Friday, September 30, 2011

Blogging on FWW

Today I have made a blog post to the Fine Woodworking website. Please go there for your reading pleasure... Something beautiful, useful, skilled and lasting.

Then make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

three simple tools

I am busy writing other things today and so have re-posted this article from Feb. 2010. If a day passes with nothing new here, I  remind new readers that they can dig in the archive of over five years of previous posts at right.

These three simple, often taken for granted tools each share a common technology: that required for making, forging, and sharpening steel. Each is designed to cut wood, each has a range of specific functions and each requires some skill to use effectively. With greater levels of skill, each of these can operate outside its range of purpose. For example, you could use the knife or chisel to do the work of the plane, but it would take far greater skill and effort. The plane was specifically designed using knife and chisel making technology to eliminate the need for skill and attention that use of either the chisel or knife would require to meet its specific purpose. On the other hand, each of these tools could be used to sharpen a pencil, right?

While we take common tools for granted in the same way we use our hands unconsciously 10,000 times or more each day, tools themselves are a collectivization and expression of human knowledge, focused toward the expression of skill. Each tool was designed upon the legacy and understanding of other tools toward the purpose of greater certainty* in its use.

We think of discourse (whether written or spoken) as being the means through which knowledge is passed between individuals, groups, and generations. But we will only come to a clear understanding of our humanity when we understand that the objects that inhabit our lives do the same thing.  Tools in fact do much, much more. They impart the intelligence gathered through multiple generations, placing its potential in fresh hands. The difference between most objects and the tools we use is that tools actually empower us as human beings to create.

Sadly, the objects we select to fill the lives of our children, do not. And so, in a nutshell, this is the order of power... words, objects, tools. What we give children is schools often is hung up on the first alone.

*by certainty, I make reference to David Pye.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

today in the CSS woodshop, volume x

I have titled many of my posts "today in the CSS woodshop," because it is something I do. I teach children how to do woodworking. It is not a no-brainer, as the hands and brain co-evolved as a learning and developmental system. One without the other is the foundation of ignorance. Our system of education has maintained a carefully manicured delusion that hands and brain can be separate in their duties, and that the rewards of one vs. the other (and you know which) should be far greater. That is a foolish notion in our nation that we are here to fix.

Today at CSS we welcomed the head of ISACS, the association of independent schools of which we are a part. In addition, my 1st, 2nd and third grade students made pinwheels from an Educational Sloyd design to help illustrate their study of wind and weather.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Today in the CSS woodshop, the high school students helped me to complete the carving mallets shown in the photo below. The design is based on one I made several years ago, and it's the one all the students want to use whenever chisels or gouges are in use. I never allow a fine chisel to be struck with a metal hammer so good mallets are a must. In addition, students continued practicing the cutting of dovetailed joints. They are getting better. One student wanted to give up and do something else, but with some encouragement, he did better as the afternoon progressed and he informed me that he will be ready to try again next week.

Students are being trained through their use of technology that every thing should be easy... "Ease of use" is the selling point on all things technological. We are being told that we need not face difficulties. But those of us of a certain age know that the things that are difficult present greater opportunities for pride of accomplishment and development of character.

During the weekend I had a conversation with my cousin Gary, a retired optometrist. His older brother has always been capable of making and fixing all kinds of things. And Gary has regretted that he had gotten the short end of the stick when it came to fixing and making, and reaping the satisfaction that comes from DIY. Although successful in his career, Gary knew he was missing something important, the confidence and satisfaction his brother expressed.

We need to be encouraged to look for the kinds of satisfaction we can find in working with our hands. And without that encouragement, it may never happen for us.
“As the development of the motor centers in the brain hinges, in a great degree upon the movements and exercises of youth, it will be readily understood how important is the nature of the part played by the early exercise of the hand. There can be no doubt that the most active epoch in the development of these motor centers is from the fourth to fifteenth year, after which they become comparatively fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been left altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency thereafter.” --James Crichton Browne
Certainly, not all children and adults have the same level of manual dexterity. Not all have the same integration of hands and mind, and even within a single family, one child may get encouragement that another will not. But each of us can gain greater wisdom through the efforts of our own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 26, 2011

self-talk, narrative and hypothesis...

Bubble Bookshelf, designed and fabricated by Doug Meyer
This morning, I am awake after a night of reflection on some basic notions. Bear with me as I attempt to put a few pieces together. This morning I was reading about the furniture making of Doug Meyer, and he takes sheet steel scraps and fabricates whole forms from small parts. I am attempting to do the same.

As stated by Charles H. Ham, "the mind is constantly seeking the truth, the hand is constantly finding it." In other words, one cannot successfully whittle a stick without the rudimentary capacity to formulate scientific hypotheses. We can be led far from reality by well rehearsed discursive misrepresentations that may appear truth-like. 

Self-talk or internal dialog is the means through which narrative is is used to fabricate the sense of reality upon which our decision making processes are based. There is a relationship between craft, science, the discovery of reality and the ways we describe to ourselves how the world functions and how we determine our place of comfort within it.  In contrast, many of the decisions we make each day have been pushed upon us through a thousand well rehearsed discursive misrepresentations, our children are not encouraged to be makers, fixers and self-discoverers and we can see the results.

Today in the CSS woodshop, our students in 4th, 5th and 6th grades worked on toy stamp dispenser trucks as part of an economics project.

Make, fix and create...

On another subject, subscribers of Fine Woodworking will find my boxes on p. 32 of the soon to arrive Dec. 2011 issue No. 222.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I am back in Arkansas following a quick weekend in Pittsburgh, PA. I'll be back to my usual school routines in the morning, but want to reflect for one more moment on yesterday's performance of the Pittsburgh Symphony. I learned that my cousin Betsy's string base was made in 1705. You can go to Wikipedia and discover what else happened in the same year. I am reminded that if something is beautiful, useful, and cared for, it can last a very long time. One of my cousins asked if I believe in life after death. I asked, how could I return from a performance of Mussgorsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and hear a 305 year old string bass, and not believe that we have the potential of giving life after death? We may or may not live it, but we can certainly give it and share it through the creation of useful beauty. Can you think of ways to extend your own life beyond our time?

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Tonight I attended a performance of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, in which my cousin Betsy was performing. She is assistant to the principle bass. Tonight's performance started with a quirky, but delightful piece by contemporary composer Steven Stucky, followed by Gershwin's Concerto in F major for Piano and Orchestra, with Rudolf Buchbinder on Piano. Following the intermission the orchestra played Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. After the performance, I commented to Betsy on the precision required for Stucky's piece. There were no parts of the composition in which anyone could get away with even a moment of sloppy play. Betsy, assured me that there would never be any sloppy play in the orchestra even if they could get away with it. She said, even in the moments in which they are not playing, they are each counting the time. Can you see how instrumental music can be instrumental in the development of math, and instruments, so to speak are really tools for the creation of music and of self?

