Thursday, July 31, 2014

day 4...

I concluded my fourth day of box making at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and completely forgot to take photos to record our progress. I have about 6 unfinished boxes in the  works, and have had fun, too. When you have students that are interested in everything you teach, it presents a marked contrast with what public school teachers often find in their classes. There is no distinction between how adults and children learn. Both learn best, hands on, doing real things that match the direction of their interests. Children are hard wired to learn, and we install road blocks to learning when we restrain them in boring and unproductive activities in school. The photo is from yesterday. The box joint jig for router is one I made in last year's class and is working perfectly having already made dozens of boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

day 3 complete

This was my third day of box making at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Students are doing well. Today I demonstrated wooden hinges and barbed hinges, making bases and lids, and mitered box joints. I think I covered a few other subjects, but I'm too tired at this point to recall.

Educational Sloyd, as proposed by Otto Salomon, considered class teaching to be ineffective. We learn best when lessons are individualized and geared to our own level of interest, and understanding. When you learn hands-on, individualization is guaranteed, just as when a box is made, lessons are learned, confidence is gained, and each student progresses at his or her own pace.

If you walk up and down the aisle between work benches in my classroom as I did this evening, you will find that each student has made boxes that have involved personal choices, errors, fixes and creative expression. Not all student is doing the same thing, and each is learning things that they will be able to apply in their own woodshops.

It is so much fun to watch so much growth.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

end of day two..

I am at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, and have finished my second day of box making class. My students are all doing challenging work and learning. I have demonstrated four kinds of corner joints, and most students are testing each kind of joint in their own boxes. I demonstrated my technique, using the flipping story stick for installing butt hinges, and my students have been pleased with their own success.

Marc Adams School has become a major learning center, and a place where the hands and the relationship between both character and intellect is readily understood. All know that what we experience in this place is special... a place where craftsmanship is appreciated and understood.

Part of what makes my own experience at Marc Adams School a success is having excellent help. Jerry (above at left) is my volunteer assistant for a third year.  I am grateful for his help.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, July 28, 2014

indulgence in the improbable...

I am in Indiana, and have completed day one of box making at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I will have 18 students in this week-long class in box making, and then will have an equal number of students the following weekend for a class in making small cabinets.

I also brought David J. Whattaker's book The Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd along so that I can write a review of it for British Woodworking Magazine in my spare time. Reviewing this book is a great immersion in the subject, and I hope that my review will help British woodworkers to recall their own history in manual arts education.

Over the course of the coming week, I will have photos to show of adult box makers and cabinet makers in action, but today I was too busy to take any photos.

I am reading a book written in the 1850's by Captain Marryat for the entertainment of his children. He noted that his children and half the civilized world were reading and enjoying the book, Swiss Family Robinson, but as a real sea captain, he could not bring himself to write anything as far fetched as that. He noted,"it is true that it's child's book; but I consider, for that very reason, it is necessary that the author should be particular in what may appear to be trifles, but which really are not, when it is remembered how strong the impressions are upon the juvenile mind. Fiction, when written for young people, should at all events, be based upon truth."

It is true that we treat children as though they are idiots. It is the purposeful indulgence in the improbable. By keeping them safe from real life, we stifle their powers. Instead, we should offer them fictional materials that help them to discover a relationship with and interest in real life. Captain Marryat's book is called Masterman Ready or, The Wreck of the Pacific and it can be found as a free download on Google Books.

Make, fix, get real and create...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

attempting to break through silo walls

Richard Bazeley described in an email his successful presentation to his fellow teaching staff of the value of woodworking for teaching math.
"I made a 20 minute presentation to our school Principal and maths faculty as part of a Professional Development day last week. After a brief verbal introduction I took the opportunity to run an activity on measurement. Using tools of the trade such as folding rulers, tape measures, digital calipers and steel rulers I had the Principal and teachers measuring the door and door opening, a length of wood, the diameter of a drill bit and the insides of a pipe. It was brief but I had them thinking about what they are missing out on and the need for more tools in their area.

