Sunday, August 31, 2014

spooky talk and kerf bent boxes...

This article on ancient American woodworking tools, has a small section kerf bent boxes as made by tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Using hand tools, they were made tight enough to hold boiling water and in a variety of sizes. This article also sheds light on the process.

I am planning my Tuesday morning introduction to woodworking for my 5 first grade students.

My wife and I went for a walk yesterday morning and the reason for my having dreamed that I was caring for a tiny baby in the wood shop became clear. Years ago I made a cradle of cherry that I later wrote an article about in Woodwork Magazine. The cradle became the one that my wife and I loaned out to friends, and the first child to have used it was the son of the founder of Clear Spring School. At this point, the cradle is once again on loan to the same person and her husband as they wait for the arrival of their first grandchild on or about September 15.

And so on  our walk, we ran into our friends unexpectedly and they turned about to walk with us for a ways as we caught up on each other's lives.

Is it too spooky for my readers to consider that the infant I dreamed about caring for in my school wood shop would be the first grandchild to sleep in the cradle I had made so many years before?

When we started the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School in 2001, one of the goals was stated as being that of helping the children to understand the interconnectedness of all things. When your experience of the world grows from the touch outwards, and through the integration of all the senses, you begin to sense the world as an interconnected wholeness. From that vantage point, even the dream lives of separate persons can intertwine.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

infants in woodshop?

Last night I had an anxiety dream in which I had a very tiny baby wrapped up in a blanket in the wood shop. It kept rolling off the pad on the floor where I was to keep it safe. I know this may have been brought on by my having 5 new first grade students to introduce to the wood shop at Clear Spring School. On Tuesday I plan to break the group of 5 down into two smaller groups to go over safety and introduce them to their first use of tools.

Things will be much more convenient for all of us this year, with the school wood shop being dead center of the school campus.

Yesterday, the upper elementary and middle school students worked on tree cookies, and showed enthusiasm for their work. It seems that with kids and adults occupied in the virtual world for so much of the time, their response to doing real things is palpable.

One of the best things about being at the center of the school campus is the opportunity to more closely fulfill the mission of the wood shop. The idea is that what's done in wood shop doesn't stay in wood shop. Items of useful beauty are to be taken home to tell the important story of learning, and are to be used in school to build a state of intense curiosity. Working more closely with the student's regular classroom teachers will build greater usefulness to those things that we make in wood shop. For instance, we're using tree cookies to build an interest in autobiography, but also learned of a composer who uses a turntable and laser to play music directly from discs of cross-sections of real wood in various species.

After making tree cookies, our students were excited to hear the work of  Bartholomaus Traubeck his music played directly by a turntable, laser and piano synthesizer. Yesterday the students wanted to take their finished tree cookies home. They were proud of their work. We had to tell them, "No, we still have use for them in school."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 29, 2014

connect with learning the old fashioned way

NBC news finally did a program on hands-on learning, as though it is new news. Program Encourages Kids to Build, Play the Old-Fashioned Way

Thanks to David for alerting me to news segment. Building things is an important component of hands-on learning. Taking things apart, dissecting, mixing, baking, and music are also important building blocks for engagement. And yet, in American education, educational policy makers insure that students remain bored and complacent, rather than actively learning.

This is the first day of the 14th year of the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School. My students made tree cookies and will use them as a both an exploration of science, and an outline for writing their own stories. It was particularly pleasant to have shop in my new location at the center of the school campus.

These students of mine have unbounded enthusiasm for the wood shop, and went right to work. They kept coming up to me asking me to admire what they had done. I had sanding stations set up to lead them through the various grits. We used plastic nail in feet to make them useful as trivets or coasters.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

new shop

 I have my new wood shop/classroom almost ready to go and will have my first class in the morning. I particularly like my new pegboard tool carts, that allow me to put tools aside when not in use,  and to make the best use of a smaller space. I still have my desk, upper unit, and cabinets to move next week, but had to get things organized to this point first. Moving shops from one space to another is like a trip down memory lane as I rediscover earlier projects hidden in drawers. For instance I have blocks made from maple and walnut that are intended for students to draw. I plan to use them to train my woodworking students in the use of sketchup.

My students are very excited to be back in school and all are particularly excited about wood shop.

I received a copy of the October issue of Wood Magazine in the mail yesterday, including my article on making 4 different styles of lift off lid to fit a box made by their tools editor Bob Hunter. Watch for that magazine at your local book store. It includes my technique for inlaying rocks in a table top or box.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


 Yesterday was a big day for classrooms in the Stowe family. At Clear Spring School, friends and co-workers helped to move the benches and large tools from the old school wood shop to its more central (though smaller) location on the Clear Spring School campus. My shoulders are a bit sore from heavy lifting.

In New York, my daughter was shown her new classroom where she will teach middle school science and math at Booker T. Washington Middle School (MS54) in the upper West Side of Manhattan.

Yesterday, also, in going though comments for the blog, I realized I'd missed a few including one from Teresa, concerning my mother's Kindergarten classroom. You can read her comments in yesterday's blog post, Cookies from down under. If I had a photo to share of my mother's classroom, you would find a stark contrast with the sterile environment made necessary by having up to 33 students in a middle school class. My point is not to criticize, but to simply suggest that the richness of a classroom experience is based in part on the richness of the classroom environment.

