Friday, October 31, 2014

Today in the wood shop...

I am working on an award base for the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, and will also begin the process of assembling 120 inlaid boxes to be given as special gifts in December. The engraving of the underside of the inlaid lids was completed by the engraver yesterday. I am also getting pre-Christmas orders for my work, and attempting to get one more chapter completed of my book on making Kindergarten's gifts.

Yesterday and the day before my wife and I painted one side of our house while the weather was nice. It looks great, and gave us the additional satisfaction of having completed it ourselves.

I have also proposed a new book on making Tiny Boxes, and another one on box making with kids.

Make, fix and create...

In case you wonder what to make, think boxes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

new teachers...

Forty to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession in their first five years. ( 9 1/2 percent leave their first year.) So why do they quit, and why do some stay?

My own family has had a number of dedicated teachers. My mother was a kindergarten teacher, and my sister Mary and her daughter both teach in Lincoln, Nebraska public schools, and have passed the 5 year mark with my sister having passed that mark many years back.

My daughter Lucy is a new public school teacher in the New York Public School system. And so the question arises, how do we make teaching stick, so that the investment we make in teachers is a good one? Certainly, for new teachers, mentoring is an important thing. And being in a school where one's ideas find appreciation is another.

We know that money isn't everything, and that jobs that offer a sense of creative fulfillment, and in which one's efforts are shown to matter are the jobs that offer the greatest sense of non-monetary satisfaction. Non-monetary rewards like that of being respected in one's work can be just as important as the money when it comes to lasting employment.

Lucy called on Tuesday as excited as could be. She had planned an exercise of her own design in the study of material properties in which her students would be property brokers and sell each other on the material properties of the substances assigned. They made posters as though they were selling real estate to each other, and made sales pitches, and the level of enthusiasm in the classroom rose to such a point that another teacher passing by, had to come in to see why. The students took her on a tour of their "properties."

Fortunately, Lucy was hired by a New York City School in which the administration was looking for her kind of creative engagement, and they are allowing her creativity to blossom in the classroom.

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, we had our annual harvest party. It was a phenomenal success. In the woodshop we made button toys with pieces of wood and strings. To make one, drill two holes near the center of a piece of flat wood. It can be round, octagonal or square. Run a loop of string through the holes, and then hold the string by the fingers of each hand. Wind the toy up by flipping it round and round as you move your hands in a circular pattern,  then pull. As you move your hands in and out, and with practice, the button will spin one way and then the other.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

senses, grasping and comprehension...

Our Maker bot printing legos™
Comenius (1592-1670) had put forth his argument that the senses form the core of learning:
"The ground of this business is, that sensual (sensuous) objects be rightly presented to the senses for fear that they not be received. I say, and say it again aloud, that this is the foundation of all the rest; because we can neither act nor speak wisely, unless we first rightly understand all the things which are to be done and whereof we have to speak. Now there is nothing in the understanding which was not before in the senses. And therefore to exercise the senses well about the right perceiving of the differences of things will be to lay the grounds for wisdom and all wise discourse, and all discreet actions in one's course of life, which, because it is commonly neglected in schools, and the things that are to be learned are offered to scholars without their being understood or being rightly presented to the senses, it cometh to pass that the work of teaching and learning goeth heavily onward and offereth little benefit."
The engagement of the senses lays the foundation for comprehension. And yet educational policy makers have become ignoramuses. What Comenius had observed in the 17th century still applies to children today.

The following is from Wendy Lecker's article, The disturbing transformation of kindergarten.
Two major studies confirmed the value of play vs. teaching reading skills to young children. Both compared children who learned to read at 5 with those who learned at 7 and spent their early years in play-based activities. Those who read at 5 had no advantage. Those who learned to read later had better comprehension by age 11, because their early play experiences improved their language development.

Yet current educational policy banishes play in favor of direct instruction of inappropriate academic content and testing; practices that are ineffective for young children.
To make children sit at desks, studying word they barely comprehend, restrains them at arms length from learning. The word comprehend, by the way, is rooted in the words to grasp, and completely.

Yesterday we printed our first 8 legos™ on the makerbot printer. The kids followed my explicit written instructions using sketchup to design them, then customized them by writing their names or initials in raised letters. It took one hour and 19 minutes to print 6, so you can see that Lego™ has nothing to fear from competition. Ours fit just a wee bit tight. In fact, they snapped together and were a bit hard to pry apart.

Watching the printer at work is mesmerizing, but would bore after awhile. The kids asked if we are going to use it for other things. I asked in reply that they, "Design something beautiful, interesting and useful first."

Today is the annual Clear Spring School Harvest Party. The kids dress up in pioneer clothing, have prepared games to play, and entertain our pre-school students and each other. In the wood shop, students will be making button toys.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Take-a-way number one...

The photo at left was submitted by one of my students from the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Kevin is a shop teacher and went back to school and asked that his students make boxes. Beautifully done! The joints are rabbetted.

I believe that every student in high school should have the opportunity to make something beautiful and useful that will last them their whole lives... that will last and be treasured because of the investment of care they have applied to them. What can be more suitable to this goal than a wooden box?

Take away number one.... a teacher spent some time shadowing students in the 10th and 12th grades and take away number one is as follows.
“We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot. But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. This Teacher Became A Student For Two Days: What She Learned Will Shock You!
The observation is confirmed by the following from 200 poems for Teachers of Industrial Arts Education, compiled by William L. Hunter:
The Potter

The potter stood at his daily work,
One patient foot on the ground;
The other with never slackening speed
Turning his swift wheel around.

Silent we stood beside him there,
Watching the restless knee,
'Til my friend said low, in pitying voice,
"How tired his foot must be!"

The potter never paused in his work,
Shaping the wondrous thing;
'Twas only a common flower pot,
But perfect in fashioning.