Looking around the maths room I pointed out that much of the work the students do is theory based learning and 2 dimensional, so I took the opportunity to emphasize the need for the students to have more concrete examples of what they are being taught."
Getting other teachers to understand the value of doing real things can be a particular challenge when you have college educated teachers who may not have ever had the experience of doing real things with their hands or with tools. It has been called the ivory tower, or silo effect... with teachers being  comfortable as masters in their own classrooms and failing to interconnect both the subject matter with other learning and their own work with that of fellow teachers. I wrote about this in an earlier post as follows:
"The silo effect leaves professors or teachers isolated (often comfortably) in their own classrooms where they fail to take the advantages offered by collaboration with colleagues, and neglect to offer interdisciplinary studies to their students. The result is the loss of vigor in education, as studies become irrelevant, mind-numbing, and unadventurous. Studies confined in silos can be quite rigorous and within silos, students can be held to high standards, but not without paying a high price of attrition. Even students diligently present each and every day, will pay little attention to materials presented without vigor or without relevance established in their own lives and by their own interests."
What's rigor without vigor? Boring and irrelevant. And there is yet another challenge to contend with, in the sense of superiority that some academically trained professors feel. They may regard themselves as superior in some way, because their hands have never been dirtied doing real things. But that is just a cover up and distraction from how the world must make them feel when faced by the many things they can't fix without help... helpless. And when they feel helpless in the presence of those who can do real things, you can see that it may take some courage and encouragement for them to break through the silo walls.

The image above is of student initials cut out by Richard Bazeley's 13 year old students in Australia. Nicely done, don't you think?

Today I leave for Marc Adams School of Woodworking where I will teach box making for one week and then small cabinet making for a weekend class.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 25, 2014

how I am to teach them.

I did a sketch-up illustration of the steps involved in marking and making a sphere, though when working with hand and knife, actual handwork is not as precise as is shown in the illustration.

Readers frequently ask if I have a set curriculum for them to follow. I wish it could be as simple as that.

There are actually three things that  I try to balance in developing woodworking lessons for kids... what I want the kids to learn to do, what the other teachers want the students to do in support what they teach, and what the kids want to do to support their own interests which are often different from mine, and different as well from the objectives of their classroom teacher.

The interesting thing is that at the start of a program, other teachers won't necessarily know the value of woodworking projects and the value has to be demonstrated to them. In some cases teachers have not been challenged to consider correlating their materials with what is taught in other classes and may not understand the value of it. Even when they do understand the value, they often don't understand the processes well enough to know whether or not what they propose fits with the level of skill and ability at various ages. At the beginning, kids really don't understand what it takes to do various things either, and so while they may want to do their own thing, unrestrained, they will soon learn that there are restraints formed by their own lack of understanding in how tools work, how materials work in response to those tools, and the various steps required and the order in which they must be applied to gain the results they intend. In other words, they often lack the ability and understanding necessary to be successful at at making the objects they intend.

At the start, it's useful to be assertive, with the woodworking teacher coming up with his or her own projects timed to other teachers' coverage of various lesson plans and also geared to be age appropriate and skill appropriate to the kids. Kids will understand the growth of skill, and the fact that new skills can be applied to other things.

I think the most useful information on designing a program comes from Educational Sloyd which in turn came from progressive education and Kindergarten of all things, and actually provides insight into all other things that children should learn in school.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown,
  • from the easy to more difficult,
  • from the simple to the complex and
  • from the concrete to the abstract.
You can use simple tools used in simple operations as your starting point. Add complex tools and processes sequentially  to direct the development of skill and growth.  Part of a woodworking teacher's job is to expand in an incremental manner the students exposure and skill in the use of tools that will then make them more capable of doing the kinds of correlated exercises that the teachers would like to see as well as those they would choose for themselves.

The following is from the Paradise of Childhood and describes the origins of what for Friedrich Froebel was a great awakening:

"Traveling through the country," says Elizabeth Harrison, 'Froebel listened to the cradle songs and stories which the German housewives told to their children. He noticed how the little children are constantly in motion, how they delight in movement, how they use their senses, how quickly the observe and how they invent and contrive. And he said to himself, "I can convert the children's activities, energies, amusements, occupations, all that goes by the name of play, instrumental for my purpose, and transfer play into work. This work will be education in the true sense of the term. The conception I have gained from the children themselves; they have taught me how I am to teach them.'"
In wondering where Sloyd should go in the future, it is important to remember its roots in the Kindergarten method. Uno Cygnaeus and Salomon and all the early proponents of Educational Sloyd saw it as the best means to carry the Kindergarten methods into the upper grades. Learning was to be fun, driven by the interests of the child, and yet educators seem insistent on making education a dismal experience that must be endured... just as for so many folks, work is a dismal thing. As a woodworker, I have seldom found it to be so.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Help for teachers...

