Tuesday, November 21, 2017

center frames

Yesterday as our students were involved in Trashathon, picking up road side trash as a community service project, I went to ESSA to get another step completed on the Bevins Skiffs. I am developing various parts as a kit, so that my students can be successful in our boat building project. They would not be involved without my leadership, and they will not be successful without my having done some of the complicated stuff.

The parts for the day were center frames. The center frames  require precision and careful thought that will not happen in a class full of kids. I had cut the parts from white oak and quickly learned the difficulty involved in hammering bronze ring shank nails into oak. Even with a pilot hole, the task proved impossible and rather than go home for a larger drill, I simply remade the parts from Catalpa. The photo shows the template for the center frame, the template for the gussets, and a gusset being nailed in place with Sikaflex adhesive and 1 inch bronze nails. The Catalpa, gussets, nails and glue provide a strong midpoint around which the sides will bend to form the shape of the boat.

My hope is that by December 4 we will be ready to begin forming the boat from the various parts, sides, stem, transom, center frame and bottom ply. Starting  on that day, many hands will make light work.

My first, second and third grade students have been busy making Barbie clothes, so I got an old  1950's Singer SewHandy sewing machine tuned up for their use. It was not working so I studied the mechanism, took it apart, put it back together and got it working just right.

Many years ago, my sister Ann had gotten a child's sewing machine as a gift. She was or seven and I was 4 or 5. I took it apart and it never worked right again. Perhaps my making this one work, and providing it to a classroom of very young fashion designers will make up in some small part for my earlier failure. When I left school for the day, one of the girls had already used the machine to make a pillow. Every elementary school classroom in America should be equipped with such wonderful machines and the chance to use them.

Unlike the cheap plastic toys of today the Singer model 20 was a real sewing machine made to last generations. You can find one for sale like it here: https://www.ebay.com/itm/VIntage-SINGER-Sewhandy-MODEL-No-20-Childs-Sewing-Machine-Original-Box/122812699507?epid=661334956&hash=item1c98351373:g:xlQAAOSwAHBaDhRT

Make, fix and create...

Monday, November 20, 2017

the case against charters...

A number of large foundations and corporations are spending billions to privatize education. The following is from an email I received from the Network for Public Education:
In 1988, AFT President, Al Shanker, voiced his support for charter schools. His hope was that a new school model, judiciously used, would be an incubator of innovation.

However, as Network for Public Education President, Diane Ravitch, reminds us, by 1993 Al Shanker became disillusioned. Shanker saw what charters had become—a privatized system run not by teachers, but rather by non-profit and for-profit corporations who believe that schooling is a business rather than a community responsibility. Instead of supporting and sharing practices with neighborhood schools, most charters have become rivals that seek to attract the most motivated families and the most compliant children. https://networkforpubliceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/NPE-Report-Charters-and-Consequences.pdf
Many charters schools in their quest to prove their value through attaining higher test scores limit their enrollment to those students who are easiest to teach and who are already destined toward greater success thereby shifting the burden of teaching under performing students to the schools from which they have starved funding. Even with the cards stacked in their favor, many charters fail to deliver improved test scores. (And I'm not claiming here that test scores are a valid measure of school performance. They are not.)

Yesterday I shaped the 3 remaining boat sides. I laid the carefully shaped first side as a template over the remaining three and used a saber saw to cut just outside the line. Next, I used a template following router bit to rout the clamped together bundle of sides to be exactly the same shape. I also planed and cut the chines to their required size and shape and then formed the center frame gussets. My objective is to develop the parts of the boat into kit form as there are a number of steps for which the students have not developed sufficient skill or experience.  The photo shows a pair of center frame gussets, made to hold the parts of the center frame together.

Today at the Clear Spring School, my elementary school students will make toys for distribution to kids through our local food bank. I get questions on occasion about the Clear Spring School, asking whether it is a charter school. No, it is not. It receives no public funds and does nothing to cost the tax payer or take funding away from our local public schools. Clear Spring School is an independent school accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Independent School Association of the Central States (ISACS).

Unlike charter schools, we serve as an innovative learning laboratory of the kind that AFT President Shaker had hoped for in 1988, but that the charter school movement has failed to deliver. We serve at no cost to the taxpayer. As the holiday giving season begins you are welcome to support the Clear Spring School through the school website: http://clearspringschool.org/giving/ways-to-give#annualfund

Make, fix, and create.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

the case for hand tools.

