Sunday, August 13, 2017

building to teach

I am back from teaching in Connecticut and found a book from Joe Youcha waiting for me. Joe is the founder of the Building to Teach program through Alexandria Seaport Museum in Virginia that assists schools throughout the US in building boats to teach math.

Joe's new book, simply titled Framing Square Math addresses the common carpenter's square and just as one might discover and be surprised by new things google might do for you, the common framing or carpenter's square is a tool that demands a great deal of investigation.

Joe starts the book with an examination of the tool, leads the reader through exercises in its use, explores how it can perform calculations that one might not think possible, and then teaches you how to make your own. It is amazing that a tool as simple as this, can offer such power to the expansion of mind. Einstein had said that his pencil and he were smarter than he was, and so one must wonder about the lovely Framing Square.

Yesterday as I was waiting for my flight to Atlanta, a young couple was there with their toddler. The child had tiny headphones, on, mom's iPhone in hand, and the mother was trying to put almonds into her mouth to be consumed. My temptation (strongly resisted) was to say something about the destructive effects of technology. That children needed to be engaged in the real world, and that the introduction and sustained use of digital technologies can disrupt more natural and necessary development. Fortunately, the headphones kept falling off, and the mother's best efforts at keeping the child engaged and distracted by digital technologies were disrupted by gravity itself. And certainly, our concerns at this point should be grave.

The following is from Matt Crawford's book on the world outside your head, discussing the quote from me with which he opened his first book.
As Stowe's use of the word "undeserving" suggests, at the heart of education is the fact that we are evaluative beings. Our rational capacities are intimately tied into our emotional equipment of admiration and contempt, those evaluative responses that are inadmissible under the flattening. A young boy, let us say, admires the skill and courage of racecar drivers. This kind of human greatness may not be available to him realistically, but is perfectly intelligible to him. If he learns trigonometry, he can put himself in the service of it, for example by becoming a fabricator in the world of motor sports. He can at least imagine such a future for himself, and this is what keeps him going to school. At some point, the pleasures of pure mathematics may begin to make themselves felt and give his life a different shape. Or not. He may instead become enthralled with the beauty of a well-laid weld bead on a perfectly coped tubing joint‐like a stack of shiny dimes that has fallen over and draped itself around a curve‐and devote himself to this art.
The point here is that tools, in the concrete, even as simple as a carpenter's framing square, have a way of bringing education to hand, and where the hands are engaged, real learning and the engagement of hearts follow.

This is not rocket science, but it might lead to some. It is not what they discuss in the educational policy think tanks that are disrupting the natural learning lives of children throughout the US, and the world. But it is true. And it is real. When the hands and minds of children are put in real service to beauty, utility and community, excellence of learning follows.

Make, fix, create, and assist others in learning likewise.

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