Thursday, May 05, 2016

schooling in a nutshell

I am nearing the end of the school year, and the month of May is always packed with extra activities. My students are finishing their box guitars. Some are on the funky side. Some are very nice. The kids are proud of their work. Some may not get finished. But I can only do so much.

Today I will work on guitars and ukuleles in my own shop and attend class with my lower elementary school students in the afternoon.

Official word is out that The Eureka Springs School of the Arts received a large grant to build a wood shop on the ESSA campus. It will consist of a machine room, a bench room and a lathe room, and I'll be involved in the planning over the next year in addition to my usual work. The new facility will allow for at least two concurrent classes and allow for year round classes in wood carving, box making, furniture design and wood turning.

The grant has a matching component in which community members will be asked to raise nearly $100,000 to buy tools and equipment. Woodworking has been a popular field of study at ESSA and in the past and during this summer, my Clear Spring School wood shop has been used for adult classes. The new adult sized facility will bring new opportunities for both schools, for the community and for the region.

May is also fine arts month in Eureka Springs, and while I'm uncertain what "fine" arts are, I'll be a participant in the White St. Art Walk on May 20 and on the weekend before, May 15, will be involved in helping my wife with Books in Bloom, the literary festival that she co-founded about 10-12 years ago.

So what shall we do in school? Comenius had a simple formula. He said:
As to sound learning, it admits of a threefold division; for we learn to know some things, to do some things, and to say some things; or rather, we learn to know, to do, and to say all things, except such as are bad.
There we have it in a nutshell, except that I would not divide such activities in equal measure, for with doing comes knowing at a deeper level, in in doing you are given things worthy of talking about.

Make, fix, create,and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

consciousness, ants and ukuleles...

In the photo at left, you can see that my ukuleles are beginning to come together, with the sides being joined into a completed shape.

I have no training as a luthier, and know that real luthiers would likely look askance at my methods. So what. I'm making these things, will write about them and lead my readers into engagement with their own creativity. I don't think they'll mind.
Joseph Neef, the first to introduce Pestalozzian ideas in America, in his Plan and Method of Education says: “To unfold any faculty whatever, we must exercise it, and to exercise it we must possess means for exercising it; and these means we have in abundance. Let us but open our eyes. The whole cabinet of nature, beings and objects, animate and inanimate, obtrude themselves on us, and yet how neglected they are.”
Today one of our students was waiting for a ride and watched a parade of ants. How can one but wonder in the face of such things? Does each individual ant have some degree of self-awareness? A sense of duty? Is consciousness reserved so that only humans have it?  Read again, the paragraph in quotes immediately above this one. There might be some danger to the machinery of the modern industrial state if we were to consider that even an ant might be a sentient being. We might rebel in some way, discover our own higher consciousness and make something more of our lives and give something more to the lives around us.

Yesterday in the wood shop at the Clear Spring School, I began making gates for the school garden, and my lower elementary school students whittled and one made a wooden light saber. Today in the wood shop, my middle school and high school students will work on finishing their box guitars, my upper elementary school students will finish their bird houses. I'll have guests visiting this morning to learn more about my program.

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

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Again, the knife.

Today at school we had a "round robin" with students moving between work stations to practice for their camping trip next week. At one station, they discussed and agreed upon the rules. At another station, the students practiced building fires and discussed fire safety. At my station, we discussed knife safety, we talked about sharpening, practiced sharpening, and whittled green branches of cherry wood.

Even though my students frequently whittle in wood shop, the introduction of green wood gave the work a particular interest. Students learned why green wood is called green, and enjoyed themselves at the same time. I also tried to suggest to them that knives were not just tools for working wood, or for cutting meat, but are instruments for scientific investigation. Having dissected a salamander last week, one suggested, "You mean like a scalpel?"

But yes, and even more. You really cannot successfully whittle a stick without beginning to formulate rudimentary scientific hypotheses and building the kind of attention necessary for scientific observation, and artistic investigation. With a knife you can cut deep into material reality and create new form at the same time. The knife is an educational tool that empowers minds to observe, to know, and to create.

