Saturday, July 04, 2015

Driving change...

Dale Dougherty, editor of Make Magazine and founder of Maker Faire was interviewed by KQED about the need that kids have to make things, and whether or not making should be included as the standard student fare. Can the Maker Movement Infiltrate Mainstream Clasrooms?.

Of course it can. But educational policy makers are infused with economic stupidity when it comes to education.They prefer to see children as machines that can be programmed, rather than as growing human beings with a basic need to feel deeply connected.

John Amos Comenius, father of modern pedagogy said it thus:
Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them.
The best, most educational, most developmental, and most energizing activity is that of making things. It is also instructive. But we put students in seats, and chart their development based on number of hours bored in schooling. Comenius, in the 17th century was right, and the solution is for all who have arrived at an understanding of the role of the hands in the development of character and intelligence to take matters into our own hands.

Dougherty notes that schools haven't changed much, but student's situations have. Now instead of making things and building with blocks and real tools and materials at an earlier age, children begin schooling with a tactile deficit. They may have played with all the latest technological devices but were allowed no real world experiences upon which to build a life in the sciences.

“Most of the people that I know who got into science and technology benefited from a set of informal experiences before they had much formal training,” said Dale Dougherty, editor of Make Magazine and founder of Maker Faire on KQED’s Forum program. “And I mean, like building rockets in the backyard, tinkering, playing with things. And that created the interest and motivation to pursue science.”

In my own work, I am rather pleased with progress on the tiny box shown above. When I could not locate brass rod thin enough to serve as hinge pins, I went to the hardware store and bought 12 gauge copper wire. When stripped, it's perfectly proportioned to a tiny box, and can be sanded flush.

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

Friday, July 03, 2015

a new tiny box...

I began working on a new design tiny box yesterday using inlay that I made last week. These are so easy that I know my readers will love making them. I also made 20 golden mean detector wands to share with my students at Marc Adams School of Woodworking later in the month. The boxes will be hinged with copper pins (with heads sanded off), and given an angular shape on the front. The detector wands will be used to provide insight into proportion.

The Golden mean detector wands are shown at left. To cut out the opening, I use a 1/2 in. square chisel mortiser, and then widen the cut to 13/16 in. Using the golden ratio always results in the use of irrational numbers, and 13/16 is about as close as I can measure to .809 in. with the tools I have in the wood shop. For those interested in the math, the aspect ratio is determined by multiplying the fixed width of the hollow chisel mortiser .5 x 1.618.

The wand is used by holding it up between the eye and the object and aligning its edges with the outlines of the object being viewed. If the edges align, the object conforms to the golden mean.

Perfect alignment is rare, as most designers consider adherence to the golden mean as being of less value than meeting other important design criteria.

In a sense, this is much like the rest of life. We can either shape things to match some intellectualized abstraction or to fit the real world.

Education, too, should fit the real world. Wood shop, anyone???

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, July 02, 2015


One of the questions that always comes up when I teach box making or furniture design concerns using the golden mean, based on a system of proportion derived from the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. The golden mean, also called golden ratio, or golden rectangle is assumed by some to have near mystical beauty of proportion and so some designers tout it as being supreme. So some years back, I made golden mean detector wands to allow my students to observe aspect ratio in common everyday things. Naturally they discovered that very few objects, whether we are talking about furniture or things of larger and smaller scale were made with the golden mean in mind.

The Golden Ratio: Design's Biggest Myth: The golden ratio is total nonsense in design. Here's why. This article tends to agree with my own findings that the golden rectangle is rarely used despite the hype, and that all kinds of wonderful things are designed without the least consideration of the most storied principle of design. 

So there are other aspects of proportion to consider that have greater impact on design than the fibonacci sequence. For instance, how does a box fit the objects it is intended to hold? How does the box fit the hand? How does it fit on the desk or on the shelf? Getting into the making and materials of the box, how does the thickness of the sides feel in relation to the size of the box? In making a lid, how is it proportioned to the rest of the box? Questions of design are innumerable, and the usefulness of the box is short changed when it is forced to conform to a flawed theory right off the bat.

Folks just love to come up with one size fits all theories of perfect design. Educational policy makers have been fiddling with education in the same way, trying to tweak it to be more efficient, based on simple formulas. The latest is that standardized testing can force compliance to educational standards. But education deals with real people who are damaged when their individuality and the individuality of their circumstances are not considered in what is planned for them. They learn too quickly that their own needs and interests are of little proportion in comparison to the demands of the system.

In box making, I came up with a simple proportion system, designed to get students making successful boxes, ASAP. I call it x +/- 2. In education, a simple set of ideals was described years ago in Educational Sloyd. Start with the interests of the child, move from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex and from the concrete to the abstract. To that, I add one more precept. Engage the hands in all learning. To engage the hands brings the child's full set of sense in play. To leave the hands idle makes schooling senseless and inefficient.

Make, fix, create and pass it on...

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

salt and pepper...

salt and pepper boxes.
I'm wrapping up photos and text for chapter 4 which consists of salt and pepper shakers and similarly designed boxes, all made by using a forstner bit to hollow the interior space. I plan to have 2 or 3 more chapters done in the next 3 weeks.

