Thursday, October 30, 2014

new teachers...

Forty to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession in their first five years. ( 9 1/2 percent leave their first year.) So why do they quit, and why do some stay?

The Stowe family is one of dedicated teachers. My mother was a kindergarten teacher, and my sister Mary and her daughter both teach in Lincoln, Nebraska public schools, and have passed the 5 year mark with my sister having passed that mark many years back.

My daughter Lucy is a new public school teacher in the New York Public School system. And so the question arises, how do we make teaching stick, so that the investment we make in teachers is a good one? Certainly, for new teachers, mentoring is an important thing. And being in a school where one's ideas find appreciation is another.

We know that money isn't everything, and that jobs that offer a sense of creative fulfillment, and in which one's efforts are shown to matter are the jobs that offer the greatest sense of non-monetary satisfaction. Non-monetary rewards like that of being respected in one's work can be just as important as the money when it comes to lasting employment.

Lucy called on Tuesday as excited as could be. She had planned an exercise of her own design in the study of material properties in which her students would be property brokers and sell each other on the material properties of the substances assigned. They made posters as though they were selling real estate to each other, and made sales pitches, and the level of enthusiasm in the classroom rose to such a point that another teacher passing by, had to come in to see why. The students took her on a tour of their "properties."

Fortunately, Lucy was hired by a New York City School in which the administration was looking for her kind of creative engagement, and they are allowing her creativity to blossom in the classroom.

Yesterday at Clear Spring School, we had our annual harvest party. It was a phenomenal success. In the woodshop we made button toys with pieces of wood and strings. To make one, drill two holes near the center of a piece of flat wood. It can be round, octagonal or square. Run a loop of string through the holes, and then hold the string by the fingers of each hand. Wind the toy up by flipping it round and round as you move your hands in a circular pattern,  then pull. As you move your hands in and out, and with practice, the button will spin one way and then the other.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

senses, grasping and comprehension...

Our Maker bot printing legos™
Comenius (1592-1670) had put forth his argument that the senses form the core of learning:
"The ground of this business is, that sensual (sensuous) objects be rightly presented to the senses for fear that they not be received. I say, and say it again aloud, that this is the foundation of all the rest; because we can neither act nor speak wisely, unless we first rightly understand all the things which are to be done and whereof we have to speak. Now there is nothing in the understanding which was not before in the senses. And therefore to exercise the senses well about the right perceiving of the differences of things will be to lay the grounds for wisdom and all wise discourse, and all discreet actions in one's course of life, which, because it is commonly neglected in schools, and the things that are to be learned are offered to scholars without their being understood or being rightly presented to the senses, it cometh to pass that the work of teaching and learning goeth heavily onward and offereth little benefit."
The engagement of the senses lays the foundation for comprehension. And yet educational policy makers have become ignoramuses. What Comenius had observed in the 17th century still applies to children today.

The following is from Wendy Lecker's article, The disturbing transformation of kindergarten.
Two major studies confirmed the value of play vs. teaching reading skills to young children. Both compared children who learned to read at 5 with those who learned at 7 and spent their early years in play-based activities. Those who read at 5 had no advantage. Those who learned to read later had better comprehension by age 11, because their early play experiences improved their language development.

Yet current educational policy banishes play in favor of direct instruction of inappropriate academic content and testing; practices that are ineffective for young children.
To make children sit at desks, studying word they barely comprehend, restrains them at arms length from learning. The word comprehend, by the way, is rooted in the words to grasp, and completely.

Yesterday we printed our first 8 legos™ on the makerbot printer. The kids followed my explicit written instructions using sketchup to design them, then customized them by writing their names or initials in raised letters. It took one hour and 19 minutes to print 6, so you can see that Lego™ has nothing to fear from competition. Ours fit just a wee bit tight. In fact, they snapped together and were a bit hard to pry apart.

Watching the printer at work is mesmerizing, but would bore after awhile. The kids asked if we are going to use it for other things. I asked in reply that they, "Design something beautiful, interesting and useful first."

Today is the annual Clear Spring School Harvest Party. The kids dress up in pioneer clothing, have prepared games to play, and entertain our pre-school students and each other. In the wood shop, students will be making button toys.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Take-a-way number one...

The photo at left was submitted by one of my students from the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Kevin is a shop teacher and went back to school and asked that his students make boxes. Beautifully done! The joints are rabbetted.

I believe that every student in high school should have the opportunity to make something beautiful and useful that will last them their whole lives... that will last and be treasured because of the investment of care they have applied to them. What can be more suitable to this goal than a wooden box?

Take away number one.... a teacher spent some time shadowing students in the 10th and 12th grades and take away number one is as follows.
“We forget as teachers, because we are on our feet a lot – in front of the board, pacing as we speak, circling around the room to check on student work, sitting, standing, kneeling down to chat with a student as she works through a difficult problem…we move a lot. But students move almost never. And never is exhausting. This Teacher Became A Student For Two Days: What She Learned Will Shock You!
The observation is confirmed by the following from 200 poems for Teachers of Industrial Arts Education, compiled by William L. Hunter:
The Potter

The potter stood at his daily work,
One patient foot on the ground;
The other with never slackening speed
Turning his swift wheel around.

Silent we stood beside him there,
Watching the restless knee,
'Til my friend said low, in pitying voice,
"How tired his foot must be!"

