Monday, April 27, 2015

Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead was a British Mathematician and philosopher whose famous work  Principia Mathematica was co-written with his student Bertand Russell. That book was one of the classics of the 20th century.

And so, where are the great thinkers of this day? We seem to have been overrun in the sphere of education by middle management.

Whitehead had said in his essay on the Aims of Education,
In training a child to activity of thought, above all things we must beware of what I will call “inert ideas”—that is to say, ideas that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combinations.
That's where the hands come into play, for as Charles H. Hamm had noted, the mind seeks the truth but the hands discover it. Utilizing, testing, and throwing into new combinations is what the hands do best under most circumstances.

This Friday we have a Wisdom of the Hands fundraiser, 6-8 PM in the home of Susan and Jim Nelson, here in Eureka Springs. If you are interested in attending, you must RSVP. You may do so through my email address in the sidebar at upper right.

As you can see in the photo I am making progress on the bent wood boxes, adding part of the wooden hinge to each of the lids. Next will come the hinge parts affixed to the back of each box.

Make, fix and create...

getting serious about math...

The following is from Number Sense and Nonsense, Understanding the Challenges of Learning Math by Nancy Krasa and Sara Shunkwiler
Although the ingredients of age-appropriate informal math education are becoming clearer, little is yet known about what constitutes age-appropriate formal math education. As the National Mathematics Advisory Panel noted, in their 2008 report, no scientific data yet support one curriculum over another. Moreover, there has been little scientific evaluation of mathematical pedagogy.
Lids for bent wood boxes
Given the lack of evidence as to which approach works best, you can see the mess we are in.  Schools may inconsistently pick and choose between various methods. Students moving between schools, or even between classrooms and grade levels in a school, can find a variety of instructional techniques applied, with little correlation assured. Add to this that students within grade levels in the same school with the same methodology applied will not all be at the same developmental level. If a student misses something along the way, for instance, multiplication, or fractions, there's no easy way to catch up to the level of fluency enjoyed by his or her peers.

Since schooling is in part a sorting operation in which some students are pushed into the sciences, some into academia, and some into trades, from a societal standpoint, it may not have made much difference before whether all students were brought to a proficiency in math. But why should some students be left behind if there is some means through which all might be brought to a higher level of interest and confidence?

We have adopted a new curriculum at Clear Spring School that helps us to make certain that no child is bored and that no child is left behind. To top it all off, it's hands-on. (Which should come as no surprise, for that is truly how we learn best.) The results of using Math-u-see have been good on two levels. First students are enjoying math, and secondly, their progress and confidence are showing up in other classes, for instance, science and wood shop.

A third point that should be considered it that if students have been taught in various methods, it is difficult to determine whether math difficulties are the result of poor teaching, or of some other kind of actual disability, that would be easier to diagnose and treat if teaching methodology as the cause could be ruled out.

In my primary school wood shop class on Tuesday, we were using a tape measure and pencil to mark wood to length. In the past I had trouble getting first and second graders to recognize fractions on the tape measure. On Tuesday they immediately understood the position 5 1/2 in. on the tape. I was surprised and asked our lead math teacher why. I learned that they had been studying odd and even numbers and had learned that you could divide even numbers into two equal groups, but that in dividing odd numbers one would be left over and needed to be cut in half.

So without understanding fractions yet, they understood the half inch mark on the tape.

By having a consistent approach, at least within our school, as students progress from one math level to the next, independent of grade level we allow students to move freely at their own pace and in conformity to their level of development. This can be accomplished by having all students do math at the same time, taught by every available member of staff. Would that work in a public school setting as well?

As a woodworker, I ask, how many wood working errors are math errors that could be avoided if we each had greater confidence in math? In the wood shop, I've begun putting lids and hinges on bent wood boxes.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, April 26, 2015

food for thought.

Finland has one of the highest rates of school literacy, and one of the very lowest amounts of time spent in instruction. That indicates a high level of efficiency in teaching, and a low waste of student time in boring and repetitive tasks. As I've noted before, by delaying reading until age 7 or 8, the Finns surpass American readers in 30% less time. Add to that the fact that Finns between ages of 7 and 15 receive fewer hours of instruction than the international average, and we can see that there are some lessons to be learned.

Here in the US, we have requirements that students spend over 1000 hours in school each year, with the exact standards being set by the various state boards of education. For instance here in Arkansas, public schools are required to have 170 days of instruction with 6 hours of classroom time per day. That's a whopping amount of time spent with too little to show for it. This information flies in the face of those who think we'll fix American education by extending school hours and having more of it.

In reading and math, students are routinely passed along from one grade level to the next beyond their level of comprehension. Repetition for those who have missed something, means boredom for the quick learner.

The 10,000 hour rule states that it commonly takes 10,000 hours of intense engagement in something to attain a level of mastery. By the time students in American public schools pass through to graduation, they will have spent over 12,000 hours with no mastery in sight.... that is, unless they have taken the time on their own to develop their own interests and intellectual resources, or unless you consider mastery of sitting complaisantly at desks a worthy goal of learning.