The following is from N. Christian Jacobsen's book I Sløjdsagen Et Inlæg translated by Barbara Bauer. These words may help to explain why Jacobsen was one of Salomon's favorite authors and the knife one of the favorite tools in Educational Sloyd:
The knife makes large demands on thought and on the hand. The saw can be operated mechanically while the knife requires a freedom, which consists in developing one's own effort. In hand skills in particular the knife holds a position similar to that which the freer forms for the moment hold; its use is also especially suited for the development of the sense of form in right angle and curved forms. What counts with the knife is to be able to freely put it to use through a multitude of hand movements, under which the aimed at form must be brought into clear focus, and the nature of the wood and action of the tools steadily observed. This compels to continual consideration and continual search for the desired form lying in the material before its emergence. All Sloyd work needs to be guided onto this track.
In my woodshop, I've been continuing to make box guitar bodies, and will soon have so many I'll need to quit. In the photos you can see that my Ukulele boxes are dried and holding their shape while two more sides have gone in the forms, and a third form has been crafted.

Below, you'll find my scissor tail guitar design.

Scissor tailed guitar bodies
Do you think this book will be fun and an inspiration to budding guitar makers? I hope so.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Monday, May 02, 2016

guitar boxes

You can see that in the wood shop yesterday, I made boxes for guitar bodies. I can make these parts of box guitars rather quickly, so I'll have several guitars finished in a matter of weeks.

Last night I heard one of my guitars played  by a professional musician, and it was a pleasure to see it in action and see it sold for a good price to benefit an artist friend who has been ill.

I am making far too many guitars, and a bit uncertain what I'll do with all of them. If you are regularly working with your hands and mind, you become less clumsy at it, work with greater care, but less effort and greater speed. To work with greatest speed and efficiency also requires that you start young.

Yesterday's post, At Home in Your Bunny Slippers, was a particularly important one because it described the reason that hands-on learning is particularly important from the standpoint of the brain. When students do real things, hands-on, all the other senses are involved also. With four separate brain processing areas for auditory, visual, tactile, and body motor functions, you can see how information received hands-on, occupies greater mind, integrated between separate parts of the brain, thus offering learning at greater depth and to greater lasting effect. That is one of the very important points of this blog.

Today at Clear Spring School, my 4th, 5th and 6th grade students will finish their birdhouses, and we will practice whittling in preparation for their spring camping trip.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

at home in your bunny slippers...

Please, don't try this in your bunny slippers.
Yesterday, after bending wood for a box guitar, I changed my mind and decided to make ukuleles instead. Once you have wood ripped thin enough to boil and bend, the rest is easy. It does have to be the right kind of wood as some species bend more easily without breaking. One eighth inch thick Mahogany snapped when I tried to get it to take the tight bends required.

What you see in the photos above and below are strips of bent elm drying in simple forms. The boards clamped to the work bench held the forms in the vise as I bent and clamped the wood in shape. Each side is book matched to the other. There are more complex means to achieve the shape. But this works and is simple and direct. I'll let the parts dry for a couple days before taking them out of the form. The form takes only about 5 minutes to make so for today's bending, I'll make two or three more and allow the ones made yesterday to dry undisturbed.

The following link is to a study comparing active classroom investigation to lecture only classes. It calls for a revolution in the way learning is delivered in American schooling.

Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics

The U.S. Dept. of Education conducted its own meta-analysis of distance learning, and it found there was no difference in being lectured at in a classroom versus through a computer screen at home. The author of the study linked above notes: "If you’re going to get lectured at, you might as well be at home in bunny slippers." And paying a lot less for the "experience."

bending the sides for a ukulele
If we were to total the number of hours in which students have been taught to little or no lasting positive effect, and if we were to measure the full range of costs of such malfeasance, Americans would be demanding an educational revolution. To fix things, schools must become laboratories of investigation in science and in the arts. To bring about that change we'd best take matters into our own hands.

Some people might wonder how hands-on learning works, and why it would have a greater effect. The simple answer seems to be related to the structure and processing in the brain:
Human memory has been the basis for much research and speculation on how information is processed, saved, and retrieved. Researchers have identified two types of memory: short term and long term. During the past ten years, developments in memory research identified four separate memories within the long and short term. Just as a computer requires different microchips to handle screen memory, printer memory, computer language, and so forth, Adams (1976) identified separate memories each for auditory, visual, tactile, and body motor functions. This implies that any information that more fully utilizes all four memories would be stronger and more easily retrieved. Craik and Lockhart (1972) believed that memory is reliant on the depth that information is processed by more memories and strengthens the learning potential.— Korwin and Jones (1990)
When we do real things, involving the full range of senses, there is a  built-in redundancy of available memory processes, each supporting the availability of the other.

