Sunday, February 07, 2016

hail the knife...

First coat of milkpaint
Last week, I mentioned Salomon's advice that rectilinear forms in Sloyd be alternated with curved shapes in the various models laid out in sequence for the student's growth. You can begin to understand so much more and why N. Christian Jacobsen was Otto Salomon's favorite author when you read the following:
The knife is that tool which a child most naturally and easily grasps: it is simple to have at hand and can be used for both this and that. It is a tool with which much work can completely be done, and without help from another. Yes, nothing more on this need be said; the knife is above all else the tool of ordinary dexterity, that is to say, sloyd’s tool.

But it is with the knife as with smoothing: it is not appealing to start with when the mechanical saw comes before it. 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 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. – N. Christian Jacobsen, Khristiania (Oslo) January 1892
Second coat of paint applied
My sincere thanks and appreciation to Barbara Bauer for her careful translation. Salomon's original point was to alternate models to retain student interest, but you can see that Jacobsen shed new light on the subject, going beyond what Salomon had in mind.

I have a simple observation, however, on the idea that things can be done "mechanically." Certainly, to the observer, when someone is sawing, it may seem as though he or she is simply moving the arm mechanically (thoughtlessly) back and forth. But that is not all that's going on. One must align one's body to the work, one's wrist to the proper angle, and the motions of the arm must be made smooth, within the necessary range, and no further. To get the saw to cut smoothly without jerking and binding takes concentration of mind as well as of body.

Adding the wiring and controls
In the wood shop at Clear Spring School, I am making another k-body box guitar, but this one I'm using 4 strings and am adding a piezo and electric controls. This required me to brush up on my soldering skills.

You can see that my box guitars are rectilinear in shape, but the necks require careful contouring to fit the hand, so I regard these guitars as being an excellent blend between rectilinear and curved forms. My students are excited about making them (as am I).

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

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Brain. Spurts of growth followed by periods of adjustment and implementation.

Herman T. Epstein wrote in of the Roles of Brain in Cognitive Development. It is a shame educational policy makers have not as yet learned what to do about what we know.

According to Epstein who made a life's work of his study of the brain, the human brain goes through growth spurts preceding longer periods of apparent adjustment in which newly developed capacities are practiced and become integrated, connecting the mind with reality, and thus building the intellectual capacity, which is not itself a thing isolated from the real world.
During rapid brain growth periods the brain weight increases average 5% to 10%, while during the interim periods of slow brain growth, the increase is perhaps 1%. The brain increases include significant expansion of neural network arborization: the elongation and branching of axons and dendrites. The resultant additional and more complex neural networks make possible enhancements in brain functioning, depending for their quality on both the quality of the existing networks that are connected by the added arborization and, also, the quality and quantity of the external inputs that generate the consequent network changes. Because these factors combine individual growth and experiences, age-wise and domain-wise developmental differences will be the norm. From this point of view, the Piaget stages will not necessarily be expected to be acquired in a fixed sequence nor even precisely at the canonical ages given by the Piagetians' studies, although general similarity of early experiences will preserve much of the sequence. – Herman T. Epstein, The Roles of Brain in Cognitive Development
The following is interesting in this regard as it has to do with the role of the environment and its effects on brain development.
During the first years of life, the influence of the environment on development is crucial. The most pronounced changes induced by the environment occur during windows of time called critical periods.

All critical periods have certain basic properties in common. First, they all involve a time window during which a given behaviour is more sensitive to specific environmental influences. These influences are even necessary for the normal development of the behaviour in question. Once the critical period is over, the behaviour is no longer significantly affected by the presence or absence of these environmental stimuli. And, as a corollary, if the individual is not exposed to the appropriate stimuli during the critical period, it is difficult if not impossible to compensate for this lack later on.

Many critical periods have been detected in the development of behaviours in a number of species. But the existence of a critical period does not necessarily mean that a given experience will subsequently have no effects on brain development. It simply means that certain major restructuring will then be more difficult, if not impossible, because some irreversible changes will have taken place at the synaptic level. –
And so it appears that the environment and genetics work hand in hand in the development of intellect. The brain expands rapidly, making more of itself available for processing power, then in turn, is dependent on the environment for the stimulus that enhances intellectual growth. The same factors apply to the child's development of emotional intelligence and emotional resilience.

When we sit students in desks, sequestered from the real world, and expect them to listen passively, ignoring the totality of their senses, and then later expect them to sit passively absorbing information that's too boring for words, we fail to engage the whole of their intellectual system, and have screwed up big time. The costs are enormous. Part of the mistake that educational policy makers have made is to assume that the brain is the only component in the intellectual system. The hands play an important role in the development and implementation of human intelligence that should never be forgotten, and never purposefully ignored. At Clear Spring School, we recognize that and have placed the hands at the center of learning as the hands are not only central themselves to the developmental process, they are symbolic of deeper engagement.