When Kindergartens were first introduced in the US, they had a profound effect on the whole of education. Primary school teachers realized that their own classrooms might offer greater warmth for learning, rather than a cold and emotionally chilling environment. As a result, the movement began in which teachers decorated with bulletin boards, classrooms became gaily decorated, and student work was put proudly on display for all to see.

My daughter today is working to bring some visual warmth into her classroom. I will be working from the other direction, attempting to bring some order to the chaos resulting from the move.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

cookies from down under...

olive wood
Richard Bazeley has been cutting tree cookies in his own school in Australia. these small slices of wood are an excellent correlation between wood shop and science classes, and if a kid becomes interested in science as a result of doing something real in wood shop, no harm is done by having such opportunities available.

In fact the greater harm is done by having children learn about science without ever learning to do science. As I've said so many times before, you can't successfully whittle a stick without using scientific method, and so the wood shop is the perfect launch site for the future of scientific engagement.

The other thing that this project demonstrates is the usefulness of the teacher's enthusiasm. Richard plans to offer a plate of cookies for examination by other teaching staff when they have their morning tea. I have some small tack on feet that will go on the underside of our tree cookies that will turn them into small coasters or trivets.

This simple project is also a good demonstration of the appropriate use of technology. Richard and I have been exchanging photos taken with iPhone and iPad, and so while most schools are trying to figure out ways of excluding such devices from the classroom, they are just tools.

Just as one would learn the appropriate care and use of the hammer or saw, children must learn the appropriate use of more advanced technologies.

Tree cookies of various species are beautiful!
I received a wonderful remembrance of my Mother as a Kindergarten teacher, which may explain why I find Kindergarten to be the most wonderful age in schooling. Each and every year should be as memorable as Kindergarten, and Teresa wrote:
I came across your blog after talking to my own kids this morning about my wonderful kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Stowe. I was in her afternoon class in the fall of 1973. At 46, I still have so many memories of being in her class. I was telling my children about the tee-pee that we had in our class and the clay pots we made like Native Americans. There was an alphabet rug on the floor and everyone sat in a circle on the letters. We learned a lot about letters! I remember a time we had a full carnival in our classroom, just for our class. She passed out popcorn and we had a great time! We got naps back in those days and every day I would lay so still, so quiet because the kid who was the quietest, got to use the clown puppet to walk around the room and wake everyone up, one by one. What a privilege that was! Your mom was a special woman that leaves behind a legacy of excellence in teaching. 

Make, fix and create...


Monday, August 25, 2014

tree cookies...

This is the first week of school at Clear Spring School. The kids are returning for goal setting conferences today and tomorrow, and will begin classes on Wednesday. Tomorrow we move the benches and large equipment into the new Clear Spring School wood shop (its temporary location). All the students and parents are excited that the wood shop will be at the exact center of the school campus, and I am excited about the extra collaboration my new location will offer.

Our first project in the upper elementary/middle school will be to make what one teacher called "tree cookies." By counting along the rings on a piece of wood, you can create an outline of your own life, noting important years, seasons and events.

I tried making large cookies from old walnut, but found that the wood was so old and had been so slow growing that it was hard to count the tiny rings and there were far too many of them to be relevant to the students' own story lines without delving deep into the history of their town.

So I cut into a piece of hackberry that was cut last winter, and found that it has enough annual rings to go back to the birth of each student. To make cuts like this on the bandsaw takes great care, a tight grip and a sled to hold the round stock square through the cut. The tendency is for the round stock to twist, jamming the blade and ruining it. The sled gives a surface against which the round stock can be tightly gripped.

Wood and human beings are both narrative forms. While we tell our stories in the form of words, either written or spoken, trees record their growth in the form of annual rings. Where there's a knot, there had been a branch, and if there had been a drought or season of wet weather, the rings of the tree remember and can be read, just as one might read a book. Our upper elementary school teacher plans to use the tree cookies to get the children to outline their own lives and the important events that took place within them and then to use that outline as the basis for autobiography.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

poverty of mind and hand and spirit...

One of the primary determining factors in whether or not a child will graduate from high school or college is the number of years that child has lived in poverty. Young mothers and fathers working two jobs to enable their children to be clothed and fed sets a noble example for children to follow in their own lives if they are able. But for most, the challenges of poverty are enormous and insurmountable.

Americans, on the other hand, could awaken to what the statistics tell... if we want to fix education, we must also work to alleviate poverty, allow parents to earn a living wage, and resolve the remaining problems in providing health insurance for all.

And yet, Americans refuse to understand the role that poverty plays in the lives of our kids. The US has 21 percent of children living in poverty. Finland, one of the world's leaders in education has less than 5 percent.

Where children have safe homes and parents who have the time and opportunity to invest in their intellectual growth from day one, children are thus moved toward greater capacity in school, but also in life.

There is this strange notion that by giving our children expensive high tech devices to occupy their hands, minds and spirits, we have given them our best, while we ourselves are distracted by our own hand held digital devices. There is a double whammy to that. Children are losing the attention of their parents, and children themselves are losing their engagement in the real world. I've certainly said this before, and will say it again: What we learn, hands-on, by doing real things, has greater lasting effect than that which is learned second hand.

Another factor in all this is that as our shifted the intellectual requirements of most jobs onto digital devices, we have left less dignity and value in skilled human endeavors, and made human beings second fiddle to the machine.

