Tuesday, February 09, 2016

educator symposium

Making a chess board
Plans for the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers hands-on learning symposium are underway, and you can download the application here: A Symposium for Hands-on Learning. I look forward to seeing you there. If you have any questions about content please feel free to email me or Larry Wade from the application.

I continue to be utterly fascinated by Piaget, and the development of human intelligence and most particularly that educational policy makers designed a system of education that so completely ignores what we know about human development. Should it be any surprise to anyone that only 32 percent of adults in the US operate at the Formal Operational Stage, given the educational conditioning offered, both in homes and in school? There are two things at work in the development of intelligence. One is the natural physiological growth that is to take place in every human being. There are periods of rapid brain growth interspersed with slower periods of growth in which the brain utilizes the environment to extend and test its new capacities. The old question of whether intelligence is the product of nature or of nurture gets the simple right answer, "both." Genetics can only go so far without corresponding experiences to stretch both quality and capacity of thought. These slower growth periods are called by some the "Critical Periods" of child development. The following is from Kathy Sylva, Department of Child Development and Primary Education, Institute of Education, London, UK, a paper entitled The Critical Periods in Childhood Learning.
The impact of nurture can vary according to its timing. For example, the impact of day care on a child may differ according to its occurrence in the first year of a child's life or the years right before school. The best known example of a critical period in animal development is that young ducks will become imprinted on any moving object in their immediate environment at approximately 15 h after hatching. If they do not experience a moving object during this critical period they will fail to become imprinted at all.

The broader concept of a sensitive period in human development has supplanted the notion of critical periods. A sensitive period may last for months or even years and denotes the time in which the developing child is particularly responsive to certain forms of experience or particularly hindered by their absence. A good example is the fact that children in the period 6-18 months are particularly sensitive to caretaking and that this is the time when they must develop their core attachment to their parents. Other periods may be particularly important for intellectual or linguistic development, for example the period 12-30 months when language develops so rapidly. – Kathy Silva, "The Critical Periods in Childhood Learning."
You may find the following interesting. As early as the latter part of the 19th century, there were educators, psychologists, and theorists who had recognized the existence of critical periods.  Sir James Crichton-Browne was called the last of the great Victorians. His views on the relationship between hand, brain and body are described in Gustaf Larsson's book Sloyd, 1902 as follows:
The eminent English scholar and scientist, Sir James Chrichton Browne, tells us that certain portions of the brain are developed between the ages of four and fourteen years by manual exercises alone. He also says, "It is plain that the highest functional activity of these motor centres is a thing to be aimed at with a view to general mental power as well as with a view to muscular expertness; and as the hand centres hold a prominent place among the motor centres, and are in relation with an organ which in prehension, in touch, and in a thousand different combinations of movement, adds enormously to our intellectual resources, thoughts, and sentiments, it is plain that the highest possible functional activity of these hand centres is of paramount importance not less to mental grasp than to industrial success." Again he says,"Depend upon it that much of the confusion of thought, awkwardness, bashfulness, stutterings, stupidity, and irresolution which we encounter in the world, and even in highly educated men and women, is dependent on defective or misdirected muscular training, and that the thoughtful and diligent cultivation of this is conducive to breadth of mind as well as to breadth of shoulders."

"The nascent period of the hand centres has not been accurately measured ... but its most active epoch being from the fourth to the fifteenth year, after which these centres in the large majority of persons become somewhat fixed and stubborn. Hence it can be understood that boys and girls whose hands have been altogether untrained up to the fifteenth year are practically incapable of high manual efficiency ever afterwards.

"The small muscles of the eye, ear, larynx, tongue, and hand have much higher and more extensive intellectual relations than the large muscles of the trunk and limbs. If you would attain to the full intellectual stature of which you are capable, do not, I would say, neglect the physical education of the hand."--Sir James Crichton-Browne
The point is that we use our resources or we waste them, only to work that much harder if we miss the critical period in which the mind is making its necessary connections, and constructing a framework for thought that is flexible, innovative and resilient in the processing of experience. If we miss those critical periods, we must work harder to develop them if we desire to do so. Ask yourself whether sitting in desks will suffice, when there are so many better ways to learn.

An article in the Winter edition of Indpendent School magazine mentions the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School and the problem that boys are having with anxiety in school.
I had mentioned this article before, but now there's a link.

Make, fix, create, and extend a hand that others may learn likewise.


  1. Any chance the symposium will be taped and we can purchase? (or do you have any plans to come to California) :)

  2. Helen,
    I do not have plans for California, except for a mini family reunion in Santa Monica in July. Where are you located? I will check with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers about the possibility of making a tape available.

  3. I am in San Francisco! Thanks for checking :) Not too many woodworking resources for teaching kids at school.

  4. Helen, I have no current plans for San Francisco, but have taught in the bay area before. Perhaps another opportunity will come up.