Slowly he raised this patient eyes,
With homely truth inspired;
"No, Marm, it isn't the foot that works,
The one that stands gets tired!"
-- Author unknown
To do nothing is torture. And to ask children to sit still at school is barbaric. It is fascinating how pretendingly scientific educators have become in schooling and how negligent schools have become in the application of common sense. My thanks to John Grossbohlin for the article linked above.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 27, 2014


We know that there are many things in life that cannot easily be measured. There are folks that resist that notion. Do you remember when performance meant something that was visible, that you practiced for and that was put on display to be witnessed, understood and enjoyed by others? Think theater, here, or dance and music. Now school performance refers almost exclusively to standardized testing.. even though we know standardized testing is a poor measure of future success and indicates almost nothing with regard to the traits of character that matter most.

A lawsuit in California is challenging teacher tenure laws that keep crappy teachers in place, where they bore kids leading premature death of interest. Administrators can't fire them, or shame them into retiring, and so the idea that some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have put forth is that teacher tenure be denied those teachers who do not perform at a level determined by the standardized test scores of their kids.

I ask you if there have been teachers in your life that have meant something to you that could not be directly measured? You can use the comments area of this blog to reply.

I can remember the last day of wood shop in junior high school, when my 8th grade shop teacher and I conferred over a nail that had missed its mark and left a small split at the side of a book shelf I had made. He said, "Don't worry about it. You have done well." Teachers are often there for those important moments, and to put their performance on an arbitrary statistical index would be a crime. It certainly is a crime, too, that teachers who don't give a damn about their kids can't be expelled just as easily as a child might. But the true test of a teacher's value may not actually appear until years later, when just a few encouraging words are remembered.

This morning one of our parents was telling me about the sword her daughter made in wood shop last year. She and her family still love it, and last night when a strange truck drove up into the yard,  and her mother was away, my student grabbed the wooden sword as the best protection at hand. She is so proud of that tool, and that she made it herself, and there will be no standardized test necessary to measure the impact of having made it.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

the rhythm of the machine vs. the rhythm of the body.

Rudolph J. Drillis' illustration of work tempo.
Yesterday I rented a log splitter for all day, whereas in the past, I had done the splitting of firewood to season for the next year by hand. Rudolph J. Drillis had done an interesting study of motion and rhythm in the human form, and there is very little about the hydraulic log splitter that conforms.

With my helper/friend Greg(from whom I learned a lot) and the splitter, and the tractor to haul logs, we made a day of it, and a chore that would have taken many hours (labor applied an hour or so a day over an extended period of time) was accomplished without injury.

There is pleasure to be found in the rhythmic exercise of the body. Some folks go to the gym for exercise, and some use tools and perform real labors. I try to do both.

Blog reader, former student and friend David Kings sent an article about the demise and destruction of Kindergarten, by Wendy Lecker called "The disturbing transformation of kindergarten."
The article notes:
"One of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn. Nowhere is this misplaced emphasis more apparent, and more damaging, than in kindergarten."
I continue my work in making Kindergarten's gifts, hoping to reawaken an understanding of progressive education. The photo above is of gift number three used to create a beauty form. It is my hope that we take matters related to our children's educations into our own hands.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

odds and ends...

Today I have very little to say about the hands.

A few days back, I got a call from a Canadian woodworker who has been teaching adults and has begun working with kids. He asked about the origins of the term Wisdom of the Hands, expecting perhaps that concept might be derived from some kind of historical context. I explained that the concept in terms of the language is my own, derived in part from Stanley Kunich's poem about the wisdom of the body, but that in years past, no one would ever have to note in language a thing that was so strongly present in their own lives. It is only now, as people are so isolated from the natural wisdom offered by hands, that the necessity of such a concept would arise.

This morning I'm renting a log splitter. I have always done splitting of firewood by hand, but this year I have so many other things I must do, that to get wood ready for next season's warmth must be assisted by a friend, Briggs and Stratton and hydraulics.

The box and blocks shown above is on my newly contrived photo backdrop. Do you like it?

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 24, 2014


Exhausting the potential of limited resources. If you were to take a set of Froebel blocks, either number three or four, each with 8 in a set, and were yourself used to the abundance of materials that are supplied in a set of legos,™ you might feel restrained. But as children are invited to use their own imaginations to discover what forms are within the range of their discovery we might be amazed. Even 8 small blocks in a number 3 or 4 set, offer the potential for new discoveries.

We live in a world with limited resources. And so what do we do with what we've got? This is always a matter of material concern in wood shop, and as children embark on projects, I direct them to the materials we have available and ask them to use thrift. Thrift is not just a concern when it comes to the pocketbook. It is one of the traits of character that facilitates the survival of nations, and the success of the human species.

My students have nearly completed their personalized legos.™ Some of them were frustrated by the experience, and one student asked yesterday, upon closing her file, "Now can I do something real?" That, my friends, is what most kids wonder while in school. On the other hand, all the students persevered, even though it was difficult and they had to start over several times before getting it right. And of course they want to see the 3-D printer in action, making their own lego™ blocks.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

80 percent right...?

The current issue of Wooden Boat Magazine has an article about the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, Washington. The article is called, "Accuracy School," a name given it by one of the students interviewed for the article. When you are doing something real, there is no vagueness about fit. The true test in doing something real is not to be 80 percent right before you are passed on to the next level. You get it right, or you start over, and perhaps over again. And so there is a difference between school, that children know to be a contrived and often meaningless educational environment, and doing something real, like building a wooden boat. In either case, building a boat or attending school your life will likely depend upon the results, but schooling is so very vague that too many children are disconnected from it.

Accuracy is also a thing to learn in wood shop, and it has been interesting watching as my students work on their sketchup legos™. Some have started over and over again to get them right, and if they're not right, they won't fit. The proof is not to get an 80% score but to put in the correct data in the right places to hit the nail right on the head, even if it's the third or fourth time to try to drive it in.

Where in the world, would 80% be a good score except in school? Scores themselves are contrivances and artificial, and so it is good to see educational institutions like the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding in which students do real things. Accuracy applies to everything human beings do, and to learn to do a difficult thing right builds both character and intellect... two essential ingredients for future success.