There is no better way of learning than by making beautiful and useful things... be it music, art, or a finely crafted wooden box. The photo above is of cutting a groove for a sliding lid to fit a box for a sphere, a cylinder and a cube.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 22, 2014

percival keene

I am in the midst of reading one of Frederick Marryat's books Percival Keene in which he describes the exploits of a young man growing up at the end of the 18th century in England. His books, being out of copyright protection are free on Google play. His character, Percival is a mischievous boy, full of pranks, and his grandmother, to get even for his escapades, made certain he was sent to a school in which he would suffer from corporal punishment. You may remember the old saying, "spare the rod, spoil the child" and Percival's grandmother and the teacher shared that line of thought.The teacher in Percival's first school had three ways of inflicting pain. One was the ruler, which would be hurled across the room at whomever he thought was deserving of it at the moment. Once hurled, the teacher would demand that it be returned so that it could be hurled again. If a teacher were to try that these days, safety glasses would be required for the object at the time was for the child to be hit in the head. The second tool of enforcement was a stick with a hole at one end and this was used to slap hands and rap knuckles. The third tool of inflicting pain and embarrassment was the birch rod, which would be used to whip bare bottoms of the children the teacher felt most anger toward.

Percival learned quickly that the 3rd, the birch rod, considered worst punishment was best, for by being beaten regularly, it was lessened in effect. Once the butt became hardened and if the child hollered convincingly, it was almost the same as getting off scot free. Not one to simply allow himself to be hurt without consequence, Percival devised ways of punishing the teacher as well. In one incident, he stopped the teacher from taking his sandwiches at lunchtime by putting poison in them along with the extra mustard the teacher demanded. As a final prank, he put the teacher out of business by blowing him up. The teacher had confiscated all the boy's' fireworks on Guy Fawkes day, and put them safely under the crate that served as his dais. Percival added half a pound of gunpowder to the mix and a trail that he could light. The result was that the professor was blown to the ceiling and the tenement in which the school was housed was burned to the ground.

In any case, Marryat, the author, had some interesting things to say about education, based on his own personal experience of such:
"Commence with one child at three years and with another at seven years old, and in ten years, the one whose brain was left fallow even till seven years old, will be quite as far, if not further advanced, than the child whose intellect was prematurely forced at the earlier age; this is a fact which I have since seen proved in many instances, and it certainly was corroborated in mine."
I am always astounded that those who have practical experience in the world may have a different view of education than so many who have taken a purely academic approach to learning. In the US, educational  policy makers assume that if kids are not reading by the time they reach first grade, they need to force them to read in Kindergarten. Then if children aren't reading by Kindergarten, they want to force them to learn reading in pre-school. All this is made interesting when we compare the US to Finland, where by starting children to read in school at age 8, they far surpass American children (according to PISA testing) in 30 percent less time, while also learning English in addition to their two national languages.  It is noteworthy that our own that over 21% of American children live in poverty compared to under 5% in Finland.  But Americans seem to regard other Americans living in poverty not being a concern for national interest, whereas forcing students to achieve in schools is.

Those who have been chained to desks are thus the least cognizant of what it takes to learn in the world. Marryat, as a young man had run away from home three times in his efforts to go to sea. His parents, exasperated, finally allowed him to become a midshipman in the British Navy, where he distinguished himself through a variety of daring exploits, finally retiring as a Captain, and making a number of important contributions including a code for communication between ships.

The point I would make is that there is no such thing as a brain being "left fallow." In Percival's case, he was a mischievous child, one who prior to schooling carefully navigated means through which to have fun. Fun and play are the true source of most effective learning.

Today I did a bit of woodturning at my old school shop, perhaps my last creative act in that space, and I am continuing to move tools from the old school wood shop to the new. I turned the ball and cylinder for the book on Making Froebel's gifts.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Be Amazed...

Be Amazed???

Here in Northwest Arkansas, a group of corporate benefactors including Walmart and theWalton Family Foundation, have invested in a new children's musuem called the Amazeum. The idea of it is as follows:
From their earliest days, people inquire, explore, and soak up ideas, and they thrive in environments rich with stimulation. From childhood, they gather information that will guide them throughout their lives; they never stop asking questions, and they depend on everyone around - parents, friends, community-to join them in this amazing adventure. The Amazeum, a hands-on museum for children and families coming to Northwest Arkansas, is the dream of a community - to educate people in the best ways possible for whatever lies ahead and to engage the entire family in exploration, learning, and fun.
Should that form of education be the exclusive domain of museums, while schools are left the most boring places in the world? I say no.

Yesterday our head of school attended his usual Wednesday morning Rotary meeting and found that the guest speaker was from the Amazeum, telling of the wonders of their new children's museum. Our head of schools had to bite his tongue and sit on his hands to refrain from asking "What's so new about that?" We teach this way every day at the Clear Spring School. Hand-on, experiential learning should not be limited to those whose parents are able to take them to museums on the weekends, while most children are left disengaged from real life.

Today, I am still moving small things from my old woodshop to the new and have yet to organize my new space for the new year. I am also in the process of writing a second chapter for my book on Friedrich Froebel.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

to awaken (and not put to sleep) the love of learning...

Learning is the human being's most vital function, and the thing most natural but for the beating of the child's heart. And yet, in schooling due to the undue emphasis on standardized testing, and our fixation on measured results we immerse children in boredom.