This is the time of year when teachers contact me about planning their programs for the next year, so it is also a good time for me to dig through the blog and answer questions. How to secure a piece of wood to a be worked on if you don't have a vise? The following is from an earlier blog post. Tomorrow I will tell just a bit about planning curriculum in collaboration with other subject teachers, and matching the wood shop goals that students may have.

Blog reader Jason began a woodworking program in his school in Canada where he teaches French Immersion. Wanting to teach woodworking (what a great way to teach French or any other language!) without a wood shop, he came up with a simple vise for holding wood while it is safely cut. He notes:
"The bench fixture was born out of necessity. Because we work out of a regular classroom and don't have dedicated work benches, at first we were clamping to the tables and student desks, the wood was vibrating a lot and the students, being shorter than I, had problems getting over their work when cutting with the coping saw. Some students resorted to cutting while on their knees all the while getting saw dust in their eyes. Not good, to say the least. The tables also took a beating in very little time.

"I wanted the students to learn proper posture while cutting so, I quickly made the fixtures out of left over 2x8 fascia boards and only screwed the two pieces together. After a full year's use I will need to add an angled piece behind to provide more rigidity to the upright. The first version of the fixture only had the 'L' shape with no cut outs.
"I found that the students weren't able to steady their work piece against the fixture and at the same time position and tighten the C clamp to secure the work. So, I cut the sections out and that allowed the C clamp to stay in one place atop the fixture as the students readied the work to be clamped. It also allowed the C clamp to clamp farther down providing more evenly distributed pressure to the wood being clamped. I also had a number of students who were left hand dominant and so I cut out the same on both sides so students could use any bench support.

"With this set up the students can use the support to:
  • cut pieces to length using the side as a straight edge guide,
  • secure wood while using the coping saw,
  • cut out sections of their wood that fall inline with the little cut-out sections of the fixture
  • secure wood with the edge almost even with the top of the fixture to plane the edge square using the fixture as a support.
"As an aside, the use of C clamps is something that the boys in particular like using because they get to crank as hard as they can and it only holds their work better; win-win. But then they need to unscrew it with the same amount of enthusiasm;-)"
 I did a quick sketch up illustration of the castle vise (shown above), so you can see where it gets its name. One c-clamp is used through the open arch to secure the vise to the table or desk and another to hold the lumber in place for cutting. The notches at the top give c-clamps a place to rest, making them easier to use. Necessity is often the mother of invention. What Jason has come up with may be useful to others in the same situation.

Make, fix and create...

back to cursive...

Students now tell their teachers when they've been told to read something written by the human hand, "I don't do cursive." What a dumb thing schools have done to eliminate hand writing from our student's educations.

The value of learning cursive is revisited in this article, Cursive is ready for a comeback. Its not that cursive is really ready for a comeback, but that it should be. Unfortunately, reading and writing cursive is not an easy thing to adopt once its been lost, and most teachers these days are more used to poking keypads, than writing real words on paper with pen and ink. If policy makers were to choose it or our schools to pursue it, who would teach it? Just as we've wondered who would teach wood shops if policy makers in that case would come to their senses about learning, we've retired most of those who could teach.

I can easily remember my own school days, when the students in Omaha Public Schools were required to have a certain kind of ink pen with replacement cartridges, so that our thoughts would flow unrestrained in a manner that teachers might read with ease and that we might write with style... and so we read cursive as well as writing it.

History is full of documents written by the human hand: documents like the declaration of Independence, and letters written by soldiers during the Civil War. Without the ability to read what others have written, we have lost something significant of ourselves... the ability to touch and learn our own past.

When I was in Bødo, Norway, everything was new, built after the Nazis bombed the place in 1941.  It was odd being in a place in Europe that was so new compared to places like Tronheim, Bergen and Oslo, but war does that to cities. Our culture is now being bombed in a destructive a manner by our digital devices. The ability to understand and interpret monumental works from earlier centuries is lost as student confess, "I don't do cursive." If the only tool you have is a laptop or ipad, all the real creations of mankind are little more than indecipherable scratches on scrap paper.

If you don't do it, you won't know it and what little you do know will be Jack.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

balls, again...

Richard Bazeley's students finished crafting their wooden balls. They are not perfect, but they learned some geometry and tool use in their making, and one student came up with the method to hold the balls in the vise as they are sanded.

The student's work at the end of the day was gathered in a bowl full of balls. You won't see any absolutely perfect spheres. Richard counts his success rate with 13 students at near 50% but with each student having finished a sphere.

Here on this continent, Beth Ireland and her partner Jen are on the road again with their turning around America van and a new trailer to carry extra art supplies.