In my own quest to get more of my work sold, out the door, and out of the way of making more beautiful things, I've arrived at a very simple backdrop for taking photos for Etsy. It's a folding screen made of formica™, so it is stiff and lightweight. I can pull it out at a moment's notice, take photos of individual boxes, load them to Etsy and then put it away.

What if we were judged on our miter joints? Could you say, this miter is 80% right because 3 corners fit tight, and the last one is only 10 degrees off?

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

the dangers of inventiveness and creativity

Turn a cylinder to a spherical form
Inventiveness comes from being engaged in problem solving which then in turn requires being involved in the real world. Yesterday, I wanted to demonstrate the use of Froebel's second gift to my fellow teachers at Clear Spring School, so I made a quick stand from wood and dowels to support a cylinder of wood on a string. It was amazing how easy this object was to make. Seeing it made some of my students want to make them, too. In addition, I had made a box for gift number 4 and the lid moved too easily, and I was concerned that it would simply fall out. So I drilled a hole in it, inserted a dowel in that hole, and made cuts to allow for the dowel pin to only travel so far in each direction. Now I have a new design for sliding lid boxes.

A dowel controls the travel of a sliding lid
But I also have a more serious problem. I have to get back to selling my work. Relentless making and inventing requires relentless efforts to reduce inventory. And yet, there is a greater danger... that children fail to learn their own creative powers.

Yesterday was also a good day in that we printed our first lego™ that was shown in yesterday's post. There is no worry there about selling excess inventory. The 3-D printer is a relatively ineffective way to manufacture large quantities of work. But is making our own legos™ a way to get kids learning to use design software, and to follow instructions with a degree of accuracy? You bet.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

saga of the 3-d printed lego...

Today we printed our first lego™ using a makerbot 3-D printer. This was our prototype to find out if it will indeed work. It did. Now the students are excited that they will each get to print their own. We started with a real lego, ™ took measurements of it, and then each student used sketchup to create the design.

Lego™needs not worry about competition. Ours took 27 minutes to print. Our purpose is purely educational. I am very proud that with careful measuring and sketchup design we got a perfect fit.

The lower elementary school students were using simpler technology, saws and hammers to make sloyd trivets like those made by Gustaf Larsson's students in 1900.

Make, fix and create...

education of the senses...

In my woodshop, I have begun work on the boxes for gifts number 5 and 6 which are larger than the boxes for gifts 3 and 4 as you can see in the photo above. The techniques used to make the boxes can be the same.

In the larger world of education, there is a strong push to have all children taught by laptop or iPad to the general exclusion of the senses other than those which predominate in the manipulation of or by such devices. The sense of taste, smell, and differential sense of touch need not apply, though a long list of educators from Pestalozzi to Montessori insisted on the importance of education of all the senses.

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, the students in science class were busy taking apart owl pellets to dig out the tiny bones of mice and voles that are found inside. It was a clear reminder that you can engage the hands and the senses without being in wood shop. And those who struggle to get children engaged in schooling could take a lesson from the senses. We are more deeply engaged when all the senses are touched by our surroundings and educational opportunities.

If you think for a moment about the term "quantum entanglement," and that the object of learning should not be just that students are momentarily engaged, but that they become entangled, allow me to suggest what that means. Entanglement is not just at a superficial level as one might encounter through manipulation by an iPad. It takes place at a depth in which objects and people are forever transformed by the experience. That depth of learning requires that it be situationally real, involving all the senses. It's why children love wood shop. Even the smell of the place is transforming.

Make, fix and by all means, create...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gift number 4

A gift number 4 beauty form
Froebel's gift number four consisted of a small sliding top box and 8 small tiles, each 1/2 in. x 1 in. x 2 in. The tiles were used to create "knowledge," a sense of relationship, and a sense of beauty.
  • Knowledge in this case had to do with number and form, how one shape could be used to build another geometric shape, in that the tiles could be used to construct the cube proportionate in shape to the box from which they came. In addition, the tiles of this gift could be compared in siza and shape to the cubes in gift number 3. Did you know that they are the same size?
  • The sense of relationship came from building the various forms that they child witnessed in his or her environment. 
  • Sense of beauty came from the arrangement of the tiles into patterns expressing harmony and symmetry. For example, one of hundreds of possible patterns of beauty is shown in the photo above.
The small wooden box was an essential component of gift number 4. As the gifts became more complex to meet the growing complexity of the child's inner landscape, a means of keeping order was necessary. But the box also played an important relationship to the whole. A cube, within a cube, but within that cube was infinite potentiality. The arrangement of the gifts and their delivery was based on the following precepts that will sound familiar to those readers who have taken an interest in educational sloyd. Start with the interests of the child. Move from the known to the unknown, from the easy to the more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. Within this simple prescription as outlined by Otto Salomon is the basis of "progressive" education.

This morning I received an email from an educational website proclaiming"every child reading." I proclaim an equivalent imperative, that every child make, and that we make that possible. Don't think for a minute that schools will go ahead and do it without you.

Make, fix and please join in the creation of the universe...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

the construction gifts...

Froebel began having his students play with blocks early in his teaching career, and his various sets of blocks, starting with gift number 3, left a lasting impression on generations. Unlike tinker toys and legos, the way blocks fit together requires paying particular attention to gravity. But as long as we serve as earthlings, we must find no particular error in that.

Yesterday, in addition to inlaying another 50 or so box lids, cleaning the shop enough so I could walk around without tripping, mowing the grass and being visited by a former student from Marc Adams  School, I made gifts number 3 and 4. I chose to do finger jointed corners, as these are the types of joints we associate with the finer remaining examples of the gifts as manufactured by Milton Bradley.

There are those in the world who have wood shops, and need to know what to do with them. There is no better excuse to cut wood and to put those wood shops to use, than to make one of these special sets of blocks for a child or grandchild. So, as I explained to my friend Rich yesterday, my objective in writing this new book, is to set parents and grandparents in motion, just as I might set a cylinder spinning on a string with a stick in gift number 2.

