Sunday, August 31, 2014

spooky talk and kerf bent boxes...

This article on ancient American woodworking tools, has a small section kerf bent boxes as made by tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Using hand tools, they were made tight enough to hold boiling water and in a variety of sizes. This article also sheds light on the process.

I am planning my Tuesday morning introduction to woodworking for my 5 first grade students.

My wife and I went for a walk yesterday morning and the reason for my having dreamed that I was caring for a tiny baby in the wood shop became clear. Years ago I made a cradle of cherry that I later wrote an article about in Woodwork Magazine. The cradle became the one that my wife and I loaned out to friends, and the first child to have used it was the son of the founder of Clear Spring School. At this point, the cradle is once again on loan to the same person and her husband as they wait for the arrival of their first grandchild on or about September 15.

And so on  our walk, we ran into our friends unexpectedly and they turned about to walk with us for a ways as we caught up on each other's lives.

Is it too spooky for my readers to consider that the infant I dreamed about caring for in my school wood shop would be the first grandchild to sleep in the cradle I had made so many years before?

When we started the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School in 2001, one of the goals was stated as being that of helping the children to understand the interconnectedness of all things. When your experience of the world grows from the touch outwards, and through the integration of all the senses, you begin to sense the world as an interconnected wholeness. From that vantage point, even the dream lives of separate persons can intertwine.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

infants in woodshop?

Last night I had an anxiety dream in which I had a very tiny baby wrapped up in a blanket in the wood shop. It kept rolling off the pad on the floor where I was to keep it safe. I know this may have been brought on by my having 5 new first grade students to introduce to the wood shop at Clear Spring School. On Tuesday I plan to break the group of 5 down into two smaller groups to go over safety and introduce them to their first use of tools.

Things will be much more convenient for all of us this year, with the school wood shop being dead center of the school campus.

Yesterday, the upper elementary and middle school students worked on tree cookies, and showed enthusiasm for their work. It seems that with kids and adults occupied in the virtual world for so much of the time, their response to doing real things is palpable.

One of the best things about being at the center of the school campus is the opportunity to more closely fulfill the mission of the wood shop. The idea is that what's done in wood shop doesn't stay in wood shop. Items of useful beauty are to be taken home to tell the important story of learning, and are to be used in school to build a state of intense curiosity. Working more closely with the student's regular classroom teachers will build greater usefulness to those things that we make in wood shop. For instance, we're using tree cookies to build an interest in autobiography, but also learned of a composer who uses a turntable and laser to play music directly from discs of cross-sections of real wood in various species.

After making tree cookies, our students were excited to hear the work of  Bartholomaus Traubeck his music played directly by a turntable, laser and piano synthesizer. Yesterday the students wanted to take their finished tree cookies home. They were proud of their work. We had to tell them, "No, we still have use for them in school."

Make, fix and create...

Friday, August 29, 2014

connect with learning the old fashioned way

NBC news finally did a program on hands-on learning, as though it is new news. Program Encourages Kids to Build, Play the Old-Fashioned Way

Thanks to David for alerting me to news segment. Building things is an important component of hands-on learning. Taking things apart, dissecting, mixing, baking, and music are also important building blocks for engagement. And yet, in American education, educational policy makers insure that students remain bored and complacent, rather than actively learning.

This is the first day of the 14th year of the Wisdom of the Hands program at Clear Spring School. My students made tree cookies and will use them as a both an exploration of science, and an outline for writing their own stories. It was particularly pleasant to have shop in my new location at the center of the school campus.

These students of mine have unbounded enthusiasm for the wood shop, and went right to work. They kept coming up to me asking me to admire what they had done. I had sanding stations set up to lead them through the various grits. We used plastic nail in feet to make them useful as trivets or coasters.

Make, fix and create...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

new shop

 I have my new wood shop/classroom almost ready to go and will have my first class in the morning. I particularly like my new pegboard tool carts, that allow me to put tools aside when not in use,  and to make the best use of a smaller space. I still have my desk, upper unit, and cabinets to move next week, but had to get things organized to this point first. Moving shops from one space to another is like a trip down memory lane as I rediscover earlier projects hidden in drawers. For instance I have blocks made from maple and walnut that are intended for students to draw. I plan to use them to train my woodworking students in the use of sketchup.

My students are very excited to be back in school and all are particularly excited about wood shop.

I received a copy of the October issue of Wood Magazine in the mail yesterday, including my article on making 4 different styles of lift off lid to fit a box made by their tools editor Bob Hunter. Watch for that magazine at your local book store. It includes my technique for inlaying rocks in a table top or box.

Make, fix and create...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


 Yesterday was a big day for classrooms in the Stowe family. At Clear Spring School, friends and co-workers helped to move the benches and large tools from the old school wood shop to its more central (though smaller) location on the Clear Spring School campus. My shoulders are a bit sore from heavy lifting.