Power tools are intended to make things easy and fast. They can also make cuts more accurate, thus requiring less skill. They can plough through tough grain that would trouble a hand plane or hand saw. They can saw things that a teacher would not intend, and they exert enough force that parts can be thrown into the face or across the room at others. Some are noisy and dusty and can frighten sensitive kids

Hand tools on the other hand are slow and can wander. They demand continuous attention to the material as it is transformed. I can have a room full of hand tools at work, and can hear their effects, and know from what I hear that they are being safely used. A room full of power tools would frighten me for the safety of my students.

If the purpose of learning is to impart the skills of attention and mindfulness, a room full of hand tools will do that job better than a room full of power tools and at far less risk.

The book shelves hanging from my vise are ones I pulled from my closet to show an example of my 7th grade work. My mother had kept them in the basement of her house in Omaha, Nebraska, and had asked me when I had been there for a visit, "Do you want those shelves you made in wood shop?" I could not imagine she had kept them for so long. But with these as evidence to remind me, I am carried back to the days in which I made them. I remember sawing their shape with a coping saw. The teacher had marked the shapes of the parts on wood. I had felt troubled as my coping saw wandered off the line but was consoled when I looked over and saw how much  worse my neighbor had done on his. On the last day of school, I was using a nail to assemble the shelves and one nail went astray and split the wood. I showed the error to my teacher and he said only these words, "you have done well."

If the purpose of woodworking in schools is to prepare students for the use of power tools then perhaps there's justification for them be used to teach children in school. On the other hand, if woodworking in school is practiced to impart an understanding of materials, and processes and  to develop character, intelligence, mindfulness, and skill, hand tools more safely fit the bill.

This said, I do allow the use some power tools at various ages. First grade students are allowed to use the drill press, operating the switch and handle if I hold the stock. Third grade students (with instruction) can safely operate a scroll saw on thin stock, provided they use safety glasses and properly adjust blade guards. My students begin work on the lathe in 4th grade using a face shield and with proper attention to hair being pulled back and loose clothing secured. At each use, I check to see that the work piece is properly installed and the right tool is being used. In high school, and under close supervision I allow the use of the band saw, and saber saw.  I regard the use of hand tool processes to be the precursor for all else.

Another simple point is that hand tools slow the pace, making the experience more about learning than about getting work done. With the pace being slower I have more time to attend to safety and individual learning needs. Students are working instead of waiting for the teacher's assistance. With the pace being slower and more educational, I need, also, to prepare less stock.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

class size matters

The principles of Educational Sloyd were based on direct observation of how children (and adults) learn. 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.

These principles are not just for wood shop learning, but apply to all learning endeavors. They fit science, music, reading and math and all else as they are universal. If anyone is uncomfortable about learning something from wood shop that actually applies to all else, let me assure you that these principles came from the followers of Pestalozzi and Froebel and have their origins in the teaching theories of Comenius.

These very simple principles challenge conventional thinking about education.  Children are never exactly on the same page in things. They do not all have the same interests. They do not all have the same prior experience and capacity as a starting point for class room learning. Even if, through extreme effort and care, a good teacher is able to bring all students' attention to the same page for a moment or two, for a child (or an adult) to find a place in the mind for information to be taken in, successfully managed and usefully stored the mind must wander out of the moment into the student's catalog of experience and compared to what's known. At any given moment during a classroom lecture or presentation, the various students' minds are not all in the room or in the same place or on the same page. If you do not believe this, take a few moments to test the workings of your own mind.

And so, Otto Salomon likely got in some trouble with educational policy makers when he insisted that classroom teaching was ineffective. All those concerned with the economic bottom line would want learning (and values) to be injected into the student mind as cheaply as possible. And I will likely get in trouble with educational policy makers today, when I insist the same thing. We learn best when our individual learning needs are met, and small class size is a determining factor in school success. Class size must be small enough to allow for the teacher to make a very personal connection with the learning needs and interests of each child.

Mostly, however, educational policy makers are less concerned about student learning and more concerned about cheaping out.

The photo is of an old-timey fidget spinner, more commonly known as a button toy. We are making them to give children visiting at our local food bank. Unfortunately, most children no longer know how to use such things. With a bit of practice and a bit of skill in making it, and decorating it, you can be distracted, just as kids were in the 16th century...  even before Comenius, when children learned just as we all learn best, doing real things.

Make, fix, and create...

Friday, November 17, 2017


One of my students took a martial arts practice sword (boken) he had made in our wood shop to a weekend Akido competition and it faced scrutiny from a variety of masters. One (an expert in the sword) pointed out that there were several points about my student's boken that did not meet "standards." Nevertheless, all agreed that  it surpassed all others on the site in one particular way.  He had made it himself. None of the other practitioners could say that of their own swords. All of the participants wanted to try his sword, and so they did. The result was that the student received a dose of pride and brought his boken back to wood shop to do a bit more sanding and refinement on it.