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

Friday, February 05, 2016

Yesterday in wood shop...

One of my elementary school students has been making a new boomerang, as his first one broke. This is a chance for him to refine his design in the hopes that he can get it to come all the way back. About every 15 minutes of sanding as he works to refine the edges requires further testing, so we go out and watch it soar.

I'm not sure how many of my readers actually have the kind of opportunity to observe youthful creativity as I do. But I recommend getting involved.

One of his classmates has been interested in making a doll house, and I suggested that she start simple and build her skills first before tackling a larger project. She agreed that made sense, so the small house shaped box at left and below is one we worked on together. This particular student is very shy about doing things that require skills she does not as yet have. To see and participate in how something can be made is a first step.

The box opens by removing half the lid which rests in place due to the piece of wood glued on the underside.She plans to decorate it at home and give it as a valentines gift.

I'm also working on an electric k-body guitar as you can see in the photo. It's one of about4 I'm working on for my own amusement. I have the neck done, the sides assembled, and have drilled holes for the piezo, jack and control knob. Next, I begin painting it.

I hope I have some readers in the Portland Oregon area who will sign up for one or more of my classes with the Guild of Oregon Woodworkers. I enjoy meeting friends from the blog. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via email.

One of my former box making students asked about whether or not I'll offer more advance classes for students who have already taken one of my classes. Here is my response:
It is hard to fill classes that have some kind of restriction on who can enroll. Marc Adams insists that my classes be open to beginning box makers, so as not to discourage anyone from choosing to participate. As you know box making can go to many levels beyond what we can cover in a one week class. In fact, you can go for years of steady improvement if you like.

The same applies to my ESSA classes. I structure them and design the curriculum at an introductory level, as it would be a very poor marketing decision to exclude any of the folks interested in taking the class.

At the same time, I think that my classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, even though they are at an introductory level, have been of benefit, even and perhaps most particularly for those students I’ve had there who have completed their masters at MASW. Each year I have two or three in my class who have their MASW masters and are wanting to apply their previously earned skills to box making. Each year I also have one or two others who simply choose to take the class again, planning to refresh and take their own box making to the next level.

One woman, an MD from the Chicago area, has taken my MASW  box making class three times and has vowed to take it again. First,  it’s fun, and second, she keeps learning new things… both from me and from others in the class. At ESSA, I have had a lawyer from Tulsa take my box making class three times for the same reasons.
When I was a young man, I loved learning (not necessarily in school) and wanted to learn for the rest of my life. Woodworking is a field in which that can be done, and the simple box I helped my student make today is an example. I am in that luxurious position of learning new things. The k-body guitar is also an example of learning and testing new techniques. I've been using a tiny Veritas draw knife to trim the edges of the guitar top in a very efficient manner.

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

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Yesterday... the wood shop.

Our guitar making at Clear Spring has been going well, with some students at the point of assembly, having shaped their necks and built the boxes. One has the front and back attached to the body so that it is ready for sanding and paint. This whole process has been particularly interesting for me in that when we made guitars in the past, there were fewer opportunities offered for student creativity in the process. I have a bit more experience than the students at this point and more time in the shop so I have several different guitars in the works. And seeing the older kids working on guitars, the youngest ones have announced their interest in making Panjos, using cake pans for the body of their instruments and with only one string.

At one time, having introduced woodworking to students in the first and second grade, I wondered what it would be like working with high school students who had been with me in the wood shop from their starting days of education. What kinds of projects would be made and what level of skill would be demonstrated? At this point some of my high school students have been noticing how long they've been coming to wood shop. I and and the shop and the tools we use have become an institution in their lives. I have photos of these kids in their first days, and the projects they've made.

Even if I did not have a broader message here, "that all children in school need to be creatively engaged in doing real things," there is a warmth in the whole experience that I can only hope might become emulated in the lives of others. Over the years, I have gotten to see these kids grow up, and I've managed to be a part of their creative lives, assisting  a rise in their creative capacities.

On Monday, our head of schools asked me to consider the three points I would make concerning how Clear Spring School is unique and necessary. The first I would make is that schooling must be adapted to the proven developmental needs of each child. Clear Spring School does that. The second is that schooling should be collaborative and integrative, so that no subject stands alone and no teacher stands alone in the lives of our kids. We do that, and wood shop is deeply woven through. The third thing is that in order to foster true democracy, schooling should not isolate children in peer groupings and age groupings, but should open each child to a greater engagement in the totality of community life. I can say without reservation, Clear Spring School does that, too.

