Saturday, September 22, 2018

cooperative work...

My box guitar article in Woodcraft Magazine came out this week. I want to thank my editor Tim Snyder and their staff for doing a great job laying out a complex object in a coherent form. There is a lot of information in a few pages. I hope my article helps promote an interest in my book on the same subject.

I am starting to work regularly with our Kindergarten students at Clear Spring School, and a good book that would help others in the same position is Learning Through Woodwork by Pete Moorhouse. Not only is the book filled with images of children and their creative work, the book also goes into the rationale for woodworking with kids and suggests tools for their use. 

Many of my readers have asked how to get started either in schools or with their own children and grandchildren. Pete's book would be of great help.  I've found is  that some parents and teachers lack confidence in woodworking with kids even if they already know its value. Reading Pete's book might help.

The photo is of two of my first grade boys making an ofrenda or shrine as part of a project in their Spanish class. Working together is an important component of woodworking education. The students help each other both in the work and in the decisions about design. And they learn how to work together.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, September 21, 2018

gathering to do good work.

A friend of mine reminded me that if we were to factor in the effects of poverty on outcomes in education, the US would be winning at the PISA testing game. That is without a doubt true.

Finland has a tax supported safety net to assure that all children and families have quality education, quality healthcare and good pay. In the US, we have a major political party that's strongly against the government having any role in that.

It is difficult to learn if you are hungry. It is harder for parents to be supportive of their children's learning in school if they are working extra jobs and lack time to lend encouragement and support.

And so, are we at an educational impasse? We have a political party in power that insists that the only path toward a national success story is to deregulate big business, reduce taxes, over amplify the power of our armed forces, cut social services to the quick and suck the marrow from social security  and medicare.

We have a lot more to learn from Finland than how to have good schools. We might learn how to care for each other. Would that be OK? If a human being is raised to be a citizen of good character he or she would use whatever tools are at hand to be of service to others and include among those tools the government and governmental agencies through which we gather together to do good work.

All that said, another friend pointed out that a good teacher can, if given the tools and resources, counter the effects of poverty and lift children toward greater engagement and success. But teachers should not have to be in that struggle alone. Vote for those who support higher taxes and for leaders who are willing to use the government to assist the people.

Yesterday I was back at Clear Spring for a full day of classes, including 8 first grade boys in the wood shop. All went well. The beautiful model ship in the photo is at the Maritime Museum in Riga Latvia, a classic trading ship from the 18th century.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, September 20, 2018

what's the diff!

During my eleven day Baltic sojourn, I had the opportunity to visit schools in Finland and Latvia. I was particularly interested in Finland schools due to their high ranking in the international PISA tests that are set up to compare educational effectiveness in
the developed nations.

The US routinely ranks down around 19th or below in reading and math. Finland is routinely tied for first. As one of the first place scoring nations, there are educational tours going to Finland all the time. These tours pay large sums of money for groups of American school administrators to tour Finnish schools.

Due to my having contacts at the University of Helsinki, I was able to get a personal tour of one of their public schools, along with some insight into why they are a proven success story. On the surface, not much will appear different from many American schools. I'm not sure how many educational observers, regardless of how much they paid for a tour would grasp the difference. In addition to visiting a public school, I also visited a highly respected private school.

I had theories going in. Years ago (2008), I had asked Patrik Scheinen, Dean of the University of Helsinki School of Social Sciences, whether they had done research that might suggest a relationship between student's involvement in crafts education, and the level of student engagement that would lead to higher test scores. There was no particular research that would suggest that their success could be so narrowly found. That does not disprove the hypothesis. Nevertheless, Finland does have compulsory education in crafts. Finland has a two track higher education system with the trades being held forth as a reasonable alternative to college.

I then began wondering if there was some relationship between Froebel's educational method and the Finland Schools' success. The Finnish Folk Schools were founded by Uno Cygnaeus upon the Froebellian philosophy of learning through play.

Here is some of what I observed. Class sizes were not overly small. Fifteen to twenty five seemed to be normal in the school I visited. Students all removed their shoes and put on indoor slippers when in school. This was a requirement. Woodworking classes appeared smaller in number of students than the typical class size. In large schools, classes are of a single age student, but in smaller country schools, a classroom may have two or three ages combined. Finland has a two track higher education system with the trades being held forth as a reasonable alternative to college. Both technical school and college are held forth as reasonable options.

Finland has a reputation for not sitting on its laurels when it comes to learning. They try new things on a national level. For instance, despite Sweden having experimented with theme based curriculum and having warned against it, Finland is in its third year of a plan in which all schools adopt cross curricular themes to guide integrated studies. The idea is to bring a multidisciplinary approach requiring collaboration between teachers. Latvia has also joined in that approach. One cannot say, however that this curriculum integration has anything at all to do with their ranking in the PISA study, as they've been on top for many years before the new reform was put in place.

I had hoped that my visit might shed some light on Froebel. Were his theories and methods still important in Finland schools? I came away with no evidence that Froebel was still the guiding light in Finnish education. And yet, here are the few things we know.