With gifts 3 and 4, I begin making what were referred to as Froebel's construction gifts.  Frank Lloyd Wright was one of those who attested to the value of Kindergarten and particularly to the play with Froebel's blocks. He said, referring to Milton Bradley Kindergarten Blocks his mother purchased for him in the 1876 Philadelphia Worlds Fair Kindergarten exhibit: "The maple-wood blocks...are in my fingers to this day,"

In the meantime, gift number two is fascinating. I believe both children and those responsible for their learning opportunities will enjoy playing with it and learning from it. It is of particular interest to play with it when you've made it with your own hands.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

a marvel and a joy

Today I will be finishing inlaying lids for an order of boxes for corporate gifts. I can't tell where they are going, as they will be a surprise for the recipients. I got over 50 done yesterday, and will inlay an equal number today. After sanding, the lids will be ready for the laser engraver to put text on the underside so that it can be viewed when the box is open.

I am also proceeding to chapter 3 of my book on making Froebel's gifts. Edward Weibé wrote in his discussion of gift number 2:
"In using the same form to represent different things in a play, do not fear that there will be any incongruity, provided the suggestion comes from the children, and the objects symbolized are closely related in thought, for the child's imagination is so free that he can clothe and re-clothe the same form with new life. The sense impressions which come from tracing resemblances and differences, experimenting and handling, will give a familiarity with the forms and their relation to each other, which no abstract lesson on surfaces, edges and corners could afford."
A couple days ago, in "play" with gift number 2, I inadvertently stacked the parts in a manner I had not done before, and discovered hidden in it a shape one might take as symbolic of man. Perhaps the real magic of Froebel was that he chose not to make a parade of the obvious to his children, but chose instead to offer a realm in which discoveries were made by them. When I stacked these three simple blocks in their new form, out of the order in which they have become associated with Froebel, I felt a sense of discovery.... a moment of pleasing but visceral response. Eureka. Not enough to launch me running naked through the streets, but enough to feel as though I had discovered something important, and enough to help me to better understand the use of symbols and symbolism in Kindergarten.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gift 2, screen two.

Froebel's second gift, consists of a sphere, a cube and cylinder and a storage box/stand from which they are hung so that they can be spun. The cylinder, when hung at the center spins to produce a cylinder that appears solid within the blurred outer shape. Watch this in the short video shown above.

I can hardly imagine a group of 30 or more children in a kindergarten classroom, playing with this technique. But I can imagine parents and their children or teachers with a small group of kids exploring and observing the kinds of transformation that take place when objects of various shapes are set in motion through self-activity. Would you not do this as an experiment with your own children? Double click on the video to see it in full width. The drawing above is from Edward Weibé's book The Paradise of Childhood, showing the transformation of shapes from gift number 2.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 16, 2014

gifts, still and in motion...

Stacked in this order #2 presents a human form
A stand for Gift number 2 shown in the video below allows the three geometric solid shapes to rotate on a string and for kids to see that objects set in motion do not appear just as objects appear when still. In this case, the cube is spinning with the string attached to one corner. Naturally, the sphere, when spun appears unchanged. According to Wiebé's The Paradise of Childhood, describing Froebel's original kindergarten gifts:
"an interest in form, inspired in this way, may lead to later investigation into the mysteries of the sciences, results of which eternity alone can measure."
Modern schools seem to care little for eternity.

Make, fix and create...

how to make a kid

Popular Mechanics Magazine, in a special DIY issue, has an article called How to Make a Kid (Who Can Make a Boat). I figure the purpose of Popular Mechanics Magazine has always been to get people of all ages making things, but this issue seems to have stated the concern better than most and I thank Mario for forwarding it to me. A real kid is not made by sex alone. Human beings are made more complete when they are engaged in crafting their realities, hands-on.

Today the Clear Spring School kids and most of the staff are going on the fall camping trip. Some might think that camping is simply a recreational activity. It is much, much more. We regard it as an outdoor learning school. It is multidisciplinary. The kids are organized into patrol groups and learn to accept responsibilities to care for each other. They elect leaders and do real things.

Yesterday in preparation, the kids made pancakes and salsa. At camp, while some are preparing meals others are tending the fire, cleaning up, and performing other assigned roles. During the day, students learn from park rangers and authorities on nature. At night, they look after each other. Of course a team of teachers and parents are never far away. Camping is a thing that all children should have the opportunity to do in school, and is a long-standing tradition and method of learning at Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Montessori and Froebel compared...

In 1911 Ellen Yale Stevens, Principle of the Brooklyn Heights Seminary visited schools of Maria Montessori in Italy to see if what she had come up with was a fad, or whether it held merit when compared to Kindergarten. She fell in love with the method and wrote the article to acquaint American readers with what she hoped would become a new standard for American education.

It seems like whatever the greats come up with in Education, policy makers and politicians have ways of messing things up.

In my own comparison between Froebel and Montessori I would first note that there was a hundred year difference between the two, with Froebel being the predecessor in the work to promote early childhood education. By the time Montessori had begun her work in Italian schools, the Kindergarten method had been promoted around the world, distorted by zealots, and practiced by thousands of teachers unsuccessfully trained in the method with too many students in the classroom for the method to be successful.

In her comparison, Stevens wrote:
"The Kindergarten in Rome is without exception so far as I have observed, of the strict Frobelian type. The classes are large, sometimes as many as fifty children of five years of age under one teacher; the occupations entirely dictated and the games directed. Yet nowhere have I seen the kindergarten circle; instead the children sit in pairs on a bench in front of a long narrow, slanting desk. It is the banco as thus satirized so severely by Madame Montessori, who has introduced in it place, in the schools under her direction, low, broad, firm tables, where two or at most three children can sit comfortably in little, broad chairs."
So what she compared was in essence, not Montessori and Froebel, but the methods of a living educator and the distortions of the methods of the other having been put forth 50 years before. Froebel had no way of envisioning that they would take his simple gifts and use them ritualistically to impose tyranny in over crowded rooms full of 5 year olds.