My cousin Russell, who is Secretary of Agriculture for the State of Hawaii, told me about his recent visit to Japan in which he flew Japanese Air from one city to another. As each plane left the terminal, the ground crew would line up along side, place their hands together in reverence, and bow in respect. Can you imagine that level of engagement taking place at an American airport? Maybe not. But as the conductor entered the stage, the musicians stood in respect, and then at the end of the performance, the audience and conductor expressed our very loud appreciation of the orchestra's performance. Can you imagine a society in which members offered such respect to each other? OK, I'm naive but let's work on it.

Make, fix and create...

reasons for handedness...

I have been reading a paper on the cognitive aspects of tools use, by Richard Byrne, University of St Andrews, Scotland, The manual skills and cognition that lie behind hominid tool use. The article offers help in understanding the relationship between handedness (left and right) and the level of efficiency achieved in the manipulation of tools and processes. For example, in some simple operations like probing a termite mound to eat termites, it would be advantageous for a species to be ambidextrous so it could approach the mound from either direction and be equally effective. But in performing hammering operations which became essential to development of man the maker, Homo Faber, species are able to reach a higher level of efficiency and accuracy when one hand or the other is offered greater practice in a clearly defined role. For example, while napping flint to make stone tools, one hand serves as the anvil to hold the stone being formed while the other holds the striking tool.
The significance of tools is what they imply about the cognitive abilities of their users. From examining the products of tool making and using, researchers hope to discern the thinking that governed these activities: everyday physics, means-end analysis, coordination of dextrous manipulations towards a predefined goal, recognizing and coping with local difficulties in a complex process, and so on.
As the mind and hand co-evolved in the development of our species, the adaptation of handedness facilitated efficiency. And so, if the hand developed its distinctive left and right functions, is there a corresponding development in the mind of left and right "handedness". Is our cognition also based on these same parallel lines? Just think about it and tell me what you think... and then on the other hand...

Make, fix and create...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lev Vygotsky

Today I've flown to Pittsburgh, PA to visit my 93 year old Aunt Wuzzie who is ailing. I am here with cousins and enjoying a bit of reunion. We have been talking about family history, and particularly my great grandfather's diary from the Civil War, which was given to a University. We are hoping to get a copy to read. I am naturally fascinated by the subject of narrative, and you and I know that our human story is not just told in words, but also in the artefacts, things we have made and in the tools through which they were made. Since I don't have a great deal of energy to write tonight, I will refer you to an earlier post on Lev Vygotsky, Russian Psychologist who helped us to frame our understanding of human intelligence and narrative.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to count on your fingers...

I realize there may be some of my readers who might be bothered to find a political message on the blog. You may not agree with her and you may not agree with me for having posted it. However, you can see in this video the forceful use of the hands to make clear message and passion. The hands display the numbers, but also absolute confidence and clarity.

look, Ma. no hands...

So sayeth the young man learning to ride a bike without having his hands on the handle bars. Mom wishes he would hold on, but she is pleased that while she's watching he's at least wearing his helmet. There are all kinds of things that happen when we lose touch, when things get out of hand, and Edward Tenner writes about these things in his book, Why things Bite Back, Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences. I am just starting my own review of his 1996 book. It was recommended to me by my friend Frank Wilson and by others and I don't have much to say about it specifically as yet, except that in my first attempt to learn what he would say about the hands, I found hand-washing discussed on p. 46. It seems there are tremendous medical costs involved in health care workers failing to realize the full extent of the dangers they present to patients with unwashed hands.

And so, the idea of look ma, no hands, and the concurrent notion, "untouched by human hands" offer two direct insights into our relationship with our hands. We know our hands as being essential in securing and maintaining our safety (hold on tight), that it is a sign of excessive confidence when we think we can go no-handed and yet, the hands can convey profound risk.

The word sinister "prompted by malice or ill-will," is derived from Latin sinistre "contrary, unfavorable, to the left." Few associate the left hand these days with anything sinister (or gauche), but we still have a love-hate relationship with our hands, associating them with both fear and on the other hand, the alleviation of fear. In French the English word left is gauche, or in Italian, sinistro, and so language can be revealing. On the other hand, the Latin word for right is dexter, from which we get words referring to skill, leadership, rightness of being as well as handedness and even handedness (ambidexterous).

Ethel J. Alpenfels author of The Anthropology and Social Significance of the Human Hand 1955 wrote:
The cultural world in which man lives, both in preliterate and in technologically advanced societies, tends to be a "right-handed" world. Cross-cultural studies reveal that different sides of the body, the left or the right, are associated with different social activities. In India, the right side and the right hand perform tasks considered to be "clean," while the left side and the left hand perform tasks considered to be "unclean." The two types of activities are separated rigidly. The right hand, for example, is used for cooking and eating, whereas the left hand is used in bathing, elimination, or activities associated with sex. Indeed, it is common in many areas of the world to find food related to the right hand, while the left hand is associated with sex. The right and left hand have come to symbolize good as opposed to evil, gods as opposed to demons. Hence, they are considered as two forces constantly at war with one another.
And so you can see that our relationship with our hands is concerned with an understanding of mixed blessings. The human touch can heal or spread disease. It can craft tools, or it can forge weapons. It can act creatively, or spread the seeds of destruction. And yet, it is not a reasonable proposition to have schools untouched by human hands when the hands themselves are the foundation of our humanity.

make, fix and create...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

making tops...

Today in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade wood shops, my craftsmen made tops. It was a project stimulated by Oakley, who having made them last year as a first grade student had not gotten enough. Oakley told me that he's a "topaholic." He loves making them. He didn't want to decorate them at school since he has markers at home, so he made 19 of them and every pocket was filled to capacity when he left class.

My students told me, "This is my favorite class!" and "I LOVE wood shop!"

To make the tops, we drill holes in the center of solid wood disks, and then sharpen a dowel on both ends and drive it in place. We decorate the tops using cut paper applied in layers, and with markers on the edges. As they spin, the bright colors blend.

To make the cut paper decoration, lay bits of paper in a pattern on the surface of the work bench. Then lay a piece of clear tape over it. Peel that from the workbench and apply another layer of tape to the back side. Use a paper punch to form a hole in the middle of the paper assembly, and then slide it in place over the dowel on the top. Use scissors to trim the paper even with the edges of the wooden disk.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

today, and looking back...

Today in the CSS wood shop, my 7th through 12th grade students worked on thank you cards for a company that donated fine tools to the wood shop. In public I've been asked to leave them unnamed, but that in no way diminishes our gratitude. We also whittled and practiced dovetails for making hand crafted wooden boxes. I also introduced the use of the scroll saw in place of the coping saw for removal of waste prior to final fitting of dovetail joints. The object of course is not only to develop skill, but also to make boxes that will be a source of pride for their whole lives.