Adding bottoms to bentwood boxes
So, what else do children do that might offer hope? It has been estimated that by the time a child reaches the age of 7, they will have spent the equivalent of one full year of 24 hour days watching screens of one kind or another. By the age of 8, they will have surpassed the 10,000 hour threshold while having accomplished very little in the area of expertise.

So, between schooling and screen time, and schooling screen time as schools become more and more reliant on passive on-screen learning, we're going nowhere fast.

What's the fix? When I visited at the University of Helsinki, I also visited the university wood shop where masters degree candidate Kindergarten teachers were learning to teach wood working. It is a shame we do not have such high standards in the US.

I have been giving some thought to how Math-U-See might be used in a public school setting. The interesting thing is that it is designed for successful teaching by parents, and therefore, trained teachers are not essential, particularly in the lowest levels. If a public school was to do what we do at Clear Spring School, and have all the students do math at the same time and at the level of their success, all members of staff could be involved to make certain all students have the individualized attention required to attain mastery of each level and advance to the next. That would present new opportunities for staff collaboration, and student mastery of math.

Make fix and create, and provide our children the opportunity and encouragement to do likewise...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

new bent-wood boxes

 As you can see, I'm making significant progress on my new design of Scandinavian bent wood boxes. My Norwegian ancestors would be pleased, and this is great preparation for my summer classes. Each box will be a slightly different shape, and each will be clearly hand crafted. What could be more lovely than a unique box, each invested with both creativity and ancestry.

This weekend, the Eureka Springs Indie film is being held and I happen to be in two films. The first one is about my Wisdom of the Hands program and was financed by the Historic Arkansas Museum and the Arkansas Department of Humanities. The second film is feature length and is called Eureka, The Art of Being. It is about the artists of Eureka Springs and the arts erving as the foundation of community. Both will be shown tomorrow.

There are two ways in which American public schools are graded. One is that letter grades are assigned as a means of reporting and measuring progress. The other is that student progress from one number grade to the next as a description of where they are in the educational process. At Clear Spring School, we are moving into an ungraded position, in which students will not be in a grade, nor will they be assigned grades. The point is to escape artificial constructs and do authentic assessments that represent students having done real things.

Yesterday the lead attorney for my small environmental organization, Save the Ozarks, made a final filing before the Arkansas Public Service Commission asking for a rehearing to demand that the Commission side with Save the Ozarks and compel the utility, SWEPCO, to pay legal fees. The utility was obviously waiting for us to make the next move, as within 7 minutes, they had filed their own motion for a rehearing to demand that damning evidence of their misbehavior be stricken from the docket and from being heard by the Arkansas Court of Appeal when we make our next move. We are also drafting a settlement proposal that would open the door for the utility to adopt a more generous stance toward our local community.

Make, fix and create...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Math we see.

Testing Newton's second law of motion.
This year at Clear Spring School we adopted a new math program intended for home school students. It takes the students hands-on through a series of workbooks and manipulative objects, starting from the very basics through Algebra, at their own pace.

The program is called Math-u-see. The program we've used to implement it at all grades is unique. Each classroom teacher, regardless of subject has taken on supervision of a level. With math-u-see, you don't have to be a college math major to teach the more basic levels. So we have math at exactly the same time for all students, and they can proceed from one level to another by simply moving from one group to another. In other words, students can work at their own level and at their own pace and become fully fluent in one area before moving on to the next. No student is ever moved beyond their mastery and no student is bored.

The result has been that the students have learned to love math, and have been asking that they be allowed to continue Math-u-see during the summer months. The levels are not strongly identified with grade level, so there is no stigma (nor is there glory) attached to the student's particular math level.

For some schools, and for many students, this approach to math could be revolutionary.  I believe I am already seeing results in very simple things... like the ease with which my students in first grade can measure and find the half inch marking on a tape measure.

One clear point is that math is basic to so many other things. I also witnessed a clear result of our student's new math proficiency and confidence as our upper elementary science students tested Newton's second law of motion as shown in the photo above.

Make, fix and create...

Bent wood boxes...

Copper tank for boiling thin strips of wood.
 I have begun making a few small bent wood boxes of a new design. These are  inspired by Scandinavian bent wood boxes (Tiner), but will have one flat side and shop made wooden hinges. I start by boiling strips of wood in a copper tank, using a hot plate as the source of heat.

When the wood has softened enough to bend without breaking, I roll it into shape and clamp it while it cools and dries. Tomorrow I will fit backs, and use copper tacks and Gorilla Glue to secure the back corners. Then I'll make bottoms, lids and hinges to fit.

Bent wood for small Scandinavian boxes.
I plan to make some very small ones for the tiny box book, but in the mean time, this offers me some practice for my classes this Summer in making Scandinavian Bentwood boxes.

