Thursday, September 25, 2014

creating an artificial strategy vs. doing real things...

I spent much of the day yesterday inlaying the lids of small boxes and other products. I have made thousands of small boxes to fill orders over the last 38 years, and will continue to do so. But it is not an intellectually idle exercise. I think about things as my hands are busily engaged in routine productive exercises. I route the channels for the inlays to fit, select and cut the inlay strips to length and trim them to width to fit the channels.The inlay strips are ones I make myself, or are sliced from spalted woods. I spread glue in the channels and with Masonite spacers between, clamp them face to face to distribute clamping pressure. This way, I can glue and clamp 8 or more lids in a single operation.

I am convinced that children, despite their engagement in fantasy on occasion, are adept at telling the difference between what is real and what is not, and so it stands to reason that contrived learning experiences might touch them less deeply than incidents in which they learn from being engaged in the real world.
"In Schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged. --Wisdom of the Hands blog post of October 16, 2006"
This is all quite simple. In about 1983, Howard Gardner, in his book Frames of Mind, put forth the recognition that children that children are smart in a number of ways, and that led to a commensurate awareness that children learn in various ways, too. That led to an assumption that teachers must strive to create lessons in which each intelligence and the learning style of each child would be accommodated. The problem comes when a teacher attempts to plan an organized classroom activity. Few teachers have the capacity, planning to the nth degree, to teach effectively in all learning styles in the same classroom lesson. A second problem, even more basic to teacher effectiveness is that teachers find it difficult to devise lessons outside their own comfort zone in learning styles that they themselves do not share with their students. For instance, most teachers become teachers because they are adept at reading, assimilating the forms of knowledge that are conveyed by reading therefore are most comfortable devising lessons that are dependent upon reading as the predominant learning style.

The simple answer to these problems is to take the teacher out of the business of rigidly controlling content and realize that children learn best by doing real things. The wood shop is a perfect example. Every learning style is used and present in the wood shop. Those who are auditory learners find plenty to learn from in the wood shop. So, too, will visual learners find engagement. I can run down Howard Gardner's list and find a place for each child, doing something real and by hand, that engages them in effective learning, without having to adapt the lesson for each child. A multiple intelligences approach is put in place in the teacher's decision that his or her students make  or do something of useful beauty, that is relevant to their lives and connects them with their community.

I am having one problem in the wood shop. I have a boy who has been diagnosed as having a mild form of autism. He finds it difficult to contend with the noise and activity of the classroom. But in the wood shop, I've given him a log and nails, and by hammering nails and making overriding noises of his own  he's found a way to cope. While in most cases, the noisy activity of other students forms a barrier to his participation, hammering nails puts the control into his own hands and the noises arise at his own volition. It creates an ironic situation. Whereas, in most situations, he's the one oppressed by noise, in the wood shop, students have asked whether I can send him outside to work. I will not.

And so, I hope the log and nails can become a more meaningful project. My only challenge is to direct it into something less random and more stimulating of growth. And a delightful break through came two weeks ago, when three 5th grade girls asked if they too, might pound a few nails into the log. My overly shy woodworker smiled broadly and said yes.

Today, my upper level students will continue learning sketchup. They are excited about it. I am insistent that it not be just about playing with one more fascinating program, and that it lead to the creation of useful beauty.

Make, fix and create...


  1. Anonymous5:50 PM

    I don't often see comments on your post maybe because you are clearly knowledgable and the information speaks for itself. I just wanted to let you know every post is greatly appreciated

  2. Anonymous8:45 AM

    While in the primary school, everybody in my brother's class had to make a kind of painting with nails of different head size and color nailed close to each other or even overlapping.
    My brother made a beautiful beetle. Some nails were copper nails, some nails were bleuish upholsters seeds, and so on.
    Another possibility is connecting nails with a string to make figures.
    I hope this might help.