Thursday, August 21, 2014

Be Amazed...

Be Amazed???

Here in Northwest Arkansas, a group of corporate benefactors including Walmart and theWalton Family Foundation, have invested in a new children's musuem called the Amazeum. The idea of it is as follows:
From their earliest days, people inquire, explore, and soak up ideas, and they thrive in environments rich with stimulation. From childhood, they gather information that will guide them throughout their lives; they never stop asking questions, and they depend on everyone around - parents, friends, community-to join them in this amazing adventure. The Amazeum, a hands-on museum for children and families coming to Northwest Arkansas, is the dream of a community - to educate people in the best ways possible for whatever lies ahead and to engage the entire family in exploration, learning, and fun.
Should that form of education be the exclusive domain of museums, while schools are left the most boring places in the world? I say no.

Yesterday our head of school attended his usual Wednesday morning Rotary meeting and found that the guest speaker was from the Amazeum, telling of the wonders of their new children's museum. Our head of schools had to bite his tongue and sit on his hands to refrain from asking "What's so new about that?" We teach this way every day at the Clear Spring School. Hand-on, experiential learning should not be limited to those whose parents are able to take them to museums on the weekends, while most children are left disengaged from real life.

Today, I am still moving small things from my old woodshop to the new and have yet to organize my new space for the new year. I am also in the process of writing a second chapter for my book on Friedrich Froebel.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

to awaken (and not put to sleep) the love of learning...

Learning is the human being's most vital function, and the thing most natural but for the beating of the child's heart. And yet, in schooling due to the undue emphasis on standardized testing, and our fixation on measured results we immerse children in boredom.

The following video from Khan Academy would lead you to think that the important love of learning takes place away from the screen and outside the classroom, and you only discover that it is an advertisement from Khan Academy when in the midst of cartwheels, and balance beams you see the use of the computer screen. Most of the important learning you will see in the video could be best described as hands on. Even cartwheels are dependent on the proper placement of the hands, and without the hands going to their proper places, all else becomes disaster.

In any case, we have to applaud all instruments that attempt to give students a leg up on learning.

I have been reading novels written and published in the 19th century by Captain Frederick Marryat. His stories are delightful and available free on Google Books for a variety of eReaders, including the iPad. In addition to being free to todays' readers, Marryat's adventures were accurately told, and based on real life of the times, unlike the made up fantasy fodder we use today to enlist children's engagement in reading.

There is a difference between hands-on learning and the artificial learning constructs we use to bore kids and lead them to a state in which their natural inclinations to learn are suppressed. When you do something real in your own hands, whether making beautiful and useful objects, using a scalpel to dissect a frog, or have your hands on the strings of an instrument and are attempting to make beautiful sounds come out, the natural curiosity is awakened and brought into action.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

a solar proposal...

Some of my readers will know that friends and I have been pitted against one of the largest power transmission companies in the world, in an attempt to stop them from destroying our properties for a power line that is not necessary, and that had been proposed under false pretenses. What follows is my official proposal to change the dynamics of our relationship.

STO proposal to SWEPCO

Not one of us wants to keep AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool as our sworn enemies for the rest of our lives, but as long as they are trying to build the Shipe Road to Kings River power line, that will be the case. In 2007, the Southwest Power Pool did a study that said that the power line was needed for growth and reliability. Save the Ozarks expert witness, Hyde Merrill, did his study that refuted SWEPCO’s plan. Following Dr. Merrill’s review, even SWEPCO admitted that the reason that they had first proposed for the power line no longer exists. The grid is a dynamic arrangement of power lines, substations, transformers and various providers, each playing their own role in things, and that’s the reason a study that is more than five years old as was this one can no longer be considered valid.

This whole matter seems to have started out with a study that indicated that a new power line might help. Cross examination of a Southwest Power Pool witness revealed that originally SWEPCO only wanted to build a 161 kV power line in response to the study. A utility addicted to profit jumped at the chance to build it, even in the larger 345 kV that the Southwest Power Pool demanded. When the power line was no longer able to be proved necessary in either size, their addiction to growth kept them from admitting the truth, and once they had it in their minds to build it and their CEO saw potential profits in it, the project took on a momentum of its own with no member of the corporation willing to take responsibility for the foolishness of it.

The reputations of AEP/SWEPCO, the Southwest Power Pool and the Arkansas Public Service Commission have been seriously and deservedly battered by the opponents to this power line. How can they attempt to restore their good names? Save the Ozarks can help.

