Sunday, June 25, 2017


It will take months to get the ESSA wood studio into its final form. We still have machinery arriving. Storage shelves must be built. And general organizing must be done.

Yesterday I assembled small  pieces of PVC pipe, nesting one inside the other to connect the compound miter saw to a dust collector. I was thinking at first I would have to craft a special part from wood to connect the 1 1/2 in. outlet port on the compound miter saw to fit the 2 1/2 in. dust collector hose, or order something and wait for UPS.

Instead, I found the solution right at hand. I took two pieces of electrical conduit of two different sizes and carefully fitted one to the other and then to the dust collector hose. It is gratifying when the immediacy of observation and imagination replace waiting for the arrival of the UPS truck. Best of all was that my solution used pipe left over from making tool holders for the lathe room. If not for my use of them they would have been thrown out, and my solution required less time than searching google for the right part.

 I also finished sleds for the table saws but for the first cut which will be made when my students are in the shop on Monday morning. The rack my volunteers and I made for pipe clamps works just as I intended.

Today I'll continue organizing the shop. What I do in preparation for Monday's class will serve other instructors as well in the finished shop.

Make, fix, create, and increase the odds that others love learning likewise.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

a free book? I'd like friends to win. offers a free excerpt of my new book Tiny Boxes, and you can sign up for a chance to win a copy by using the rafflecopter link at the end of their blog post.

The excerpt describes how to put a lift tab in a pen box as shown in the photo. The tab presents an elegant way to open a box. The same technique is useful for other design boxes as well.

Good luck! I hope that one of my readers wins.  Two copies of the book will be given away.

Richard Bazeley in Australia sent a link to a wonderful free woodworking resource online. It was once well known that woodworking was a form of child's play. This book is based on Froebel's Kindergarten philosophy that recognizes the value of play. Play in the wood shop is suitable for adults as well.

A reader noted that the same problems I've discussed in the blog concerning reading also apply to math. Children having been forced into abstract instruction in mathematics before they are ready feel inept and tune out for the balance of their schooling. Woodworking is an activity that builds math readiness, but it seems our educational policy makers are inept and have tuned out. If we want our children to be smart and have the fine character associated with craftsmanship, we'll need to take matters into our own hands.

In Steven Palmer's beginning woodworker's class at ESSA this week, the students were delighted with what they had learned and with what they had made. The new wood studio (with the exception of a few small equipment glitches) was enjoyed by all.

Today I'll begin setting up the ESSA wood studio for my own class beginning on Monday.

Make, fix, and create.

Friday, June 23, 2017

the problems educational policy makers do not want to fix.

The problem is cheaping out. The wealthy will pay huge amounts to send their own children to schools where the student-teacher ratio is more favorable, and their children can associate with their own kind.

They choose to cheap out when it comes to the education of others. We could as an alternative, invest more in raising families out of poverty and reduce class size across the board. Instead, educational policy makers put their energies and billions into useless schemes that do nothing to advance American education. We had "No Child Left Behind." That left millions behind. We had "Race to the Top." That never reached it on any level. Now we have "Every Student Succeeds," for whatever good that does us.Through a system of vouchers the current administration plans to turn American education into a cash cow for it wealthy clients.

In August 5 through 6, the Froebel Society will hold their annual conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I will not be able to attend, but there should be a big buzz to the conference this year due to screenings of material from the documentary film project The History of Kindergarten. A huge amount of useful information will be presented for educators who want to make use of the child's natural capacity to learn by doing real things.

I will remind my readers again that the original idea behind Educational Sloyd was that manual arts would provide Kindergarten style learning to the upper grades. It was discovered also that manual arts are useful in the lower grades, and for all students.

When I visited the University of Helsinki in 2008, I got bored with the conference I was attending and wandered into the University wood shop where students working on their masters degrees in primary education were learning to teach wood working to children as young as Kindergarten and first grade. In the US, masters degree students would be learning how to force reading on the very young.

You can't push a rope. You can pull one. But when push comes to shove as it does in forcing a kid to read, jamming the words in before the child is developmentally ready to read is not only a waste of time, it shatters the child's self-esteem and kills the child's enthusiasm for school. It can take years for a child to recover from such abuse. Woodworking can be a way for a student to discover he or she is smart, even when the reading regimen suggests otherwise.

Forgive me, if there are times when I feel like screaming. The photo above is of children saluting the founder of Kindergarten. But who will celebrate the educators of today? To give children something to celebrate will require a revolution.

My thanks to Scott Bultman for having sent me some newly available images of Kindergarten. I love the oversized Froebel balls hanging from the ceiling, a salute to gift number one.

Make, fix, and create...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

size matters.

Last Saturday in a discussion of public school, one of my students started to place blame for the problems in public education on teachers. There may indeed be teachers who are burned out. There may indeed be people teaching who are frustrated with the profession. There may indeed be teachers who were poorly trained. There may indeed be teachers who are less qualified. But the vast majority have good intentions and apply themselves diligently in circumstances that are far less than ideal. They are expected to overcome systemic obstacles that are insurmountable.

The two primary obstacles that children face in education are well documented. The first is that the number of years children face living in poverty is a primary determinant of their educational success. Help to lift children out of poverty and educational attainment will rise.

The second is that too many children in a class tie the teacher's hands. Class size matters. When my mother was a kindergarten teacher in the Omaha Public Schools, she would feel greatly relieved at the beginning of the year if her class was as small as 25. Her classes had been as large as thirty, and she knew the difference that 5 extra students could make. It was not just that an extra five students made more work for her. It was that the extra five students diminished her capacity as a teacher and diminished the amount of attention she could give each one and the families from which they came.

