Tuesday, July 29, 2014

end of day two..

I am at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, and have finished my second day of box making class. My students are all doing challenging work and learning. I have demonstrated four kinds of corner joints, and most students are testing each kind of joint in their own boxes. I demonstrated my technique, using the flipping story stick for installing butt hinges, and my students have been pleased with their own success.

Marc Adams School has become a major learning center, and a place where the hands and the relationship between both character and intellect is readily understood. All know that what we experience in this place is special... a place where craftsmanship is appreciated and understood.

Part of what makes my own experience at Marc Adams School a success is having excellent help. Jerry (above at left) is my volunteer assistant for a third year.  I am grateful for his help.

Make, fix and create...


Monday, July 28, 2014

indulgence in the improbable...

I am in Indiana, and have completed day one of box making at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I will have 18 students in this week-long class in box making, and then will have an equal number of students the following weekend for a class in making small cabinets.

I also brought David J. Whattaker's book The Impact and Legacy of Educational Sloyd along so that I can write a review of it for British Woodworking Magazine in my spare time. Reviewing this book is a great immersion in the subject, and I hope that my review will help British woodworkers to recall their own history in manual arts education.

Over the course of the coming week, I will have photos to show of adult box makers and cabinet makers in action, but today I was too busy to take any photos.

I am reading a book written in the 1850's by Captain Marryat for the entertainment of his children. He noted that his children and half the civilized world were reading and enjoying the book, Swiss Family Robinson, but as a real sea captain, he could not bring himself to write anything as far fetched as that. He noted,"it is true that it's child's book; but I consider, for that very reason, it is necessary that the author should be particular in what may appear to be trifles, but which really are not, when it is remembered how strong the impressions are upon the juvenile mind. Fiction, when written for young people, should at all events, be based upon truth."

It is true that we treat children as though they are idiots. It is the purposeful indulgence in the improbable. By keeping them safe from real life, we stifle their powers. Instead, we should offer them fictional materials that help them to discover a relationship with and interest in real life. Captain Marryat's book is called Masterman Ready or, The Wreck of the Pacific and it can be found as a free download on Google Books.

Make, fix, get real and create...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

attempting to break through silo walls

Richard Bazeley described in an email his successful presentation to his fellow teaching staff of the value of woodworking for teaching math.
"I made a 20 minute presentation to our school Principal and maths faculty as part of a Professional Development day last week. After a brief verbal introduction I took the opportunity to run an activity on measurement. Using tools of the trade such as folding rulers, tape measures, digital calipers and steel rulers I had the Principal and teachers measuring the door and door opening, a length of wood, the diameter of a drill bit and the insides of a pipe. It was brief but I had them thinking about what they are missing out on and the need for more tools in their area.

Looking around the maths room I pointed out that much of the work the students do is theory based learning and 2 dimensional, so I took the opportunity to emphasize the need for the students to have more concrete examples of what they are being taught."
Getting other teachers to understand the value of doing real things can be a particular challenge when you have college educated teachers who may not have ever had the experience of doing real things with their hands or with tools. It has been called the ivory tower, or silo effect... with teachers being  comfortable as masters in their own classrooms and failing to interconnect both the subject matter with other learning and their own work with that of fellow teachers. I wrote about this in an earlier post as follows:
"The silo effect leaves professors or teachers isolated (often comfortably) in their own classrooms where they fail to take the advantages offered by collaboration with colleagues, and neglect to offer interdisciplinary studies to their students. The result is the loss of vigor in education, as studies become irrelevant, mind-numbing, and unadventurous. Studies confined in silos can be quite rigorous and within silos, students can be held to high standards, but not without paying a high price of attrition. Even students diligently present each and every day, will pay little attention to materials presented without vigor or without relevance established in their own lives and by their own interests."
What's rigor without vigor? Boring and irrelevant. And there is yet another challenge to contend with, in the sense of superiority that some academically trained professors feel. They may regard themselves as superior in some way, because their hands have never been dirtied doing real things. But that is just a cover up and distraction from how the world must make them feel when faced by the many things they can't fix without help... helpless. And when they feel helpless in the presence of those who can do real things, you can see that it may take some courage and encouragement for them to break through the silo walls.

The image above is of student initials cut out by Richard Bazeley's 13 year old students in Australia. Nicely done, don't you think?

Today I leave for Marc Adams School of Woodworking where I will teach box making for one week and then small cabinet making for a weekend class.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, July 25, 2014

how I am to teach them.

I did a sketch-up illustration of the steps involved in marking and making a sphere, though when working with hand and knife, actual handwork is not as precise as is shown in the illustration.

Readers frequently ask if I have a set curriculum for them to follow. I wish it could be as simple as that.

