Thursday, September 30, 2021

little brown bats

Yesterday with our outdoors study class we checked the game camera to see if it was recording the coming and goings of bats and found that it had captured nothing all week. Our conclusion was that the camera needed to be moved closer to the nesting site simply because their bodies are so small they may not trigger the motion sensing mechanism in the camera without it being closer.

We also did a rough estimate of the number of bat turds in the collection box. Students had made guesses about the number ranging from 50-60 to 150 individual poops. To attempt a more accurate count we tried using sticks to gather them in groups of 10 on the bottom of the box, but that proved impossible. 

Our second attempt was to weigh a number using a gram scale and then extrapolate to the whole weight of the bat turds gathered in the box. But they were too light to measure accurately in grams. So our third try was to count the number of turds in a table spoon and then measure the number of table spoons in the box. 

The resulting estimate was a surprise to the students as we found there to be 165 turds to a table spoon and approximately 7 table spoons in the box for a total of 1155, far surpassing student guesses.

With approximately 50 bats in the nesting area pooping over an 8 day period we learned that the bats while nesting poop about 3 turds per day. Each small turd represents hundreds of small bugs harvested from the night sky.

To make future observations easier, we marked a grid pattern at the bottom of the box so we can quickly observe the number of turds per square inch. We were first alerted to the presence of bats by the pile of guano left below their nesting site, and the box will allow us to observe a hoped for relocation to more permanent bat boxes.

Next week we begin assembling bat houses.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, September 29, 2021


Yesterday I met briefly with the head of Mounds Park Academy, an ISACS member school from Minneapolis/St. Paul. Bill Hudson was here as team leader for our every seven year re-accreditation process. 

My students practiced making straight and square cuts using two different kinds of saws as Bill observed. We had a great conversation about pedagogy following the class and I look forward to his return later in the year. 

Today we'll check the game camera we're using to monitor bats and will run a count on the guano collection box to see if student estimates of numbers of nightly poops come close to the actual number.

We may have to reposition the game camera to get a better view. If lucky we'll get movies of the bats coming and going at night.

My old roommate from college sent me this photo of my younger studious self attempting to make sense of a sociology text book.

Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

a new cover

Linden Press has offered a revised cover to my new book as shown. Unlike the stock photo image used on the advanced review copy, this image was  taken by a photographer visiting my wood shop at the Clear Spring School. 

Professional photographer Arshia Khan took the photo in 2012 for an article in Arkansas Life Magazine.  In it I'm showing a student how to mark the center of a turning blank to mount on the lathe.

Make, fix and create... 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Good as new

Yesterday I mentioned repairing a mirror that had fallen and come apart at the joints. This is what it looks like now with the joints re-glued. The  outer frame is cherry and the inner frame walnut, inlaid with strips of cherry, walnut and mahogany. It's now ready to hang for another 40+ years. 

In the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City there's carved Quan-yin in their Chinese exhibit  that's a thousand years old. Inside a secret compartment the curators found a scroll with the names of the craftsmen who carved it. They are gone but what they did has not been forgotten.

I'll not claim there to be anything special about my work. But things that have lasting meaning will endure, and the meaning in this case reflects a partnership between friends. I made it in the hopes it would last, and my friends who have  cared for it for these years made sure it did.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, September 25, 2021

a surprise inside

Yesterday a friend returned a mirror I'd made in 1978 for repair. The line from which it was suspended had broken. The mirror fell onto a table and then onto the floor, causing three corners of the frame to break loose. 

In taking it apart I found a surprise inside. I'd used a page from our local Times-Echo newspaper as a backing for the mirror and there was a photo showing a candidate for Arkansas Governor visiting our city and a good friend Lucilla Garrett looking on. The candidate for governor is one others might recognize and not just in the state of Arkansas. 

The mirror is reglued, reassembled and readied to hang for another 40 years. I left the paper inside to be discovered again.

Make, fix and create... 

Friday, September 24, 2021

look and see.

When I was in first grade nearly every other child in the US read the exact same books in school, Dick and Jane.  I remember one particular line to this day. "Look, look, see spot run." And there is nothing more important than getting children to look and see, unless it's also to touch and become engaged.

I've written before about Admiral Beaufort's wonderful scale that allowed common British seamen to become engaged in making accurate scientific observations and thus becoming a part of science. 

On Wednesday we installed a game camera at the Clear Spring School to observe the comings and goings of bats that nest in a vent under the eaves of one of our classroom buildings. We also installed a long plywood box underneath the nesting area to be able to measure the amount of guano produced. I have no way of knowing how many poops a small brown bat can produce in a day, but now we have a means to measure. After just one day the 40-50 bats nesting during the day produced well over 100 small poops.