Yesterday in school wood shop, I introduced a visiting student to the lathe, and helped various students with personal projects including Ozrick's knife.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

letter grades...

 This last week letter grades were assigned to every public school in my state of Arkansas  based on a measurement scheme of academic progress. Of course there is incredible stupidity in that. Not all children start at the same position in the race. Some are handicapped by poverty, and by social irregularities like crime and abuse. Most often these cases of tragic irregularities are clustered in smaller geographic settings, and the schools in those areas do their best at enormous cost to the teachers involved. To all this, I say, eliminate the poverty and see what happens next.

This story in the following link is of a school near my own town in Arkansas: Giving Excellence a D: when school accountability grades fail. In it we observe the consequences of the continuing application of the administratively progressive mindset described in the paper I linked earlier in the week, "How Dewey Lost." That paper explores David Snedden's ideas for educational reform, as managed from the top down. It involved school grades, and test scores as a means of managing schools to become more like industrial concerns.

Here in Eureka Springs, the public middle school and high school were given a "B" and a "C" was awarded at the elementary level. Clear Spring School as an independent school was not subjected to grading.

Yesterday I turned ring boxes and managed to take enough photos of the process to complete the first chapter of a new book, making Tiny boxes. Years ago, when told I needed to write something, my mother suggested that it is best to write about something that I know. That would be good advice for others to adhere to. Develop knowledge first and then write. Learn first and then share, rather than share ignorance like a social disease.

In my own case it works to my advantage. I make things, take photos of the actual process and then write about it from the standpoint of actually having done so. For others, not so well, as they can get carried away despite their lack of understanding. For instance, my first and second grade students brought me a book they were reading that involved a wood carver. They liked the book, but one student pointed out a serious error in it. The craftsman was carving delicate feathers on an angel wing, and was using a large gouge and mallet to do it. His mallet was drawn back for the next strike. My student noted, "If he hits there like that, he'll break the whole wing off." If the illustrator had actually done some real carving first, such an error would have easily been avoided.

Is it not amazing that my students would have more real knowledge about how to do real things than the illustrator, author, editors and publisher of a book intended for children? What kind of letter grade can you give that?

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

today in the wood shop...

This is earth day and what can be a better way to celebrate our dependence on the earth's abundance and our responsibility to protect it than by making something lovely and useful from wood? When we use wood to create beauty, we instill in others a sense of its value and may help to shape their willingness to offer protection to our forest resources.

I have been very excited about making tiny boxes, and wake up in the middle of the night thinking about various designs. The possibilities are without limit and as I have been at this a while, I have a large repertoire of techniques and styles at my fingertips to excite my creativity. I also have an advantage as a teacher of watching my students solve problems in woodworking. Their creativity is often a source of amazement to me. I learn from the experience of watching them create...

Today I will turn a couple satellite ring boxes on the lathes at school, and if a new router bit arrives in the mail, I'll continue making pen boxes. I found that my old core box bit that I bought over 30 years ago is a bit dull for the task. So a replacement is on the way.

The tiny box that has me most excited at the moment is one made with bent wood and with a wooden hinge. Once I get a box like this clearly in mind, it is difficult to set it aside until I have made it in real life.

Yesterday one of my students finished her shoe rack. It is completely of her own design, and while it is not something you would find in a furniture store, it's not something you could find in a furniture store. It's unique, and it was taken home with great pride, as it was something she made by hand, and labored upon with great care.

One of the functions that woodworking can serve in schools is that of allowing students to learn as they seek real solutions to tangible problems. If you've several pairs of shoes to keep neat and want a rack to keep them organized? Take a saw, a hammer and some 1x4's and make it. But the real value of the object made by the student is not the object itself, but is in the heart and mind and capacity of the student.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

boys, knives and turned boxes...

Making boxes for pencil, scissors and cards
I went for a walk last evening, and found two of my students on a front porch hunched over a grinder as sparks flew. One wore an over-sized pair of glasses to protect his eyes as he took his turn shaping a knife from solid bar stock.

I must take some responsibility for the situation, for they are my students, and I have played a role in shaping them as makers, just as they themselves were shaping the 1/4 in. thick bar stock to reflect what they had drawn from their own imaginations. Of course I can't take too much credit for the impulse to make and give shape the materials at hand is an important part of the human experience. We can ignore it. We can repress it. Or we can give it power and release and watch the child's growth as he or she takes charge of it.

Finished desk boxes.
Satellite ring box
Today, we continued the experience of crafting wood into useful objects.

On the tiny box book, I have been making very small satellite shaped ring boxes on the lathe, turned from maple.

On another interesting note, manufacturers are beginning to claim that we no longer own the things that we buy, and that therefore we are not entitled to fix them, particularly when it comes down to the software that makes them run. The idea seems to be a thing they have learned from the sale of software. By buying something you will have a license to its use but not the right to fix it should it go awry.

Make, fix and create...