Wednesday, September 25, 2019

big cubes

Yesterday in the Clear Spring School wood shop I prepared stock for my lower middle school students to make small white oak spatulas. The idea was a stimulated by the educational sloyd recognition that children need to make things that are useful to their families and in the home as a way to build the student's self-esteem and build a strong relationship between home and school. The kids were excited, particularly by the cake knife I'd made as a gift whose birthday yesterday involved cake. They went home with small spatulas fo their own design. Marco said he needed his to cut his burrito. He made three and wants to make more today.

With the elementary school students we began making boxes.

With more Froebel blocks added to the Clear Spring School playground, I decided to mix up the way they have been used as late, by putting them into their classic forms, two large cubes. I wanted to observe how the students used them next.

Make, fix, and create.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Yesterday carpenters added trusses to the construction of the new Clear Spring School wood shop addition. That's a real sign of progress, and I was glad to be on hand to help hoist a few and hold them while they were nailed and screwed in place. Today the plywood roof decking will be added.

One of my students has planned a small outdoor classroom for the Clear Spring School as his eagle scout project. It's a challenging project and with some funding from school, he's raising over half the funds himself. You can support his project through his gofundme site:

Yesterday we also added 5 more Froebel blocks to the school playground, giving our students full sets of gifts number 3 and 4.

An article, "Burnt Oysters" in Columbia Magazine described a project in which students and faculty followed recipes recorded by a craftsman over 500 years ago to make paint, varnish, pigments and the like. The craftsman whose name is not known had left 171 folios of instructions and observations. As one of the world's first how to writers his notes are now kept safe in the French National Library. They were written when it was rare to be able to read, so were left unpublished.

There is a great connection between making and knowing, and as I've suggested in the past, craftsmanship and the knowledge derived from it served as the foundation of modern science and are still the best means to unleash the powers of scientific observation.

According to the article the exercise of recreating the formulas "served as a reminder of the simple pleasures of hands-on invention–– and of the adage that there is no learning like doing."

Make, fix, and create. Give others the opportunity to learn likewise.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

the power of a single image.

In 1993 my cousin Michael came to Eureka Springs and stayed with us for a few days as he participated in Omega Institute training. He left a copy of a magazine for my enjoyment called "The Sciences." In it I was inspired by an image of a book filled with rocks.

That image led me to begin using rocks as additive design elements in my work, ranging from tables to boxes. It also led to my first work featured on the pages of Fine Woodworking Magazine. I've not as yet read the article from which the image came. But I plan to today. You can read along here:

I find it fascinating how a single image and a singlular relationship can have such effect.

Make, fix, and create. Extend to others the opportunity of learning likewise.

Friday, September 20, 2019

straight and square.

My head of school asked about any particular academic content covered during the course of the week, and even in wood shop there are concepts important to the development of a child's powers to observe and discern. "Straight" is one that helps. Another is "square." Both are important in achieving accuracy and to assure that things actually work and go together as planned.

The square (a woodworking tool)  is used to mark 90° lines directly across wood so that a straight, square cut can be made. Students will find it difficult to do quality work without paying attention to the basic concept square.

 On Thursday with my elementary school kids I had a practice day based on the teaching model used in med school. "See one, do one, teach one." And so I put my slightly older kids in charge of teaching the younger ones. Results were good. Cutting accuracy was improved for both the older and younger students.

When one is given the responsibility to teach, enhanced learning is assured. That's why they follow the same rule in med school. An amazing amount of attention is required when making your first cuts. As you practice, less direct attention is required, thus making it appear deceptively easy when it actually is not. The ability to pay attention is an important skill in the arts and sciences and throughout schooling.

Make, fix, create, and assure that others have the chance to learn likewise.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

more blocks

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

billions in art

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

brain gain

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

three days

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

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

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

So here's what we need to do.

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

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

Friday, September 13, 2019

That little spinning ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make, fix, and create.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Real learning vs. misperceptions of learning

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 09, 2019


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 08, 2019

inspiration lab story

I submitted a story from the Clear Spring School to the NAIS website, about building Froebel blocks and their use at the Clear Spring School. I believe that children should be empowered to have effect.