You can read about it in Beth's blog turningaroundamerica. Please check out the real things they do with kids, and kids really do need to do real things to find meaning in their schooling.

In my woodshop today, I will be sanding and finishing award bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award, and packing all the small tools I will need for teaching next week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Also, congratulation to Richard's students for a job well done. Richard will use the lesson to share with other teachers to illustrate the potential of collaboration between wood shop and math.

Make, fix and create..

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

so far...

Hand carve a sphere and cylinder? The three parts of gift number 2 are the symbol associated with Friedrich Froebel that was used as the marker on his grave. In this case both the ball and cylinder were carved by knife from blocks exactly like that forming the base.

In contrast, Richard Bazeley is using a different approach with his students to make spheres. He reports that students hold blocks in the vise while they work with planes and chisels to form the starting polygon. Then they use a rasp and sandpaper to finish the shape.

The photo below shows my progress so far in making walnut bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award.

This has been a amazing year so far, in that we have ground AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to a near halt in their plans to build a massive extra high voltage power line through our small local community. I have had to do a tremendous amount of work to stop it. In addition to writing in this blog, and finishing my most recent book about boxes which comes out in September, and other articles about box making in American Woodworking and Wood, I've written countless letters to governmental agencies, and more to local newspapers, including guest editorials. Without time in the wood shop to bring some form of balance, I would be lost.

All educators and educational policy makers should be alerted to the value of doing real things in real materials and the discovery of craftsmanship. Not only does hands-on learning bring greater character and intelligence, it also brings balance to lives over-encumbered by abstract, intellectual engagement.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has granted a rehearing to my small organization, Save the Ozarks, as they agreed with us that the power company failed to prove the need for the project. It is designed to ultimately provide 16 times the available local power, and is to take power through us, not provide power to us.

Currently, the APSC is setting a date and time for the acceptance of additional testimony, and evidence, and will set a date for the rehearing, though we are sincerely hoping that AEP/SWEPCO will see the light and pull the plug on the project.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

handling mind...

The title of this blog post comes from an interesting website in Finland that concerns a project that explores the way the hands and mind connect. Handling Mind. My readers might find it interesting.Among the area of interest is how the use of the hands increases the plasticity and capacity of the mind. We mistakenly assume the mind controls the hands, but the mind itself is constructed by the skilled operations of the hands. It is a situation of chicken and egg. Which came first? They developed in relation to each other. And the hands, unlike the other instruments of perception, have the capacity to create and express.

I visited with a friend yesterday who has been a doctor for 40 years. He is frustrated with the ways that technology intercedes between the doctor and patient, and how the hands are becoming less well trained in new generations of medical practitioners. Perhaps we will arrive at a point in medicine where all things are done by robots, each trained to assess things that the trained hands of a physician once did so well. It will be like robots fixing robots. Whereas in the touch of one human being of another, feelings are made known, and in a simple touch, things can be fixed that can never be repaired by a machine.

I have been photographing the making of wooden spheres, and the making of such things as miter boxes, and doing a bit of whittling on the side. I am also preparing my thoughts for my trip next week to Marc Adams School of Woodworking where I will teach for seven days.

The hands are the primary pathway to real learning, and Friedrich Froebel utilized crafts early in his teaching career. He learned those crafts either as an observer or participant when he was a forester's apprentice in the Thuringian Forest in Germany as a very young man.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

learning ops...

The Kansas City Woodworker's Guild has an excellent woodworking facility and is offering a hand-tool pre-school in August and October. In the two day class students will learn to use basic hand tools and build both a shooting board and a pencil box. Sounds like a good deal to me. The class size is limited to 6 so each student will get plenty of help.

I started work yesterday on the Arkansas Governor's award for Quality,  a thing I do each year at this time. I was reminded that this year will be the 20th anniversary of the Arkansas Quality Awards, and so it was twenty years ago that I was asked to design the award base. Time flies.

I am working on the first chapter of the Froebel book, and also continuing to carve wooden balls. I used Richard Bazeley's technique of doing additional marking on the ball following reaching the Leonardo polygon, and found it useful and a bit more methodical.

I am also preparing for this year's classes at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Starting Monday July 28, I will teach my usual week-long box making class and then a weekend class on making small cabinets. Both classes are full with 18 students each.

I invite my readers to join the linked in group, Hands-on Learning. 