I have been reflecting on my time working for a manufacturing company. Dutton-Lainson makes winches, oil cans and a variety of stamped metal devices just as they have done for over 100 years. They are located in Hastings, Nebraska, where I went to college as a young man. I was looking for a job to allow me to continue to hang out with friends for a summer in Hastings, and Dutton-Lainson was hiring. I became a "punch press operator," an "unskilled" position, in that it was thought that nearly anyone fresh of the streets could do the job. My work was to place a metal part in position on the punch press, then press a pedal which set a fascinating series of operations into action. Each time I pressed the petal, the machine took over and an arm swept across to make certain there was no way I could have my hands in the way to get mangled by the operation of the machine.

There were three levels of staff at Dutton-Lainson. There were unskilled workers like me, then there were machinists and tool and die makers who were responsible for making and maintaining and setting up the complicated machines, and at the top there was management. There was a clear pecking order. At break time and at lunch, the unskilled labor sat around on crates and complained about management, and how little the unskilled workers were paid. The tool and die makers were working in another part of the factory setting up machines to do various tasks. I have no recollection of having seem then while at work. I would arrive in the morning to find new machines in place ready to do new things. Never-the-less,I found myself getting into the rhythm of the work. Place the piece of metal in position, move the hands to safety, press the pedal with my foot, and then remove the finished part and put a new piece of metal in position for the next step. The stamped metal parts were hot to the touch. I could look at the various parts I made and imagine where they might fit, but I had never been actually shown how what I was making fit or where. Each part was given a stock number. I could however, look around me as I worked at my machine to see others at their machines and feel a slight sense of greater mission... That these parts in which we were so engaged would become whole things, to be sold and create value. But I also knew that years of that kind of work could become mind numbing.

There were no real provisions for quality control. If I screwed a piece up by pressing the pedal too soon, that mangled part went right into the finished bin with the rest of the parts. I was not to take time to sort them out, as meeting quota was the only stated objective.

At break one of the old-timers (who must have been at least 40) told me,
"Slow down, son. You are working too fast and will give the rest of us a bad name. Whenever we go faster, they raise their quotas and we could never keep up."
It was an honest remark. It was that conversation that made me aware of strong class loyalties and the social and psychic distance between labor and management. I also began to realize that manufacturing was something I was not really cut out for.

I gave my notice to the foreman one morning, and that was the afternoon that I first met management. I was working at my usual fast pace, feeling harmony between the machine and the motions of my own body. There was a large box of parts I had stamped to my right and a large stack of metal plates to my left. Out of the corner of my right eye, I noticed a man standing behind me in white shirt, narrow tie, with a clipboard in one hand and with his thumb on a stop watch in the other. It was obvious he was observing my own work. After standing there for about 15 minutes and as I stepped away from the machine to get more parts, he interrupted me and said,"You are really doing well. You are working fast. If everyone worked as fast as you, we would make a lot more money." I told him that people worked for too little money, and that I saw no assurance that more efficient work would not be turned against the workers. "Besides," I said, "This is my last day, I turned in my resignation this morning."

What I had just experienced, with the narrow tie, clip board and stop watch in the hands of management was the implementation of "Scientific Management," in which workers, their sense of participation and partnership mattered less than efficient processes and profits. Scientific Management or "Taylorism" named after its proponent Frederick Taylor, should not be confused with W. Edwards Deming who sought quality, believed in teamwork and was responsible for the Japanese success story following WWII. The Arkansas Governor's Award for Quality for which I made award bases earlier in the month is an outgrowth of the Deming movement. I will let you know when the recipients are announced.

Perhaps you can tell that I have empathy for the American worker. The walls between labor and management can be severe. There is a sense of joy in being a part of larger things, and it is a shame that has too often been shattered by feelings of disrespect. Even in the making of oil cans and boat winches, pleasure and satisfaction can be found. Dutton-Lainson still exists, making most of the same products they made when I had my own adventure in American manufacturing, so perhaps they've found better ways to do more than a few things right.

Are there lessons to be learned from this? Of course I was naive at the time. I was young. But when Educational Sloyd was first proposed by Uno Cyganeus and Otto Salomon in the 1860s and 70s, part of its purpose was to create a sense of the dignity of all labor. I would like to think that my words to management had some small effect. When men in skinny ties, know something about the challenges involved in working with their hands, and treat those with and without skills with respect, we will have a renewal of American manufacturing that would mean so much more.

There are days in which my own wood shop resembles a factory floor as I work my way through operations on parts in batches to fit whole objects. My operations are less wondrous than the complicated processes the tool and die makers at Dutton-Lainson had devised. But there is no loss of dignity in the process.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 19, 2011

today in the CSS woodshop

 This morning my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students made more of their tree frog rhythm instruments to sell at the Eureka Palooza Music Festival this coming Saturday. They have 18 to sell in addition to the ones they made  to keep for themselves and the proceeds will go toward the cost of a class trip in the spring. The class has been studying economics. Last week students worked individually on their own, and this week they worked on a piecework basis with each performing certain functions rather than making the whole thing.

A recent survey tells us that the average American eats restaurant food 4.8 meals a week or a total of 249 restaurant meals per year. This includes carryout, but does not include school meals which would add significantly to the total.

I had heard recently that nearly 50% of meals are eaten away from home. 45 percent of respondents in the survey described themselves as “meat lovers,” 22 percent as a “sweet tooth,” and 19 percent as “fast food junkies.

For comparison, just 18 percent described themselves as “health nuts” and 5 percent as “vegetarians or vegans.”

With restaurants offering so many unhealthy choices, the prudent investor would put his or her money in health-care, treatment for the obese and invest in new treatments for diabetes.

Make things, make healthy dinner, fix and create...

As I've mentioned before... when I was a kid, I wanted to become an inventor. But I realized that in order to be one, I had to be deeply engaged in something as the driving force in idea creation, and I had to know how to actually make things in order to be able to test and present my ideas as credible and useful. To think that just because someone has money that person also has imagination and where-with-all to put our nation to work is blindness.  As a woodworker I became an inventor of processes that enable me to do better woodworking. Rather than inventing objects, I invent processes and share them with others. For me, what I do is a dream come true.

No doubt a few of my readers will be interested in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Back when Ronald Reagan conceived "trickle down economics" most people in the US had been engaged enough in real enterprises to have some ideas about ways to invest money and put people to work.  Even making movies,  the industry that Reagan knew so well, would qualify as something real, in that it required skills of all kinds. Still, "trickle down" was a grand notion that failed at the starting gate. These days many of the rich seem to know little more than how to read a balance sheet. Most did not see the financial crisis coming and those did who lifted no fingers to help avoid the crisis. Banks wer bailed out and set right by the Federal Government and the American taxpayers, but those same taxpayers have been allowed to fail. Would it be "class warfare" for me to suggest that those who make so much and feel so entitled should be asked to pay higher taxes?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

at work in the cubicle?...