In New York, my daughter was shown her new classroom where she will teach middle school science and math at Booker T. Washington Middle School (MS54) in the upper West Side of Manhattan.

Yesterday, also, in going though comments for the blog, I realized I'd missed a few including one from Teresa, concerning my mother's Kindergarten classroom. You can read her comments in yesterday's blog post, Cookies from down under. If I had a photo to share of my mother's classroom, you would find a stark contrast with the sterile environment made necessary by having up to 33 students in a middle school class. My point is not to criticize, but to simply suggest that the richness of a classroom experience is based in part on the richness of the classroom environment.

When Kindergartens were first introduced in the US, they had a profound effect on the whole of education. Primary school teachers realized that their own classrooms might offer greater warmth for learning, rather than a cold and emotionally chilling environment. As a result, the movement began in which teachers decorated with bulletin boards, classrooms became gaily decorated, and student work was put proudly on display for all to see.

My daughter today is working to bring some visual warmth into her classroom. I will be working from the other direction, attempting to bring some order to the chaos resulting from the move.

Make, fix and create...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

cookies from down under...

olive wood
Richard Bazeley has been cutting tree cookies in his own school in Australia. these small slices of wood are an excellent correlation between wood shop and science classes, and if a kid becomes interested in science as a result of doing something real in wood shop, no harm is done by having such opportunities available.

In fact the greater harm is done by having children learn about science without ever learning to do science. As I've said so many times before, you can't successfully whittle a stick without using scientific method, and so the wood shop is the perfect launch site for the future of scientific engagement.

The other thing that this project demonstrates is the usefulness of the teacher's enthusiasm. Richard plans to offer a plate of cookies for examination by other teaching staff when they have their morning tea. I have some small tack on feet that will go on the underside of our tree cookies that will turn them into small coasters or trivets.

This simple project is also a good demonstration of the appropriate use of technology. Richard and I have been exchanging photos taken with iPhone and iPad, and so while most schools are trying to figure out ways of excluding such devices from the classroom, they are just tools.

Just as one would learn the appropriate care and use of the hammer or saw, children must learn the appropriate use of more advanced technologies.

Tree cookies of various species are beautiful!
I received a wonderful remembrance of my Mother as a Kindergarten teacher, which may explain why I find Kindergarten to be the most wonderful age in schooling. Each and every year should be as memorable as Kindergarten, and Teresa wrote:
I came across your blog after talking to my own kids this morning about my wonderful kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Stowe. I was in her afternoon class in the fall of 1973. At 46, I still have so many memories of being in her class. I was telling my children about the tee-pee that we had in our class and the clay pots we made like Native Americans. There was an alphabet rug on the floor and everyone sat in a circle on the letters. We learned a lot about letters! I remember a time we had a full carnival in our classroom, just for our class. She passed out popcorn and we had a great time! We got naps back in those days and every day I would lay so still, so quiet because the kid who was the quietest, got to use the clown puppet to walk around the room and wake everyone up, one by one. What a privilege that was! Your mom was a special woman that leaves behind a legacy of excellence in teaching. 

Make, fix and create...


Monday, August 25, 2014

tree cookies...

This is the first week of school at Clear Spring School. The kids are returning for goal setting conferences today and tomorrow, and will begin classes on Wednesday. Tomorrow we move the benches and large equipment into the new Clear Spring School wood shop (its temporary location). All the students and parents are excited that the wood shop will be at the exact center of the school campus, and I am excited about the extra collaboration my new location will offer.

Our first project in the upper elementary/middle school will be to make what one teacher called "tree cookies." By counting along the rings on a piece of wood, you can create an outline of your own life, noting important years, seasons and events.

I tried making large cookies from old walnut, but found that the wood was so old and had been so slow growing that it was hard to count the tiny rings and there were far too many of them to be relevant to the students' own story lines without delving deep into the history of their town.

So I cut into a piece of hackberry that was cut last winter, and found that it has enough annual rings to go back to the birth of each student. To make cuts like this on the bandsaw takes great care, a tight grip and a sled to hold the round stock square through the cut. The tendency is for the round stock to twist, jamming the blade and ruining it. The sled gives a surface against which the round stock can be tightly gripped.

Wood and human beings are both narrative forms. While we tell our stories in the form of words, either written or spoken, trees record their growth in the form of annual rings. Where there's a knot, there had been a branch, and if there had been a drought or season of wet weather, the rings of the tree remember and can be read, just as one might read a book. Our upper elementary school teacher plans to use the tree cookies to get the children to outline their own lives and the important events that took place within them and then to use that outline as the basis for autobiography.

Make, fix and create...