There are actually three things that  I try to balance in developing woodworking lessons for kids... what I want the kids to learn to do, what the other teachers want the students to do in support what they teach, and what the kids want to do to support their own interests which are often different from mine, and different as well from the objectives of their classroom teacher.

The interesting thing is that at the start of a program, other teachers won't necessarily know the value of woodworking projects and the value has to be demonstrated to them. In some cases teachers have not been challenged to consider correlating their materials with what is taught in other classes and may not understand the value of it. Even when they do understand the value, they often don't understand the processes well enough to know whether or not what they propose fits with the level of skill and ability at various ages. At the beginning, kids really don't understand what it takes to do various things either, and so while they may want to do their own thing, unrestrained, they will soon learn that there are restraints formed by their own lack of understanding in how tools work, how materials work in response to those tools, and the various steps required and the order in which they must be applied to gain the results they intend. In other words, they often lack the ability and understanding necessary to be successful at at making the objects they intend.

At the start, it's useful to be assertive, with the woodworking teacher coming up with his or her own projects timed to other teachers' coverage of various lesson plans and also geared to be age appropriate and skill appropriate to the kids. Kids will understand the growth of skill, and the fact that new skills can be applied to other things.

I think the most useful information on designing a program comes from Educational Sloyd which in turn came from progressive education and Kindergarten of all things, and actually provides insight into all other things that children should learn in school.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move 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.
You can use simple tools used in simple operations as your starting point. Add complex tools and processes sequentially  to direct the development of skill and growth.  Part of a woodworking teacher's job is to expand in an incremental manner the students exposure and skill in the use of tools that will then make them more capable of doing the kinds of correlated exercises that the teachers would like to see as well as those they would choose for themselves.

The following is from the Paradise of Childhood and describes the origins of what for Friedrich Froebel was a great awakening:

"Traveling through the country," says Elizabeth Harrison, 'Froebel listened to the cradle songs and stories which the German housewives told to their children. He noticed how the little children are constantly in motion, how they delight in movement, how they use their senses, how quickly the observe and how they invent and contrive. And he said to himself, "I can convert the children's activities, energies, amusements, occupations, all that goes by the name of play, instrumental for my purpose, and transfer play into work. This work will be education in the true sense of the term. The conception I have gained from the children themselves; they have taught me how I am to teach them.'"
In wondering where Sloyd should go in the future, it is important to remember its roots in the Kindergarten method. Uno Cygnaeus and Salomon and all the early proponents of Educational Sloyd saw it as the best means to carry the Kindergarten methods into the upper grades. Learning was to be fun, driven by the interests of the child, and yet educators seem insistent on making education a dismal experience that must be endured... just as for so many folks, work is a dismal thing. As a woodworker, I have seldom found it to be so.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Help for teachers...

This is the time of year when teachers contact me about planning their programs for the next year, so it is also a good time for me to dig through the blog and answer questions. How to secure a piece of wood to a be worked on if you don't have a vise? The following is from an earlier blog post. Tomorrow I will tell just a bit about planning curriculum in collaboration with other subject teachers, and matching the wood shop goals that students may have.


Blog reader Jason began a woodworking program in his school in Canada where he teaches French Immersion. Wanting to teach woodworking (what a great way to teach French or any other language!) without a wood shop, he came up with a simple vise for holding wood while it is safely cut. He notes:
"The bench fixture was born out of necessity. Because we work out of a regular classroom and don't have dedicated work benches, at first we were clamping to the tables and student desks, the wood was vibrating a lot and the students, being shorter than I, had problems getting over their work when cutting with the coping saw. Some students resorted to cutting while on their knees all the while getting saw dust in their eyes. Not good, to say the least. The tables also took a beating in very little time.

"I wanted the students to learn proper posture while cutting so, I quickly made the fixtures out of left over 2x8 fascia boards and only screwed the two pieces together. After a full year's use I will need to add an angled piece behind to provide more rigidity to the upright. The first version of the fixture only had the 'L' shape with no cut outs.
"I found that the students weren't able to steady their work piece against the fixture and at the same time position and tighten the C clamp to secure the work. So, I cut the sections out and that allowed the C clamp to stay in one place atop the fixture as the students readied the work to be clamped. It also allowed the C clamp to clamp farther down providing more evenly distributed pressure to the wood being clamped. I also had a number of students who were left hand dominant and so I cut out the same on both sides so students could use any bench support.

