Wednesday, September 02, 2015

night work

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about boxes, and so in the wood shop, I made some. Black Elk talked about how one's dreams energize one's life, and that by acting out what we dream, power is drawn into our lives from the universal mind.

In my dreams, I had some trouble crystalizing what I was to make, so in real life, I made two designs and invite your comments.

The one at the left seems to reflect a classic Chinese design motif. The one to the right more classic modern, and might trace its design origins to Danish furniture craftsmanship. Both use the same router bits, with the initial molding being identical, and their difference comes from the molding being flipped.  What's right side up in one is upside down in the other. Ironically, the one at left appears larger than the one at right, even though they are exactly the same size.

Time magazine this week named a variety of things that schools could do to make themselves better for kids. One was mandatory recess at all ages.

Recess is like dream time, and power is drawn from detachment. How are we to know who we are and what interests us when we are overwhelmed by a constant stream of lessons in which we find little or no relevance to our own lives?

The reason I wake up in the night thinking about boxes is that I am passionate about making things from wood. Recess is not just about play. It IS a time in which materials are processed on neutral ground.

Some mornings lately, I've been finding it more difficult to write in the blog. Some say I write too much. But I insist that we come to our senses about how children are taught, and what they are to be taught. Those nincompoops who came up with the notion that we would live in an "information age," and have a "service economy" in which all things would be made in China should be called out and embarrassed for their stupidity. The control of American education should be wrested from their unskilled hands. Take sides and join me in revolution.

Dream, make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Trees and outdoor education...

The upper elementary students at Clear Spring School have been involved in outdoor education during the start of the school year and their particular focus has been on trees over the past week. Next week they will make cutting boards using woods that they have identified on campus, so they will learn something about grain, the working qualities of the woods, and to identify species and their potential uses. In other words, they will have a strong grasp of their environment and their interconnections to it.

If we were studying plastics and their uses, and what became of them when we were done with them, it would be a far less engaging stream of study, but it might lead us on a virtual adventure, from manufacturing plants in China to landfills in Oklahoma, and to the gyres of plastic detritus swirling at the centers of the oceans between continents. Those are important studies, but we must first learn to act and learn locally within our personal environments, before we take on the greater issues that trouble the planet.

One of the things that excited me as a beginning woodworker was to lay claim to the whole of the creative process, taking wood in its raw form, and crafting it to a finished object. The spirit of sloyd can be found in that. I can remember being given a piece of wood in 7th grade shop class and a sharp plane and being told to square its edges and flatten its face. The same will happen next week with my students.

At school I have been experimenting with various ways to make limbs for archery bows. I've laminated some, and have bent some using the boiling tank for making shaker boxes. I have also received brass knobs that I ordered for tiny boxes as shown in the photo above.

Make, fix, create... Help others to do likewise.

Monday, August 31, 2015

virtuous reality?

Can you imagine sitting around in classrooms with each student's face glued to a digital device? Socrative works cross-platform, so students can use windows or mac or their iPhones or other digital devices as the teacher scores their performance real time. So, being glued to a digital device for even longer than kids are now, seems to be the future that many in Silicon Valley have in mind for our children.

Time magazine got in trouble with some of their readers (those who are propelling us into a virtual world) for using such a dorky image of virtual reality on its cover. Those proponents of VR like to think of their field as sexy in some way. Not what you see in the image above.

We are past due for a revolution in learning. But the gifts of the digital age are not all they are cracked up to be.

Education must be fully dimensional. What's called one-sided education is where children are systematically fed a collection of formulas and facts, whether by book, lecture or machine, and then measured through abstract testing to determine whether or not those formulas and facts have been successfully inculcated.  (Inculcate means to instill through persistent instruction, and is not be confused with real learning.) It should be noted that there is very little that's virtuous about the virtual world. Kids are often engaged in video gaming in which the moral structures of the real world are not in place. Then they may become addicted to distraction by their engagement in these devices and literally sequestered from engagement in real life, and of no real use, even to themselves.

One huge irony is the success of Montessori schools in Silicon Valley. Many who are closest to the development of the technologies sold to the rest of us, would prefer to send their children to schools where they learn hands-on with real materials rather than the virtual stuff.

Virtuous (in contrast to virtual) reality, develops both character and intellect through the making of useful beauty. I am experimenting today by laminating parts for bows so that our kids at school will be able to make their own archery sets.

Make, fix and create... see that others have the opportunity to do so, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ozarks Mini-maker faire...

A First robotics team from Camdenton
Yesterday I went with a friend to the Ozark Mini-Maker Faire in Springfield, Missouri and took advantage of the trip to swing by Grizzly Tool Company. My friend and I managed to buy two small drum sanders from the scratch and dent section of the store, so I've added a fresh tool to my woodworking adventure. 