On a related subject, Defending the Early Years has published a paper addressing the application of Common Core Standards to children as young as those in Kindergarten. Standards have been driven by what the educational industry wants, and not what children are capable of. The consequence is that many children are driven at a very early age to regard schooling as abhorrent.  A fourth point I would make about the Clear Spring School if I was given time,  is that children love it.

The students in the video above are now in my high school class and other videos of my students at work can be found on youtube.

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

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

each child is...

A mirror of the whole of humanity.

My daughter is teaching in a New York high school where they state without reservation that each child is an intellectual. David Henry Feldman wrote an award winning essay, The child as craftsman, in which he noted that all children have within their essential nature, the inclination to do something in which they excel. In yesterday's post we referred to the lone scientist, noting that each child engages in a systematic examination of the world in which they live. And so we begin to note that each child is a reflection of the whole of humanity. Given the opportunity, children are makers, and music makers, and investigators, and productive decision makers who care for the needs of their communities and others without boundary.

In Germany before the rise of the Third Reich, the literacy rate was right at 100%. It seems that the ability to read can be essential to the modern authoritarian state, as the distribution of propaganda has become one of the means through which to control a mindless populace bent upon mindless consumption and wanton waste of resources whether they lay within one's own boundaries or not. If you have been careful in education to disregard the natural processes of intellectual development and have thereby developed a populace unwilling  or unable to question authority, you've got it made.

In the wood shop, I steer my students away from mindless activities. They must observe carefully as they create. There is some science to it. What they do shows up directly in their work, so that they themselves assess its value. We practice thrift. They also learn to collaborate with and encourage each other. And its fun.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, my students will be working on their guitars and other tools related to their travels. The box shown above is my tribute to the brothers Greene.

I would like to invite you to become a supporter of the Clear Spring School. At the upper right hand corner of the opening page you will find a link where it says, "Give Now." Why would you do so? We are breaking new ground and setting a fresh example that's sorely needed in American education.

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

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

the lone scientist...

Yesterday at school I added a new base to my 90 degree cut off boxes that allows them to be clamped to a table with a second clamp holding the workpiece in place. This seems to be an ideal solution, as both the jig and workpiece are held rigidly in place for sawing. It worked perfectly and I had learned previously that a single clamp holding both the jig to the table and the stock in place was insufficient. The kids found it difficult to hold both the workpiece and jig in position and tighten the clamp at the same time. I realize this seems like an awkward adjustment to make to a relatively simple devise. It also raises the height about 4 inches.

Also working perfectly is my Greene and Greene styled box as you can see in the photo below. Still to be completed are the routing of edges of the lid and the addition of a pull on top.

The following is an interesting quote on the subject of Jean Piaget.
Contrary to what educators had long believed before Piaget came along, children are not just empty “containers” to be filled up with knowledge. On the contrary, they truly act as “lone scientists," constantly creating and testing their own theories about the world.

This is especially true of adolescents who have reached the formal operations stage. For example, if you ask a teen to find out what makes a pendulum swing faster or slower, he or she will probably start by testing a long string with a light weight at the end, then the same length of string with a heavier weight, then a shorter string with the lighter weight, and finally the shorter string with the heavier weight. From these observations, which actually constitute a simple scientific experiment, the teen will deduce that the shorter the string, the faster the pendulum swings, and that the weight at the end of the string makes no difference.

To Piaget, science, just like the organization of an individual’s knowledge, is a tool for adapting more effectively to the environment. Just like scientific theories, individuals’ cognitive structures are the product of active researchers who modify their way of thinking constantly to adjust it to the constraints of

A Greene and Greene styled box
There is one problem with the quote above. A number of progressive educators long before Piaget knew that children were "not just empty 'containers' to be filled up with knowledge." Consider Froebel for instance, or Salomon, Cygnaeus, Montessori or John Dewey.

On the other hand, the use of tools to explore the nature of reality fits right in to what the ideal school might be. Using tools to make beautiful and useful things at the elementary level fully engages the student's sensori-motor capacities.  At the concrete operational level of intellectual development, the making and use of tools makes real that which the student is learning (and testing) in school. At the formal operational stage, the use of tools aids in the formulation and testing of hypotheses, through which abstract thinking may be exercised. And so, the hands and their use form the essential bridge from the concrete to the abstract that the child must cross to fulfill its full adult reasoning capacity.