"With this set up the students can use the support to:
  • cut pieces to length using the side as a straight edge guide,
  • secure wood while using the coping saw,
  • cut out sections of their wood that fall inline with the little cut-out sections of the fixture
  • secure wood with the edge almost even with the top of the fixture to plane the edge square using the fixture as a support.
"As an aside, the use of C clamps is something that the boys in particular like using because they get to crank as hard as they can and it only holds their work better; win-win. But then they need to unscrew it with the same amount of enthusiasm;-)"
 I did a quick sketch up illustration of the castle vise (shown above), so you can see where it gets its name. One c-clamp is used through the open arch to secure the vise to the table or desk and another to hold the lumber in place for cutting. The notches at the top give c-clamps a place to rest, making them easier to use. Necessity is often the mother of invention. What Jason has come up with may be useful to others in the same situation.

Make, fix and create...

back to cursive...

Students now tell their teachers when they've been told to read something written by the human hand, "I don't do cursive." What a dumb thing schools have done to eliminate hand writing from our student's educations.

The value of learning cursive is revisited in this article, Cursive is ready for a comeback. Its not that cursive is really ready for a comeback, but that it should be. Unfortunately, reading and writing cursive is not an easy thing to adopt once its been lost, and most teachers these days are more used to poking keypads, than writing real words on paper with pen and ink. If policy makers were to choose it or our schools to pursue it, who would teach it? Just as we've wondered who would teach wood shops if policy makers in that case would come to their senses about learning, we've retired most of those who could teach.

I can easily remember my own school days, when the students in Omaha Public Schools were required to have a certain kind of ink pen with replacement cartridges, so that our thoughts would flow unrestrained in a manner that teachers might read with ease and that we might write with style... and so we read cursive as well as writing it.

History is full of documents written by the human hand: documents like the declaration of Independence, and letters written by soldiers during the Civil War. Without the ability to read what others have written, we have lost something significant of ourselves... the ability to touch and learn our own past.

When I was in Bødo, Norway, everything was new, built after the Nazis bombed the place in 1941.  It was odd being in a place in Europe that was so new compared to places like Tronheim, Bergen and Oslo, but war does that to cities. Our culture is now being bombed in a destructive a manner by our digital devices. The ability to understand and interpret monumental works from earlier centuries is lost as student confess, "I don't do cursive." If the only tool you have is a laptop or ipad, all the real creations of mankind are little more than indecipherable scratches on scrap paper.

If you don't do it, you won't know it and what little you do know will be Jack.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

balls, again...

Richard Bazeley's students finished crafting their wooden balls. They are not perfect, but they learned some geometry and tool use in their making, and one student came up with the method to hold the balls in the vise as they are sanded.

The student's work at the end of the day was gathered in a bowl full of balls. You won't see any absolutely perfect spheres. Richard counts his success rate with 13 students at near 50% but with each student having finished a sphere.

Here on this continent, Beth Ireland and her partner Jen are on the road again with their turning around America van and a new trailer to carry extra art supplies.

You can read about it in Beth's blog turningaroundamerica. Please check out the real things they do with kids, and kids really do need to do real things to find meaning in their schooling.

In my woodshop today, I will be sanding and finishing award bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award, and packing all the small tools I will need for teaching next week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Also, congratulation to Richard's students for a job well done. Richard will use the lesson to share with other teachers to illustrate the potential of collaboration between wood shop and math.

Make, fix and create..

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

so far...


Hand carve a sphere and cylinder? The three parts of gift number 2 are the symbol associated with Friedrich Froebel that was used as the marker on his grave. In this case both the ball and cylinder were carved by knife from blocks exactly like that forming the base.

In contrast, Richard Bazeley is using a different approach with his students to make spheres. He reports that students hold blocks in the vise while they work with planes and chisels to form the starting polygon. Then they use a rasp and sandpaper to finish the shape.

The photo below shows my progress so far in making walnut bases for the Arkansas Governor's Quality Award.

This has been a amazing year so far, in that we have ground AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to a near halt in their plans to build a massive extra high voltage power line through our small local community. I have had to do a tremendous amount of work to stop it. In addition to writing in this blog, and finishing my most recent book about boxes which comes out in September, and other articles about box making in American Woodworking and Wood, I've written countless letters to governmental agencies, and more to local newspapers, including guest editorials. Without time in the wood shop to bring some form of balance, I would be lost.

All educators and educational policy makers should be alerted to the value of doing real things in real materials and the discovery of craftsmanship. Not only does hands-on learning bring greater character and intelligence, it also brings balance to lives over-encumbered by abstract, intellectual engagement.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has granted a rehearing to my small organization, Save the Ozarks, as they agreed with us that the power company failed to prove the need for the project. It is designed to ultimately provide 16 times the available local power, and is to take power through us, not provide power to us.

Currently, the APSC is setting a date and time for the acceptance of additional testimony, and evidence, and will set a date for the rehearing, though we are sincerely hoping that AEP/SWEPCO will see the light and pull the plug on the project.

Make, fix and create...