The following video from Khan Academy would lead you to think that the important love of learning takes place away from the screen and outside the classroom, and you only discover that it is an advertisement from Khan Academy when in the midst of cartwheels, and balance beams you see the use of the computer screen. Most of the important learning you will see in the video could be best described as hands on. Even cartwheels are dependent on the proper placement of the hands, and without the hands going to their proper places, all else becomes disaster.

In any case, we have to applaud all instruments that attempt to give students a leg up on learning.

I have been reading novels written and published in the 19th century by Captain Frederick Marryat. His stories are delightful and available free on Google Books for a variety of eReaders, including the iPad. In addition to being free to todays' readers, Marryat's adventures were accurately told, and based on real life of the times, unlike the made up fantasy fodder we use today to enlist children's engagement in reading.

There is a difference between hands-on learning and the artificial learning constructs we use to bore kids and lead them to a state in which their natural inclinations to learn are suppressed. When you do something real in your own hands, whether making beautiful and useful objects, using a scalpel to dissect a frog, or have your hands on the strings of an instrument and are attempting to make beautiful sounds come out, the natural curiosity is awakened and brought into action.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

a solar proposal...

Some of my readers will know that friends and I have been pitted against one of the largest power transmission companies in the world, in an attempt to stop them from destroying our properties for a power line that is not necessary, and that had been proposed under false pretenses. What follows is my official proposal to change the dynamics of our relationship.

STO proposal to SWEPCO

Not one of us wants to keep AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool as our sworn enemies for the rest of our lives, but as long as they are trying to build the Shipe Road to Kings River power line, that will be the case. In 2007, the Southwest Power Pool did a study that said that the power line was needed for growth and reliability. Save the Ozarks expert witness, Hyde Merrill, did his study that refuted SWEPCO’s plan. Following Dr. Merrill’s review, even SWEPCO admitted that the reason that they had first proposed for the power line no longer exists. The grid is a dynamic arrangement of power lines, substations, transformers and various providers, each playing their own role in things, and that’s the reason a study that is more than five years old as was this one can no longer be considered valid.

This whole matter seems to have started out with a study that indicated that a new power line might help. Cross examination of a Southwest Power Pool witness revealed that originally SWEPCO only wanted to build a 161 kV power line in response to the study. A utility addicted to profit jumped at the chance to build it, even in the larger 345 kV that the Southwest Power Pool demanded. When the power line was no longer able to be proved necessary in either size, their addiction to growth kept them from admitting the truth, and once they had it in their minds to build it and their CEO saw potential profits in it, the project took on a momentum of its own with no member of the corporation willing to take responsibility for the foolishness of it.

The reputations of AEP/SWEPCO, the Southwest Power Pool and the Arkansas Public Service Commission have been seriously and deservedly battered by the opponents to this power line. How can they attempt to restore their good names? Save the Ozarks can help.

At the beginning of all this, SWEPCO purchased a 40 acre cow pasture on the Kings River as the site to which this power line would be run. The pasture that SWEPCO bought for the excessive price of $600,000 could serve as the cornerstone for SWEPCO’s attempt to redeem itself. I would not trust AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to have fully put this power line proposal to rest until that 40-acre site has been converted to the first commercial solar development in Carroll County.  A full 40 acres of solar array would go a long ways to alleviate concerns about our growth and the reliability of their system, and it would serve to put them back in a better public relations position in our community. If that 40-acre field was filled with solar panels, those of us who have fought this power line for over a year, might even relax about it, and that 40-acre solar farm would match acre per acre and panel for panel, the largest solar farm in Missouri.

When mistakes are made and called to our attention, we offer apologies and attempt to do whatever we can to make amends and restore ourselves to positions of trust in our communities. The 40-acre site on the Kings turned into an investment in a brighter future would serve both SWEPCO and our local community in a far more meaningful way than the power line they have fought for and we have fought against. If the solar farm on the Kings River were offered as an olive branch, concurrent with the withdrawal of the Shipe Road to Kings River application and closure of the docket 13-041-U, we would welcome it.

As a member of the board of Save the Ozarks, I propose a partnership. We will help SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool turn their expensive cow pasture into a state of the art solar farm. It would be a winning solution that will bring credit to SWEPCO. It would be a project we could all feel proud of, and it would take SWEPCO off their position as public enemy number one in Northwest Arkansas.

Doug Stowe

For my usual readers, I conclude, Make, fix and create... but with this note:

If the engineers and attorneys at SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool had the advantages of having taken wood shop in school, they might have been less out of touch, and their characters would have had enough depth to have avoided their fiasco.

it wood be fun...

As I am moving my shop into a new smaller space on the Clear Spring School campus, I am going through things on my move and touching base with various things in the shop that I could tend to overlook under normal circumstances. I plan to sell some large tools on Craigs list rather than put them in storage where they will decline in value through disuse. I am also reviewing my library of excellent books for introducing woodworking to kids.

Michael  Bentinck-Smith's book, It Wood Be Fun, woodworking with children, is based on his 41 years (from 1966-2007) as wood working teacher for Milton Academy, Milton, Massachusetts,  Kindergarten through 6th grade. I highly recommend this book. It offers a clear understanding that in the process of making things, children are indeed making themselves. The character benefits of craftsmanship should not be ignored, and those schools that fail to offer opportunities for making beautiful and useful things have lost track of one of the most important tools for helping children to be their best.

