Sunday, May 01, 2016

at home in your bunny slippers...

Please, don't try this in your bunny slippers.
Yesterday, after bending wood for a box guitar, I changed my mind and decided to make ukuleles instead. Once you have wood ripped thin enough to boil and bend, the rest is easy. It does have to be the right kind of wood as some species bend more easily without breaking. One eighth inch thick Mahogany snapped when I tried to get it to take the tight bends required.

What you see in the photos above and below are strips of bent elm drying in simple forms. The boards clamped to the work bench held the forms in the vise as I bent and clamped the wood in shape. Each side is book matched to the other. There are more complex means to achieve the shape. But this works and is simple and direct. I'll let the parts dry for a couple days before taking them out of the form. The form takes only about 5 minutes to make so for today's bending, I'll make two or three more and allow the ones made yesterday to dry undisturbed.

The following link is to a study comparing active classroom investigation to lecture only classes. It calls for a revolution in the way learning is delivered in American schooling.

Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics

The U.S. Dept. of Education conducted its own meta-analysis of distance learning, and it found there was no difference in being lectured at in a classroom versus through a computer screen at home. The author of the study linked above notes: "If you’re going to get lectured at, you might as well be at home in bunny slippers." And paying a lot less for the "experience."

bending the sides for a ukulele
If we were to total the number of hours in which students have been taught to little or no lasting positive effect, and if we were to measure the full range of costs of such malfeasance, Americans would be demanding an educational revolution. To fix things, schools must become laboratories of investigation in science and in the arts. To bring about that change we'd best take matters into our own hands.

Some people might wonder how hands-on learning works, and why it would have a greater effect. The simple answer seems to be related to the structure and processing in the brain:
Human memory has been the basis for much research and speculation on how information is processed, saved, and retrieved. Researchers have identified two types of memory: short term and long term. During the past ten years, developments in memory research identified four separate memories within the long and short term. Just as a computer requires different microchips to handle screen memory, printer memory, computer language, and so forth, Adams (1976) identified separate memories each for auditory, visual, tactile, and body motor functions. This implies that any information that more fully utilizes all four memories would be stronger and more easily retrieved. Craik and Lockhart (1972) believed that memory is reliant on the depth that information is processed by more memories and strengthens the learning potential.— Korwin and Jones (1990)
When we do real things, involving the full range of senses, there is a  built-in redundancy of available memory processes, each supporting the availability of the other.

Make, fix, create, and offer to others the joy of learning likewise.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Korwin and Jones.

bending wood for a box guitar box
In my wood shop, I have been working on necks for box guitars and have three basic styles differing in their design and in their complexity to make. In addition I'll add fretted versions, and also use off-the-shelf fretted ukulele fingerboards that come ready made. With necks underway, I'm turning my attention to making boxes for the bodies. Some will be similar to those I made at school, including the classic "k" body. Others will involve bent wood, using simple techniques like that shown in the image above.

Several years ago I ran across a study that compared hands-on learning with lecture based learning, and then I misplaced my link to it without remembering I had posted it to the blog in December 2006. It is an important study as it directly compares hands-on learning with classroom instruction based on lecture and illustration. The results were a no-brainer, as any one with actual experience with their own hands-on learning would know. The study by Korwin and Jones: Do Hands-On, Technology-Based Activities Enhance Learning by Reinforcing Cognitive Knowledge and Retention? The conclusion reads:
The results of this research have significant implications for general education and specifically technology education. The results suggest that hands-on activities enhance cognitive learning. Previous studies neglected to address psychomotor effects on cognitive growth, even when many educational theorists, like Dewey, supported learning using psychomotor experiences. The results also suggest that technology education has a strong basis in learning theory in its use of hands-on activities to relate technological concepts. This is done in part by improving short and long term memory retention of in- formation through greater use of visual, auditory, tactile, and motor memory storage areas of the brain. — Korwin and Jones
A more recent study found that Not only are lectures boring, they are ineffective, too. 
“This is a really important article—the impression I get is that it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data,” says Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard University who has campaigned against stale lecturing techniques for 27 years and was not involved in the work. “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis—an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”
It is extremely unlikely that such research will change anything. Schooling is much more about the pretense that society cares about kids, and much less about bringing forth holistic values through education. At the beginning of the 18th century Comenius had described accurately how children learn. Nothing has changed. The children still learn in the same manner. The experts describe how children learn, and the policy makers go ahead with their own plans regardless.