"The so-called banausic arts have a bad name, and quite reasonably they are in ill repute in the city-states. For they ruin the bodies of those who work at them and those who oversee them. They compel these men to remain seated (at their desks?) and to work in gloomy places (their cubicles?), and even to spend entire days before a fire (computer screen?). While their bodies are being enervated, their souls, too are becoming much enfeebled. More especially, also, the banausic arts offer men no leisure to devote to their friends or to the state, so that such men become base in relation to their friends and poor defenders of their fatherland. And so in some of the cities, especially in those which are considered to be strong in war, no citizen is permitted to work at any banausic craft." --Socrates (words in parentheses mine)
This morning I've been taking advantage of the rain which allowed me to push dirt with the tractor, repairing our long gravel road and the Clear Spring School road to our pre-school. After long neglect through our summer drought, it feels good to be fixing things, and to have the power and skill to do so. The chart below should be self-explanatory. We are no longer a nation of makers and our wealth has declined significantly.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

hands-on learning in Ghana...

My daughter Lucy and friends from Columbia University started an international organization to encourage science, math and engineering skills in poor countries. The video below is from last year's mission to Ghana. In it you will see project based learning projects and a brief account from a student telling how she learns best from the hands-on, practical approach. You may have difficulty understanding her accent, but you will find her hands expressive of what she had learned.

We are, after all, as human beings, makers (and makers of music) and fixers of things, and the story of our humanity is best told in what we make, not what we say.

On a similar subject (as here, I nearly always talk about the hands), blog reader David asked via email:
"What is the relationship between "craft" and "music" in relation to improving learning skills and mental development? Much of what you have written about is the impact that practical physical learning has on helping develop the abstract thinking abilities in students. By practical physical learning, I mean you have related most of this to learning some kind of craft. Mainly, this is due to your own experiences and expertise as a woodworker. Many of the studies and research papers you have cited also relate to the need for physically doing some kind of work in making something. I am wondering if this also relates to making music? ... You have cited research that links the use of fingers to math, and we do use our fingers when we use our hands. And I cannot think of an instrument that we do not use our hands to make music with. Getting back to the question then, is there a direct link to the use of music and/or craft in developing learning skills. Or are they separate and distinct, yet provide the same result?
And of course, the simple answer is yes they are separate in that we may each be drawn toward distinct expressions of our own intelligence, but yes they are the same in that each puts the hand and brain partnership into action in the development of character and intellect. In the blog, I try to be careful to include other forms of human expression by naming them. Music, the arts, dance, theater, woodworking, etc. I would not claim that it is only through the creation of practical, useful, beautiful things that intelligence and character are procured.

But on the other hand, there is an exquisite beauty in the crafting of unique objects that express care for others, even though our society at large might fail to see the value in it. Our culture seems to regard the cultivation of the mind and the cultivation of the hands as separate ventures, and from that has arisen an era of unfathomable, incomprehensible stupidity in the way we've chosen to teach our kids.

Make music, make art, plant and tend beautiful gardens, prepare delicious, wholesome meals, craft beautiful and useful objects... these are all hands-on expressions of human wisdom.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Research proposal...

This is a research proposal... some children are offered hands-on learning and an education in the arts and music. They are the control group. Then you have the far larger experimental group which gets almost no hands-on learning (at home or at school), no wood shop, no arts, no music. If you were a parent which group would you choose for your child's participation in this experiment? The following is from the McCleans article Why your teen can't use a hammer, that I referred to in yesterday's post:
When the first apes climbed down from the trees to explore life on the ground some three million years ago, it was their hands, no longer used for branch swinging, that helped trigger our evolution. Hand structure changed, enabling us to perform increasingly complex grips. The conversation between hand and brain grew more complex, too. We advanced to the unique ability to visualize an idea, then create that vision with our hands. That’s meant everything from developing tools to imagining airplanes to performing open-heart surgery. So what happens if that all-important hand-brain conversation gets shortchanged at a young age? Can it be reintroduced later, or does that aptitude dissipate?

“We don’t really know,” says neurologist Dr. Frank Wilson, author of The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture. “That research wouldn’t get through an ethics committee, even though it’s happening on a massive scale in our homes every day.” We only have these uncomfortable clues, such as young people who can’t visualize how to best wield a hammer. Or teens who, despite years of unscrewing bottle tops and jars, can’t intuitively apply the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey rule of thumb.
And so here is the research nearly all American parents signed our children up for, few questions asked... No hands-on learning, very little in the way of the arts and music, and no chance of wood shop. And parents are offered no choice. The control group for comparison happens to be here in my small town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Come visit. What you witness here at the Clear Spring School will not require standardized tests to prove in your own eyes (and heart) the value of hands-on learning.

Make, fix and create...

dovetails and hand skills...

“As the development of the motor centers in the brain hinges, in a great degree upon the movements and exercises of youth, it will be readily understood how important is the nature of the part played by the early exercise of the hand. There can be no doubt that the most active epoch in the development of these motor centers is from the fourth to fifteenth year, after which they become comparatively fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been left altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency thereafter.”--James Crichton Browne
Today my high school students practiced cutting dovetails. You can see from the photo at left that they need a great deal of practice before I turn them loose on finer woods. Shop Teacher Bob sent a link to a fantastic article, Why your teenager can’t use a hammer: Complaints about a generation of the mechanically challenged. The article points out that our kids are not only becoming all thumbs due to the loss of school woodshops, they are becoming intellectually clueless.

Practice with tools not only shapes the hand for the expression of skill, it shapes the mind for intelligent action at the very same time. My students all want to make a dovetailed box. Some feel that they may not be up to the task.  Knowing and knowing how to do are two distinct levels of knowledge, one far more potent than the other. One is that of the idle consumer and the other is the domain of maker and of the creator.An dif we had our choice, all but the most lazy would choose the latter.

Note the intense concentration in the photo below... a thing we might never see in normal classes. It is through such application of will that self is defined.
Make, fix and create...

As you can see in the photo at left, I have been routing the edges and sanding the outsides of my very small inlaid boxes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

dovetails, boxes and weather vanes...

In my own woodshop, I've been making more boxes. It is a usual thing for me, and I currently have about 80 inlaid boxes in the works as shown below.

At CSS I've been teaching the middle school students how to cut dovetails. The first lesson was sharpening chisels and using dovetail saws. Second lesson was yesterday and involved cutting their first simple joints. We are using new Veritas dovetail saws which cut a fine, thin line. The handle design helps the students get a good sense of direction and bodily alignment. When they get good at cutting simple dovetails they get to make a box.

In the lower elementary school, first, second and third grades, we made weather vanes today to be used with their study of weather. The students loved the project. Objects like these, when taken home, help to build a positive relationship between home and school. The students can use the objects made to help explain to parents their enthusiasm for learning. In what other class do students ask, "Do I get to take this home today?"

Make, fix, and create...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

the scent of rain on dry earth...

This morning I awakened with the scent of rain on dry earth. After record spring rains, we descended into drought and protracted high temperatures. As a result, we've watered relentlessly for months to keep just a bit of green growing around the house. With a bit of soft ground here and a few healthy plants, we've been invaded by deer eating things they normally don't eat, and by armadillos marauding in the night in their search for grubs. Fortunately the oaks in the forest surrounding the house have deep roots and have faced extended drought before.