You can read more about It Wood Be Fun, here. And yes, it is fun.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, August 18, 2014

lift lids

If you are a subscriber to Wood Magazine, watch the mail for the latest issue to arrive. If you are not, go to your local book store and buy or browse a copy. I've written an article about making various designs of lift lids in the October issue of Wood Magazine. I've not seen a copy yet, but was alerted to it's arrival by a friend. Some readers will recognize the lid designs as they were featured first in this earlier blog post.

Today I will continue moving things  from my old school wood shop to a new location on the school campus.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

dexterous thinking...

I have updated my Amazon Author's page.


dekˈsteritē noun: dexterity

skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands.

We also think of the mind as having dexterity, particularly when it is flexible in its thinking, nimble and quick. We tend not to think of intelligence as arising from the use of the hands, and yet it is so that both character and intellect arise through the process of craftsmanship.

If anyone wants a careful explanation of all this, they might read Will-Developed Intelligence, Handwork & Practical Arts in the Waldorf School Elementary Through High School, by David Mitchell and Patricia Livingston. Some of Rudolf Steiner's writings are filled with concepts that take some effort to grasp, and the use of philosophical jargon is always a thing that presents challenges to those who are not already into the study of such things. But this text serves as a strong rationale for the purposeful engagement of the hands. Steiner had said,
"We are living in he midst of a world produced by man, formed by human thoughts, which we use, and which we don't understand. This fact, that we understand nothing of something which is formed by man, of something which is basically the result of human thoughts, has great significance for the entire sphere in which the human soul and spirit live... The worst is experiencing a world made by man, without concerning oneself with it in the slightest.-- Rudolf Steiner-- The Study of Man.
 Just think of your own life as an example. How many times a day do you engage in the use of technologies that you can't understand? We have become comfortable with this situation. But would we have a greater sense of mastery and completeness if we had the capacity to see behind the flat screen of modern day technologies? To understand simple things prepares us to understand and manage complexity. Children are routinely introduced to things that seem simple on the surface, but that are far beyond their abilities to understand, and are thus completely out of their control and with no simple starting point for their intellectual engagement and exploration. These technologies are a means through which children and adults are easily manipulated, but that they are unable to manipulate themselves except in the most superficial manner.

Children would be best off being given saws and hammers rather than iPhone and iPads, even if they left trails of sawdust behind them and sawed the legs off our favorite chairs.

I'd written earlier about the necessary education of will. My readers may enjoy this old blog post from 2011. The education of the will. 

I titled this post dexterous thinking as a follow up to some reading I've done on the subject of "visual thinking." For surely if some are "visual thinkers," others of us are dextrous. But rather than set one sense in contention with another, in the making of human intelligence we should note that when children are set to work doing real things, and all the senses are thus engaged, learning takes place in depth and to greatest lasting effect..

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

hands on math

Meet the First Woman to Win Math’s Most Prestigious Prize, Maryam Mirzakhani, doodles to gain a sense of things as her theorems progress, and there is an interesting sidebar to the article explaining that if mirrors are set up on every surface upon which a billiards ball will strike, it will be seen to follow a straight line. At Clear Spring School we've always used hands-on means of learning math, and have used the wood shop as a means to both learn math and apply it, but we are really trying to lift our student performance to a higher level.

So one of the things we are investigating is called "Math-U-See. We had a demonstration of it yesterday via Skype, and found it appealing as it will allow integration between grade levels from K through high school, and without the kind of stigma attached as to whether or not a student is performing at this or that particular grade level. It can be rather boring to watch videos, but we were able to have a set of math-u-see blocks on hand to see, hold and manipulate during the lesson, and we all know that helps. Effective teaching uses as much of the brain as possible, and in order to do, uses as many of the senses as can possibly be engaged in the process.

In my own wood shop yesterday, I finally applied finish to the demonstration boxes I made to weeks ago at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 15, 2014

math's top prize...

I have been moving my Clear Spring School wood shop and still working to finish the boxes I started as demonstration boxes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Next comes application of Danish Oil.

The first female to win math's top prize described her two brain storming strategies.
"Iranian-born Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University has become the first woman to win the top award in mathematics, the Field’s Medal. The award, often described as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, is given every four years to up to four scholars and has been around since 1936. Mirzakhani was awarded the prize for her work in complex geometry and navigation within spaces."
One strategy is to let discoveries sneak up on her. The other is to doodle. Both take advantage of the non-linear progression of thought. And neither are what we have children do in schools. The idea of most educational institutions is based on a brain-body oppositional model in which the teacher is the head of the class and the students the body (student body, get it?) And the body is thought to be the inferior appendage, that needs to sit still and fall under the control of mind.

But what if you brain and your gut are actually one system, each dependent on the other, and what would that tell us about the appropriate design of education? The brain gut axis is a thing coming more and more into the news as doctors learn that we are what we eat. An NPR news report Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds describes it. You can also experiment on your own using pro-biotics and see how they make you think.

On two points... one the use of the unconscious mind to bring an indirect approach to problem solving, and the use of doodling to activate the unconscious mind, so much of problem solving involves the non-linear progression of thought. I live in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and we are an arts colony run rampant with what we call "Eureka" moments, in which coincidences occur, and unexpected connections are made.