It's wonderful that parents, teachers, and community members invest in building carefully engineered playgrounds for kids, but we must not overlook and ignore what kids can do for themselves. The story can be found here:

Make, fix and create...

Friday, September 06, 2019

the discovery of cool things

Being surprised heightens our senses. It calls the mind and body to attention. It has physiological and emotional effect. And so, when delivering a piece of furniture, I try to have built a few surprises in. It's best when things continue to surprise, over a period of time.

There are good surprises and some not so good, so when the customers who ordered the table told me that it had exceeded their expectations, I was pleased. I seek purposely to violate the rule against mixing business and pleasure as I know that my best work comes when I work for friends whose trust I dare not offend.

This is not to say that forgiveness is not important. We know from lessons learned from our own humanity that nothing emerging from the hands of man is ever perfect.

Schools suffer from routine. We need to stir things up. Woodworking education is a way to accomplish that.

I am in the process of cleaning my wood shop. I began classes at the Clear Spring School on Wednesday. We had a ground breaking photo yesterday of the addition to the new Clear Spring School wood shop which we hope to occupy during the second semester.

I'm planning to add more blocks to our Froebel sets 3 and 4 on the Clear Spring School playground. They continue to be used with excitement, as you can see. While the blocks are being used as an obstacle course, they are also being continuously rearranged at the same time. Every time I arrive on campus they are in a new configuration. What do they learn from the blocks? One important lesson involves cooperation and collaboration.

Make, fix, create and extend the opportunity for others to learn likewise.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

a big delivery...

I was grateful yesterday to arrive at the destination for the delivery of the maple table to find four strong men waiting to carry it into the house. The table's new owner had arranged with the contractor who had rebuilt his house to have his crew on hand.

Just as the table barely fit inside the trailer, it barely fit around one tight corner moving into the living room. But slowly, slowly, and carefully, we snaked our way through.

The table is at home among a collection of lovely works by other artists in a setting that overlooks the  Arkansas River. I am grateful to have had a chance once again to do lovely work.

How do we assure that American creativity lasts into the next century? By asking folks of all ages to create. It must begin in preschool and Kindergartens and before that even in our homes. It must involve mothers and fathers and teachers all being taken off the standard educational routine of preparing for standardized tests, and being relaunched with a renewed effort toward the arts.

For those who collect art, let's reward them with the recognition that they change lives. And for those who make art, let's reward them with the recognition that their spirit is essential to us all.

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

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

a perfect fit.

The photo shows loading the silver maple table into a small trailer for the trip to its new home in Little Rock. My friend and sometimes assistant Greg is installing the lag screws that attach the top to the base.

The top fits into the door of the trailer with only about a quarter inch to spare, and fits the trailer in length with only enough extra room for blankets. The perfect fit and lots of padding and straps should keep it safely in place for its journey today.

I want to describe for you the ways that buyers encourage the growth of craftsmanship, character and intelligence. That seems to be a message that's little understood. Perhaps setting you thinking in that direction alone will help. Is it not obvious? And if it's obvious, why do we not choose to create craftsmanship in our own towns and cities? Is it that we'd rather just cheap out?

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, September 01, 2019

fun guide and more

Our Golden Doodle Rosie is featured in the newly released Eureka Springs Fun Guide: Look for her on page 21. On page 12 you'll find information on the artist's studio tour, November 1 and 2 during which my studio will be open to guests.

In the wood shop I've been making bridle joints for 32 looms that our students will use to weave textile patterns from around the world. Thirty two looms require 128 joints, each cut with precise fit.

School woodshop begins on Wednesday. Making bridle joints has offered another use for spacers. I found that I can use spacers to quickly set up and use a tenoning jig to form the mating parts of a bridle joint marrying two pieces of wood together at a right angle.

Each of the two spacers is thicknessed to fit exactly in the dado cut. The mouth of the bridle joint is cut with one spacer in place. The inside face of the bridal joint, forming one side of the tenon is cut with two spacers in place, and both are removed to cut the opposite side. I plan to make a set of spacers that will be use rare earth magnets to hold tightly to the body of the tenoning jig. An assembled joint is shown in the photo.

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