Friday, October 24, 2014


Exhausting the potential of limited resources. If you were to take a set of Froebel blocks, either number three or four, each with 8 in a set, and were yourself used to the abundance of materials that are supplied in a set of legos,™ you might feel restrained. But as children are invited to use their own imaginations to discover what forms are within the range of their discovery we might be amazed. Even 8 small blocks in a number 3 or 4 set, offer the potential for new discoveries.

We live in a world with limited resources. And so what do we do with what we've got? This is always a matter of material concern in wood shop, and as children embark on projects, I direct them to the materials we have available and ask them to use thrift. Thrift is not just a concern when it comes to the pocketbook. It is one of the traits of character that facilitates the survival of nations, and the success of the human species.

My students have nearly completed their personalized legos.™ Some of them were frustrated by the experience, and one student asked yesterday, upon closing her file, "Now can I do something real?" That, my friends, is what most kids wonder while in school. On the other hand, all the students persevered, even though it was difficult and they had to start over several times before getting it right. And of course they want to see the 3-D printer in action, making their own lego™ blocks.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

80 percent right...?

The current issue of Wooden Boat Magazine has an article about the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, Washington. The article is called, "Accuracy School," a name given it by one of the students interviewed for the article. When you are doing something real, there is no vagueness about fit. The true test in doing something real is not to be 80 percent right before you are passed on to the next level. You get it right, or you start over, and perhaps over again. And so there is a difference between school, that children know to be a contrived and often meaningless educational environment, and doing something real, like building a wooden boat. In either case, building a boat or attending school your life will likely depend upon the results, but schooling is so very vague that too many children are disconnected from it.

Accuracy is also a thing to learn in wood shop, and it has been interesting watching as my students work on their sketchup legos™. Some have started over and over again to get them right, and if they're not right, they won't fit. The proof is not to get an 80% score but to put in the correct data in the right places to hit the nail right on the head, even if it's the third or fourth time to try to drive it in.

Where in the world, would 80% be a good score except in school? Scores themselves are contrivances and artificial, and so it is good to see educational institutions like the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in which students do real things. Accuracy applies to everything human beings do, and to learn to do a difficult thing right builds both character and intellect... two essential ingredients for future success.

In my own quest to get more of my work sold, out the door, and out of the way of making more beautiful things, I've arrived at a very simple backdrop for taking photos for Etsy. It's a folding screen made of formica™, so it is stiff and lightweight. I can pull it out at a moment's notice, take photos of individual boxes, load them to Etsy and then put it away.

What if we were judged on our miter joints? Could you say, this miter is 80% right because 3 corners fit tight, and the last one is only 10 degrees off?

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

the dangers of inventiveness and creativity

Turn a cylinder to a spherical form
Inventiveness comes from being engaged in problem solving which then in turn requires being involved in the real world. Yesterday, I wanted to demonstrate the use of Froebel's second gift to my fellow teachers at Clear Spring School, so I made a quick stand from wood and dowels to support a cylinder of wood on a string. It was amazing how easy this object was to make. Seeing it made some of my students want to make them, too. In addition, I had made a box for gift number 4 and the lid moved too easily, and I was concerned that it would simply fall out. So I drilled a hole in it, inserted a dowel in that hole, and made cuts to allow for the dowel pin to only travel so far in each direction. Now I have a new design for sliding lid boxes.

A dowel controls the travel of a sliding lid
But I also have a more serious problem. I have to get back to selling my work. Relentless making and inventing requires relentless efforts to reduce inventory. And yet, there is a greater danger... that children fail to learn their own creative powers.

Yesterday was also a good day in that we printed our first lego™ that was shown in yesterday's post. There is no worry there about selling excess inventory. The 3-D printer is a relatively ineffective way to manufacture large quantities of work. But is making our own legos™ a way to get kids learning to use design software, and to follow instructions with a degree of accuracy? You bet.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

saga of the 3-d printed lego...

Today we printed our first lego™ using a makerbot 3-D printer. This was our prototype to find out if it will indeed work. It did. Now the students are excited that they will each get to print their own. We started with a real lego, ™ took measurements of it, and then each student used sketchup to create the design.

Lego™needs not worry about competition. Ours took 27 minutes to print. Our purpose is purely educational. I am very proud that with careful measuring and sketchup design we got a perfect fit.

The lower elementary school students were using simpler technology, saws and hammers to make sloyd trivets like those made by Gustaf Larsson's students in 1900.

Make, fix and create...

education of the senses...

In my woodshop, I have begun work on the boxes for gifts number 5 and 6 which are larger than the boxes for gifts 3 and 4 as you can see in the photo above. The techniques used to make the boxes can be the same.

In the larger world of education, there is a strong push to have all children taught by laptop or iPad to the general exclusion of the senses other than those which predominate in the manipulation of or by such devices. The sense of taste, smell, and differential sense of touch need not apply, though a long list of educators from Pestalozzi to Montessori insisted on the importance of education of all the senses.