You can't plan those unexpected connections, but they are essential to effective learning. A state of surprise generates a dose of neuro-hormones in the body that increase the level of attention, and thus  stimulate more effective learning. And those connections are most authentic and effective when they are unscripted, like when Archimedes discovered how to measure his own body volume by sitting in the bath and measuring the overflow. We know that he was so excited by his discovery that he ran naked through the streets to proclaim his discovery.

We will know that we've got schools functioning as they need to when kids are so excited about what they've discovered (not what they've been taught) that they will run naked (figuratively) through the streets. The act of discovery seem to be left out of the equation when it comes to American education.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

special delivery...

This morning, I delivered the donations box to the local Carnegie Public Library to replace one that I had made years ago. The original was stolen during the early part of the summer, and my replacement box is a welcomed gift. I felt like an old retired guy, making a delivery of a thing carefully made for a beloved institution.

Over the years, the old box had served as an object of fascination for every small child that had stood waiting with their mothers at the check-out desk. They would try their best to break the code that would allow them to open it and see inside. So we were heartbroken that someone would steal something so special to our library. In the meantime, since the library refuses to charge fines for overdue books, the donations box always gets a lot of use during the day, as "guilty" patrons make voluntary amends.

Speaking of amends, I have a new plan in which AEP/SWEPCO can seek forgiveness for their attempt to destroy the beauty of the Ozarks by their proposed 345 kV power line through our area. The idea is simple. They purchased a 40 acre site near the Kings River to build the substation to serve as one end of the power line. They paid the absurd price of $600,000 for it. I am offering to help them get out of the pickle they've gotten themselves in, by proposing that they use that 40 acres to build a solar farm. It would help with their concerns about growth and reliability, make certain that the damned power line is never built, and give them the opportunity to become environmental stewards in our community.

Yes, I know unicorns can't fly, and pixies are not to be found behind every flower. But forgiveness only comes when sincere action follows awakening. So far they've done nearly everything they can to lose the trust of our community. Some effort to amend would be a good idea. I'm offering to help.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

odds and ends, stems and branches...

The Danish oil finish deepens the color of the wood.
I feel compelled to write a thing or two in the blog each day just to keep in practice. Writing is just like anything else. You get better by practice, but if you don't have anything particular to say, you'd best remain silent.

Silence, in fact, is like a nice straight board of curly maple that with right tools and some skill and vision can be made into damn near anything. But once you begin hacking away at it, the possibilities that lie within it are diminished. You can thus learn valuable lessons from doing real things.

With that said, and recognizing that I'm only hacking away at the keyboard, I will tell that my post office box door treasure boxes are complete. I sent off the Governor's Quality Awards yesterday, and spent part of the day beginning to move tools and equipment to my new smaller wood shop at the center of the Clear Spring School campus. I am looking forward to being more in the thick of things, and making woodworking even more central to the learning experience.

I still have a bit of finish work to do on the boxes I brought home from Marc Adams School of Woodworking, and learned last night that in the coming year, I'll be given three opportunities to teach there... two week long classes and one weekend class. Because my classes tend to fill quickly, I hope my readers will be watchful and sign up at the earliest opportunity.

That academicians and policy makers lost their way, failing to understand the interrelationship between the hands-on activities, making useful and beautiful things, and the development of character and intellect is the source of greatest stupidity in modern education. Since it is damned near impossible for educational policy makers to see beyond their own biases into areas of craftsmanship to which they have never been exposed, and thus would never understand, we must rise up and take matters and materials into our own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

putting real tools in kids' hands...

Perhaps a few at least are starting to wake up from digitally induced slumber. iPads have been noted as a means making children numb to reality. In fact, iPads are being recommended as a means to desensitize children to harsh realities, and I had long ago noted that boys with gameboys could be distracted and kept happily occupied until the batteries needed replacement. Perhaps hammers will have the opposite effect, that of occupying without desensitizing.

Putting Power Tools in the Hands of 5-Year-Olds is a story told recently on Morning Edition, NPR. Thanks to Don for alerting me to it.

In my own wood shop, I have assembled boxes with post office combination lock doors, and am in the process of making a small tray for one of the boxes I made as a demonstration box at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

I have been working to finish the boxes I made at Marc Adams to serve as an example to my students. Also, today I am ready to assemble the award bases for the Arkansas Governor's Award for Quality.

Some post office box doors can be screwed in place after the box is assembled, but many of the earlier ones like the one shown first with blue painters tape, must be installed with the box built around it. You can determine the combination by watching the turning of the dial from behind, but once the box is closed, the combination can be lost forever. The combination should be carefully recorded.

The tray is designed with a lift at the center, so that it can be lifted from the box. Click on the image for a closer view.

Today I begin moving my Clear Spring School wood shop to a classroom at the center of the school campus.

In the title above I mention "real tools." So what are real tools? Some tools have virtual effect and no less real impact. For instance, I can share something in the blog and someone on the other side of the world may choose to make use of it (or not). A "real" tool, I consider to be one that has immediate and irreversible effect on present reality. For instance, strike a nail with a hammer, or make a cut with a saw. There is no undo button in the use of real tools, and we are taught by their use to take full responsibility for our actions, and their demand of us in their use is to be fully awake, attentive and responsible.

Make, fix and create...