The following is from Robert Keable Row's book, the Educational Meaning of Manual Arts and Industries, 1909:
Possibly the ideal kindergarten furnishes the best example of the true function of the school. In a home where the mother has been well prepared for the duties of motherhood; has time to devote to her children; to direct, to some extent, their play; to tell and read appropriate stories; to teach simple songs and melodies; to furnish suitable occupation in modeling, drawing, painting, making; to explain some of the simple facts and processes that come under observation; for children in such a home the kindergarten is unnecessary. However, there are countless thousands of children not blessed with such a home. For the children of the untrained mother who does not know how to do the things enumerated above, for those of the overworked mother who has not time to do them, and for those of the over-leisured mother who does not realize her highest, most sacred duties and privileges, the kindergarten is an inestimable boon in that it does provide in a regular, well organized way, many of those experiences. The real test of the value of the kindergarten is the extent to which it carries on appropriately many of those activities, experiences, that should come abundantly to the life of the child in good home and community surroundings.
For many parents in very "good homes", the gifts and methods of Kindergarten served to supercharge the development of their children, even without formal Kindergarten classes.  Educational sloyd in schools was of benefit to children in just the same manner.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

kids learn through all their senses...

My daughter asked me to compile a few extra resources having to do with hands-on learning, so here goes:
The following is from Susan Blow's book Symbolic Education, 1894 which I should note came well before Piaget described the steps in the development of intellect and well before studies of the brain provided a handle on learning that most current educational models ignore.
The greatest mistakes in education are rooted in the failure to recognize and conform to the different stages of natural development. Educational theorists are constantly pointing out this error; educational practice is constantly repeating it. Notwithstanding all that has been said and written, we still make knowledge our idol, and continue to fill the child's mind with foreign material, under the gratuitous assumption that at a later age he will be able, through some magic transubstantiation, to make it a vital part of his own thought. This is like loading his stomach with food which he can not digest, under the delusive hope that he may be able to digest it when he is a man. It is forcing the mind to move painfully forward under a heavy weight, instead of running, leaping, and flying under the incitement of its own energy and the allurement of its own perceived ideal.

Thus to load the young mind is a grievous sin; but we commit a yet more heinous offense when we insist upon the exercise of faculties whose normal development belongs to a later age. The child is sympathetic, perceptive, and imaginative, but he is incapable of sustained observation and repelled by analysis and logical inference. The very flowers he loves so dearly become mere instruments of mental torture when we constantly insist upon his analyzing and classifying them. The attempt to force a premature activity of reason can result only in the repulsion of his sympathies and the stultification of his mind.

But glaring as are our sins of commission, they pale before our sins of omission; for, while we are forcing upon the child's mind knowledge which has no roots in his experience, or calling on him to exercise still dormant powers, we refuse any aid to his spontaneous struggle to do and learn and be that which his stage of development demands. We paralyze the spirit of investigation by indifference to the child's questions, clip the wings of imagination by not responding to his poetic fancies, kill artistic effort by scorning its crude results, and freeze sympathy by coldness to its appeal. Thus remaining an alien to the child's life and forcing upon the child a life that is foreign to him, we sow in weak natures the seeds of formalism and hypocrisy, and so antagonize the strong natures that we tempt them to become intellectual and moral outlaws.

Susan Blow introduced Kindergarten to St. Louis public schools in about 1878 or so.

The following is from Barbara Clark's book, Growing up Gifted:
Although the growth of the metaphoric, holistic mind is available throughout our life— and when used, can be shown to result in higher feelings of self-confidence, self-esteem, and compassion; a wider exploration of traditional content and skills; and higher levels of creative invention — current teaching strategies, environments, and curricula neglect its use. Allowed at the beginning stages of the young child's learning experiences, the acceptance of this mind style disappears as we progress in school.
In other words, the experts know what's needed to reform education, and the policy makers continue to ignore best policy just as they did when Susan Blow was writing about Kindergarten. Kids of all ages and adults, too, need to be engaged in the use of all their senses. We learn best and to greatest lasting effect when we do real things, hands-on.

In the meantime, I've worked out a new way to hold guitar necks firmly as I rasp and sand them to final shape. One end goes in the vise or can be clamped with a large "c" clamp to the workbench or table top. The other end is supported by a long piece of wood, held to the peg head with another clamp. Having adequate support makes the process easier, more accurate and faster, too.

Having adequate hands-on support also assists in the process of educating both children and adults. We learn more easily, more quickly and to greater lasting effect when we learn through the engagement of all the senses.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

The metaphoric mind...

