Thursday, September 19, 2019

more blocks

Yesterday my Kindergarten students made small lidless boxes, and my middle school students helped in the assembly of oversized Froebel blocks for the school playground. The addition of more blocks will add to their building capacity.

Today my elementary school students will work on small pivot lid boxes. Yesterday they began putting strings on the looms we finished earlier in the week so they can begin weaving. In the meantime, carpenters are making great progress on the addition to the new Clear Spring School woodshop in the Poe Hands on Learning Center.

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

billions in art

Need a safe climate controlled cataclysm proofed place to hide both your wealth and your art? In absolute privacy and so that it can be traded secretly on an international market without ever facing duties or taxes? And so that you alone can ever see it?
What a strange world of dramatic polarization we live within. Would it not be better if our world's wealth was more equitably distributed?

Today my Kindergarten students will be making small boxes and my middle school students will be helping me make very large Froebel blocks.

Yesterday the carpenters began building an addition to the Clear Spring School's new wood shop and golden doodle Rosie loves a good stick.

Make, fix and create. Adjust schooling so that all others learn likewise.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

brain gain

An opinion piece in the New York Times suggests important things are happening in rural America. Folks are returning from the huge cities to find better lives in the small towns they had once sought to escape. The article claims this phenomenon as a "brain gain" for small towns throughout the US. It can be a truly good thing, affecting the balance of power in the US and bringing progressive ideals to the "heartland."

Today in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School students grades 1-4 will be making small boxes, practicing skills with hammer and saw. Students grades 5 and 6 will be helping me build more large Froebel blocks. I've prepared parts for assembling 8 more blocks giving us two full sets of gifts 3 and 4 in mighty size.

In the meantime, I've been making small pulls on the table saw to use on Jewelry boxes, using an interesting technique as shown in the photo. And I received word that the editing on my Wisdom of the Hands Guide to Woodworking with Kids book is nearly complete.

Make, fix, create, and adjust schooling so that children learn lifewise.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

three days

I'm mentioning this report for the third day in a row because it is important regarding what we're doing with education. There are reasons that schooling sucks. One is that students are groomed for laziness by schooling that requires them to be passive learners. They actually seem to prefer to sit at desks and listen inattentively to teachers at the head of the class. Active learning informs a student how little he or she actually knows and may be perceived at first as a threat.  It leads them out of their complaisant zone. I'm reminded of the student who says, "I know that," but then when asked to demonstrate what he or she knows, faces the truth of how little he or she can do. You can watch someone play the cello. But take one in your own hands and see what you can do with it.

Another point is that teachers find classroom management much easier if the kids aren't doing anything. There are no materials to supply or put away at the end of class. And there are no limits to the number of students you can crowd into a lecture hall. That's great for administration, as it greatly reduces the unit cost of providing instruction. Passive, lecture based instruction simplifies the job of classroom management, making the teacher's job one of maintaining student discipline, not maintaining student learning.

So there are lots of reasons to ignore the necessity of providing active, project based learning. They boil down to one thing. Keeping schooling cheap. Let's ask some essential questions: Do we care about kids enough to give them the education we know works? Can we find reasons to invest in them to assure the future we deserve? By keeping schooling cheap, we waste lives and time by ignoring how children and adults learn best.

So here's what we need to do.

  1. Reduce class sizes.
  2. Train teachers to actually engage kids.
  3. Teach teachers to understand that hands must be engaged to deliver maximum effect.
  4. Place the arts at the center of education.
  5. Demand that school facilities be expanded to allow each to become a laboratory of learning.
  6. Follow the lead that Friedrich Froebel established, putting play in full force.
  7. Allow schools to reflect and enhance the character of their communities.
No, this will not be accomplished in the next three days.

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

That little spinning ball

How learning works... It requires attention, does it not? Otto Salomon who was responsible for the spread of Educational Sloyd throughout the world through his Sloyd training school at Nääs, described the ineffectiveness of classroom teaching. A "class" of students is an abstraction in which the learning needs of individual students is suppressed.

Yes, you can have a certain number of bodies assigned as a class, but how many minds will be present at any given time while you as a teacher blather on with your lecture. How many of those minds can be brought equally to the same subject material at the same time? In the actual age range of a first grade class, there will be students as much as twenty percent older or younger than the rest, so even if all were coming from equal homes and equal experiences, the idea of a class of students is only for the convenience of administration and not to respond to the necessities of intellectual engagement of each child.