Paper making with kids
The Maker Faire was well attended and had plenty of schools and small factories represented.  Kids and parents were excited. I consider it somewhat unfortunate that there was no woodworking offered at the fair.  It would have been a great opportunity for Grizzly Tools and others involved in woodworking to capture and lay claim to a fresh generation.

Kids who have had an opportunity to do woodworking may draw upon the experience for the rest of their lives.

Last night we wen to a concert by the Eroica Trio. Their performance was sublime, and an expression of joy. Should we not each find such pleasure in our work?

Make, fix, create, and incite others to engage in the quest for useful beauty.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

learning from the experimental

Vacuum tapering jig
Sometimes things work as we expect or hope, and we learn nothing from the situation. Other times we fail dismally, and we hit the books (literally) trying to find answers to what went wrong. Yesterday I tested my jig for ripping tapered veneers for archery bow limbs. It worked to perfection.

My experiment in using the vacuum bag to glue the veneers, on the other hand, was a disaster.  Since I am making these from greenwood, I learned from my mistakes that common wood glue is of no use with damp wood. So, I switched gears and methods. I went back to form and "C" clamps along with Gorilla Glue. I also learned that six flexible tapered strips is too many. The limb was too stiff for me to bend. With the next test, I'll try only three layers instead of six and see how that works. If any of the kids are strong enough for a more powerful bow, we'll try four.

Today I'm going to Springfield Missouri for the Ozarks Mini-Maker Faire.

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

the schooled mind...

The interesting thing is that most folks know the truth of what follows, but neglect to do anything about it. Schooling appears out of control and too large a vessel to turn in such a narrow port.
Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags. ― Ivan Illich Deschooling Society
But had the Titanic arrived safely in port, small tugs would have maneuvered it to the dock where the passengers and freight would have disembarked in fine shape. Most of those who are past the age of 30 will know that they've learned far more out school than in it, and that real life and the experience it offers, beats artificiality hands down. In fact, I was at the dentist this morning, and my hygienist was explaining this to me.

And yet, we do little to make schooling  and the "education" it entails representative of real life. Children, like adults, learn best when they are challenged to do real things.

Today in the Clear Spring School wood shop, I reworked my vacuum tapering jig to cut thin slices of wood for making bows. The laminations bend best when the individual strips are tapered, so I've set the jig to hold thin stock during the ripping process. One end will be 1/8 in. and the other 1/16 in. A shop vac supplies the vacuum to hold the stock against the jig.

The last time we made bows at Clear Spring School the laminated limbs were too stiff, so as an experiment and to enable the bows to be used by younger hands, we'll vary the number of strips used in the laminated limbs.

And so, what is the answer to schooling? If just a a small tug can turn a large vessel, the hands can tug upon schooling. Put the hands in play. Devise a strategy that is based on the understanding that the head, heart and hands must be engaged in order for schooling to reach the level of effectiveness that our children deserve.

Make, fix, create. Enable others to do likewise.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

finally getting somewhere...

I'd been at work on boxes that turned out to be overly complicated in design, and then made a slight change of course, turning this design into a "lift-lid" box. I had a very simple box in my Basic Box Making book that had a great deal of appeal to readers. Tell me, will this have the same appeal?

You will note that the turned walnut knob has not yet been installed, and I've ordered brass knobs from Lee Valley that will be used on some of them. The woods used are sycamore with its lace like quartersawn grain pattern in the body of the box, with spalted maple in the lid.

The idea (I hope) is that my readers will take to this box, and enjoy making them as much as I do.

In the school woodshop yesterday I began preparing materials for students to make bows and arrows.

"The University of Virginia announced a new five-year program that will award graduates both a bachelor's degree in engineering and a master's in teaching." Perhaps that is a sign of a growing recognition that making should be returned to k-12 education.

On the other, engineering implies an interest in having others make, and may not indicate the ability to actually make something of useful beauty with the skills at hand.

Froebel's distinction between gifts and occupations should be informing us in the decisions we make about education today. The gifts were used by the children then put back in their boxes unchanged. The idea of the gift was to change the understanding in the heart and mind of the child, to incite curiosity about learning, and observation of life. We should adopt that same understanding of technology. Kids can learn from their devices, but if they don't do anything tangible as a result of learning, then their learning is what educators once called, "one-sided".

The occupations were to give children creative, transforming power through which they, too, were transformed.  The distinction between Froebel's gifts and occupations was based on the recognition that education was not just what went into the child in the form of lessons and information, but must  also be  balanced by what comes out of the child in the form of tangible expression, in which each child discovered ways in which they could participate directly in community life.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise...