Thursday, March 29, 2012

STEAM...

We know that all academic disciplines are interconnected just as  life in all its myriad parts is itself thoroughly, and inseparably entwined. We do, however, launch our children into isolated disciplines, isolated classes, treating diverse subjects as standalone distinct disciplines.  We hold them accountable within those disciplines and fail to engage them in an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. I have heard this called the "silo effect." It allows teachers to stand at the front of classes and perpetuate their own course of isolated study, and pretense of expertise. It allows administrators to divide, conquer and organize the structure of their schools, and it allows politicians to push or tweak what they think students should learn. But the total consequence, seen from the angle of development of the whole child is a disaster. Kids are kept from seeing the big picture and kept from seeing the full relevance of learning to their own lives. That, in my view is why kids sit at the back of the class, bored. It is why so many children, failing to see personal relevance to their educations, drop out, leaving their potentials unrevealed.

There is a big push these days for what has been called STEM, an acronym which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The idea is that these things are connected. You cannot come to a complete understanding of math without finding a use for it in science. You cannot understand chemistry, or engineering without having some well defined abilities in math.

Randy Johnson, editor of American Woodworker Magazine told me about a conversation in which the concept of STEAM was mentioned. The idea was that the arts, too, are essential in the understanding of the interrelationship of all things. STEAM is an idea that originated with the Rhode Island School of Design, RISD. STEAM is a word that has power. It allows for the notions of artistic vision and craftsmanship and quality to be understood for the roles they play in driving society forward. I think we are onto something.

When we started the woodworking program at the Clear Spring School, the idea was to use wood shop as an integrating factor, illuminating the relationship between the core subjects. I had noticed that my own woodworking activities were not isolated. Nor were they irrelevant. I used math, science and technology as I engineered my work to reach the standards one might associate with art. Making beautiful and useful objects through the creative engagement of the hands can be the heart of the educational experience.

This morning I met with the Clear Spring School 4th, 5th and 6th grade students to get them started designing covers for their hand crafted travel journals. This afternoon, I am taking photos for an article for American Woodworker Magazine. The first step is to take photos to check lighting. In the article I will be making a dedicated box joint router table. The objective is to make forming box joints so easy and directly accessible that a woodworker can step into his or her wood shop and have a finished box in an afternoon, or several boxes made using box joints during a weekend of work (fun).

I learned that my summer class at Eliot School in Boston, co-sponsored by the North Bennet St. School is nearly full. If any of my readers are interested, now is the time to sign up. Check out the class here.

Make, fix and create...

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