Juhani Pallasmaa, one of Finland's most distinguished architects said "philosophers regretfully continue to emphasize and value conceptual, intellectual and verbal knowledge over the tacit and non-conceptual wisdom of our embodied processes." His book is called, "The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 18, 2014

fuzzballs in box

Yesterday I became concerned about how it would be best and most accurate for me to tell how to cut a small dado for sliding lids in Froebel boxes. I thought of making a small scratch stock, but after consultation with Larry Willams and Don McConnell at Old Street Tools, here in Eureka Springs, decided that my first inclination was the best approach, that is to simply use a marking gauge to lay out the edges of the groove, and then use a 1/8 in. chisel to cut between the lines. This approach works best with straight grained woods. I've also made (this morning in about 15 minutes) a small solid tool steel clean out plane for clearing the grooves.

Larry Williams gave me a piece of 1/8 in. thick steel scrap left over from making plane irons, and by grinding one edge at a 10 degree angle and having sharpened it,  I hoped to pass it through the grooves to make them more uniform in depth, but so far the experiment is unsuccessful. The steel blank is too hard to hold in my hand if any pressure is applied. I'll need to grind it to a sharper angle and add a wooden grip and depth guide. When faced with academic stuff, smart kids will say, "yeah, I know that." But when doing real things, there is no end to the learning.

While visiting with Larry and Don, I also met their visitor from Finland, Tuomo Rinne. He is a preservation carpenter who discovered that the use of traditional hand tools adds value, integrity, and efficiency to his work. He is here for his 5th visit with Old Street Tools. He had met Larry when he was attending a class on making planes at Marc Adams School, and learned that he wanted more of the kinds of hands on learning that he could acquire in a more direct apprenticeship. I find it remarkable that old country craftsmen would come to the US to restore the tradition of hand work that set them apart in the first place.

In any case, meeting Tuomo was  pleasant opportunity for me.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 17, 2014


noun: prowess
  1. skill or expertise in a particular activity or field.
    "his prowess as a fisherman"
    synonyms:skill, expertise, mastery, facility, ability, capability, capacity, savoir faire, talent, genius, adeptness, aptitude, dexterity, deftness, competence, accomplishment, proficiency, finesse.
    "his prowess as a winemaker"
    antonyms:inability, ineptitude
  2. bravery in battle.
    synonyms:courage, bravery, gallantry, valor, heroism, intrepidity, nerve, pluck, pluckiness, feistiness, boldness, daring, audacity, fearlessness.
    informalguts, spunk, moxie, grit, sand
    "the knight's prowess in battle"
Prowess is a thing we gain from the experience of doing real things. And yet we design schools on the basis of pretense. Pretending to get ready to do real things, when the simple and direct approach would be to enter children into activities of real life.

Last night I was reading about Felix Adler's role in building one of the first free Kindergartens in New York City. His Kindergarten was quickly expanded to become the Workingman's School, later to become one of the most prestigious private schools in New York. At a lecture in Buffalo, Adler described a meeting with an aging poet, who I'd suspected was Walt Whitman*. The poet turned to him and said,
"That is all very well. I like your factories and your wealth; but tell me, do they turn out men down your way?"
And Adler asks, "Is this civilization of ours turning out men--manly men and womanly women?" 
There are values of character that come from hands-on learning that our schools neglect and that our children so desperately need. Will those who have been raised without skill except in an academic and financial realm know how to create opportunities for students to gain skills and prowess in our nation's schools? Walt Whitman wrote the following:
The Sacredness of Work
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular.
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers--Paeans and praises to Him! -- Walt Whitman 
The truest feelings of self worth, come from the experience of usefulness to others.

Richard Bazeley sent a photo of his student's exercises in carving wooden spheres. The steps before smoothing lead to a polyhedron shape that Leonardo had illustrated as shown at left and developed in the photo at the top.

Make, fix, create.

*When asked about Adler's quote of the "aging poet," Walt Whitman said, "I guess that's me: and it is very kindly and friendly, isn't it?"

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

cutting cubes...

Back in the days when Froebel was inventing Kindergarten, he was on a tight budget, but had been a forester's apprentice in an earlier day We have evidence that he whittled many of the "gifts" that he used to teach children. And so his participation in craftsmanship is undisputed.

If I were Freidrich Froebel, and had only hand tools and had access only to materials I could buy today at the local lumber yard, how would I make blocks? A common miter box is the best, along with a hand saw. The saw shown in the photo is similar to one that Froebel might have had. It can be kept sharp with a file and regular attention, and so a man with little money might become the inventor of Kindergarten, a task which would require the making of hundreds of small, regularly formed wooden blocks.