I had an interesting conversation with an old friend who has long been involved with Waldorf education, and she quickly began telling me the things that she thought were wrong about Maria Montessori's approach. She seemed to be largely unaware of Froebel, or his contributions to both Montessori, and as a precursor to Rudolph Steiner's Waldorf methods.

I realize that sometimes to be sufficiently immersed in a particular method may be necessary to use it to its full effect. On the other hand, methodologies may serve also as blinders. If you look at the heart of Waldorf, or at the heart of Montessori's methods and philosophy, you'll find the hands in support of my own premise that their use is essential for the engagement of the heart. If we could just come to a collective realization that the hands are the most neglected resource in the education of our kids, we would move forward with the changes that are most needed by our kids. And I hope to remind my readers that the Wisdom of the Hands is not just about wood shop. The hands have the capacity to touch all things.

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

Monday, February 01, 2016

Dr. Herman T. Epstein

Boxes progressing nicely
In a paper entitled "The Fourth R, or why Johnny Can't Reason," Dr. Herman T. Epstein, one of the world's foremost brain researchers took education to task for failing to utilize what Jean Piaget taught us about the development of intelligence. He wrote:
From the point of view of schooling, when children typically enter first grade at about age 6 years, only one third are able to use any logical reasoning. That means that they are not ready for much of what is usually taught at that grade. This issue of readiness is a significant one for schooling. Some teachers and principals have estimated for me that about one-third of the matters in junior high school require formal reasoning. Yet, at those ages (12-14 years) no more than 20% have reached that reasoning level.

That means that most of the children cannot understand the most significant matters being taught in junior high school. In essence they are being taught in a foreign language. The result is that such children begin to pay no attention and begin, as is now well known, to consider dropping out of school. When they arrive in senior high school and the lack of understanding continues, drop-out behavior becomes a real alternative.

Teachers surely know that there is a spectrum of ability levels of the children in their classes, but they don't know how to handle it. If teachers were really aware of the data in the table, they would know that significant modifications of their instructional level are needed for these non-ready children. That still wouldn't tell them what to do.
School systems and educational  policy makers have made the assumption that reading readiness is key, when they should instead be looking at reasoning readiness as their guide to planning instruction. But fat chance of that happening anytime soon.

I’ve been reading about the child’s use of symbols and their innate ability to analogize in their use of language. My daughter, for instance, as a very small child would not say think you when we tried to remind her, because a phrase she came up with on her own, “got some,” meant the same thing. It was cute, and while not the same as the expected social convention "Thank you" that she might have parroted without understanding, "Got some" acknowledged the receipt of services and things that she needed or wanted.  Many psychologists from the 19th century were fascinated by the child’s use of language as a window through which to witness their intellectual development. Susan Blow hits the nail on the head when she notes that children readily see the similarities between things but the delineation of differences offers more difficulty. And when analogy arises from within the mind of the child, rather than being imposed from without by the adult world, the child gets it in ways they cannot be taught and that adults do not readily understand.

My own point is that as children progress through Piaget's stages of intellectual development, each builds upon the last level. Arrival at each level is not on a rigid developmental clock, so timing varies for each child and is dependent on both genetic and social reinforcement.  And yet there is an orderly reliance on each stage having fulfilled itself as the next comes into play. For instance the sensory-motor stage prepares the child for the concrete operational stage, and the concrete operational stage prepares older children for the formal operational stage. But what happens when children are confined in seats and their senses are impaired, and they are then restrained from engagement in concrete reality? How can we expect them to become reasoning adults, capable of understanding complex relationships? Is it any wonder that our political parties oversimplify the issues we face, work in sound bites, and avoid the complexities of the modern world in getting votes.

According to tests conducted by scientists researching Piaget's stages of intellectual development, only 32% of all adults reach the formal operational stage, which then plays out well for those who would purposely take advantage of human stupidity in the democratic process. The following is from Epstein:
Only one-third of adults can reason formally. That means that two-thirds of the citizens in a democracy cannot understand the more complex issues facing them both in life and in elections. Unless ways can be found to increase the percentage, operation of democracies will depend on the ability to formulate issues in concrete terms so that voters can grasp the issues. We don't yet know if the percentages can be increased - that will take some enormously difficult and important research that should be specially funded in our democracy. Until that is achieved, if possible, the continued existence of democracies is in question.
 And so what can we do? The way forward from my perspective is clear. Instead of pushing kids so hard to read, write and do math, schools should be the places where kids do art, make music, formulate hypotheses of all kinds and test them in their own hands, and make beautiful and useful objects from wood.

Make, fix, create, and engage in helping others to learn likewise.