There are patterns in nature, and there are patterns in our lives and in human culture. The pendulum swings, from one extreme to the other. In the past 30 years we've pushed our children away from their hands, and urged our best and brightest into financial "service" industries where they've applied their inquisitive and inventive natures toward devising new financial products and schemes that have brought huge wealth to a few and have left the rest of the nation in tragic decline. That doesn't seem to be working for us. If those were our best and brightest and failed to alert others to the disastrous declines we faced, they have been measured and found lacking in the kind of character and intelligence that comes from hands-on learning.

But this morning I awakened to the scent of rain on dry earth. Have you smelled that before? It's a thing that you will remember and call to mind if you have ever felt the first drops of rain falling on parched earth.

Our nation has been through a long dry spell.

With the exception of these few of us, the hands are about as far from our attention as can be imagined. And yet, in our own work with wood, or in the arts, with tools, with instruments, with hands and minds, there is a scent in the air.

This morning in my wood shop I am inlaying small boxes. In the afternoon, I resume my instruction to 7th, 8th and 9th grade students in cutting dovetails.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Costa Rican Tree Frogs

Today, my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students finished their "Costa Rican Tree Frog" instruments. We were going to make rhythm sticks, and then decided the addition of a sounding body would bring greater sound. This is giving me ideas. Next could be primitive ukeleles or some other kind of stringed instrument, but my challenge will be tuning pegs. In any case, wood shop is fun. This class is now turning its attention to making more of these instruments to sell at the music festival the school is presenting on Sept. 24. Money raised will help cover class travel, and the making of the frogs is an exercise in the study of economics.

In my own wood shop, I've been making inlay and using a router table and template to rout the insides of small boxes as shown below.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

on the anniversary of 9/11/2001

On the morning of September 11, 2001, when the terrorists drove their planes into the twin towers in New York, and into the Pentagon in Washington, DC., I was a new teacher in a new program in a new high school expansion of the Clear Spring School.

That morning, as we arrived at school, and as students were gathering, news was happening fast. Was it an accident? A second plane struck and we knew it was not. We really had no idea at the time, how terrible the tragedy would become. But it became apparent we were not at school for a normal week. There were things happening that put us all at a high level of anxiety and deep concern. This week, in the US, 9/11 is in the news again as we face the 10th anniversary and new terror threats. And so my own mind journeys back not only to 9/11 on a national scale, but a more personal one as well.

This week I've also been discussing the therapeutic effects of woodworking. Woodworking makes us feel better. When we witness things coming together in our own hands, we sense our own power to put difficult things in their places, to restore control, and to get a better sense of our own place in the vast scheme of things.

As we had each witnessed the destruction of the World Trade Center site, I asked my high school students to make a model of what they were seeing on the news. My intent was to find some way to process what we were seeing through the power of our own hands, to do something active and cleansing with our bodies in response to the horrifying images. It was a form of therapy. As rescuers were combing wreckage, we took slender strips of wood, and used wire and nails to build a form that could then be burned in ceremony. It was not a happy thing. It was an expression of grief. But to act upon what we feel is an essential thing, and it is tragic that we are too often deprived the powers of physical response to what we see, sense and feel. Television has made us and our children bystanders to things beyond our comprehension and beyond our capacities to control.

I invited the local fire department to be on hand to watch over the ceremonial burning, and they brought their boots to gather contributions for their fallen associates.

We've not done so well as a nation over the last ten years. It took 9 and one half years to bring Bin Laden to justice, and we have been in two protracted wars brought on by a sense of revenge as much as for justice. Innocent lives have been lost in numbers far greater than those on that fateful day. One of those wars was completely irresponsible and unwarranted. The toll has been enormous in lives lost, lives altered in ways that have brought tragedy home to every American community. There have been so many lost opportunities to bring economic change to other nations, and so many lost economic opportunities in our own.

I've been talking with a professor from a university who has been given the task of starting a new art therapy program. I was asked to help in conversation to describe the values of woodworking on the most personal levels. There are two components to art therapy. One is that in doing art, the patient has a non-verbal means of communicating with the therapist, opening opportunities for dialog and opening doors to understanding of self. We can call this the interpretive function of art therapy. The other aspect of art therapy is more active in that it allows the patient to regain a sense of control over his or her own life, and to re-imagine self as creator and craftsman. One of the most tragic effects of our response to 9/11 is the huge number of returning vets who have been damaged in body and spirit by the effects of war. The university program has been made necessary by the need to serve these vets through the creation of art.

This morning, watching ceremonies in honor of 9/11 I was touched by a song performed by James Taylor, Close Your Eyes. It is about moving on, and was a clear expression of how the arts can heal. In fact, there is no real healing without the arts, and those untrained in the arts will find other more damaging responses to tragic events.

Bless us.

Let us move on creatively from this day forward. Let's use our hands to put things in their best places, and make the best of ourselves and our nation.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

no prosperity in sight?

A wide range of observers have noted that the possibility of a return of American prosperity hinges on manufacturing. This article, We Won’t See Mass Prosperity Until We Rebuild Manufacturing provides links to a variety of editorials and articles in such places as the New York Times and Harvard Business Review. In the New York Times, Susan Hockstein, President of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology suggests “our economy will thrive only when we make what we invent.” She challenges the idea that the United States can be a world-class source of innovation without actually producing the new products. As she points out, in the past, “with design and fabrication side by side, insights from the factory floor flowed back to the drawing board.”

There are other additional, non-economic problems that result from our being a non-manufacturing nation. There are feelings that arise in the process of making things, or through physical exertion toward a common purpose even in the worst of circumstances. Feelings of power, competence, and control arise in the individual and in the culture as we accomplish real things. There is a distinct connection between economic depression and emotional depression and you will have noticed that the stock market rises and falls on consumer and investor confidence.

The following is from Kelly Lambert, author of Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist's Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain's Healing Power
"For a brain that evolved to move the body around in complex ways to interact with the world around us, our increasingly effortless lifestyles result in an unengaged brain that receives few reminders that we have meaningful control over our environments. Our brains' interpretation of a lack of control in our increasingly chaotic lives leads to greater stress and anxiety that often culminates in the symptoms of depression. Incorporating physical activity that leads to tangible meaningful rewards in our lives, something I call effort-driven rewards, can act as a form of a mental vitamin that builds emotional resiliency. Even better, tasks that utilize our hands are especially effective considering that a large proportion of our brains' "real estate" is directed toward their movement. Thus, the "chores" that were a necessary component of our grandparent's lives likely lifted their emotions in powerful ways."
What Dr. Lambert describes can be observed in your own life. Woodworkers have called their time in the wood shop "sawdust therapy". All those who have had the opportunity to engage in tangible creative work shared with others, know the feelings of emotional vibrancy that emerge and sustain every aspect of self, including the brain power that enables clear thinking and problem solving. So the question becomes, "Is this something of value to pass on to our children?" So far, not so good. We are making the wrong choices by providing our children entertaining distractions from real life. Now who wants real life when we can live in perfect fantasy and delusion?