The little spinning ball that shows up at times on your computer while you are waiting for something to process, load or connect, is an apt metaphor. Just imagine a classroom teacher surrounded by spinning balls. Some are processing something already said, attempting to connect it with something already present in the learner's experience. Some are attempting to connect, having no clue where to grab hold. Some, having found nothing to connect with in anything you've said, have moved onto more pleasant and productive thoughts. And then there's the necessity of the wandering mind. In order for new information to find a secure fit in the thinking of a child (or adult) the mind must wander to find connecting points. During a lecture you might expect about 20-30 percent of attendees to be intellectually in attendance at any given time.

This  particular piece of research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is particularly important: It is crucial that we extract education from the clutches of lecture based traditional schooling.

I'm fortunate in having my elementary school students combined in two groups with grade levels 1-4 in each group. This allows me to better assess and observe the workings of mind. Some are completely new to the wood shop, but come from active homes. They are better prepared to engage and do than those who are less actively engaged.

I watched the democratic debate last night and was pleased that the subject of education came up. There is a very strong recognition that we need to restore dignity to the teaching profession and better compensate teachers for the contributions they make toward the advancement of societal goals. They touch on every front... our international competitiveness, the safety and security of our communities, the character and intelligence of our kids and their economic success upon which we also depend.

The photo shows one of my second grade students building his loom. It is remarkable how much he's grown over the past year.

Make, fix, and create.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Real learning vs. misperceptions of learning

Yesterday workers poured the slab for an addition to the school woodshop in our new hands-on learning center. And my Kindergarten students made "color wheels." The color wheels were a hit, and the kids enjoyed demonstrating how they worked when they got home. How do I know that? A parent sent me a video.

Today in the wood shop I'll be helping one of our students plan his eagle scout project, and I'll be helping our upper and lower elementary school students finish making looms the are making for study of world cultures.

An interesting study suggest that despite strong evidence that active experiential learning is far more effective, students and faculty have misperceptions that the opposite is true. The following quote is from the synopsis of the study.
"Comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning. Faculty who adopt active learning are encouraged to intervene and address this misperception, and we describe a successful example of such an intervention."
This of course has to do with the difference between knowing about the world, and knowing how to actually navigate one's way in the real world. The German word Kentniss refers to the latter. You can put a kid in a lecture hall, and they may be able to recite in the short term a few of the things the professor had said. Put a kid in a laboratory of some kind, be it a chemistry lab or a wood shop, and the lessons persist. Both in the hands and minds, and the things a Kindergarten child makes from real wood will be kept for a generation or more.

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

Monday, September 09, 2019


The Clear Spring School is an accredited member of the National Association of Independent Schools  (NAIS) through its regional organization, the Independent Schools of the Central States (ISACS). Today we meet with a representative of ISACS to formally launch our every seven year re-accreditation process. The accreditation process is important to us because it allows us to measure and observe whether we actually say what we do. It also keeps us connected to a larger body that works to further education in America.
"What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.–John Dewey.
I'll suggest more along the same line. What the best and wisest educators want for their own students they also want for all children. And so the Clear Spring School is not just about teaching our own kids, it's about establishing a new model through which we may serve all kids.

During a previous cycle of accreditation review, the visiting team wondered aloud, "We can see whether or not they're hands-on as their mission statement suggests. How do we measure whether or not the Clear Spring School meets the second part of its mission, that of being 'hearts-engaged."

A few minutes on campus convinced the visiting review team we were not only hands on, we were also "hearts engaged." You recognize joyfulness when you see it, you feel it and are infected by it. And so that's why the Clear Spring School is one of the best kept secrets of American education. You have to set foot on the campus to feel its full effect.

In other words, come visit and dispel all doubts. That hearts are engaged is expressed through joyfulness. And there is no reason at all that children should suffer through learning.

The student in the photo is drilling holes for making a loom. Dowels will fit in the holes and allow for the warp to be wound back and forth from one end to the other. The jig on the drill press is one I made that allows the stock to be moved sequentially. It avoids the mistakes that come from measuring alignment and layout.

Make, fix, create, and adjust learning so that all others have the opportunity to learn lifewise.