for distribution to kids through our local food bank. I get questions on occasion about the Clear Spring School, asking whether it is a charter school. No, it is not. It receives no public funds and does nothing to cost the tax payer or take funding away from our local public schools. Clear Spring School is an independent school accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Independent School Association of the Central States (ISACS).

Unlike charter schools, we serve as an innovative learning laboratory of the kind that AFT President Shaker had hoped for in 1988, but that the charter school movement has failed to deliver. We serve at no cost to the taxpayer. As the holiday giving season begins you are welcome to support the Clear Spring School through the school website:

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

the case for hand tools.

Power tools are intended to make things easy and fast. They can also make cuts more accurate, thus requiring less skill. They can plough through tough grain that would trouble a hand plane or hand saw. They can saw things that a teacher would not intend, and they exert enough force that parts can be thrown into the face or across the room at others. Some are noisy and dusty and can frighten sensitive kids

Hand tools on the other hand are slow and can wander. They demand continuous attention to the material as it is transformed. I can have a room full of hand tools at work, and can hear their effects, and know from what I hear that they are being safely used. A room full of power tools would frighten me for the safety of my students.

If the purpose of learning is to impart the skills of attention and mindfulness, a room full of hand tools will do that job better than a room full of power tools and at far less risk.

The book shelves hanging from my vise are ones I pulled from my closet to show an example of my 7th grade work. My mother had kept them in the basement of her house in Omaha, Nebraska, and had asked me when I had been there for a visit, "Do you want those shelves you made in wood shop?" I could not imagine she had kept them for so long. But with these as evidence to remind me, I am carried back to the days in which I made them. I remember sawing their shape with a coping saw. The teacher had marked the shapes of the parts on wood. I had felt troubled as my coping saw wandered off the line but was consoled when I looked over and saw how much  worse my neighbor had done on his. On the last day of school, I was using a nail to assemble the shelves and one nail went astray and split the wood. I showed the error to my teacher and he said only these words, "you have done well."

If the purpose of woodworking in schools is to prepare students for the use of power tools then perhaps there's justification for them be used to teach children in school. On the other hand, if woodworking in school is practiced to impart an understanding of materials, and processes and  to develop character, intelligence, mindfulness, and skill, hand tools more safely fit the bill.

This said, I do allow the use some power tools at various ages. First grade students are allowed to use the drill press, operating the switch and handle if I hold the stock. Third grade students (with instruction) can safely operate a scroll saw on thin stock, provided they use safety glasses and properly adjust blade guards. My students begin work on the lathe in 4th grade using a face shield and with proper attention to hair being pulled back and loose clothing secured. At each use, I check to see that the work piece is properly installed and the right tool is being used. In high school, and under close supervision I allow the use of the band saw, and saber saw.  I regard the use of hand tool processes to be the precursor for all else.

Another simple point is that hand tools slow the pace, making the experience more about learning than about getting work done. With the pace being slower I have more time to attend to safety and individual learning needs. Students are working instead of waiting for the teacher's assistance. With the pace being slower and more educational, I need, also, to prepare less stock.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

class size matters

The principles of Educational Sloyd were based on direct observation of how children (and adults) learn. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract.

These principles are not just for wood shop learning, but apply to all learning endeavors. They fit science, music, reading and math and all else as they are universal. If anyone is uncomfortable about learning something from wood shop that actually applies to all else, let me assure you that these principles came from the followers of Pestalozzi and Froebel and have their origins in the teaching theories of Comenius.

These very simple principles challenge conventional thinking about education.  Children are never exactly on the same page in things. They do not all have the same interests. They do not all have the same prior experience and capacity as a starting point for class room learning. Even if, through extreme effort and care, a good teacher is able to bring all students' attention to the same page for a moment or two, for a child (or an adult) to find a place in the mind for information to be taken in, successfully managed and usefully stored the mind must wander out of the moment into the student's catalog of experience and compared to what's known. At any given moment during a classroom lecture or presentation, the various students' minds are not all in the room or in the same place or on the same page. If you do not believe this, take a few moments to test the workings of your own mind.

And so, Otto Salomon likely got in some trouble with educational policy makers when he insisted that classroom teaching was ineffective. All those concerned with the economic bottom line would want learning (and values) to be injected into the student mind as cheaply as possible. And I will likely get in trouble with educational policy makers today, when I insist the same thing. We learn best when our individual learning needs are met, and small class size is a determining factor in school success. Class size must be small enough to allow for the teacher to make a very personal connection with the learning needs and interests of each child.

Mostly, however, educational policy makers are less concerned about student learning and more concerned about cheaping out.

The photo is of an old-timey fidget spinner, more commonly known as a button toy. We are making them to give children visiting at our local food bank. Unfortunately, most children no longer know how to use such things. With a bit of practice and a bit of skill in making it, and decorating it, you can be distracted, just as kids were in the 16th century...  even before Comenius, when children learned just as we all learn best, doing real things.

Make, fix, and create...