Yesterday, at Clear Spring School my 6 year olds finished their wooden birds.

The photo at left is of the new woodshop and outdoor classroom at Covenant Christian School in St. Louis. The head of school had visited Clear Spring in 2010 and this new classroom is the result of his interest in building a woodworking program at his school.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

AAW offers free student memberships

Today my first through 4th grade students will making sloyd trivets and finishing their model birds. Yesterday in the wood shop, I prepared material for boxes, cutting hundreds of parts to size, and I also made a box for Froebel Gift number 2, designed oversize to hold the objects for spinning. I'll show how that works later.

The American Association of Woodturners (AAW), deserves a post of their own. In their efforts to promote woodturning to a new generation they've adopted a clear position in relation to hands on learning, and offer free youth membership to their organization. If you teach woodturning, you can go to for details. I am planning to get my students involved.

I am at that time of the year in which I am getting proposal materials out to magazines. One process that I think would make a nice short article is about the use of the sled to cut tenons. Many woodworkers have experience cutting tenons on the table saw using a large cast iron tenoning jig. They are expensive and difficult to set up, but worse, they do a very poor job of holding small parts. And just in case you are not stuck on making small boxes, this technique can work for larger tenons, too. The image below shows the simplicity of this technique.

To prove the usefulness of this method, I made parts for 8 deckles yesterday, which our Clear Spring art teacher requested so that our students can make their own paper.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

chapter 2

Yesterday and today I've been working on chapter 2 of my book on Making Froebel's Gifts. As you can see, I have been working on sketchup illustrations of the box and shapes that came to symbolize Froebel's life and contributions to education.

In the actual sketchup illustration (not the image above), the various components can be taken apart and measured. The apparatus on the box at right allows for the three shapes to be suspended on strings and spun to alter their appearance. Is anyone impressed by my having made a sphere in sketchup? I also have an order for 120 inlaid boxes, that must be done before Dec. 1. So I will balance my time between the two and teaching.

On another subject, I have been getting inquiries from readers about the frame clamps shown on the cover of my new book.Taunton press had sent out this photo with an email that has brought more inquiries, with readers wondering, "where can I find those?"

The red ones are available in limited supply from Van-Ton Machine in Kansas City, 913-909-2793

Lee Valley has similar clamps available HERE.
The Lee Valley clamps are easier to use as they move into approximate position more quickly.  Both are recommended for box makers.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Froebel's gift number 2
I was talking with one of the Dads from Clear Spring School and we were reminiscing about the days when our children were so very small. His child in now almost a teen and my own is teaching Middle School in New York City. But in their infant years we put special latches on the cabinet doors that were to keep unattended children from getting poisoned by Draino, not realizing that in the course of things we would never leave our children unattended for even one minute. Being as attentive as we were, and in retrospect, the special latches were almost an over-protective joke.

Then kids reach their teens, we buy them cell phones and send them off driving cars. There is a bit of irony in that, being over protective in one moment and negligent in the next when the dangers have become real.

It strikes me as ironic that so many know of Montessori and Waldorf Schools, and that children can be (and some few are) given greater value in their educations, and then in so many cases we crowd 25-30 children into public school classrooms as though the children don't really matter. In stating this, I am not intending to insult the teachers who do their best with what resources and time they are given, but I do intend to insult the policy makers who short change our kids by not giving them full developmental opportunities, like those that Waldorf, Montessori, or Clear Spring School might provide.

I sometimes learn more about my own subject here by checking the links that travel to this blog, and the following is from Educating for Life.
"Montessori wrote in The Absorbent Mind:

“Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of the child’s mind comes about through his movements.”

“The hand is in direct connection with man’s soul, and not only with the individual’s soul, but also with the different ways of life that men have adopted on the earth in different places and at different times. The skill of man’s hand is bound up with the development of his mind, and in the light of history we see it connected with the development of civilization. The hands of man express his thought, and from the time of his first appearance upon the earth, traces of his handiwork also appear in the records of history. Every great epoch of civilization has left its typical artifacts.”

And further:

“The nature of a person’s work is betrayed by his movements. For his work is the expression of his mind–it is his mental life–and this has access to a whole treasury of movements which develop in the service of this–the central and directive–part of his inner being…The mental life of anyone who does not work at all is in grave peril because–although it is true that all the muscular powers cannot be used–there is a limit beneath which it is dangerous for those in use to fall. When reduced below this, a person’s whole life is weakened.”
 And so what is the lesson in that? We can put children safe in classrooms, cause them to be idle and force them to learn to sit still, fighting against their own muscularity until it is stifled. But children need to move in order to learn and grow. And most certain in this need to move is that their hands not be stilled and stifled in disservice to their development.

As you can see in the photo above, I am back at work on Froebel's Gifts.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 10, 2014

memory lane...

Every once in a while I am led on a walk down memory lane by a request that I make some one-of-a-kind of furniture project or another. I have become known for box making, but have done more complicated projects on occasion, and if you can make a box, with corners square and tolerances tight, you can make nearly anything. Also, when you make a box, you can be more experimental than you might be in making something large that will dominate the room. With practice making boxes, when you are required to dominate a room, you can do so with style.

A museum contacted me, asking whether I might make some large display cabinets, so that led me to my photo file, but also to consider whether or not I will have time available for such large projects, given what I am already committed to do.

I've shown other works on my website, The photos above and below are of a project that I rediscovered in my files from 2007.

Make, fix and create...

hungry bowls...

Last night the potters of Eureka Springs brought together over 400 bowls that they had made for their hungry bowls project. The restaurants of Eureka Springs made soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. For a $20.00 contribution, each of us got to choose a hand-crafted ceramic bowl and have dinner in a festive atmosphere, with live music and with all the proceeds going to our local food bank. Over $8,000 was raised in a single night.

My wife and I got bowls from a local potter who has been a friend for almost 40 years. Each of the bowls was interesting and beautiful, and it was a challenge to choose just the right bowl from such a large selection. Some couples chose matching bowls and others just chose the ones they liked.