Make, fix, create, and offer to others the joy of learning likewise.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Korwin and Jones.

bending wood for a box guitar box
In my wood shop, I have been working on necks for box guitars and have three basic styles differing in their design and in their complexity to make. In addition I'll add fretted versions, and also use off-the-shelf fretted ukulele fingerboards that come ready made. With necks underway, I'm turning my attention to making boxes for the bodies. Some will be similar to those I made at school, including the classic "k" body. Others will involve bent wood, using simple techniques like that shown in the image above.

Several years ago I ran across a study that compared hands-on learning with lecture based learning, and then I misplaced my link to it without remembering I had posted it to the blog in December 2006. It is an important study as it directly compares hands-on learning with classroom instruction based on lecture and illustration. The results were a no-brainer, as any one with actual experience with their own hands-on learning would know. The study by Korwin and Jones: Do Hands-On, Technology-Based Activities Enhance Learning by Reinforcing Cognitive Knowledge and Retention? The conclusion reads:
The results of this research have significant implications for general education and specifically technology education. The results suggest that hands-on activities enhance cognitive learning. Previous studies neglected to address psychomotor effects on cognitive growth, even when many educational theorists, like Dewey, supported learning using psychomotor experiences. The results also suggest that technology education has a strong basis in learning theory in its use of hands-on activities to relate technological concepts. This is done in part by improving short and long term memory retention of in- formation through greater use of visual, auditory, tactile, and motor memory storage areas of the brain. — Korwin and Jones
A more recent study found that Not only are lectures boring, they are ineffective, too. 
“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”
It is extremely unlikely that such research will change anything. Schooling is much more about the pretense that society cares about kids, and much less about bringing forth holistic values through education. At the beginning of the 18th century Comenius had described accurately how children learn. Nothing has changed. The children still learn in the same manner. The experts describe how children learn, and the policy makers go ahead with their own plans regardless.

The following is from Robert Keable Row's book, the Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, 1909:
Possibly the ideal kindergarten furnishes the best example of the true function of the school. In a home where the mother has been well prepared for the duties of motherhood; has time to devote to her children; to direct, to some extent, their play; to tell and read appropriate stories; to teach simple songs and melodies; to furnish suitable occupation in modeling, drawing, painting, making; to explain some of the simple facts and processes that come under observation; for children in such a home the kindergarten is unnecessary. However, there are countless thousands of children not blessed with such a home. For the children of the untrained mother who does not know how to do the things enumerated above, for those of the overworked mother who has not time to do them, and for those of the over-leisured mother who does not realize her highest, most sacred duties and privileges, the kindergarten is an inestimable boon in that it does provide in a regular, well organized way, many of those experiences. The real test of the value of the kindergarten is the extent to which it carries on appropriately many of those activities, experiences, that should come abundantly to the life of the child in good home and community surroundings.
For many parents in very "good homes", the gifts and methods of Kindergarten served to supercharge the development of their children, even without formal Kindergarten classes.  Educational sloyd in schools was of benefit to children in just the same manner.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

kids learn through all their senses...

My daughter asked me to compile a few extra resources having to do with hands-on learning, so here goes:
The following is from Susan Blow's book Symbolic Education, 1894 which I should note came well before Piaget described the steps in the development of intellect and well before studies of the brain provided a handle on learning that most current educational models ignore.
The greatest mistakes in education are rooted in the failure to recognize and conform to the different stages of natural development. Educational theorists are constantly pointing out this error; educational practice is constantly repeating it. Notwithstanding all that has been said and written, we still make knowledge our idol, and continue to fill the child's mind with foreign material, under the gratuitous assumption that at a later age he will be able, through some magic transubstantiation, to make it a vital part of his own thought. This is like loading his stomach with food which he can not digest, under the delusive hope that he may be able to digest it when he is a man. It is forcing the mind to move painfully forward under a heavy weight, instead of running, leaping, and flying under the incitement of its own energy and the allurement of its own perceived ideal.

Thus to load the young mind is a grievous sin; but we commit a yet more heinous offense when we insist upon the exercise of faculties whose normal development belongs to a later age. The child is sympathetic, perceptive, and imaginative, but he is incapable of sustained observation and repelled by analysis and logical inference. The very flowers he loves so dearly become mere instruments of mental torture when we constantly insist upon his analyzing and classifying them. The attempt to force a premature activity of reason can result only in the repulsion of his sympathies and the stultification of his mind.