Yesterday I had an interview with an editor at Independent School Magazine interested in my 20 years of teaching at the Clear Spring School for their section on School News. A 300 word article is not going to tell much about the Clear Spring School, but a photo or two might help and I'll be selecting some to send today. 

One of the benefits of wood shop is facilitating the advancement of science by getting students to look and see for themselves and to develop critical thinking skills. Having a simple frame of reference for such things as wind velocity (Thanks Admiral) or poop, thanks to our plywood box, can bring students to a better understanding of science so that instead of science being abstract and disconnected from our lives, we become a part of what advances our human understanding. It's what we learned from Dick and Jane. Look, see.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

the ARC

I received copies of the Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of my new book in the mail yesterday and took one by to a local mentor and sent another off to a friend in Berryville. The cover of the published volume may change and the last chapter received serious editing and addition after the print version of the ARC went to press. The purpose of the ARC is to get various reviewers and distributors on board with promotion of the book.

In the woodshop at the Clear Spring School we've been at work making things needed for campus improvement. Yesterday we made sorting lids for recycling, and flag holders for class flags (more may be explained about that later.) Today we'll make book holders  of a new design that will be used in our school library.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Serial Position Effect

Serial Position Effect refers to an important principle in psychology having to do with how and if we remember things, and attention to it can have profound effect on the effectiveness of teaching.

In wood working how we break down things into steps can have an affect on how the steps are remembered, and so in teaching wood shop whether with kids or adults, how we offer necessary information can make all the difference in the world.

In a list of items, steps or facts we have a greater ability to remember the first things and the last, and a greater tendency to forget the things in the middle. Test yourself in this. Head to the grocery store with a list in your head of things you need to pick up and then see which things have been forgotten, which in all likelihood will be things in the middle.

Remembering the first things on the list is called the primary effect, and the things mentioned last are called the regency effect. By avoiding overloading the middle steps in an order of operations can be better recalled. This can be help for a teacher planning lessons. Arrange things in groups of two or three ad suggest o the student, "ask me for your next steps when you've done the first two."

Another way teachers use serial position effect is to offer the most important facts or information first and last with things of lesser importance occupying the middle ground.

I was taking with a friend this morning about the challenge of training employees to be effective educators. They may not even think of themselves in that role. But they are, especially in sales of things that are complex and sometimes daunting to the user. 

Teaching and marketing are a whole lot alike and the  principles of Educational Sloyd can fit. Make sure your explanations for things fit the prior experience of the customer. Getting to know our customer and their prior experiences can help you to tailor your presentation of information to fit their needs. Build from the known to the unknown, from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. And sometimes what the customer wants is not all that much complex information, but information that is tailored to their framework of understanding, along with the assurance that you care bout their success in the use of your product.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, September 17, 2021

Inspired to Make: Stories of the Onkwehón:we - Stephen Jerome

Shared by Lee Valley 
Make, fix and create...

Stand aside. Step back

This week at the Clear Spring School we began going over the rules of woodshop. We have a number of new students so going over the rules is important, and one of my returning students noted a new rule that should be added. When someone is doing something, stand back, out of the way.

Yesterday we finished the last round of edits to my new book before it gets turned over to the copy editor. I'll have one more chance to look at it after that, just before it goes to press. My editor said that they have a tight window of opportunity for the copy editor to do their work. So it's time for me to follow the new woodshop rule, stand aside, step back. And that means I do other things. I went to the wood shop to apply Danish oil to boxes. 

The Wisdom of Our Hands is a book I envisioned twenty years ago and it's completion is finally in sight thanks to Linden Press. If I'm lucky it will sell well and make a mark on how we see education and how we see ourselves. I should receive advanced review copies of the book in the mail today.

Yesterday I was pleased to welcome two great art teachers to my Clear Spring School Woodshop. Robert Dancik and Sarah Doremus are our resident artists at ESSA for the month in a trial program to expand our outreach into the education community. They've been working with students in the public schools and in our own ESSA studios as well. You can learn about their work through these links:

We expect to welcome larger cohorts of artists in the future to collaborate and learn together and make use of the campus housing we finished last year.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, September 13, 2021

A musical interlude

I was reading this morning about Noel Gilbert, my violin teacher from when I was in first or second grade. I was thinking of him due to the important role that music plays in our lives and that the sounds of craftsmanship are not that very different from music. In woodworking there are textures and lines and punctuation points that help establish rhythm and meaning.

 When I was in second grade my mother took me to audition for violin lessons with the director of the Memphis Symphony orchestra. I remember the audition in which he asked me to sing and then examined my mother’s fingers and my own. He noted that my pitch was OK and that my long slender fingers might be useful on a violin.

The violin upon which I was to play had been my mother’s when she was a child. I took lessons for only a short time but remember to this day as I played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and was accompanied by the teacher on a larger violin and his son on a cello. They made beautiful music around me as their parts wove in and out and surrounded me. 