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, the students in science class were busy taking apart owl pellets to dig out the tiny bones of mice and voles that are found inside. It was a clear reminder that you can engage the hands and the senses without being in wood shop. And those who struggle to get children engaged in schooling could take a lesson from the senses. We are more deeply engaged when all the senses are touched by our surroundings and educational opportunities.

If you think for a moment about the term "quantum entanglement," and that the object of learning should not be just that students are momentarily engaged, but that they become entangled, allow me to suggest what that means. Entanglement is not just at a superficial level as one might encounter through manipulation by an iPad. It takes place at a depth in which objects and people are forever transformed by the experience. That depth of learning requires that it be situationally real, involving all the senses. It's why children love wood shop. Even the smell of the place is transforming.

Make, fix and by all means, create...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gift number 4

A gift number 4 beauty form
Froebel's gift number four consisted of a small sliding top box and 8 small tiles, each 1/2 in. x 1 in. x 2 in. The tiles were used to create "knowledge," a sense of relationship, and a sense of beauty.
  • Knowledge in this case had to do with number and form, how one shape could be used to build another geometric shape, in that the tiles could be used to construct the cube proportionate in shape to the box from which they came. In addition, the tiles of this gift could be compared in siza and shape to the cubes in gift number 3. Did you know that they are the same size?
  • The sense of relationship came from building the various forms that they child witnessed in his or her environment. 
  • Sense of beauty came from the arrangement of the tiles into patterns expressing harmony and symmetry. For example, one of hundreds of possible patterns of beauty is shown in the photo above.
The small wooden box was an essential component of gift number 4. As the gifts became more complex to meet the growing complexity of the child's inner landscape, a means of keeping order was necessary. But the box also played an important relationship to the whole. A cube, within a cube, but within that cube was infinite potentiality. The arrangement of the gifts and their delivery was based on the following precepts that will sound familiar to those readers who have taken an interest in educational sloyd. 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. Within this simple prescription as outlined by Otto Salomon is the basis of "progressive" education.

This morning I received an email from an educational website proclaiming"every child reading." I proclaim an equivalent imperative, that every child make, and that we make that possible. Don't think for a minute that schools will go ahead and do it without you.

Make, fix and please join in the creation of the universe...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

the construction gifts...

Froebel began having his students play with blocks early in his teaching career, and his various sets of blocks, starting with gift number 3, left a lasting impression on generations. Unlike tinker toys and legos, the way blocks fit together requires paying particular attention to gravity. But as long as we serve as earthlings, we must find no particular error in that.

Yesterday, in addition to inlaying another 50 or so box lids, cleaning the shop enough so I could walk around without tripping, mowing the grass and being visited by a former student from Marc Adams  School, I made gifts number 3 and 4. I chose to do finger jointed corners, as these are the types of joints we associate with the finer remaining examples of the gifts as manufactured by Milton Bradley.

There are those in the world who have wood shops, and need to know what to do with them. There is no better excuse to cut wood and to put those wood shops to use, than to make one of these special sets of blocks for a child or grandchild. So, as I explained to my friend Rich yesterday, my objective in writing this new book, is to set parents and grandparents in motion, just as I might set a cylinder spinning on a string with a stick in gift number 2.

With gifts 3 and 4, I begin making what were referred to as Froebel's construction gifts.  Frank Lloyd Wright was one of those who attested to the value of Kindergarten and particularly to the play with Froebel's blocks. He said, referring to Milton Bradley Kindergarten Blocks his mother purchased for him in the 1876 Philadelphia Worlds Fair Kindergarten exhibit: "The maple-wood blocks...are in my fingers to this day,"

In the meantime, gift number two is fascinating. I believe both children and those responsible for their learning opportunities will enjoy playing with it and learning from it. It is of particular interest to play with it when you've made it with your own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

a marvel and a joy

Today I will be finishing inlaying lids for an order of boxes for corporate gifts. I can't tell where they are going, as they will be a surprise for the recipients. I got over 50 done yesterday, and will inlay an equal number today. After sanding, the lids will be ready for the laser engraver to put text on the underside so that it can be viewed when the box is open.

I am also proceeding to chapter 3 of my book on making Froebel's gifts. Edward Weibé wrote in his discussion of gift number 2:
"In using the same form to represent different things in a play, do not fear that there will be any incongruity, provided the suggestion comes from the children, and the objects symbolized are closely related in thought, for the child's imagination is so free that he can clothe and re-clothe the same form with new life. The sense impressions which come from tracing resemblances and differences, experimenting and handling, will give a familiarity with the forms and their relation to each other, which no abstract lesson on surfaces, edges and corners could afford."
A couple days ago, in "play" with gift number 2, I inadvertently stacked the parts in a manner I had not done before, and discovered hidden in it a shape one might take as symbolic of man. Perhaps the real magic of Froebel was that he chose not to make a parade of the obvious to his children, but chose instead to offer a realm in which discoveries were made by them. When I stacked these three simple blocks in their new form, out of the order in which they have become associated with Froebel, I felt a sense of discovery.... a moment of pleasing but visceral response. Eureka. Not enough to launch me running naked through the streets, but enough to feel as though I had discovered something important, and enough to help me to better understand the use of symbols and symbolism in Kindergarten.

Make, fix and create...