Monday, August 11, 2014

projects for kids...

Richard Bazeley, my shop teacher buddy from down under, sent a link to Paul Meisel's woodworking projects for kids on the Wood Magazine website. There are some very good ideas there, that my readers may find useful. Using Local Resources to Teach Wood Carving to Kids. Readers can find a short article about Paul Meisel here.

The greatest and most important local resource would be you, since it is unlikely that most school administrators will come to an understanding of hands-on learning any time soon. Those who make beautiful and useful things bear the responsibility to pass human intellect and character in the form of craftsmanship to future generations.

This week I begin meetings with staff at Clear Spring School, so that we all start off on the same page. In my own shop, I finished installing the inlay for post office banks, and cut the miters and then routed for hidden spline joints as shown in the photo above.

The work piece in the photo is placed inside out on the jig so that I can assess the location of the cut and set the stop blocks to control the length of the groove for the hidden spline to fit. The shop made jig simply holds the stock at the correct angle as it slides back and forth between stops. This again is a simple technique of my own discovery that came from puttering about in my wood shop and attempting to teach others how to do quality work.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

puttering about...

Hinge mortises routed in the lid and body of a box.
I have been working in the shop, finishing boxes that I started at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, and starting a couple more.

This coming week, in addition to beginning to move tools and benches from my old school woodworking shop into a classroom on the Clear Spring School campus, I will finish the bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Awards.

The wonderful thing about having a wood shop is the opportunity to putter about at doing small things. There's nothing grand when it comes to box making, as a box (unless you're making lots of them) can be made in a day or less time.  My students at Marc Adams demonstrated the truth of that by making a variety of boxes over the course of the  5 day class. The great thing about boxes is that once beautifully made, and if cared for, they can last near forever. So the fun you've had puttering about at box making is a heap different from the time folks spend piddling on their iPads. The photos of puttering are as follows:

Cut the channel, fit the strip and glue.
Above, fitting of hinges can be done on the router table using my story stick technique, even when the lid is slightly over-sized from the dimensions of the body of the box.

I am making a couple inlaid post office box banks, using old post office combination lock doors. One will be for our local Carnegie Public Library to serve as a donations box, and to replace one that I made that had been stolen earlier in the year.

I used strips of inlay that I made years ago, and routed channels for them to fit. It helps to work in pairs at least, so that in gluing, two can be aligned face to face and pressure evenly applied. The challenge in these boxes will be to cut carefully so as to have the inlay travel continuously around the box.

Make, fix, and create...
Sides for boxes, with inlay clamped face to face

Saturday, August 09, 2014


My box making readers will know my use of a flipping story stick technique for installing butt hinges. I've written about the use of this technique in most of my books, and in articles in various magazines including Fine Woodworking.

Without claiming too much, I  introduced and developed this technique for the woodworking community. So, while it is a simple thing, this technique has made box making easier for many woodworkers.

But what happens when the lid is deeper and longer than the base? Can the flipping story stick technique still be used, or must one go back to hand chiseling? Actually, the solution is much simpler than that. I use small blocks of wood to build out the length of one to match the other as shown in the photos above and below.

In the photo above, the box is upside down so that I can check that the blocks used to lengthen the body of the box to match the lid fall flush to a reference surface. In the box below I simply go by feel to see that the lid aligns with the spacer blocks on both sides and along the back.

With these spacer blocks in place, I make the story stick and use it to set up the router table to rout the recesses for butt hinges to fit.

On another subject, not completely unrelated, researchers have noted the effectiveness of iPads as sedatives for kids.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 08, 2014

being home...

Like my students I have arrived home with projects to be finished.  Several of my box making students were concerned as to how the base for this box would turn out. I hope it's satisfactory. When experimenting with design, it's a form of play rather than a form of certainty. We learn what works by doing. In this case, making small "L" shaped pieces of wood, mitered at the corners and simply glued to the base makes technical sense. All the grain direction in this case is parallel, so the attachment of the feet requires nothing more than a bead of glue. But are they the right shape? That's an experiment for you to decide the outcome.

This box is not complete, as I still need to add a lift tab to the lid and apply Danish oil.

I have been measuring the foot print of various tools, cabinets and workbenches in the Clear Spring School wood shop and have been laying out a design for how things will fit in my temporary wood shop.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 07, 2014


We are moving the Clear Spring Wood shop into a smaller space on the main Clear Spring School campus which will put the program exactly at the center of school activities. For the past few years, the wood shop has been in our old high school building and that required students to be transported to and from wood shop by van. Being at the exact center of school life will help woodworking to be more integral to all learning, ease transportation problems and help in the exchange of ideas for curriculum correlation at all grade levels.

The move of the wood shop to a smaller space will be only temporary, as we are planning the construction of a new hands-on learning center. The HOC is a new concept and will offer a new model for schooling in which each student's learning will be active rather than passive, and expressed by doing real things and performance measured by real outcomes rather than by artificial constructs like testing.

We know that what we learn hands-on is learned more thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect. All learning that is of any importance should be hands-on. All other forms of learning are wasteful of the child's time and natural curiosity.

So, what is a "hands-on learning center?" It is a building filled with activity centers including a wood shop, book arts center, chemistry laboratory, performance space, centers for the arts, and more. We will be starting a capital campaign to raise money for it, and my readers will be invited to participate in its creation.