I used a spruce 2 x 4 for the needed materials. Froebel may have cut and squared his stock from lumber readily available in his own community just as I have done here. the quick video below shows the use of the fingers and thumb as calipers. As you rotate the ball in your hands, you feel high spots and note their locations. Then whittle.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

small local communities of craftsmen...

The image at left is from the Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum in Trondheim, and illustrates what I've come to suspect as the truth of Froebel's Gifts. In the US,  during the early days of Kindergarten Froebel's gifts were made by large manufacturers like Milton Bradley. But throughout the world, they were also made by craftsmen in small local communities. Why not? The gifts themselves were of such a nature that parents themselves, with common woodworking skills, could make them for their own children and teachers themselves might make them for their own schools.

As a nation we have become so estranged from our own creative capacities that we have lost sight of the role that the hand plays in our development of culture, character and intelligence. We walk around with digital devices that are smarter than we are, and are dependent on what they can call up from the web, for the content that stimulates our lives. In the past, culture arose individually from the creative capacities of our own hands.

Years ago, my mother was so excited when my father bought her a scroll saw for her birthday. What mother these days would want that? But as a Kindergarten teacher, my mother knew all kinds of ways that a scroll saw would enhance her classroom. In her classroom there were wooden puzzles that were missing parts! With this particular birthday gift, she could make them anew.

School districts all across the US seem convinced that personalized learning is a thing that comes from their technology purchases. An article in Education Week, Before Buying Technology Asking Why? debunks that myth.  There is a cheaper and more effective way to personalize learning. We each have the necessary tools attached at the wrists.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, July 14, 2014

making a gift of childhood.

I am working on a new book and have a lot to do to get the first chapter off to the publisher. It is tentatively called, Making Froebel's gifts, but may have another title when the marketing experts get involved.

In Trodheim, Lilli Bratt (1898-1993) was a beloved Kindergarten teacher whose teaching devices are preserved in the Sverresborg Trøndelag Folk Museum. Those who read here regularly will recognize gifts number 3, 4 and 6 in beautifully crafted, locally made wooden boxes. In addition, in the margins of the photo you can see samples of stitchery and weaving with both paper and strips of wood.

Froebel's learning process was called "self-activity," and was intended to engage the whole child, body, mind and hands in learning. Now advocates of computer gaming are touting the benefits of embodied learning, as though they invented it.

I am reminded of a magazine correspondent who confessed to being an avid "gamer." He was excited to buy his two year old daughter her first lap top computer, but then had second thoughts. He consulted a child development expert he named "Suzie Joykiller." She informed him of the dangers of getting children addicted at such an early age to digital devices. When he asked Suzie about the wonderful hand-eye coordination his daughter would receive from her engagement with the laptop, she asked him if he'd heard of scissors.

Embodied learning will become one more thing that people, school boards and taxpayers can be charged for... Unless those of us who can do, teach others to do likewise.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 13, 2014


From Etymology online: 
klutz (n.) 1967, American English, from Yiddish klots "clumsy person, blockhead," literally "block, lump," from Middle High German klotz "lump, ball." Compare German klotz "boor, clod," literally "wooden block" (see clot).

Don't be one. Do something and then do it again and again. You'll get better at it and lose the unfortunate label, klutz.

Today I am packing boxes to ship to galleries in Washington, DC and preparing to pack the boxes done last week for my corporate gifts orders.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

embodied learning...

Take a straight shaving from a plank.

Those who use their bodies to do real things, would not need this report, which should be read by every academic and political nincompoop to help them to avoid misunderstandings of human intelligence. Is the Body The Next Breakthrough in Education Tech? 

The Germans have two words for knowledge, wissenschaft, for that which is passed along second hand from others, and kentniss for knowledge that you get from personal experience. Most scientific knowledge falls under the category wissenschaft, as it is passed along one person to another, and wissenschaft is cheaper and more efficient to convey through books and lecture than providing the opportunity to do real stuff. The only problem with it is that without kentniss, actual experience learning real skills to do real things, wissenschaft is difficult to integrate, and untrustworthy at best.

There is another German term, fingerspitzengefühl, or "fingertip knowledge" which refers to the integration of Kentniss and Wissenschaft. It comes when the foundation of one's experience is formed by doing real things.

As Charles H. Hamm had said in the late 1800s the mind seeks the truth, but the hands find it. The education of the mind without commensurate learning in the hand is a tragic mistake.

We had to put a note on our newspaper delivery box, as it's been taken over by a wren hatching a nest full of chicks.

