Wednesday, July 27, 2011

box making at ESSA--third day

This is our third day of box making class with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts, held in my Clear Spring School woodworking laboratory. I am learning to call it a laboratory rather than simply a wood shop in recognition that much of what students learn can be directly applied to math, science and design. So, in the third day, we are showing results, and still having fun. Students are almost finished with their first boxes and as shown below are beginning to make boxes with finger joints cut on the table saw. My students are all amazed at how well the joints fit.
So far, the strategy of recognizing the value of forgiveness in the wood shop has been paying dividends. We are making mistakes, welcoming them as design opportunities and learning from them, no dark cloud in sight. And so, the class is living up to its name, Creative Box Making. Hanging out with people having so much fun and are so enthusiastic about learning is a special privilege. And I like my new proposed definition of forgiveness... "the ability to act creatively under difficult circumstances." We've had plan A, plan B and sometimes plan C in effect, and the boxes just become more interesting as a result.
There is one particular problem that I see in math education that understanding wood shop as laboratory can help to answer. It is the matter of assumed relevance, versus established or proven relevance. Educators assume math is relevant, students assume it is not, and there's the rub.(a phrase from Shakespeare's Hamlet*) Students will learn that which enables them to do what they want to do. But assuming math is irrelevant blocks the doors to their success. Bringing in engineers, carpenters, mechanics, or better yet, sending the students out in the field to meet all those who use math makes sense as a means of establishing relevance. And where relevance is established, students pay attention and learn. It is like Pestalozzi's student asking, Can we go out and look at the real ladder instead of just looking at pictures in a book?

On another subject, I found an article about small business in America that was illustrated with a photo some of my readers will relate to. Small business in America is often defined as having under 500 employees and somewhere under some millions of dollars, but it is more often like what you see in the photo above, someone working in a wood shop. This misunderstanding is one of the reasons that folks in Washington, DC are so out of touch. And we've learned the sad lesson that when politicians are busy talking about helping small business, they most certainly don't mean us.

Make, Fix and Create...

*from Hamlet's Soliloquy:
To die — to sleep.
To sleep — perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

1 comment:

  1. "But assuming math is irrelevant blocks the doors to their success"

    That was true for me in Algebra.

    I simply never understood the need for it or really even understood what it was for and (stubbornly) never learned it in High School. In fact, I learned more Algebra in Geometry class than I did the year before in Algebra.

    Only years later did I come to realize that I was regularly doing what were actually simple algebra problems in my head to figure things out.