I know that many communities no longer have studio potters at work. So very sad is that case. Here, we have an abundance of potters, and anyone familiar with the arts would not be surprised at their generosity. It seems that when a person is engaged in the practice of some art, whether it is in the kitchen, the wood shop, or the pottery studio, that person may likely have a greater level of compassion and generosity. There are reasons for that. When one's sense of self is derived from one's own creativity, rather than from what one may own and possess, that person is in a better position to express generosity. If the entirety of your self image is based on what you have, you are very poor indeed and can afford little to give. When a person is involved in the arts, he or she will have a greater sense of the interconnectedness of all things, and feel a deep sense of commitment that societal concerns like hunger and poverty be resolved. the hungry bowl event in Eureka Springs will feed many.

As I have said before, in making beautiful and useful things, the real product is in the character of the maker. I have to pay tribute to the potters of Eureka Springs. The 400 bowls were made by about 8 different potters.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 09, 2014


Our beautiful forest
I am a part-time teacher and attempt to blend my teaching with writing, and making. But the challenge of keeping abreast of the education field is enormous. Each day, I receive links to papers, published tips and policy reports that would be overwhelming if I took the time to read so much.

Some of what's  published is worth reading. This report on Kindergarten assessment puts the job of assessing back into the framework of teacher observation where it was before the standardized testing craze took over. Kindergarten-Readiness Tests Gain Ground. The tests mentioned are more like the observed benchmarks, that teachers were once taught and trusted to use for themselves.

Still, most teachers have little time for reading self-help materials and even if a teacher is at his or her profession full time, there's a disconcerting avalanche of information to process, and spending time at that diminishes the amount of time available to be fully engaged in relationships with real kids.

One of the rules of educational sloyd is to move from the concrete to the abstract, and most of the information put into the hopper for the betterment of teaching is generated by too many in academia who have too little time working with real kids. In other words, abstract. Most of this, is of course, based on the idea of class teaching. Throw a great deal of information out to students or to readers, and like spit wads, some of it might stick.  Some good and useful ideas, too. But the overwhelming amount of it is empty fluff that few can sort through.

In all things, individualized instruction is the only way the teacher can be assured of both the communication of information and the ability to process and apply that information once received.

In teaching the kids to use sketchup, I address it in three ways. I have printed directions for them to follow. Then, I demonstrate it on screen using a digital projector, and then to make certain each student gets it, I travel around the room as they are at work and give individualized instruction where needed. Every facet of this is difficult for some kids. Generally computers offer play. In this case, we are trying to do something that requires precision. Each step must be done exactly right. Today was challenging for some. They found errors that needed to be fixed and for some that meant starting over. But that is a good way to learn. Repetition can work wonders for the comprehension.

Still,  let's start with a couple basic assumptions. Teachers become teachers because they care about kids and want to be engaged in helping their growth. Not all teachers are as good as it as some others. Collaborative frameworks in which teachers are engaged one-on-one with skilled mentors, rather than being stuck in schools of education where learning is kept for the first three years in the abstract would be far better than the situation we have now. And reading hundreds of articles on the internet will not be the best course for helping teachers to become better at their work.

On the other hand, I believe that simple reorientation will help move education in the right direction. When we remember or discover that we learn best, most thoroughly and to greatest lasting effect when we learn hands-on, and discover too, that any other means is less efficient and wasteful of time and human lives, we would make a significant change in how we expect kids to learn and how to design schools.

We might even restore wood shops to schools,  and music and art to the lives of children.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

given opportunity, one thing leads to another...

Yesterday at noon as I was preparing for my class of sketchup students to make legos,™ three boys came in asking to use various tools in the wood shop. In the morning, in their study of ornithology, they had made quills for writing and had practiced their cursive by writing the mantra, "I will take time to observe the world around me."

Throughout the day a steady trickle of monarch butterflies was passing south across the school campus at a height of about 75 feet, but it was only to be seen by those who took time to observe, or those in the company of one who did so.

When the writing assignment was complete, I heard the students ask, "Where can I get some ink?" They wanted to continue practicing their writing at home.

In the wood shop, the three boys wanted to alter plastic cups so that they would fit together as a press, so that they could make their own ink from walnut hulls that litter the school grounds every year at this time.

They drilled holes in the bottom of one cup and altered the shape of the other so that one would press tightly inside the other. Then they smashed walnut hulls and squeezed the juice between the cups. They were thus able to get nearly a cup of liquid walnut juice. I am uncertain where their experiment went next, but for those readers who wonder, "Can you really make your own ink?"

Yes you can, but only if you are led to observe your surroundings and are free to act appropriately in response. This was another example of quantum entanglement, which in the realm of education can mean that children are inspired to take off on their own investigations of physical reality, transcending what is offered in schooling, for they, themselves, are altered to a fresh state.

As a teacher, I am grateful to teach in a situation in which students are free to find inspiration in their surroundings and act upon that inspiration.

On the sketchup front, all my students seem to have made the outside shape of a lego™ block, and on Thursday we will work on the inside proportions.

In my own shop, I am applying one more coat of Danish oil to boxes so that they can be shipped on Thursday.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

keeping kids safe...

Perfect stance, working height and two hand grip
I have been corresponding with an author about how to keep kids safe in the wood shop. He is working on a book about woodworking with kids and his editor insists that in every case, the child should have both hands on the tool. The author contacted me for moral support and that I might add to the strength of his own argument.

Of course, it is dumb to think that both hands should be on the tool regardless of the way the tool is designed.. Having both hands on the tool, if it is intended for one hand use throws the human geometry off in relation to the tool and the work. If you are sawing a line, alignment of the movement of the arm in relation to the line of cut adds efficiency. If you throw another hand into the operation, the consequence can be binding in the cut, awkwardness and frustration.