The photo above is from last week's class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. In it, I am demonstrating the routing of hinge mortises using my flipping story stick technique. When doing intricate operations like this, I move to the workbench so that it can be viewed closeup on a video camera and viewed by my students closeup through a  television screen.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

one, two three...

First cuts are made sliding work pieces between stops.
With the right tools, box making can be easy as one, two three, as shown in the photos below. This joint is cut on the table saw. It requires a sled and a stop on each side. Raise the height of the blade so that it cuts to a depth equal to the thickness of the box sides plus any extra you want the laps to extend beyond the sides for clean up or visual effect. Then slide the work piece back and forth between the stops to gradually remove the material between the two fingers or laps.

Use sled to craft adjoining parts.
Then use the sled on the table saw to form the additional finger or lap, on the adjoining parts. This requires that you adust the stops carefully on both sides and then turn the stock on edge to make the final cuts. With care, you can get a tight fit. Easy as one, two, three.

These photos were taken by Mario during my box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

A carefully cut box.
What may not be quite so easy is to remove two powerful rare earth magnets when they become aligned on  each side of your finger or hand. They can attract each other with sufficient force to do damage to skin and bone. KJ Magnetics has devised a tool for removal of magnets from endangered fingers and hands, and a video that shows how. It is explained here.

Fit, fix, make, be careful and create...

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

back at home...

I am back from teaching at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, and it was literally amazing that during my full week in class in both box making and building small cabinets, there were very few smart phones in sight. My students had them turned off or on mute, and the fascination with using them every ten minutes to snap photos seems to be diminishing. Perhaps the novelty of the devices is beginning to wear off (among woodworkers at least.)

That may not be good for Apple and the other manufacturers of smart phones and similar devices, but it is a good sign for us. Technology has a way of interfering in our direct perception of things. And it too often stands between people who might be engaged in deeper relationship without the layer of technological distraction.

A report on NPR suggests that parents' addiction to their devices has become detrimental to their relationships with their kids. It is not just that young, dumb parents are leaving their iPhones in their children's hands to entertain them and isolate them from non-digital learning experiences, but that they are so addicted to being distracted themselves that they pay more attention to what they see on youtube than to the living, breathing child that they've been given the responsibility to care for. For the Children's Sake, Put Down that Smartphone!

Just like my students, I have come home with boxes to complete. I am determined that I not let them linger unfinished. I have also purchased some post office box doors so that I can make a donations box for our local library to replace one I had made years ago and that was stolen earlier in the year.

Make fix and create...

Sunday, August 03, 2014

cabinets, day 2

I just finished an amazing two day class on cabinet making at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. My seventeen students made seventeen cabinets. Some had a few minor mistakes, but we had a wonderful learning experience and each took home a cabinet to be proud of.

I was nervous at the start, since this is not a project I'd done with students before and I really wasn't certain we would have this level of success.

I will arrive home tomorrow to begin planning for my next school year at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 02, 2014


Today at Marc Adams School of Woodworking I began my weekend class in making small cabinets. We are making small cabinets from cherry in a design that was featured in my book, Building Small Cabinets.

I was nervous at the beginning of class that the various steps would led to problems. So far the set ups are working well, and students have made great progress. We used a mortiser to drill the dowel holes in the sides, and I demonstrated how to use a story stick technique for setting up the drill press to drill the dowels holes in the top and bottom.

We've completed the carcass, and the joinery for the bridle joint doors. As you can see in the photo below, the cabinets are going together nicely.

Make, fix and create...

doubling up on math?

A study of schools in which students were given twice the number of math classes found that the gains were only short term and by the time students reached high school, the gains were negligible. An article in Education Week, Curriculum Matters on this notes:
"Doubling up on math classes for a year may help middle school students in the short term, but the benefits of doing so depreciate over time—and are likely not worth the price of missing out on instruction in other subjects, according to a new study published by Stanford University's Center for Education Policy Analysis."
The article does not suggest a reason for the diminishing returns, but those of us who work with our hands know that we use it or lose it. Both research and experience have shown that what we learn hands-on and by doing real things is learned to greatest lasting effect. Schools would do better by giving students shop classes in which they used math, rather than by restraining children in seats for a double dose of ineffective learning. Academically trained educators without practical experience see no other way to teach than by the boring methods through which they themselves had been trained. Perhaps they are not to blame for the state of American stupidity. How can they see the comparative ineffectiveness of their own methods if they've never been required to do real things? The separation of purely academic training from "vocational training" has gone on for so long that the original purpose of shop classes, that of enhancing academic understanding and interest, has been completely forgotten. I am up early this morning with the various steps in my cabinet making class running through my head. Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 01, 2014

class act

My box making class at Marc Adams School of Woodworking came to a conclusion today with a photo opportunity. These are not all the boxes we made, and a number of them are headed home with my students for more work. The important thing was that each student learned new skills and offered renewed creativity.

We gradually diminish in creativity after leaving Kindergarten, and there should be no surprise that play is an essential part of the creative process.

Otto Salomon had said that the value of the carpenter's work is in the usefulness of the object he or she makes. The value of the student's work is in the student. Each student went home carrying much more than the boxes they made. If any of my students wants a high resolution copy of this image, please email me. I can send.

I had a wonderful week and am now ready for my cabinet making class to commence in the morning.

Make, fix and create...