Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Today in my own shop

Today I have the luxury of working in my own shop. Elementary School is off today to allow students and staff to recover from camping.

I was reading Disrupting Class before bed last night and reflecting on the continuous minor sound disruptions that occur when you teach in an object rich learning environment. In the wood shop, I have lots of tools and each makes a noise. Kids are drawn to things that can be tapped or waved, a stick of wood will do, and even at the high school level, I need to remind kids to put things down while I am attempting to give instruction. For those who are particularly susceptible to the effects of disruption, even the clicking of a ball point pen can become the last straw. But I question the need for children to sit quietly all the time. First, we know from testing that children's brains are not equipped for sitting quietly while the teacher lectures for more than just a few minutes, and our incessant use of hand-held tech devices has made sitting quietly even more difficult for most children, and even difficult for some adults.

So my vision last night was that of a symphony... Acknowledging the musical intelligence involved in working with wood. And so I am wondering how to use that vision and that intelligence in my classroom management. With the younger children, I may do some form of choral reading to bring them into a sense of the noises we make and attune them to listening to each other's voices and tools. It may sound wacky. What am I, nuts?

Years ago, scientists testing for the effects of instrumental music on learning found a high correlation with success in math... but of course the question not explored was whether it was the music that provided the effect, or the involvement of the hands in playing the music, and I suspect it was both. So perhaps I shall make a conductor's wand for myself and become a conductor of a symphony of tools.

On a more depressing subject, I received word this morning that the Texas School Board has decided to "virtually eliminate" wood shops from Texas schools, substituting "metal fabrication" in its place. My last blog post, the vicious cycle in classroom learning may help to explain why some, particularly at the highest levels of education just don't get it and may never understand why hands-on learning is important for all our children. If you haven't done it you won't get it, and you may persist in living in a self-sustained delusion that you are one of the smartest people in the world despite mounting evidence to the contrary. And the evidence is mounting. For example, look at the numbers of drop-outs in America, and look at international rankings. We spend much more for education and performance is in the ditch.


  1. Doug, this is a great idea, I think. There is a famous musical work for spoken chorus called the "Geographical Fugue" ( It is spoken rather than sung and is based on the unique sounds generated by the pronunciation of place names.

    It could be interesting to do something similar with the sounds we make in the wood shop. There are many distinctive sounds (even when one limits oneself to hand tools), e.g., sandpaper, handplane swish, etc.

    If you have a faculty colleague who teaches music, this could be a wonderful interaction between the two areas.

    Additionally, we know that oftentimes the success of a woodworking maneuver can be evaluated by the sound that is made. While not strictly a "musical" situation, it is the utilization of sound in a different manner. It would be interesting for your students to talk about how sound in addition to sight and feel can help evaluate the success of a woodworking maneuver.

    Just some thoughts on this cool, rainy day in North Carolina!!!


  2. In the past, we've made musical instruments in wood shop, and I keep asking them to listen to their tools. The sound of the saw changes as it nears the end of the cut. We have a music teacher on staff and I have begun discussions with her and shared R.J. Drillis' illustration of the rhythm of work which I shared in an earlier blog post.

    The first thing I think I want the first graders to recite as a choral reading is this: "Of all the saws I ever saw saw, I never saw a saw saw like this saw saws."