Working height and the size of the tool also come into play. For instance, the author sent me a photo from his book, showing a boy of 8 or 9 hears old operating a saber saw with one hand. My own opinion is that a heavy tool like that, intended for one hand operation demands that the operator has sufficient strength in one hand to operate it safely. In some cases that is just not the case, and use of that tool may be premature, for two reasons, maturity and strength. I have had saber saws jump around in my own hands, and it takes some strength to keep one under continuous control.

Black capped chickadee
In an extreme example of premature tool use, a teacher at a gun range was killed when he helped a 10 year old girl fire a sub-machine gun. The lift generated by the bullets streaming from the muzzle was more than she had strength to control and the line of fire rose quickly and high enough in split seconds that the instructor was killed. Nothing quite that dumb can happen in wood shop. But it goes to show that the world has its share of dumb-asses.

With first grade woodworkers, I ask that they start with two hands on the tool as they first learn, but then quickly transition to one hand behind the back as they gain in strength and control. Or not.

In the CSS classroom we use Vaughan and Bushnell Bear Saws. These work on the pull rather than push, and offer a large enough grip for both hands. I often find myself cutting with two hands when using this particular saw.

In my own shop, I am applying Danish oil to wooden boxes. At school, we are finishing model birds, and continuing to make legos™ in Sketchup.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 06, 2014

Biological hack Labs

Martin Perl, in his lab at Stanford in 1995,  
 Credit John G. Mabanglo/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
As major research funding has diminished, and large academic laboratories have been left relatively idle, the age of the hack lab has come. Just as backyard tinkering spaces have in the past, driven industrial expansion, the new age of science may be DIY.

There is some risk when the guy next door may be mixing up biological concoctions, but there is greater risk when people are left idle. It's not the busy hands that do the devils work, but those left untrained in matters of physical reality and unresponsive to the call of assuring the growth of human knowledge.  As teaching of science has become more and more by rote and less experiential students of science are inclined to take matters into their own hands. You can read about bio hacker labs here: Biology Hacklabs. The movement was also described in a segment of Science Friday on NPR: Community Science Labs Practice Do-It-Yourself Biology.

Along the same vein, A reader sent a link to the obituary of Martin Perl, Nobel laureate, 1995 in Physics for the discovery of a subatomic particle.
The discovery of the subatomic particle, the tau lepton, as it is formally known, was a crucial step in figuring out the jigsaw puzzle of elementary particles that form the bedrock of material reality.
Dr. Perl took particular delight in the gritty mechanical and physical details of doing experiments, an interest he traced to his boyhood joy in playing with construction toys like Lincoln Logs. To make up for his lack of an Erector Set while growing up, he later amassed a large collection of them and other construction toys. “He really saw those toys as the germ out of which experimental creativity could come,”

In recent years, Perl traveled in India and Japan lecturing about creativity and his concern that science education was becoming too rigid. He urged students to keep a journal and write down crazy ideas. But he also urged them and his colleagues not to get too far ahead of the fundamental truth of experiment in science.
Today in the wood shop, I'll be sanding boxes. I've gone through several iterations in my making of a lego™ that can be printed on the school's 3-D printer. As I look at it more closely, I discover details that I had missed, and to make it so that it exactly fits other legs™ requires perfection. In getting the details of its design down perfect for sketchup, the students will have to follow the instructions to a perfect T.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 05, 2014

woodshop on the road

Yesterday I took my woodworking to the Eureka Palooza to make toy cars and tops with the kids. It was a pleasant afternoon, and I heard from parents whose children had made cars last year that they are still enjoyed and played with. It is obvious that the change that our children need most in their education will not come from schooling unless your child attends a school like Clear Spring.

The little girl in the photo above made 3 flip cars and 6 tops, thinking of the cousins that needed gifts that she might make for them.

The following is from Kindergarten in a Nutshell, written back when the introduction of Kindergartens in America was driving educational reform, leading to art, music, nature studies, field trips and wood shops... all the good things that were abandoned in the race to greater educational efficiency and "higher" standards.
"There is, perhaps, no educational opinion which is more firmly fixed in the popular mind than that the earlier a child is taught to read the more it will redound to his present good, to his future glory, and to the welfare of his country; and there is certainly no other belief of its size and enduring quality which is, on the whole, more pernicious."
One would not normally think the teaching of reading as pernicious, but it can be when it comes at the wrong time. The same can be true of digital technologies. Parents and so many educational policy makers believe that the earlier you introduce digital devices, the better. And because so many are addicted themselves to the rapid fire pace of digital performance, they think that their kids should be getting an early dose of the same thing, even though the experts in child development warn of the pernicious effects.
Froebel believed that the child should be taught the full use of the members of his body and of his senses, that his faculty of speech should be trained, the powers of his mind and heart somewhat developed by the study of the things about him and their relations to himself, before he was introduced to the conventional learning of the schools—that is, to dealing with signs and symbols for things instead of the things themselves.
The exact same thing could be said today but on this newer subject of digital technologies. In case you haven't noticed, computers are full of signs and symbols of things, third and fourth party interpretations, when children on the other hand should be introduced to the real world and its wonders first, in order to have a firm foundation for the interpretation of digital representations of things. The mind may seek the truth, but the hands find it. 

I get questions  about how to introduce children to the joy of woodworking. It is really quite simple. Prepare a few parts that they can assemble and shape into something new they will be proud of. Those things that give us both satisfaction in the making and pride in the results, will lead to the inclination to repeat.  Having the opportunity to repeat the process at a later time will seal the deal. My own set up yesterday required two small workbenches, (child height) and some materials and small tools. The wooden mallets were made in the school wood shop.

Today we have a 40th anniversary brunch  for Clear Spring School at the Crescent Hotel that I will attend.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, October 04, 2014

happy 40th CSS...

Lego™ designed in sketchup
We are celebrating our 40th anniversary of the founding of Clear Spring School, and while I've only been teaching here with my Wisdom of the Hands program since 2001, my relationship with the school is tied in friendships going back to when I first moved to Eureka Springs in 1975.

Yesterday we had a 40th anniversary open house at the school. Today we celebrate the 40th at Eureka Palooza, a music festival sponsored by the school. The weather will be perfect for this event. Tomorrow we have a brunch at the historic Crescent Hotel.