At the beginning of all this, SWEPCO purchased a 40 acre cow pasture on the Kings River as the site to which this power line would be run. The pasture that SWEPCO bought for the excessive price of $600,000 could serve as the cornerstone for SWEPCO’s attempt to redeem itself. I would not trust AEP/SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool to have fully put this power line proposal to rest until that 40-acre site has been converted to the first commercial solar development in Carroll County.  A full 40 acres of solar array would go a long ways to alleviate concerns about our growth and the reliability of their system, and it would serve to put them back in a better public relations position in our community. If that 40-acre field was filled with solar panels, those of us who have fought this power line for over a year, might even relax about it, and that 40-acre solar farm would match acre per acre and panel for panel, the largest solar farm in Missouri.

When mistakes are made and called to our attention, we offer apologies and attempt to do whatever we can to make amends and restore ourselves to positions of trust in our communities. The 40-acre site on the Kings turned into an investment in a brighter future would serve both SWEPCO and our local community in a far more meaningful way than the power line they have fought for and we have fought against. If the solar farm on the Kings River were offered as an olive branch, concurrent with the withdrawal of the Shipe Road to Kings River application and closure of the docket 13-041-U, we would welcome it.

As a member of the board of Save the Ozarks, I propose a partnership. We will help SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool turn their expensive cow pasture into a state of the art solar farm. It would be a winning solution that will bring credit to SWEPCO. It would be a project we could all feel proud of, and it would take SWEPCO off their position as public enemy number one in Northwest Arkansas.

Doug Stowe

For my usual readers, I conclude, Make, fix and create... but with this note:

If the engineers and attorneys at SWEPCO and the Southwest Power Pool had the advantages of having taken wood shop in school, they might have been less out of touch, and their characters would have had enough depth to have avoided their fiasco.

it wood be fun...

As I am moving my shop into a new smaller space on the Clear Spring School campus, I am going through things on my move and touching base with various things in the shop that I could tend to overlook under normal circumstances. I plan to sell some large tools on Craigs list rather than put them in storage where they will decline in value through disuse. I am also reviewing my library of excellent books for introducing woodworking to kids.

Michael  Bentinck-Smith's book, It Wood Be Fun, woodworking with children, is based on his 41 years (from 1966-2007) as wood working teacher for Milton Academy, Milton, Massachusetts,  Kindergarten through 6th grade. I highly recommend this book. It offers a clear understanding that in the process of making things, children are indeed making themselves. The character benefits of craftsmanship should not be ignored, and those schools that fail to offer opportunities for making beautiful and useful things have lost track of one of the most important tools for helping children to be their best.

You can read more about It Wood Be Fun, here. And yes, it is fun.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, August 18, 2014

lift lids

If you are a subscriber to Wood Magazine, watch the mail for the latest issue to arrive. If you are not, go to your local book store and buy or browse a copy. I've written an article about making various designs of lift lids in the October issue of Wood Magazine. I've not seen a copy yet, but was alerted to it's arrival by a friend. Some readers will recognize the lid designs as they were featured first in this earlier blog post.

Today I will continue moving things  from my old school wood shop to a new location on the school campus.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

dexterous thinking...

I have updated my Amazon Author's page.


dekˈsteritē noun: dexterity

skill in performing tasks, especially with the hands.

We also think of the mind as having dexterity, particularly when it is flexible in its thinking, nimble and quick. We tend not to think of intelligence as arising from the use of the hands, and yet it is so that both character and intellect arise through the process of craftsmanship.

If anyone wants a careful explanation of all this, they might read Will-Developed Intelligence, Handwork & Practical Arts in the Waldorf School Elementary Through High School, by David Mitchell and Patricia Livingston. Some of Rudolf Steiner's writings are filled with concepts that take some effort to grasp, and the use of philosophical jargon is always a thing that presents challenges to those who are not already into the study of such things. But this text serves as a strong rationale for the purposeful engagement of the hands. Steiner had said,
"We are living in he midst of a world produced by man, formed by human thoughts, which we use, and which we don't understand. This fact, that we understand nothing of something which is formed by man, of something which is basically the result of human thoughts, has great significance for the entire sphere in which the human soul and spirit live... The worst is experiencing a world made by man, without concerning oneself with it in the slightest.-- Rudolf Steiner-- The Study of Man.
 Just think of your own life as an example. How many times a day do you engage in the use of technologies that you can't understand? We have become comfortable with this situation. But would we have a greater sense of mastery and completeness if we had the capacity to see behind the flat screen of modern day technologies? To understand simple things prepares us to understand and manage complexity. Children are routinely introduced to things that seem simple on the surface, but that are far beyond their abilities to understand, and are thus completely out of their control and with no simple starting point for their intellectual engagement and exploration. These technologies are a means through which children and adults are easily manipulated, but that they are unable to manipulate themselves except in the most superficial manner.