It would be convenient from an administrative point of view to think of the human mind as linear in its growth just as the dominance of the left brain building activities in schooling demands. (All the little children sitting passively at their desks, quiet, orderly, with the teacher in full control of their little minds.) My daughter is working on her grad school thesis to finish her masters in education and is interested in finding research that supports hands-on learning. At this point she has had experience in two schools, one that supports project based learning, and the other that did not.

Can you see how my mind just leaped from one thing to another and that these thoughts might be related, and that if we fail to investigate such relationships, we've failed to fully engage the powerful resources of mind?

It would be convenient in planning schooling to think of kids (as did Piaget) growing steadily and in order from one stage to another as though teaching has little to do with the arrival of student's rational minds. But teaching (and style of teaching) has a lot to do with it, and Piaget was looking primarily at the development of the rational mind, not the creative one, and not the one that engages the power of metaphor to thrust both the individual mind and human culture forward in leaps and bounds. The following is from Barbara Clark's Growing up Gifted:
It has been pointed out that what Piaget is really describing is the development of only one of our mind styles, the linear logical style of the left hemisphere. Also, the descriptors Piaget uses are valid only in cultures that have placed their emphasis on linear-logical thought processes. What about our other mind, the metaphoric, intuitive, holistic mind valued by Einstein, Bruner, da Vinci, Salk, and a myriad of other creative thinkers who have changed our culture? Samples (1975) suggests a hierarchy of metaphoric modes within which students at any age have the ability to perform. Through the use of these modes students were found to develop more comfort and ability in exploring concepts, ideas and processes in rational ways. The first, the Symbolic Metaphoric Mode, exists when either an abstract or a visual symbol is substituted for an object, process, or condition. By making the visual symbolism available, understanding can be achieved even by those not as adept at deriving meaning from abstract symbolism that is, by drawing or sculpting an idea one may understand the meaning and express it through the written word.
Do you have any ideas how the other mind with these other capacities might be engaged and nourished? Music would be one, art another. If you want to go off the deep end (relative to what's happening in most schools, consider wood shop.

As to my daughter's question there is actually very little direct research into the value of hands-on learning. All the great educational theorists proclaim its value, which the administrators and policy makers thence ignore. One bit of interesting research comes from Purdue.

I am trying to get my school wood shop in order for the end of the school year, and am working on box guitars, making necks. The photo above shows a peg head made to fit dulcimer/ukulele style tuning pegs.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

paulownia tomentosa

Paulownia tomentosa is a tree imported to the US from China that escaped into the wild.  Its lavender blossoms make it stand out in the forest this time of year in Arkansas and across the south. In fact, as I walked across the school campus yesterday, two teachers were admiring paulownia growing in the forest that surrounds the school and asked "what kind of trees are those?" Adults and children learn best when our senses awaken us and our lessons are drawn from real life and from the real world.

The day before yesterday, two students found a sick salamander and created a habitat for it, hoping it might recover. It did not, so yesterday morning, they asked if they could dissect it. I helped by supplying an x-acto knife for scalpel, pins for holding the skin aside and a board on which to pin the parts.

It was an unplanned opportunity for learning, and the excitement made the whole class seem like a single beating heart. They speculated as to the cause of death, but found the very tiny organs hard to identify. When the tiny salamander body was in shreds and they could learn no more from it, they asked if they could make a coffin and have a burial ceremony. So two students came to wood shop where I was cleaning and asked if they could build a tiny box.

As the students were reflecting on what they learned, choosing who was to do what, and planning the ceremony, I asked about the quality of the lesson, and why they were so excited about it. And the answer of course was that instead of it being planned for them, it was a lesson that arose spontaneously from their own interests and within the matrix of real life, involving the use of all their senses. At one point in the dissection, the smell of the salamander was so strong they left the room for a time, overwhelmed by their learning experience.

The role (and the power) of the senses is to confirm the reality, the relevance, and the importance of learning. The chart below is from Barbara Clark's book, Growing up Gifted and illustrates "how the effects of environmental stimulation strengthen the brain at the cellular level, leading to enhanced ability to learn and create."

The sight of Paulownias in the forest opened the curiosity of adult learners. A number of people in our local community have said, "Oh, the wisteria is blooming," not knowing that it's too early for wisteria and that paulownia blossoms are the same color.

Learning from the real world excites the curiosity and learning capacity of children in exactly the same way. The chart explains how some children become easily recognizable as "gifted," and why so many do not.