There is a simple solution for all that ails us: To make lastingly beautiful, creative and useful things can lift the economy, and lift the spirit. From the article referenced above:
"Now, after decades of closing down factories, throwing engineers and skilled production workers out of work, re-orienting those professions to military work and much of the educated class to finance, the U.S. is in the position of a developing country. We must try to catch up to Europe and Asia in any way that we can."
Re-orienting much of our educated class to finance as we did didn't do much for us, did it? If you are not sure what to make, or how to get started, Fine Woodworking is doing a campaign on their website using my videos on box making to promote membership. You can download a sample for free or become a member and get lots more video content over the next few months. Box making is a good way to develop skills in woodworking and more.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, September 09, 2011

feelings and feeling...

You will know that when something touches our emotions, it is said that we have feelings. You will also notice that we use the same word, feeling, for what we do through the deliberate actions of our own human hands. Why is it that the affairs of the heart and the affairs of the hands are so closely intertwined? Are they so deeply connected that they share this word as their domain? Do you want me to explain it to you, or would you prefer to wonder on your own? If I have made you wonder, then we have taken the first step.

Once we begin to form those leading questions, we begin to think of the hands in a different manner. When we see something we like, or that incites our curiosity, the most natural uninhibited response is to touch. Did you know that the human touch can connect us? Did you know that the human hands can provide comfort or solace when we touch? Of course you know these things. If the power of the hands is to touch the emotions in such a significant way, why would we want to put children's learning at arms length?

In the wood shop, I've been finishing some new boxes and photographing them to share with galleries.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

the feelings that arise

There are two things that lure woodworkers back to the shop and from project to new project. The first is a feedback loop in which we see direct results from what we do.  This is a true gift during a time in which many work without seeing positive results each day's efforts.  For the craftsman, the results can be seen moment by moment as work progresses during each small step. When we are able to mentally and physically connect direct positive results to direct action, we see that we have power, we have control, and we have effect. These direct results are not only in the piece of wood we attempt to shape, or the part of the object we attempt to create, but also in the flow of neuro-hormones developed within the body that stimulate feelings of well-being. The second thing that lures the wood worker back to the shop is the display of the finished work. To see relationship develop between another person and what we have created is a powerful self-affirming effect.

In these two components are the foundation of self-actualization. We most clearly discover ourselves when we are lost in our own creativity, and if we were wanting to create self-actualized human beings as a result of our process of education, we would start children early on the journey of craftsmanship and the arts, developing tangible skills that can be shared with others.  But we seem to have other less practical goals for American education that have nothing to do with the feelings that arise within each child.

Today in the Clear Spring School woodshop, students in 4th, 5th and 6th grades will be making Costa Rican tree frog musical instruments, and the 10th, 11th and 12th grade students will be making easels to be used in art class.  For your feelings' sake,

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More on Finland's schooling

In 2006 I presented at a conference co-hosted by universities in Sweden and Finland and it was there that I first heard about the success of Finland's schools and the international PISA testing that studied 15 year old students throughout the world. Patrik Scheinen, dean of the University of Helsinki Graduate School of Social Sciences made a presentation at that conference on PISA and the Finland results. When I met Patrik again more officially in 2008 at the University of Helsinki, he told me that he was actively searching for links between educational Sloyd, craft training and the success of Finland's schools, but from the standpoint of social sciences, proving a direct causative link would difficult, or even impossible. Sloyd is part of the compulsory curriculum in all Finnish Schools, so it would be difficult to measure its value since there are no schools without Sloyd to provide a comparison.

Here's the link between Sloyd and the Finnish success story, but it is not something you discover by testing in the social sciences, and it has to do with much more than just the presence or absence of wood shops. Uno Cygnaeus was the founder of the Finnish Folk Schools and also the originator of Educational Sloyd. He had been selected by the Russian Czar to develop a national system of folk Schools as an expression of gratitude for Finnish cooperation during the Napoleonic Wars. Cygnaeus looked to Friedrich Froebel for inspiration and developed Sloyd as a way of extending the hands-on learning principles of kindergarten into the upper grades. The projects were designed to foster a sense of partnership between home and school that exists in Finland to this day. In the spirit of Froebel's Kindergarten, teachers and schools in Finland were given a sacred mission to perform on behalf of the nation's children. Today, as in the 1860's Educational Sloyd is still a part of Finnish education. You will also find other things from the Froebel model... laboratory science at all levels of education, outdoor education, and a profound respect for the role of teachers in society. The Smithsonian offers yet another article on Finland's Schools asking,Why are Finlands Schools So Successful? Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School principal Kari Louhivuori answers the question this way, "This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life."

Educators from all over the world are studying Finland's schools and marveling at their well documented success. Educators from the US are coming up with excuses as to why their model won't work here. We, it seems, want to turn education over to machines instead to save money. But don't buy that. The hands offer the opportunity to engage students at all levels. Put the hands in play, and education with real learning will follow. Create every possible opportunity for the arts, for laboratory science, for crafting things from real materials that serve to reinforce the connection in learning between home and school. What we would discover and achieve as a result would be teachers who are offered profound respect, classes in which every child matters, and education that would be world class as our nation and our children deserve.

You might know if you are a regular reader of this blog, that woodworking in American Schools started for the same reasons that Uno Cygnaeus invented Educational Sloyd, to extend the Kindergarten progressive method throughout education. We forgot that, abandoned wood shops, and American education fell into decline despite all the money and technology we've thrown its way. Of course we cannot simply transport a whole culture of learning from one country to another. We cannot suddenly create a culture in which teachers are respected and empowered as they need to be. But we can put a handle on it, get a firm grasp on learning, acknowledge how we learn best and begin to get a grip. Put the hands in action in each lesson, and at every level and we will witness a revival in American education.

Today the first, second and third grade students made Sloyd pencil sharpeners in the CSS wood shop, as shown above and at left.

Today I started my new finger counting strategy with the kids to help them remember the sequence of steps in the project. As I described the steps, I asked them to start counting on their fingers. The thumb and little finger are touched for the first step, then the next fingers are touched in sequence, and the thumb is held up for step 5. I explained to my second and third grade students that the intraparietal sulcus is the part of the brain which does both counting and controls the movement of the fingers. My objective was to get students thinking of the steps in the process, and to get them to remember them without me needing to remind them what to do next. Don't you just know that the system worked? As I did the steps in my demonstration, I could see their fingers counting along, and when they started work, there were very few questions as to what to do next. I suspect this same strategy would work whenever there are complicated orders of operation to follow, like in advanced math, and this is certainly a way that you can test the Wisdom of the Hands for yourself.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

education... where do woodworkers fit into this mess?