This is not rocket science, or the theory of relativity. This is something that's easy to understand if you've been given the blessings of both mind and heart. Some educational policy makers have not received those gifts.

Today one of my blog readers will be making a presentation in Indiana on the necessity of Career and Technical Education (CTE). He will use some photos from Clear Spring School to make his point. My point in that is that every child should receive it. They should each become makers in their own right. What we do with our hands informs the mind and determines its character. If we want our world to be a better place, we must empower our children (all of them) to create.

Make, fix, and create. Insure that others learn likewise.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

advocating for smaller class sizes

At the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA) today,  Woodworker Steven Palmer will begin a class with six students. I'll check in during the day to take photos and to deliver pipes for pipe clamps. Yesterday I got the dust collection system assembled just in time for the launch of today's class. For the balance of the week I'll prepare for my box making class at ESSA that begins Monday, and clean my own wood shop to prepare for an article for Woodcraft Magazine.

Fine tuning of the new studios will take months, as we need to develop storage for tools and supplies, and we will still have new equipment arriving over the coming month.

Anyone who thinks class size does not matter in education is a nincompoop. Divide the teacher's attention by one more student and the time he or she has available to others is diminished. Does it require a brain to know that? Can we not see that for a teacher to have 12-15 students in a class might be just enough?

At Marc Adams School of Woodworking I had 18 students and 3 assistants, making certain that each student got the attention required for safe work. Careful supervision and instruction are particularly required when students are doing real things as they (in a real world) should be expected to do. If you want to know more about class size, go to Class Size Matters, where they've collected enough research to convince even the most reluctant of educational policy makers that class size matters (but experience observing the long history of educational policy makers suggests that will not be the case).
"Reducing class size is among an even smaller number of education reforms that have been shown to narrow the achievement gap. Its benefits are particularly pronounced for lower-income students and children of color, who experience two to three times the gains from smaller classes.

"Smaller classes have also been found to have a positive impact on school climate, student socio-emotional growth, safety and suspension rates, parent engagement, and teacher attrition, especially in schools with large numbers of disadvantaged children."
The new Federal legislation on education (ESSA) Every Student Succeeds Act, has the same nickname as our local school of the arts. Not to worry. The way federal education legislation comes and goes, it won't be around long enough to compete for the use of the name. In fact, for states to use Federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act to reduce class sizes, will require evidence of positive effect. The whole of Federal education policy is so closely tied to standardized testing one must wonder if its a plot. We had no child left behind. Then we had "the race for the top." Now we have Every Student Succeeds, and that will not be the end of federal foolishness.

In the meantime, teachers all know that class size matters. Parents should be brought up to speed on the notion, and schools should be required to stop cheaping out.  We should invest in education like our future depends on it. In actual fact, it does.

Make, fix, create and increase the likelihood that others love learning likewise.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


An example of student creativity.
I will resume getting the new ESSA wood shop ready for classes today following my week at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. To get the dust collection set up in the machine room is my primary objective. I also need to make sleds and router tables, and begin arranging some of the new tools that have been ordered.

Getting all arranged in the classrooms will take time.

I have had students ask where else I'll be teaching this summer. My weeks at ESSA are June 26-30 and July 24-28. On August 7 through 11 I'll be teaching box making at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in Manchester, Connecticut. For readers on the East Coast, there are still openings in the Connecticut Class. Join me there if you can. Each student will gain confidence in creativity and technical expertise.

Reports are that our first woodturning class at the Eureka Springs School of the Arts was a great success. Our next scheduled class in the lathe studio will be a class by nationally known woodturner Judy Ditmer. Class enrollment is limited at 8 students guaranteeing the instructor's personal attention to student growth.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Oh, if this was but a game, we could clear the board and carefully place the pieces and start over. But it is not. Educational policy makers and politicians have made such a mess of American education. Ideas and patterns have become deeply entrenched, and the politicians keep hammering away at it, most often from the wrong direction.

I am intrigued that as toddlers, some will begin walking as early as 10 months, and others as late as 13 and pediatricians tell their parents, not to worry. We know that to walk requires the development of two things, (not necessarily separate things) the brain and the body. Not all children develop at the same pace. But when it comes to reading, parents and teachers are programmed to panic if their children are not at their proposed "level" when they're in first grade. The stupidity of that is enormous and destructive. Not only do schools then have reading experts to apply special attention to those kids who do not measure up, some children learn to hate reading and form a resistance to it.

Do we think that children past the age of 5 no longer have variations in the rates at which their minds and bodies mature? Or do we know enough about the variables of human development to understand that developmental ranges widen rather than narrow and that academic success may be denied to many children simply because the pressures of their schooling denied them the gift of receiving the right stimulation at the right time? I suggest that we ease up on the early years (and all the years), allow children to play more in school, feature things for them to do and allow academic success to come in its own time. Let's allow for the late bloomers.

I watched 60 minutes last night and they featured a chess program in Franklin County, Mississippi in which the game of chess has been introduced to elementary school children as a means of assisting their academic success. The program is remarkable. Chess has transformed much more than school. Many of the children play the game on and out of school, and have been made aware of their intelligence. Many now want to go to college, an idea that would never have occurred to them in the past.

The point is that there are very many wonderful things to do in school other than fill out worksheets. The children in Franklin County, Mississippi are going home with chess, not homework, and because of their enthusiasm for it, get much more than homework worksheets could provide.

There are any number of ways that schooling can take advantage of real life to capture the child's attention and interest. Music is one, making useful beauty another. How about dance? It appears that chess is another. Are our children not worthy of the investment?

Make, fix, create and offer others the opportunity to love learning likewise.