Thursday, July 25, 2013


I made two presentations yesterday at the TEAM meeting in Springfield, Missouri. The first was a 45 minute presentation on the Wisdom of the Hands that had to be cut a bit short from what I had planned due to a presentation from an organizational leader telling the dire straights of industrial and agricultural arts in Missouri schools. Fortunately, his presentation led right into mine, and everyone is already aware that we need to do much more to explain the value of our programs.

My second presentation was on box making. It you take the acronym, STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and add an A for the arts, you get STEAM. Add an R for "reflection" and you get STREAM.

My box making presentation was on STREAM. The conference was not well attended, but my classroom for the box making presentation was packed, and attentive. I started with observation and reflection. Students must be invited to think. I centered the lessons on design drawing the arts into the understanding of box making and offered the examination of real boxes which I had brought with me from Arkansas, so that teachers could see clearly the relationship between the theory of educational Sloyd and what they were doing in my own class. A classroom setting is not the best place for individualized learning. And naturally not everyone in the class was able to process the information I presented in the same way. When you understand that, you become watchful for student response or lack of response as feedback. the most interesting thing I've learned about educational Sloyd is that its theories of how we learn apply to everything we as teachers have the responsibility to help our students learn. Just in case any of my teachers from yesterday's presentation are reading today, I'll repeat.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move gradually from the known to the unknown.
  • Move from the easy to the more difficult.
  • Move from the simple to the complex.
  • Move from the concrete to the abstract (and back and forth).
  • Personalize instruction to maximize learning
As I mentioned in my first presentation at yesterday's meeting, Educational Sloyd came 50 years before Piaget, and long before Dewey, Bloom and Jerome Bruner attempted to describe how we develop as learners and how we learn.

One of my teachers during the box making presentation noted that his students are required to write about what they've done in class. That can be a point of reflection. But the reflective process is inherent in all learning actions. When I asked my teachers to each select one of my sample boxes and describe what it was that led them to pick it up, that too, was reflection. When we invite students to become engaged as individuals in learning we invite their personal reflection.

Today, we celebrate the ground breaking for a new studio at ESSA, and this evening, I'll make a short presentation of the powerline proposed for Northwest Arkansas and our efforts to stop it. The boxes above illustrate the concept of "effective surprise," a design principle I shared with my teachers in yesterday's box making class. Open a box and find either wedding bands or a pair of diamond earrings? Surprise.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous9:12 AM

    I have mixed feelings about writing after a woodworking class. Of course it is one of the goal of a school to train students in writing.
    I would have disliked to be obliged to fill in a report with mandatory items about my activity in the woodworking class. The teacher must be carefull not to take the fun out of it. The aim is to make writing fun for those who like handwork not to disgust of handwork those who are not comfortable with writing.
    I like the Journalling idea of Paul Sellers

  2. What I would like folks to understand is that woodworking IS journalling.It tells the story of what we've learned, and it does so more vibrantly in some cases than words, more sincerely in some cases than words, and in woodworking we tell stories that cannot necessarily be told in words. Words have become all powerful in our society because of the printing press and the internet; they can be easily duplicated and widely distributed. And as a consequence, words have become cheap and craftsmanship widely misunderstood and undervalued.

    I had a discussion with educational psychologist Jerome Bruner about narrative. As an example of how a piece of wood can tell a story, I shared a photo of a table I made for a contractor in Little Rock.

    Those who've been taught that stuff is cheap, and unworthy of close examination, will never understand the incredible story that lies within human culture. Perhaps, through writing, however, we can begin to acquaint educators with the story that is told in real workmanship, and through beautiful and useful objects. They need to be asked to open their eyes. They need not remain as pinheads if they were to have a few things explained to them.

    And because the experiential world of making things is a door they've closed on themselves, perhaps words will be the only way we can get through.

  3. Speaking of reflection, you are quite an interesting story of going from student to craftsman to teacher, a story you tell here in the blog.