The decline of American education and the loss of woodworking in schools are parallel paths. As more and more educators became convinced that all students should be continuously monitored for comprehension in reading and math, all the real proving grounds for learning have been pushed aside. Music, wood shop, the arts, PE and laboratory science, have been marginalized so that students can fill in bubbles on test sheets.

It is my hope that this blog will help awaken and mobilize us all to bring necessary change. And you can be a part. Do not hesitate to share what you know of the value of hands-on learning. And what WE know is this: The hands are the cutting edge of the mind. Engage the hands and learning follows. What we learn hands-on, we learn to greater effect because we have been 100 percent engaged while learning. What we learn hands-on is retained far longer because our full range of senses has been engaged in recording our presence in learning. Throughout American education billions of dollars are spent to keep children restrained in classrooms where they are bored and put through exercises that do not add up to real learning. And we can change all that.  Call for the strategic implementation of the hands.

Today in my CSS woodshop, the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students will be sharpening chisels and preparing to cut their first dovetails. Your assignment for today... Tell someone about hands-on learning. If you don't quite have the words for it, direct them to this blog. Be one, teach one. Your love of woodworking can be the means through which intelligence and character are passed on for another generation.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 05, 2011

is classroom technology worth the investment?

The jury is still out. The broad assumption has been that investing billions in computer technology and software would pay off big time in student test scores... but hey, it really isn't working yet. Is Technology Necessary for Learning?

Actually, there is high tech, there is low tech, and there is appropriate technology, and part of the challenge of education is determining which fits where and in what order.

Otto Salomon, in the Theory of educational sloyd laid out the guiding principles for learning. 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. There is little wrong with high tech that low tech and appropriate tech in the right hands can't fix. Give students tools of all kinds in the order that allows for their growth and then expect them not just to learn, but to DO wonderful things. Ask them to solve real problems working with teams under the guidance of artists and craftsmen.

Here, by the way, is more about the educational system in Finland: The Finland Phenomenon: Inside The World’s Most Surprising School System – VIDEO Tony Wagner of Harvard says:
“There is no domestic testing except a very quiet auditing program to test demographic samples of kids; not for accountability, not for public consumption, and not for comparison across schools. The fascinating thing is that because they have created such a high level of professionalism, they can trust their teachers. Their motto is “Trust Through Professionalism.

The difference between the highest performing school in Finland and the lowest performing school in Finland is less than four percent, and that’s without any testing at all…

Finland is rated among the highest in the world in innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. It’s not your grandfather’s socialist country in any sense of the word.
Now, why the heck can't we learn a few things about that?

Today I'm preparing for my first students in wood shop tomorrow. They will begin sharpening chisels to prepare for cutting their first hand cut dovetails. In the photo above is my new set up tool for setting plane knives and chisels in the sharpening jig. It provides easy reference for a consistent measure of 30 degrees in the angle between the blade and sharpening stone. Since we are starting out with new chisels, the students will start by making certain the back sides of each is dead flat and highly polished, as no proper cutting edge can be maintained if the back side of the chisel is not honed perfectly flat.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Old tools, no handles in sight...

A new discovery of old tools pushes back the starting point for when scientists believe complex tools were first developed my our human predecessors to 1.76 million years ago. You can read about it in this article in the New York Times, Earliest Signs of Advanced Tools Found. These are not actually the oldest tools made by human predecessors. Oldowan tools were more primitive in design, only slightly modified from their shape as found objects to be of greater use.

In the meantime, while stone tools have been made for well over a million years, the handle is a more recent invention, having arrived in the last 35,000 years of human history.

The handle was what launched man into a profound level of expansion and domination of the planet as it extended the range and power of his tools. Think of this keyboard that I am "typing on" as a handle allowing me to craft my thoughts on the internet.

Richard Bazeley sent a photo from Australia of one of his students' cabinets. Each student in his 11th grade wood shop is making a cabinet of his or her own design, and learning a great deal from the experience.

Randall Henson has made a backyard pizza oven. The experience of making it he calls "an emerging consciousness of the hands." Randall describes his experience as follows:
Wet sand gives the oven its “dome shape”. After I formed the sand dome, I layered a cob/clay mixture over the sand mold. Once the cob/clay mixture was dry I pulled the sand out with my hands, essentially creates a void, which becomes the oven. Pulling 250 lbs of wet sand through a 12” x 10” opening required a a careful touch since the cob/clay shell is still damp and fragile. Since I couldn’t see (inside) while digging out the sand, I found that I had to rely more on “feel or touch” to get the sand out and not gouge the clay wall.

I can’t wait to make pizza.
I made pizza last night, so I know how Randall Feels.
Randall suggests Kiko Denser's blog, Earth-Art for those who want to know more.

Make, fix and create...

On another subject, I often use the blog as a place to keep notes, thoughts in progress, for later use, and as a wedge as in cutting stone to pry things apart to look inside. Aldous Huxley, in his book Heaven and Hell describes that humans have always visualized heaven as being earth, only more so, and the efforts of artists have often been to cast reality or portray heaven in a more perfect light. In most descriptions in most religious faiths that propose heaven, the colors are brighter, the images are cleaner and more compelling, the scents and sounds almost beyond earthly description. Some religions propose that the sex is much better there, available in greater quantity and more profound. Huxley notes on more modern times:
"Familiarity breeds indifference. We have seen too much pure, bright color at Woolworths's to find it intrinsically transporting. And here we many note that, by its amazing capacity to give us too much of the best things, modern technology has tended to devaluate the traditional vision-inducing materials. The illumination of a city, for example, was once a rare event, reserved for victories and national holidays, for the canonization of saints, and the crowing of kings. Now it occurs nightly and celebrates the virtues of gin, cigarettes and toothpaste...

"... Modern technology has had the same devaluating effect on glass and polished metal as it has had on fairy lamps and pure, bright colors. By John of Patmos and his contemporaries wall of glass were conceivable only in the New Jerusalem. Today they are a feature of every up-to-date office, building and bungalow. and this glut of glass as been paralleled by a glut of chrome and nickel, of stainless steel and aluminum and a host of alloys old and new. Metal surface wink as us in the bathroom, shine from the kitchen sink, go glittering across country in cars and streamliners.

"Those rich convex reflections, which so fascinated Rembrandt that he never tired of rendering them in paint, are now the commonplaces of home and street and factory. The fine point of seldom pleasure has been blunted. What was once a needle of visionary delight has now become a piece of disregarded linoleum."
And so is there a place for all this in well crafted wood? What is that place? In the midst of so much that was mindlessly created, is there a place for craftsmanship?

I keep asking some of the same questions over and over in the blog, and keep getting the same answers and finding some pretty profound voices to help me to explain a few things. This link is to an earlier blog post concerning Elliot Eisner, the arts and the creation of mind.

Use the comments function to discuss...

Saturday, September 03, 2011

sources of creativity...