The potter never paused in his work,
Shaping the wondrous thing;
'Twas only a common flower pot,
But perfect in fashioning.

Slowly he raised this patient eyes,
With homely truth inspired;
"No, Marm, it isn't the foot that works,
The one that stands gets tired!"
-- Author unknown
To do nothing is torture. And to ask children to sit still at school is barbaric. It is fascinating how pretendingly scientific educators have become in schooling and how negligent schools have become in the application of common sense. My thanks to John Grossbohlin for the article linked above.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, October 27, 2014


We know that there are many things in life that cannot easily be measured. There are folks that resist that notion. Do you remember when performance meant something that was visible, that you practiced for and that was put on display to be witnessed, understood and enjoyed by others? Think theater, here, or dance and music. Now school performance refers almost exclusively to standardized testing.. even though we know standardized testing is a poor measure of future success and indicates almost nothing with regard to the traits of character that matter most.

A lawsuit in California is challenging teacher tenure laws that keep crappy teachers in place, where they bore kids leading premature death of interest. Administrators can't fire them, or shame them into retiring, and so the idea that some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have put forth is that teacher tenure be denied those teachers who do not perform at a level determined by the standardized test scores of their kids.

I ask you if there have been teachers in your life that have meant something to you that could not be directly measured? You can use the comments area of this blog to reply.

I can remember the last day of wood shop in junior high school, when my 8th grade shop teacher and I conferred over a nail that had missed its mark and left a small split at the side of a book shelf I had made. He said, "Don't worry about it. You have done well." Teachers are often there for those important moments, and to put their performance on an arbitrary statistical index would be a crime. It certainly is a crime, too, that teachers who don't give a damn about their kids can't be expelled just as easily as a child might. But the true test of a teacher's value may not actually appear until years later, when just a few encouraging words are remembered.

This morning one of our parents was telling me about the sword her daughter made in wood shop last year. She and her family still love it, and last night when a strange truck drove up into the yard,  and her mother was away, my student grabbed the wooden sword as the best protection at hand. She is so proud of that tool, and that she made it herself, and there will be no standardized test necessary to measure the impact of having made it.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

the rhythm of the machine vs. the rhythm of the body.

Rudolph J. Drillis' illustration of work tempo.
Yesterday I rented a log splitter for all day, whereas in the past, I had done the splitting of firewood to season for the next year by hand. Rudolph J. Drillis had done an interesting study of motion and rhythm in the human form, and there is very little about the hydraulic log splitter that conforms.

With my helper/friend Greg(from whom I learned a lot) and the splitter, and the tractor to haul logs, we made a day of it, and a chore that would have taken many hours (labor applied an hour or so a day over an extended period of time) was accomplished without injury.

There is pleasure to be found in the rhythmic exercise of the body. Some folks go to the gym for exercise, and some use tools and perform real labors. I try to do both.

Blog reader, former student and friend David Kings sent an article about the demise and destruction of Kindergarten, by Wendy Lecker called "The disturbing transformation of kindergarten."
The article notes:
"One of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn. Nowhere is this misplaced emphasis more apparent, and more damaging, than in kindergarten."
I continue my work in making Kindergarten's gifts, hoping to reawaken an understanding of progressive education. The photo above is of gift number three used to create a beauty form. It is my hope that we take matters related to our children's educations into our own hands.

Make, fix, and create...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

odds and ends...

Today I have very little to say about the hands.

A few days back, I got a call from a Canadian woodworker who has been teaching adults and has begun working with kids. He asked about the origins of the term Wisdom of the Hands, expecting perhaps that concept might be derived from some kind of historical context. I explained that the concept in terms of the language is my own, derived in part from Stanley Kunich's poem about the wisdom of the body, but that in years past, no one would ever have to note in language a thing that was so strongly present in their own lives. It is only now, as people are so isolated from the natural wisdom offered by hands, that the necessity of such a concept would arise.

This morning I'm renting a log splitter. I have always done splitting of firewood by hand, but this year I have so many other things I must do, that to get wood ready for next season's warmth must be assisted by a friend, Briggs and Stratton and hydraulics.

The box and blocks shown above is on my newly contrived photo backdrop. Do you like it?

Make, fix and create...

Friday, October 24, 2014


Exhausting the potential of limited resources. If you were to take a set of Froebel blocks, either number three or four, each with 8 in a set, and were yourself used to the abundance of materials that are supplied in a set of legos,™ you might feel restrained. But as children are invited to use their own imaginations to discover what forms are within the range of their discovery we might be amazed. Even 8 small blocks in a number 3 or 4 set, offer the potential for new discoveries.

We live in a world with limited resources. And so what do we do with what we've got? This is always a matter of material concern in wood shop, and as children embark on projects, I direct them to the materials we have available and ask them to use thrift. Thrift is not just a concern when it comes to the pocketbook. It is one of the traits of character that facilitates the survival of nations, and the success of the human species.

My students have nearly completed their personalized legos.™ Some of them were frustrated by the experience, and one student asked yesterday, upon closing her file, "Now can I do something real?" That, my friends, is what most kids wonder while in school. On the other hand, all the students persevered, even though it was difficult and they had to start over several times before getting it right. And of course they want to see the 3-D printer in action, making their own lego™ blocks.

Make, fix and create...