If we know that simple fact, and can accept it as real, why would we allow the proponents of standardized testing to isolate our children from the productive use of their senses? American education has become senseless and thereby ineffective. In fact, it's worse than that. It kills our children's natural curiosity and at the cellular level destroys their ability to learn and to create.

The formula for effective learning is simple. Invite the students to do real things. Engage their senses through music, the arts, wood shop, laboratory science, theater, field trips, and all those things that were whittled away to create schooling based on standardized tests.

Make, fix, and create. Extend toward others the capacity to learn likewise.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

at birth...

The following is from Barbara Clark's book Growing up Gifted:
The process of learning can be enhanced by increasing the strength and the speed of transmission or synaptic activity. Through changes in teaching and learning procedure, the growth of dendritic branching, the complexity of the network of connections among neurons, and the quantity of glial cells can be increased. These are the measurement differences in brains that show advanced and accelerated development. By the environment we provide, we change not just the behavior of children, we change them at the cellular level. In this way gifted children become biologically different from average learners, not at birth, but as a result of using and developing the wondrous, complex structure they were born with. At birth nearly everyone is programmed to be phenomenal. —emphasis mine.
The "strength or speed of synaptic activity" is a matter largely dependent on the full engagement of all the senses (and most particularly the hands). Educational policy makers developed schooling that prevents students from being as phenomenal as nature intends, by sequestering students at desks from real life. Only a few are recognized as gifted and talented, though nearly all started out with the potential to be so.

Friedrich Froebel had observed young German mothers at play with their children and made some connections. He observed that the period from 3 to 8 was largely neglected in schooling and devised Kindergarten to give children a leg up on the development of intellect. But by the time Maria Montessori developed her system of teaching young children in the early1900's, Kindergarten had been distorted to the point that as many as 50 children at a time were crowded into kindergartens and the individualized nourishment needed by each child had been made impossible.

Otto Salomon's methods, too, had been compromised. Take six or eight students in a classroom, allow the teacher time to answer each student's questions and demonstrate in a timely manner the student's next steps, and you get different results than you would if you crowd 25 kids in a class. Salomon was challenged by other educator's for his insistence that instruction be individualized for each student. Even then, policy makers were unwilling to invest the necessary resources to provide such an education.

The biggest question in American education is whether or not we want it on the cheap, thus depriving each child the opportunity to reach full potential, or whether we are willing to invest in the lives and intelligence of our children and our future generations. It is time for parents, teachers and grandparents to take matters into their own hands.

I was too busy in wood shop yesterday to take photos until my 4th, 5th and 6th grade kids were gone. They are making birdhouses. In my home work shop, I'm making guitar necks and taking photos of the processes for making 4 different styles of neck, each involving several distinct processes.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.

verbal

Barbara Clark described the situation with regard to the brain quite well.
The human brain is organized into four major systems with radically different structures and chemistry. Educationally, this organization presents some important considerations. Two of the four brain systems have no network for verbal communication. Because the integration of total brain function is the basis for intelligence, a test that measures primarily verbal communication as its sampling of intelligence may be seen as limited.
In other words, the standardized testing used in American schools, being so heavily reliant on verbal communication is a poor means of measuring overall intelligence.

Monday, April 25, 2016

G&T part two...

The interesting illustration at left is the use of the paired human hands, left and right held together as a model of the brain. No more fitting model for the brain could be imagined, for the hands and brain co-evolved as a system for learning, and as stated so clearly by Anaxagoras, man is the wisest of all animals because he has hands. The illustration is from Barbara Clark's book, Growing up Gifted.

The following is a list of identified gifted and talented types with some insight offered as to strategies to identify and teach each. Thanks to the Brainy child website.
The Type 1's are the most easily identifiable, and may account for up to about 90% of the identified gifted students in schools. They are the students who have learned the system and are well adjusted to society with a generally high self-concept. They are obedient, display appropriate behavior, and are high achievers, therefore, loved by parents and teachers. However, they can also get bored at school and learn the system fast enough so as to use the minimum effort to get by. They are also dependent on the system, thus less creative and imaginative, and lack autonomy.

The Type 2 gifted are the divergently gifted, who possess high levels of creativity. They do not conform to the system and often have conflicts with teachers and parents. They get frustrated, as the school system does not recognize their abilities. They may be seen as disruptive in the classroom and often possess negative self-concepts, even though they are quite creative. This is the group of gifted students who are at risk of dropping out of schools for unhealthy activities, like getting involved in drugs or exhibiting delinquent behavior.