But glaring as are our sins of commission, they pale before our sins of omission; for, while we are forcing upon the child's mind knowledge which has no roots in his experience, or calling on him to exercise still dormant powers, we refuse any aid to his spontaneous struggle to do and learn and be that which his stage of development demands. We paralyze the spirit of investigation by indifference to the child's questions, clip the wings of imagination by not responding to his poetic fancies, kill artistic effort by scorning its crude results, and freeze sympathy by coldness to its appeal. Thus remaining an alien to the child's life and forcing upon the child a life that is foreign to him, we sow in weak natures the seeds of formalism and hypocrisy, and so antagonize the strong natures that we tempt them to become intellectual and moral outlaws.

Susan Blow introduced Kindergarten to St. Louis public schools in about 1878 or so.

The following is from Barbara Clark's book, Growing up Gifted:
Although the growth of the metaphoric, holistic mind is available throughout our life— and when used, can be shown to result in higher feelings of self-confidence, self-esteem, and compassion; a wider exploration of traditional content and skills; and higher levels of creative invention — current teaching strategies, environments, and curricula neglect its use. Allowed at the beginning stages of the young child's learning experiences, the acceptance of this mind style disappears as we progress in school.
In other words, the experts know what's needed to reform education, and the policy makers continue to ignore best policy just as they did when Susan Blow was writing about Kindergarten. Kids of all ages and adults, too, need to be engaged in the use of all their senses. We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we do real things, hands-on.

In the meantime, I've worked out a new way to hold guitar necks firmly as I rasp and sand them to final shape. One end goes in the vise or can be clamped with a large "c" clamp to the workbench or table top. The other end is supported by a long piece of wood, held to the peg head with another clamp. Having adequate support makes the process easier, more accurate and faster, too.

Having adequate hands-on support also assists in the process of educating both children and adults. We learn more easily, more quickly and to greater lasting effect when we learn through the engagement of all the senses.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

The metaphoric mind...

It would be convenient from an administrative point of view to think of the human mind as linear in its growth just as the dominance of the left brain building activities in schooling demands. (All the little children sitting passively at their desks, quiet, orderly, with the teacher in full control of their little minds.) My daughter is working on her grad school thesis to finish her masters in education and is interested in finding research that supports hands-on learning. At this point she has had experience in two schools, one that supports project based learning, and the other that did not.

Can you see how my mind just leaped from one thing to another and that these thoughts might be related, and that if we fail to investigate such relationships, we've failed to fully engage the powerful resources of mind?

It would be convenient in planning schooling to think of kids (as did Piaget) growing steadily and in order from one stage to another as though teaching has little to do with the arrival of student's rational minds. But teaching (and style of teaching) has a lot to do with it, and Piaget was looking primarily at the development of the rational mind, not the creative one, and not the one that engages the power of metaphor to thrust both the individual mind and human culture forward in leaps and bounds. The following is from Barbara Clark's Growing up Gifted:
It has been pointed out that what Piaget is really describing is the development of only one of our mind styles, the linear logical style of the left hemisphere. Also, the descriptors Piaget uses are valid only in cultures that have placed their emphasis on linear-logical thought processes. What about our other mind, the metaphoric, intuitive, holistic mind valued by Einstein, Bruner, da Vinci, Salk, and a myriad of other creative thinkers who have changed our culture? Samples (1975) suggests a hierarchy of metaphoric modes within which students at any age have the ability to perform. Through the use of these modes students were found to develop more comfort and ability in exploring concepts, ideas and processes in rational ways. The first, the Symbolic Metaphoric Mode, exists when either an abstract or a visual symbol is substituted for an object, process, or condition. By making the visual symbolism available, understanding can be achieved even by those not as adept at deriving meaning from abstract symbolism that is, by drawing or sculpting an idea one may understand the meaning and express it through the written word.
Do you have any ideas how the other mind with these other capacities might be engaged and nourished? Music would be one, art another. If you want to go off the deep end (relative to what's happening in most schools, consider wood shop.

As to my daughter's question there is actually very little direct research into the value of hands-on learning. All the great educational theorists proclaim its value, which the administrators and policy makers thence ignore. One bit of interesting research comes from Purdue.

I am trying to get my school wood shop in order for the end of the school year, and am working on box guitars, making necks. The photo above shows a peg head made to fit dulcimer/ukulele style tuning pegs.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.