There are two sources of creativity, whether you are talking about crafts or some other human endeavor. Both of these are well known to those who work with wood. The first could be called serendipity if you want to be kind, or accident if you want to be honest. We all make mistakes and learn from them, and inherent in those mistakes is the opportunity to reflect on the deliberate application of the effects demonstrated in the mistake. The adhesive used in the post-it note is a classic example of something that arose quite by accident, but turned out to be useful despite its inventor's original intentions. These kinds of things happen all the time in the wood shop, and it just takes being in the right frame of mind to recognize them.

The second source of creativity is engaged as we wrestle with repairs to mistakes we have made, resolve issues in the making of things or as we brainstorm new ideas for projects, and it involves the human capacity to use simile, metaphor and hypothesis. These represent the more deliberate (less accidental) creative act.

If this then perhaps that.

We compare one thing to others and make proposals to be tested in actual circumstance. Much of this actually centers around the tools and materials we have available for use and the techniques in the use of those tools and materials that we have been taught to understand. As our understanding of all the available tools, techniques, processes and materials expand, we have a broader catalog of available content from which to draw hypotheses. What if I did this with that tool or tried to do that in this material? Or what if I tried to apply this technique to that operation? In real life you cannot whittle a stick without making hypotheses regarding direction of grain, and angle of blade, etc, and it is during engagement in the real world that effective hypotheses are formed. When Maslow said that if the only tool you have is a hammer then all problems look like nails, this is precisely what he was talking about... Maslow was not really talking about the tool itself, but the metaphorical framework that can be drawn from it and applied to a wide (or narrow) range of problems.

Arthur C. Clarke said, "a teacher who can be replaced by a machine should be." As education adapts to advancing computer technologies, teachers are being challenged to redefine their roles. There are things that effective teachers do (and have always done when allowed) that machines cannot. And those must become the areas that teachers reinforce, augment and sustain in the re-creation of self. As teachers attempt to adapt to technological change, some of this can actually make teaching easier, more stimulating and more satisfying in the long run. Instead of teaching being a field in which one third of new teachers leave the profession in the first three years, we would find hard wired communities of life long learners growing around them.

Wired magazine has an article about Khan Academy. In some subjects, like math, it is possible that a machine can teach to a broad range of student abilities better than most teachers. If, as was proposed by Charles H. Ham in 1880, schools were ever to become workshop/laboratories where ideas could be tested by hand, eye, and skill, under the guidance of craftsmen/mentor/counselor/scholars, and assisted by resources provided by technology, we would be making full use of our capacity toward the education of our children as lifelong learners. The following is from the article on Khan Academy describing why one teacher is using it:
For years, teachers have complained about the frustrations of teaching to the “middle” of the class. They stand at the whiteboard, trying to get 25 or more students to learn the same stuff at the same pace. And, of course, it never really works: Advanced kids get bored and tune out, lagging ones get lost and tune out, and pretty soon half the class isn’t paying attention. Since the rise of personal computers in the early ’80s, educators have hoped that technology could solve this problem by offering lessons tailored to each kid. Schools have blown millions, maybe billions, of dollars on sophisticated classroom technology, but the effort has been in vain.

What students need most in this era of advancing technology, just as they've always needed is the opportunity to test and apply hands-on, in real time, and in physical relaity those things that they have learned from their learning environment, whether simple or complex. Students must be asked to respond in fact and in form to that which they have learned, and there as always lies the teacher's most important and creative task, that of leading and inspiring their students hands (and hearts) toward work. At Clear Spring School we have been leading the way in this for years.

Today in the wood shop I've been sanding and oiling small boxes. Examples are shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, September 02, 2011

we're not done yet...

I got an email this morning from a concerned mother who learned that her son had been kept from counting on his fingers in the second week of second grade. This came as a surprise because I didn't know that there were still schools in which the relationship between the brain, fingers and math was still misunderstood. The concerned mother wrote:
I discovered your blog via a web search while looking for research about Counting on Fingers. Specifically, your December 22, 2009 post included a comment by you that stated, "...Some thought that children should be discouraged from counting on their fingers. But the research tells us otherwise..."

My son is in his second week of second grade and has been FORBIDDEN to use his fingers to "add on" while doing addition. This is much to my dismay as I still find myself doing this. I have a Bachelor of Science degree, a teaching certification, and am only one class from a second degree in criminal justice. I don't think I qualify as exactly 'stupid.' However, that is how I am being made to feel.

In preparing to meet - again - with my child's teacher and campus administration, I am trying to "get my ducks in a row" by obtaining as much research as I am able to back up my views. I have searched and searched the internet but haven't found much. What research have you found to support the use of "finger counting?" Any assistance you are able to provide would be MUCH appreciated.
The quickest way to find resources on the relationship between fingers and math is to use the google search terms, intraparietal sulcus, fingers and math. The intraparietal sulcus is the part of the brain that controls the fingers and also does math. Using these search terms, any mom facing the same dilemma can become "armed" with the facts. She (and you) will find journal articles to download and websites that offer insight. Another important paper is by Nancy Jordan, Development of number combination skill in the early school years: when do fingers help?

Even armed with the facts, it can be difficult asking a teacher to change methods, and extremely awkward for the child involved. The good thing is that these matters can be discussed with a second grade child. No child is too young to begin to understand the relationship between the hands and learning. He or she can be reassured that counting on fingers is no sign of stupidity, but rather one of natural development. The wisdom of the hands will not arrive in one fell swoop, but will take generations. While we are being patient, and persistent,

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 01, 2011

finland's most honorable profession?

Teacher. This article is about the attempt by West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Steven Paine, to reshape public education to take advantage of what we can learn from the success of schools in Finland. It is all about the dignity of and respect for the teaching profession:
The most important lesson the United States can take from Finland is the "preparation and development of high-quality teachers," Paine said.

This starts with honoring the profession, he said.

"In Finland, it is a tremendous honor to be a teacher, and teachers are afforded a status comparable to what doctors, lawyers and other highly regarded professionals enjoy in the U.S.," he said.

In addition, like other professions, teachers gain seniority and tenure primarily on the basis of training and experience, and teacher unions have a strong voice in shaping education policy -- all very controversial in the United States.

The profession is held in such high regard that competition to get teacher training is fierce. Nationally, only about 10% of some 7,000 applicants to primary school programs are accepted annually to Finnish teacher training programs, according to statistics from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.

And it's not about the money.

"In Finland, they do attract the very best and brightest into the profession, and it has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with the respect that is given to the profession," Paine said.

In fact, teachers in Finland are paid about the same as teachers in the U.S.
What a notion... treat someone with dignity and respect, trust them to do what they are trained to do, and let them arise to exceed your highest expectations. The great shame of our educational system and of our nation is that we do not. When I was at the University of Helsinki in 2008, I visited the wood shop where kindergarten teachers are trained in woodworking. You will not find that at any university in the US. But read the whole article. It is not just about teaching, and trust of teachers, but also about project based learning and integration of subjects, following the model we use at Clear Spring School.

Today I will be preparing for classes and making small boxes.

Make, fix and create...