The Type 3's refers to gifted students who deny their talents or hide their giftedness in order to feel more included with a non-gifted peer group. They are generally females, who are frequently insecure and anxious as their belonging needs rise dramatically at that stage. Their changing needs often conflict with the expectations of parents and teachers. These types appear to benefit from being accepted as they are at the time.

The Type 4 gifted are the angry and frustrated students whose needs have not been recognized for many years and they feel rejected in the system. They express themselves by being depressed or withdrawn and responding defensively. They are identified very late; therefore, they are bitter and resentful due to feelings of neglect and have very low self-esteem. For these students, counseling is highly recommended.

Students identified as Type 5 are gifted students who are physically or emotionally handicapped in some way, or have a learning disability. This group does not show behaviors of giftedness that can identify them in schools. They show signs of stress, frustration, rejection, helplessness, or isolation. They are also often impatient and critical with a low self-esteem. These students are easily ignored as they are seen as average. School systems seem to focus more on their weaknesses, and therefore fail to nurture their strengths.

Finally, the Type 6 gifted are the autonomous learners who have learned to work effectively in the school system. Unlike Type 1, they do not work for the system, but rather make the system work for them. They are very successful, liked by parents, teachers and peers, and have a high self-concept with some leadership capacity within their surroundings. They accept themselves and are risk takers, which goes well with their independent and self-directed nature. They are also able to express their feelings, goals, and needs freely and appropriately.
Gifted student types 2, 3, 4 and 5 are the least likely to be identified as G&T, the least favorable to include in G&T programs due to the challenges they offer, and the most in need of the kinds of special attention that G&T programs could provide if they were set up to help such students (though they rarely are).

And so, is it not the best strategy to assume all children are gifted and talented, even though those "gifts" are not the same and are not uniformly distributed? Often, children have troubles with particular skills like reading in school, that are merely due to poor timing. Their brains may simply not be developed in the same time sequence as their peers at the same age, and yet they are then forever branded, or self-identified as dumb, rather than being acknowledged for the gifts and talents they possess.

It used to be thought by many advocates of the manual arts that those who were not "gifted" in reading and writing would likely be gifted in other ways... perhaps in the wood shop. But with the destruction of manual arts programs throughout the US (with certain rare exceptions) non-desk skills and intellect are no longer held forth as an option.

Make, fix, create, and extend the vision that others may learn likewise.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

gifted

Yesterday two friends (independently) sent me links to a blog post on Old Motors, with this photo of a speedster in front of a shop offering Swedish Sloyd. The photo from around 1916, shows that some Sloyd instruction was offered in some places as a commercial enterprise outside formal schooling. A sign in the window indicates they also offered "outing" classes, which I assume referred to outdoor education... a thing also denied to most children today, even though the need for it has grown enormously.

On Friday in our school staff meeting we went through the student body, one student at a time, identifying the special gifts and challenges of each child. It was a way that we could discuss strategies through which we might better serve each.

The following definition is given for students labeled as "Gifted and Talented:"
Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
All but 8 states offer special funding for gifted and talented programs in public schools. All but 8 states make a special effort to identify particular students as "gifted and talented," and provide funding to provide individualized learning opportunities for certain children in school. But it is reasonable to argue that ALL children have particular gifts that will be neglected in schooling, and ALL students have the potential to develop talents that will not be nurtured in school due to the lack of individualized attention. The problems I have with the definition offered above is that it is left up to the child to "give evidence." Good teachers are constantly seeking evidence on their own if they are not overwhelmed by overly large class size.

Dr. George Betts and Dr. Maureen Neihart are the renown experts for establishing profiles for 6 types of gifted and talented students and although I may disagree with the label, "Gifted and Talented," far more students would fit than most schools would allow. This link, The Revised Profiles of the Gifted and Talented offers a key to identifying 6 types of G&T students and provides strategies for meeting their needs in school and at home. Types one and six in the chart are the ones usually selected for participation in gifted and talented programs because they are the ones most motivated to make such programs a success. School gifted and talented programs tend to do their selection at both ends and choose not to address those students in the middle that may be more difficult and challenging to serve.

The answer, it seems to me, is to offer gifted and talented education to all kids and to stop identifying only certain kids as being Gifted. If all schooling involves sitting endless hours at desks, rather than running, playing, playing music, creating art, learning directly from nature and building things in wood shop, how will students become talented at anything but taking tests?

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the love of learning likewise.