Children would be best off being given saws and hammers rather than iPhone and iPads, even if they left trails of sawdust behind them and sawed the legs off our favorite chairs.

I'd written earlier about the necessary education of will. My readers may enjoy this old blog post from 2011. The education of the will. 

I titled this post dexterous thinking as a follow up to some reading I've done on the subject of "visual thinking." For surely if some are "visual thinkers," others of us are dextrous. But rather than set one sense in contention with another, in the making of human intelligence we should note that when children are set to work doing real things, and all the senses are thus engaged, learning takes place in depth and to greatest lasting effect..

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

hands on math

Meet the First Woman to Win Math’s Most Prestigious Prize, Maryam Mirzakhani, doodles to gain a sense of things as her theorems progress, and there is an interesting sidebar to the article explaining that if mirrors are set up on every surface upon which a billiards ball will strike, it will be seen to follow a straight line. At Clear Spring School we've always used hands-on means of learning math, and have used the wood shop as a means to both learn math and apply it, but we are really trying to lift our student performance to a higher level.

So one of the things we are investigating is called "Math-U-See. We had a demonstration of it yesterday via Skype, and found it appealing as it will allow integration between grade levels from K through high school, and without the kind of stigma attached as to whether or not a student is performing at this or that particular grade level. It can be rather boring to watch videos, but we were able to have a set of math-u-see blocks on hand to see, hold and manipulate during the lesson, and we all know that helps. Effective teaching uses as much of the brain as possible, and in order to do, uses as many of the senses as can possibly be engaged in the process.

In my own wood shop yesterday, I finally applied finish to the demonstration boxes I made to weeks ago at Marc Adams School of Woodworking.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 15, 2014

math's top prize...

I have been moving my Clear Spring School wood shop and still working to finish the boxes I started as demonstration boxes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. Next comes application of Danish Oil.

The first female to win math's top prize described her two brain storming strategies.
"Iranian-born Maryam Mirzakhani of Stanford University has become the first woman to win the top award in mathematics, the Field’s Medal. The award, often described as the Nobel Prize of mathematics, is given every four years to up to four scholars and has been around since 1936. Mirzakhani was awarded the prize for her work in complex geometry and navigation within spaces."
One strategy is to let discoveries sneak up on her. The other is to doodle. Both take advantage of the non-linear progression of thought. And neither are what we have children do in schools. The idea of most educational institutions is based on a brain-body oppositional model in which the teacher is the head of the class and the students the body (student body, get it?) And the body is thought to be the inferior appendage, that needs to sit still and fall under the control of mind.

But what if you brain and your gut are actually one system, each dependent on the other, and what would that tell us about the appropriate design of education? The brain gut axis is a thing coming more and more into the news as doctors learn that we are what we eat. An NPR news report Gut Bacteria Might Guide The Workings Of Our Minds describes it. You can also experiment on your own using pro-biotics and see how they make you think.

On two points... one the use of the unconscious mind to bring an indirect approach to problem solving, and the use of doodling to activate the unconscious mind, so much of problem solving involves the non-linear progression of thought. I live in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and we are an arts colony run rampant with what we call "Eureka" moments, in which coincidences occur, and unexpected connections are made.

You can't plan those unexpected connections, but they are essential to effective learning. A state of surprise generates a dose of neuro-hormones in the body that increase the level of attention, and thus  stimulate more effective learning. And those connections are most authentic and effective when they are unscripted, like when Archimedes discovered how to measure his own body volume by sitting in the bath and measuring the overflow. We know that he was so excited by his discovery that he ran naked through the streets to proclaim his discovery.

We will know that we've got schools functioning as they need to when kids are so excited about what they've discovered (not what they've been taught) that they will run naked (figuratively) through the streets. The act of discovery seem to be left out of the equation when it comes to American education.

Make, fix and create...