Much later when I’d first moved to Eureka Springs, there was a woman learning to play the violin. Downtown Eureka Springs is like a canyon, a narrow street with two story buildings on both sides. A set of good fingers on the neck and a sensitive hand on the bow during the late hours when the stores are closed and the tourists have gone back to their motels, creates a haunting sound that one would consider sublime. 

The screeches made by the fresh hand on the violin was not that. I admired her bravery under the circumstances. Others may have said something critical to her for I never heard her play again. There are gifts granted to the young in such things. One is the indiscriminate mind that allow for actual play. 

There are challenges in learning to play the guitar after becoming a lover of Segovia. What we do in music or in crafts may not come out as pure as our hopes or what we might see in our mind’s eye. And we can soon tire of having disappointed ourselves. There may be a very good reason why the word "play" or "playing" is associated with our engagement in music whether we’re just listening or attempting to play on our own. To play is always to give oneself over to a process where the exacting nature of the results cannot be known. So play. Let your own sense of playfulness without regard for the screeching sounds you make lead you forward in your craft.

Today children return to classes at the Clear Spring School. If ou want to know about my violin teacher Noel Gilbert, you can find him the Tennessee Encyclopedia

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, September 11, 2021

this morning I look back

As many are also doing this morning, I look back 20 years ago to the morning when much of our world changed. On that morning, 9/11/2001, I was just starting as a part-time woodworking teacher for kids at the brand new Clear Spring High School. As the news began coming from New York of the terror assault on the World Trade Tower, we attempted to gather around a large TV. We were all shaken. And then responding to parental desires that they be able to hold their kids close, we closed early on that terrible day.

Today is a milestone for our nation as it represents miles of twists and turns (many of them false and delusional) that followed from that day. Today also represents the start of my 20th year as a woodworking teacher of kids and marks the anniversary of the launch of my own efforts to reassert an understanding of the value of hands-on learning in our nation's schools. 

I hope to use the coming school year to look back and reflect as well as to move forward.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, September 10, 2021

a tedious task

In making bat houses the most tedious task involves cutting grooves that allow the bats to get a good grip inside. This is most easily done on the table saw, by cutting regularly spaced grooves 1/16 in. deep. They can be spaced between a quarter inch and one half inch apart. Each of the four chamber bat houses require three interior panels grooved as shown and the back, also grooved in the same manner. So for making 4 bat houses, a total of 16 panels grooved in this manner are required.

This is part of what a wood shop teacher does: prepare materials for student learning. In fact, it's what all teachers do.

Clear Spring School is starting classes on Monday and I'll begin having students in woodshop on Tuesday. I'll be preparing materials over the weekend and on Monday morning.

Make, fix and create. 

Thursday, September 09, 2021

bat houses

Yesterday I began preparing materials for my students to make bat houses. While we could spend days with students designing their own bat houses, in this case it's important that we adhere to science and make use of designs that have already been proven in use. The four chamber bat house offers the opportunity for bats to seek warmth by congregating together and to move around inside to the spot they find most comfortable.

We have a large colony of bats nesting in vents under the eves in one of our school buildings and while it can be a challenge to lure a colony of bats to a new location, luxurious new bat houses carefully engineered for their safety and happiness may help. Experimental designs my not.

A good source of information about bats is the Bat House Builder's Handbook, by Merlin D. Tuttle.

One of the tedious jobs in preparing the materials for making bat houses is that of grooving the parts that must be textured for the bats to get a good grip on the insides of the box and that allow them to climb around inside. I've been doing the grooving using the table saw in the school wood shop. We have been enjoying relatively bug free evenings on our deck this summer, and for that, I thank our bats.

The drawing shows the design of the bat houses we're making and detailed plans are available in the book.

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

the space between poetry and prose.

I'm working my way through the last of the edits for my new book, with just a few minor tweaks and corrections before it goes through the copy editing process. My article about making spoon carving knives came out in Quercus Magazine this month and I received a copy in yesterday's mail.

In the meantime, I have meetings this morning with the teaching staff the Clear Spring School as we plan integrated woodworking projects for the coming months. 

A friend of mine asked me about my writing processes. Typical questions are like this: "Do you set aside a number of hours each day to write?" "Do you set a target for the number of pages you hope to write each day?" I tried to explain how much of my work I do at night. Caught in that space between wakefulness and sleep, I'm trapped also between poetry and prose. And I try to relocate myself between those points when I'm up and out of bed. So writing and woodworking are much the same to me. You dream it and let wakeful matters proceed from there.