Standards must be flexible enough for students to arise through them with spirits energized, not merely in tact. There are higher standards than those grasped tightly on the surface of things. Woodworking in school can be a means through which higher standards than those present in conventional schooling can be met.

Black Elk told that the Lakota Sioux selected their leaders from among those against whom nothing bad could be said. As an observer of the American political arena, I find it a shame that we fail to follow that same strategy. There are so many on both sides of the aisle, whose abilities to lead are encumbered by serious character flaws. They live in hopes that we do not discover the things they have done. I lay the blame for this situation on the failings of our educational institutions.

When you learn to do real things in school, you contend with real consequences that are visible as measures of character and intellect. When students are sequestered in abstraction and unreality, life becomes a game of manipulation and deceit. If we want better, we must be better and hold those around us to higher standards.

Yesterday in woodshop, and as shown in the photos, some of my students assembled a toy car to be given as a prize in a holiday raffle. Tickets are being sold by the parents, students, teachers and board members at the Clear Spring School.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

two points

A nineteen year study of child development and success conducted by Penn State and Duke Universities discovered that a child's success in college and in life is directly related to social and emotional skills developed and learned in Kindergarten. While many schools continue to focus only on reading and math readiness, they are missing the point, as reading and math have too little to do with it. https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/kindergarteners-with-these-two-skills-are-twice-as-likely-to-get-a-college-degree-according-to-a-19-year-study.html

In Finland, they begin reading at age 8 instead of age 5 and by the time their students are tested in the international PISA study, they beat American students hands down in 30 percent less time. I can keep hammering on this in the blog, and on facebook, but until others join the chorus and make direct demands of our educational policy makers, we're screwed, our children are left behind and the American culture becomes increasingly dysfunctional.

Point number two for today has to do with the ineffectiveness of classroom instruction. As I've mentioned before, the principles of Educational Sloyd (derived largely from Kindergarten) are as follows: 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.

First, not all children have exactly the same interest.
Second, not all children entering a classroom have the same experience as a starting point.
Third, not all things are equally easy at the same point for all children.
Fourth, not all children adapt to increasingly complexity at the same pace.
Fifth, all children must be continuously engaged in doing real things as a foundation for abstract study. Even when the facility for abstraction is established, real testing of what is learned is essential to avoid traipsing into the realm of the absurd.

Otto Salomon stressing the ineffectiveness of classroom instruction, insisted that teaching become personalized to the needs of the individual child. To do so, we must drastically reduce class sizes in American schools.

Yesterday in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School my first, second and third grade students finished work on platforms. One made a cat farm as shown in the photo.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

just another gun-down-day

Whenever there is a mass shooting event, some representatives in the house and Senate who have sworn allegiance to the National Rifle Association, tell us we must not "politicize"by discussing the causes of the tragedy,  or ways to  prevent such things from happening again and that we should pray instead. "It's too soon to talk about it," they say.

About noon yesterday it occurred to me that there had been no mass shooting events having taken place up to that point in the day, so I wondered if it was time to talk about gun tragedy in America. But then I looked at the news. Damn,  there's another. It seems every day is gun down day in America and we have lots to pray about. If gun tragedies keep happening at their current pace, we'll never have the conversation we need to have about stopping gun violence and making dead certain that those who should not have guns do not have such lethal capacity.

As politicians continue to tell us not to "politicize the issue" we should recognize that the issues surrounding guns were "politicized" years ago when the National Rifle Association began pouring money into political campaigns and threatening those politicians who did not vote their way.

If you are hunting for food or for recreation, a fine rifle is a necessary tool. When we choose tools as means to threaten each other, perhaps we should be thinking in a more creative manner. There are lots of tools that do a better job of building character and culture. Woodworking tools come to my mind.

Yesterday, I made progress on projects. I routed the first side of a Bevins Skiff to shape, and also scarf-joined catalpa boards to sufficient length to use as chines. Chines, for those out of the loop on boat talk, are the boards that connect the bottom to the sides.

In the photo, a narrow and therefore flexible piece of plywood screwed to the side is placed according to calculations derived from the boat plans and serves as a router guide. When one side is fully formed, it can be used as a guide to rout the other using a router bit with a guide bearing on the shaft, thus assuring both sides will be perfectly symmetrical.

Returning to my home shop, I began making drawer parts for maple jewelry chests. The photo above shows using a router and a screwed-in-place guide strip to shape a boat side.

Make, fix, and create.