In addition, our 3rd Oneway lathe will be delivered at Clear Spring School tomorrow. It is exciting to make this sort of program upgrade. The Oneway lathes are more robust, and will therefore be safer for classroom use. This new lathe will also allow me to retire one of the Jet lathes put into operation in 2001.

I have a simple question. That we learn best when we learn something hands-on is nearly a no-brainer, not meaning that the brain is not involved, but that it is so deeply enmeshed in learning that its operation is seamless and unflawed. We can all think of times when we were so deeply involved and what we remember from it. And yet, when it comes to teaching our kids, we ignore the role their hands might play in effective learning. Does that make sense?

The purposeful integration of the hands in learning is the key to efficiency. But how do we lure educational policy makers to engage in revolution? Of course the key is to take matters into our own hands, for the hands offer primacy among the senses.
"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." – Comenius
Washington Post:  New research suggests nature walks are good for your brain  In the past several months, a bevy of studies have added to a growing literature on the mental and physical benefits of spending time outdoors. That includes recent research showing that  short micro-breaks spent looking at a nature scene have a rejuvenating effect on the brain — boosting levels of attention — and also that kids who attend schools featuring more greenery  fare better  on cognitive tests.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Early Childhood Education, now referred to by the acronym ECE was first invented by Friedrich Froebel who having lost his own mother at an early age observed the relationship between mothers and their children, noting in fact that the games that German mothers played with their children were educational. From that particular insight, Froebel invented Kindergarten. He was among the first to recognize the role of mothers in education, but also that it would best begin while the child was still in the mother's arms.

Here are three books that might be of interest to those who are beginning to understand that schooling, and particularly early schooling, should be more than reading and standardized tests.

Squandering America's Future Why ECE Policy Matters for Equality, Our Economy, and Our Children Susan Ochshorn
"This remarkable book manages to pinpoint the critical issues in the care and education of young children with up-to-date research, and all of this in a pleasurable and lively style. This needs to be read widely, and right away." -  Deborah Meier

What If Everybody Understood Child Development? Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives  -Rae Pica
"Rae Pica understands children.  With her wisdom and insight, she helps us know how to do right by kids in a world full of conflicting pressures.  Thank you, Rae, for this valuable book.  We need it now more than ever!" - Nancy Carlsson-Paige

The Emotional Lives of Animals & Children-Bill Crain
"In today's world, it is easy for us to forget how important contact with nature is for children's emotional and spiritual development. This profound and beautiful book reminds us and shows how contact with animals can foster children's compassion and enlarge their humanity." - John Robbins 
In the wood shop, I've been working to finish chapter 4 of the book on tiny boxes and playing with a bit of inlay for chapter 5, as shown above.

Make, fix and create...

Monday, June 29, 2015

der tichler

Through songs and Mother Play, Froebel's Kindergarten conveyed the importance of each individual within the culture. The joiner, was one of the craftsmen that he chose to illustrate. Note the hands at the top, and all the various things he has made.
Originally, Kindergarten was about more than getting ready to read and take standardized tests.

Froebel's Kindergarten was a time and place in which children were introduced to the various occupations that formed the basis of culture and community. By using hands, held in the manner shown at the top of the illustration, the child might grasp a sense of his or her own creative capacity.

One of my favorite illustrations from Mother Play is that of the Charcoal burner. The hands form the image of the woods stacked for the fire, and the shape of the charcoal burner's crude hut. Shown also, are scenes that illustrate the importance of the charcoal burner's work... in the warmth of the home and of the blacksmith forging iron. One of the elements of Kindergarten that was picked up by advocates of educational sloyd... creating a sense of the dignity of all labor.

We seem to have ceased to adequately celebrate craftsmanship and community in American culture. The solution lies in the exercise of our hands in the creation of useful beauty.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, June 28, 2015


It is lovely to be home in Arkansas after a full seven days of box making at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I started with a weekend class on making Scandinavian bent wood boxes, and then made boxes for five days with 16 students.  Each student went home with several boxes using various joinery techniques. Students in both classes learned new skills,  renewed creativity and gained greater confidence.

I 'm grateful for my assistants, Jerry Forshee and Doug Dale who kept my students safe during all their labors. This last week was amazing.

I will return to Marc Adams School on July 24 more days of box making. Students need not be experienced box makers to participate and learn from  either the weekend or week long class.

As I turn my attention back toward my current book projects, I wish to share an understanding of the relationship between Kindergarten and the hands. Each illustration from Mother Play, Froebel's book about games and songs that mothers could play with their children, has the image of a hand or hands at the top, and each song used the engagement of the the fingers, the hands and body benefit the child's understanding of community and the surrounding life to be found in nature.

And so Kindergarten was not intended as a time to prepare children to read. It was to prepare all children to live as human beings. At one time the central role of the hands in learning was unspoken, as it was abundantly clear to all that the hands were central to every facet of human life. Then mechanization and dehumanization began to take place, separating the hands from learning and from life to the point that the centrality of their engagement has become less clear.

If you played pat-a-cake as a child or with your children, you have Friedrich Froebel to thank for it. Click on the images to see them in a larger size.

Make, fix and create...