Today I am applying a second coat of Danish oil to boxes to prepare them for delivery early this next week.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 11, 2014

learning through play

PBS News Hour featured a school in California where the mission is learning through play. It's a concept that Froebel would have agreed with except that most of the play at this new school is through the manipulation of digital devices. The school has received a heavy investment from the computer industry, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is only offered to a single grade, sixth. They hope to expand the concept with other schools in other areas. The video program can be viewed here.

Otto Salomon had two principles that apply. One was "start with the interests of the child." The second, was begin with the known and proceed to the unknown. In this case, most of the children have some experience with digital devices just as every Swedish child in the 19th century knew how to safely use a knife. Whether they know how to use the digital technology safely and creatively is a question that we might ask. Also, the question remains whether the school will go anywhere with their experiment. What I would recommend is that they proceed into the unknown with their venture by adding woodworking tools and the opportunity for real craftsmanship. There is no need to dump their expensive technologies, but I worry that they set a poor example in that others will think that high technology is a prerequisite for effective learning through play. Learning through play is what children have always done except when constrained in adult centered schooling, and certainly, with standardized testing, and adult contrived standards, schooling is no longer centered on the interests of the child.

Constructive play is nothing new in schooling. Froebel based his system of education on directed play, and Dewey, too, put creative play at the direct center of learning. Dewey railed against the method of education that put the child outside the "center of gravity." He called it "the mechanical massing of children" and chided "its uniformity of method and curriculum." And when you see that we've known how to effectively teach children  for well over a hundred years and still refuse the most effective and joyful method of it, one can feel a rising sense of disgust over the stupidity of American education.

I applaud the new school with its focus on play, even though that play involves technologies most schools can't afford. Learning through play is nothing new, and it will be best able to deliver on its mission if it remembers that, attunes itself with the philosophies of Comenius, Cygnaeus, Froebel, Salomon and Dewey.

In the wood shop, I am busily sanding boxes and they have proceeded rapidly from what you see in the photo above. I will begin applying finish today.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

carrot clarinet...

The following is from Vandewalker's book, the Kindergarten in American Education.
"Throughout all the long hundred years in which they had been building a nation, Americans had shown themselves children of utility, not of beauty. Everything they used show only the plain unstudied lines of practical serviceability. The things to be seen at Philadelphia (Exposition of 1876), gathered from all over the world, awakened them to a new sense of form and beauty. Men knew afterward that that had been the dawn of an artistic renaissance in America, which was to put her architects and artists alongside the modern masters of beauty, and redeem the life of the people from its ugly severity."-- Woodrow Wilson.
Vandewalker, in her book (1923), told that the rise of Kindergartens in America was first enabled by an understanding of the need for drawing and manual arts in schooling. These subjects demonstrated that student activity was an essential part of learning. The idea that schooling should involve a professor standing at the head of the class and lecturing to the mind numbed was first tested at the Oswego Normal School where Dr. E. A. Sheldon had come under the influence of Pestalozzi's ideas. Sadly, policy makers moved in the opposite direction of late advocating a return to recitation and lecture, which are easier to manage but less effective than lessons which involve students doing real things. You can see that the rise of Kindergarten and the rise of manual arts training, was hand in hand developmental process, with each bringing forth the other. The video above is fun. Sadly, you cannot repeat the making of a carrot clarinet without having a saxophone mouthpiece. Hopefully, he'll show us how to make that next. The laser engraving of the insides of box lids was completed yesterday, so today I'll be hinging and assembling boxes. Make fix, and create...

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

there is real life outside...

This morning I woke up with a wren perched on the window sill. It was a brief reminder that we are not in this world alone and that the strange digital world of our own fixation is not all there is. We share this plane and planet with creatures of all sizes and sensitivities and all life has been poised up to this point on a delicate balance.

I went from that moment to fixing my morning beverage, and turning on the computer so that I could check my email and thus enter a state of electronic stupor.

NPR lately has been wondering if people can actually spend more than a few moments away from their electronic devices. Some folks are attempting to take vacations from it all and finding their relationships with the flow of electrons through hand held devices to be both mesmerizing and addictive.

What if we were addicted to real life instead? What if what we read gave us the power to make, fix and create, instead of offering surcease from reality, and what if we were thus led to engage in the creation of useful beauty?

My walk through the Museum of Arts and Industries in Paris was a reminder that craftsmanship and curiosity are the sources from which science arose, and that all that we have now in our modern world was the direct result of observation and craftsmanship. Without craftsmanship and human beings having taken matter and materials in our own hands, much of the investigation of material reality would not have taken place. We have made a tragic mistake in American education.

It should not be about the forced acquisition of knowledge, but should be about the development of craftsmanship that inspires lifelong learning.

But what happens when people cease to care for the real world that surrounds us and invest most of their attentions to the hand-held digital devices? What will we lose, and what will we gain? And we can also ask what will the world and life outside gain if we cease to care about it?

The photo above shows sets of geometric solids from the Museum of Arts and Industries in Paris. Double click on the image to see it in greater detail.

I delivered lids to be laser engraved yesterday, and will proceed with my box making when the engraver's work is complete.

make, fix and create...

Monday, July 07, 2014

more on spheres 2...

This video is about making a sphere of solid silicone as a means of establishing the exact weight of a kilogram. Blame Lavoisier. Here in the US, we are stuck with units of measurement, different from most of the rest of the world. It gives us a great excuse to learn fractions.

The Parisian rabble cut off Lavoisier's head during the French revolution. He had been a tax collector as well as the father of modern chemistry,  but portions of his laboratory have been preserved in the Museum of Arts and Industries in Paris.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, July 06, 2014

more on spheres...

Richard Bazeley, shop teacher extra-ordinaire from down under (southern hemisphere) has furthered the exploration of the globe in his latest exercise in whittling a sphere. Starting with a 50mm cube he carved it from Billy King Pine. The steps below show the marking of it, with 96 whittled faces before sanding.

Yesterday I inlaid about 80 box lids, preparing 70 of them for laser engraving this next week, a task that is best done prior to assembly.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, July 05, 2014

You learn to see with your hands...

I am still recovering from a bad cold that came on as I was wrestling with jet lag from travels in Paris and Norway. But I am making significant progress on my order for boxes thanks to having called in my former apprentice to help.

Today I will do most of the inlay work, preparing the box lids to have their inside surfaces engraved, as these are to be used as commemorative gifts.

I received an article in the mail from Roger, one of my blog readers in Minnesota. The article is about George Wurtzel, a blind wood worker that I've told about before in the blog. The image above is taken from that article.

It describes how George will sometimes use moist heat to raise the grain of wood so that it can be more easily felt. Even for those of us with working eyes, it can difficult to learn to see the small imperfections that often plague finished work. Hands passing over surfaces may choose to ignore those minor imperfections as unavoidable. It is clear that the sensitivity of hands, as demonstrated by George, can lead to perfection. with or without eyes to behold it.

I also received whittling knives from Woodcraft in the same day's mail. I plan to send these along with wooden blocks to my hosts from Bodø, to thank them for our stay and our delightful experience in the Nordland.

We sat under an umbrella outdoors on a cold summer night, with the rain falling on the backs of our chairs. Rick from the US and Hans Christian and Jan Erik were smoking cigars, and I asked, "Would you mind if I whittle?" "Not at all, they insisted." So I showed them how Froebel would carve a near perfect sphere, using just his knife and reliant upon his senses. I gave a near finished ball to each, Hans Christian, and Jan Erik, to keep as souvenirs of our short time together. Soon they will be able to whittle their own.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 04, 2014

Katedral Skole

Peter Wesssell Tordenskjold
While In Trondheim, one of the things I planned to do was visit Katedral Skole, one of the oldest private schools in Norway. I didn't find it on my walks until after school hours, but still the parking lot was full. This school is not same as when Peter Tordenskjold attended there around 1700. Tordenskjold was a terror to his parents and was thrown out of Katedral Skole on a number of occasions. He finally escaped Katedral Skole for good in 1704 by stowing away on a ship bound for Copenhagen.

Still, he is one of their most famous alumni, and  as a Norwegian national hero, his bronze statures can be found in both Trondheim and in Oslo. Reading a biography of Admiral Peter Tordenskjold one begins to understand why he was Norway's foremost admiral and why a statue of him would grace the waterfront at Oslo. He was a man of action, and one must wonder how many men of action come from today's schooling, even in Norway. It is always ironic when an alumni whose main purpose was that of escaping schooling later becomes cherished by the school. I learned of Katedral Skole through reading Tordenskjold's biography and so it had become one of the destinations marking my journey.

I have been suffering from a severe cold and had to cancel my woodworking class at ESSA due to the amount of time lost in recovery.

I am attempting when I have the strength for it, to make 70 inlaid boxes for a corporate gifts order. Yesterday and today, I've been making inlay.

Make, fix and create...