There's a metaphor that asserts: "Time is money." But let's not get confused. Time is not money. It's meaning. It's art. And it's a whole lot more that money can't buy. And, yes, in the meantime, there are schedules to create and attend and cash flow, bills to pay, etc. I will get about $175.00 for a page and a half. So to write there must be other reasons to do it.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

a rustic box

One of my students from Marc Adams School of Woodworking sent this photo of a box he made in class and finished when he got home. The interesting iron pull was salvaged from a set of horse hames that had belonged to his grandfather, thus preserving a bit of family heritage in this box.

This was one of at least 5 boxes Terry Tinnin made in class. 

It is gratifying to see what I've shared about box making passed through other hands. 

I have been preparing for this year's classes at the Clear Spring School by tuning equipment and sharpening knives. Sharpening plane irons needs to come next. Today I'll pick up material for building bat houses with one group of students.

Make, fix and create.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

box making with friends

Yesterday morning we finished my box making with friends class at the Clear Spring School, and my students left with boxes they had made. Chuck noted that he could not have made his box without my guidance and support, and that's true. I provided the wood, the tools, the techniques and guided the process throughout, and was very happy to do so. The class was held as a fundraiser for Clear Spring Schoo, so they provided the shop space. My involvement did not diminish the pride they had for their boxes, which had become symbolic of friendship and their own learning.

There are two kinds of educational scaffolding. One is where the teacher sets up all the stuff in the environment, including step-by-step instruction and observation to eliminate possible mistakes. That kind of scaffolding ends when the student steps out of class, finished lesson in hand. You walk into a shop with all provided for your success and then when you leave class the scaffolding is no longer in place.

The other kind of scaffolding is within. It consists of knowledge gained through experience and is transferable from one environment to the next. It's built in the following manner. Start with the interests of the child, proceed 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. If you've caught me repeating myself again and again, it's because what I've said is worth knowing.

The way that the two forms of scaffolding intersect is through forming of "islands of competence." The feelings of "I did this!" and "I can do that!" can carry forward from external scaffolding to the next learning opportunity.

My friend Kim Brand is putting maker spaces in Indiana schools and recently worked with Maplewood Shop to train 36 teachers from one school. Kim was amazed watching teachers learning as he noted that very few actually followed instructions but all the teachers loved it as their own distinct personalities emerged. 

The purpose of a chemistry laboratory is not different from the purpose of a school wood shop. In either, you can do things that you are not able to do outside the laboratory environment. A shop or laboratory are forms of external scaffolding. Formation of the internal scaffolding is aided by the attention of the teacher who's job is to watch over the points I mentioned before, starting with the interests of the child.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

keeping things simple

In planning school learning experiences that involve doing real things in a relatively short period of time with a group of students, it's important to keep an eye on simplicity. The adult mind can get overly complicated and abstract as we follow proposed threads of inquiry. Most teachers teach the what we were taught, while the learning needs of our students are often different from that.

Yesterday we were discussing making bat houses and spent 30 minutes doing so before we finally got around to actually look at where the bats nest on campus and learn a few things that would have been right before our own eyes had they been open and inquiring. 

I'm reminded of the story of one hand clapping in which the young monk was challenged with the question, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" The young monk ran all over and kept coming back with proposed answers. "It's the sound of water flowing in the brook." "It's the sound of a child laughing." "It's the sound of rustling leaves." And each answer led him no closer to the simple truth that could have been easily discovered by waving one hand alone in front of his own face.

This calls to mind a principle that I mentioned yesterday from Educational Sloyd. Move from the simple to the complex. Is it the teacher's job to complicate things, or is it best that he or she start simple leading the child to observe and reflect and to move from that point letting complications arise on their own, which they always do?

Make, fix and create.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

anchored by experience

There are reasons that Educational Sloyd should be important, even to the educators of today. In Salomon’s Theory of Educational Sloyd he laid out basic principles of education that extend far beyond the realm of the manual arts. And while it would be unlikely that those engaged in academic style teaching would accept that they might have something to learn about learning from manual arts education, the principles are as universal as they are concise. They are: 

  • Start with the interests of the child. 
  • Move incrementally from the known to the unknown,
  • And from the easy to the more difficult. 
  • Move from the simple to the more complex 
  • and always from the concrete to the abstract. 

Educational psychologist Jerome Bruner without offering such detail and a hundred years later called this “scaffolding.” Each new learning event if properly "scaffolded" is anchored by prior experience. It is in the failure to connect between the concrete and abstract that our greatest educational failings lie, and this is not only apparent in first grade, but in University training as well. 

Where each new learning event is properly anchored it becomes part of what we call "a body of knowledge." A body of knowledge is more than disconnected facts. And it serves to propel students toward lifelong learning and service to others.

I'm busy planning my twentieth year of teaching at the Clear Spring School and will spend some time looking back on what we've done and learned.

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