Children in Finland spend more time in recess than any other children in the European Union, and far more than children from the US. That alone suggests a greater emphasis on play and a better understanding of child development. From the earliest days of Finnish education, children were fed a hot lunch each day. This policy was instituted by Uno Cygnaeus, when children's labors were needed on the farms, and for a child to go to school meant some sacrifice for their families. Finnish parents have learned to trust schools and to value them (and the teachers) as important contributors to community life. 
Compare that to American education where education and the rights of teachers have been a political football thrown back and forth by opposing parties.
Cygnaeus had developed a system of teacher training that survives to this day, and some of Finland's success story was described by a teacher who said, "They train us well and then trust us to do what we've been trained to do." As did Froebel, upon whose model Finnish education was based, Cygnaeus recognized the important role that women teachers are well suited to play. Teachers are valued in Finnish society. How different that is from so many of our American schools.

If there are failures in our system of education, let me assure you, our teachers are not to blame. Through careful reflection, I remain convinced that there are improvements that can be made. One of these, of course has to do with the hands. Where the hands are engaged, the artificiality of learning is erased, the lessons become more relevant, practical and useful to family and community, and the engagement of the heart follows.

The photo is of the entry to Jaunmārupes Pamatskola in Riga, Latvia.

The cover story in Time Magazine this week tells of a teacher who has to give blood each month to get by. It illustrates how much we value teachers, and shows also how little we value our kids.

Make, fix and create... Let the hands restore meaning in American education.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

back in Arkansas...

My wife and I returned to Northwest Arkansas last night after flights from Latvia, Finland, and Chicago.

We have a lot to catch up on, and a lot to process from our travels. I want to thank folks at schools in Helsinki and Latvia, where I was allowed to visit and learn. My teacher guides were generous with their time, and the experience is one that will be recorded and utilized in my own work.

The workbenches shown are from Jaunmārupes Pamatskola, a school in Riga, Latvia. It is a fairly new school and their teacher had arranged for their benches to be built by local craftsmen using a classic design. I hope to offer some observations on the schools of Finland and Latvia in the days to come.

Our travels were brought to greater depth by sharing our stay in Latvia with great good friends from Norway, Kari, and Jan Erik. Being with such good friends is an experience that I've not enough words to describe.

An opening scene in the old town at Riga...  Jean and I are trudging along narrow cobblestone sidewalks, the tiny wheels of our luggage grumbling like oxcarts, as we are being led by google maps to enter an ancient alleyway of unknown destination. There behind an iron fence, we find Kari and Jan Erik in the courtyard of our hotel, waiting for us, cool drinks and warm hearts at hand.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ending our Baltic excursion

We are leaving the Baltic and will return to Northwest Arkansas today. Yesterday I visited Jaunmarupes Patmanskola in Riga, Latvia, and was guided through the school by Alvis Reinis, their woodworking teacher. It is good to connect with folks in other countries teaching in the same field, and although Alvis is a much younger man than I, we had a great conversation about technology education. I promise to share more with you when I have had more time to reflect.

In addition, Jean and I visited the Riga City and Nautical Museum in which many of the artifacts were from the 13th century. I took many photos as a means to try to remember and use the things I'd seen.

A history museum is a great place to engage students in understanding technology. And I can imagine Rudolph J. Drillis, as a young man in Latvia was drawn into history and culture by the experience of living in such a historically rich environment.

The photo shows something very simple that I'd not seen before outside a book. These are two anchors  in two sizes made of wood and stone. A split in the wood holds a stone that gives it weight, while the hooks, made of bent wood, allow it to grasp the bottom of the sea.

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

Monday, September 17, 2018

Schools in Latvia

Today I will visit a school in Latvia and will have a chance to visit a woodworking program. Woodworking teachers need to stick together as it is one of the ways that we sustain energy for our programs. Even an administrator observing that guests from another country are interested, may give at least a small measure of credibility to what we endeavor to do. The task is that of making schooling real and relevant to the lives of kids.

Part of the fun of travel is to stumble upon the unexpected. I did not know when we walked into St. Peter's Cathedral in Riga, that they would have a craft exhibit. While a large part of the exhibit was of textiles (an area of crafts for which Latvia is well known) there were some delightful carved bowls that caught my eye and may catch yours as well.

If this wood was in the US, I might have guessed it to be elm. Please note how thin and uniform the top edge is in the bowl at the top. Note also that each cut with the gouge was left crisp and uniform. These are the work of a true craftsman.

Make, fix and create... Give others the chance to learn likewise.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Riga Lativa is a beautiful, vibrant city with a youthful energy. It is also a place that remembers its past, including a KGB Museum dedicated to preserving the memory of things the Latvian people endured under Soviet repression. In the KGB Museum we were allowed to visit the prison in the basement where citizens were constrained as many as 30-35 to a cell. The cells were so small and hot, the prisoners sat naked with no room to walk. We also visited the execution room where many citizens were routinely shot. Others were exported to Moscow for trial, execution or banishment to the Gulag.

The photo shows the "exercise room" in which prisoners were allowed a few moments of fresh air. The man in the red jacket was a tour guide who brought the experience to life.

We also visited the Latvian National Library where we participated in an exhibit highlighting the ways technology has been used to purposefully distort the flow of human information.

Fake news? It has long been used by totalitarian regimes, left and right to control the people. As depressing as all this may seem, the KGB Museum is a great place to visit in Riga if you are interested in feeling its history come to life.

Make, fix, and create...