At Eureka Palooza I had woodworking activities for kids from about 1-4 PM.Children, some with the help of their mothers or dads, made flip cars and tops.

In the meantime, as background activities, I am reviewing a contract on a compilation volume of my first two box making books, helping prepare for the new Save The Ozarks website to go live on Wednesday, and continuing to install moldings around our replacement windows in the house.

I've completed my own sketchup illustration for making a standard lego.™ I plan to write out a set of dimensional instructions so that my students can create the basic block in sketchup and then begin to personalize their own lego™ for 3-D printing. It would be far too expensive to make our own legos™ but personalizing student legos™ is an exciting way to get them interested in design, and requires them to follow an exacting set of instructions like they may have to do in real life.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 03, 2014

chisel, plane, sketchup...

Yesterday I gave a test in wood shop and was pleased to see that all my students passed. I gave a set of instructions and measurements for sketchup and what we are planning to achieve in time is the ability to 3-D print our own personalized lego blocks. In order to do so, the kids could simply download legos designed by others, but where would the growth be in that? Instead we will each be entering the dimensions and creating the forms ourselves. That will involve a long and precise list of instructions that must be followed with great care. Can you see the educational value in that? This is an educational experience for me, too. I have been measuring blocks, and developing the step-by-step instructions.

Computers, sketchup and 3-D printing in the wood shop? Should that come as a surprise? Computers are just tools designed to make processes easier and to require less skill.

The following is from my earlier blog post on March 3, 2010:

 If you compare a chisel and a plane, you will find that they each share the same geometry at the cutting edge, and yet they are designed for different tasks. You will note that the frame surrounding the blade of the plane holds it in a fixed angle in relation to the working surface. Given enough strength, super human attention, and uncommon skill you could do with the chisel what you do with the plane, but then for most of us mortals, getting the plane to make perfectly smooth surfaces on wood, is challenge enough.

My point here is to explore David Pye's concept, workmanship of certainty vs. workmanship of risk and you can see that the evolution of the same cutting edge from simple application in the chisel to complex application in the plane is intended to bring greater certainty in a particular operation, replacing the need for skill with a more complex technology. The same can be said for the entire history of tool development. Almost all technological progress is aimed toward the elimination of skill as a necessary component of development. Another example is the biblical story of David and Goliath. David killed Goliath with a rock and sling, whereas any nincompoop with a rifle could have done the same thing.

If you read the latest woodworking magazine, you will find it filled with devices and techniques intended to make things easier, better, directed toward the elimination of risk.

And yet, it is risk, not knowing the outcome, working against the odds, putting forth effort, and accomplishing things that express mindfulness, effort and skill, that make life and the things we make most meaningful. And so, what this boils down to is that at least some good measure of what we do should be done the hard way. Choose your tools wisely, that they allow for the development of your skill.

Being able to follow or develop a very precise set of instructions is of educational value whichever kind of technology you choose.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, October 02, 2014

AEP and my home town...

USA Today named my home town of Eureka Springs one of the top 10 places to go and witness the splendor of fall colors against forested hillsides. They published a photo of our beautiful forest views that AEP would destroy in the quest for greater profits while demand for electric power has fallen for the 7th year in a row.

What can you do? I have three ideas. Go to and tell the Arkansas Public Service Commission to immediately reject the application. The second idea is to add to the growing conversation on the USA Today site, and leave a comment at the close of the article. A third idea is to go to AEP's facebook page  and tell them that their plan to sacrifice the beauty of the Ozarks for the sake of their profits is unconscionable. Their application to trash the Ozarks should come to an immediate halt. Even if there was a proven need for the project (the Arkansas Public Service Commission found that there was not.) this project is too costly to bear.

making birdies...

Yesterday, my elementary school students began making wooden birds, as part of their study of ornithology.

Randall sent a link on "How to avoid a fully automated future." So much has already been automated, that there is no turning back. But there are rewards of the spirit, character and intellect that come from doing things by hand. It is important to talk about such things as we make individual decisions concerning how we want to live and as we may influence others.

The point is not to shut down the digital age, but rather to simply rejoice in what we can do by hand if we make an investment in practice and skill. Everything digital is designed to make easy what had been hard and that required skill. But doing difficult things well is the foundation from which human character and intelligence are nourished and grown.

In the meantime, if you watch cable or satellite TV, you will have seen more than enough reality TV. There are cooking shows, travel shows, Naked and Afraid (folks attempting to survive in the wilderness without clothes), and every kind of show anyone has imagined thus far. Take your choice. There are shows about Swamp People, Pawn Stars, junk dealers and Ice Road Truckers.  YOu can watch extreme helicopter logging if you like. It used to be that folks would watch woodworking with Norm or some fishing show to get a dose of reality, but now the offerings are expanded over 100 fold... which I guess means more folks watching TV. You know the old adage, "I just love work. I can sit here and watch it all day."

What does this tell us about our fully automated future? It tells us that it has gotten easier to produce video, and cheap, too. But that people are still drawn to real things and the actions required to contend with the physical world.  But, I have always found it better to watch my own hands at work than to waste time on TV. In the wood shop (and having spent years in practice) I can make products with useful beauty, that I've been able to sell and support my family. And I can assure you that it there are feelings of pride and pleasure when you look back through the process, and behold what you have done. Does anyone having watched TV ever derive a sense of accomplishment from it?

The sketchup illustration below shows the process of cuts for making birdies. Shaping with rasp and sanding strips comes next, then wings and stand will come next week. You can click on the image to see it in a larger size. The dimensions given are approximate.

cutting the parts for wooden birdies
I am also getting ready for Eureka Palooza, an open house on Friday, and the kick-off to the celebration of Clear Spring School's 40th anniversary. Today int eh CSS woodshop, I gave my upper level students a test in sketchup. It consisted of a set of instructions for them to follow to create a specific form. Unless they can follow directions to a T, they will be impaired in the use of the software.

Make, fix and create...