Tuesday, April 25, 2017

action figures...


Yesterday we made caped action figures in wood shop, inspired by the student's study of "community helpers".... people who make our small city work for the benefit of all. I prepared for the lesson by making some caped action figures of my own. One is super librarian, made in honor of the librarians that keep our wonderful Carnegie Public Library in service to all readers.

The second was in honor of Friedrich Froebel's Charcoal Maker. I read students the poem from Mother Play about the Charcoal Maker and told how the Charcoal maker, frighteningly covered in soot, served an important role in the community and deserved the childrens' respect.  As the poem describes, the charcoal he made was essential to the blacksmith, and for keeping homes warm for the children inside.

One student made a hospital worker as shown. Another made an action figure in honor of his step-father who is such an important influence in his life.

I hope this lesson also helps my readers to understand a bit about how we plan projects. Making a model is essential in helping the teacher (me) to work out the process in advance and to provide a concrete example as the starting point of the child's labor and creativity.

Their main teacher had laid the groundwork for this project by arranging field trips to visit a variety of helpers in our small community. For me to know what the students were doing in their classroom studies helped me to select a project that would be in context.

The upper elementary students were so intrigued by what the younger students had made, they came into the wood shop saying, "I want to make one of those, too!" And so they did.

Part of the inspiration for this project came from a tiny hand powered Singer sewing machine. I wanted the students to have something to sew, and a small cape provided a beginning project. The students had made wooden dolls earlier in the year so they already knew a bit about the processes for the wooden part of the project.

Make, fix, create, and extend the opportunity for others to learn likewise.

Monday, April 24, 2017

finished chest.

Yesterday I applied a first coat of Danish oil to several things I've made recently, including the tool chest shown in the photos here.

It's a pleasure watching the wood change color as the finish is applied. It becomes darker and more reflective, and assures me that the object will be better protected in use.

The cherry in this chest will darken to a richer red-brown from exposure to light. Months from now, the rest of the box (except for inside) will be the same dark color as the turned knob. The inside and the tray will darken too, but at a much slower rate unless I leave the box open part time, allowing the inside to catch up.

My first, second and third grade students have been studying "community helpers." I am interested in having them make super-hero action figures complete with sewn capes, representing such important community helpers as our local librarians, teachers, mothers, and fire fighters.

So this afternoon they will make wooden figures and learn to sew capes using the tiny Singer Model 20 sewing machine that I acquired for use in the class. Depending on how things work out, I may have photos of local action figures tomorrow. I expect it to be fun for me, and I hope it interests my kids. In order to prepare I'll make a few super hero models of my own.

A favorite figure I plan to make is based on Froebel's "charcoal maker" illustrated in his book, Mother Play, or Mutter Und Kose Lieder. The charcoal maker at that time was someone Froebel's students would meet and be frightened of as he came from the forest looking wild and covered with soot. Froebel's song, illustration and finger play would tell the children he was no one to fear, but instead had an important part to play in the wholeness of life. I'll also make a librarian.

I know some of my readers are interested in guidance for the selection of projects for kids to make. The first thing is to make whatever you plan to have them make yourself. This helps you to foresee any problems they might have with regard to holding stock or safe operation of tools. It also provides a model for them to follow.

Allow your teaching to be organized not by models but by growing experience in the use of various tools. Salomon had devised a set of models, but most of his followers saw only the models, not the underlying exercises in the safe use of tools that he also described and upon which the models were based. His model series were systematically arranged according to a series of exercises that were to build the child's skill and understanding just as Froebel's gifts were to be systematically applied.

At this point, having done what I do for so many years, my cupboards contain projects that we've done in the past. There are boats, toy cars, trains, puppets, boxes, tool boxes, and many practical things that kids can make. The kids see those things and want to make them (or not). But whether you've made something as an example for them to follow or be inspired by, or whether you've pulled something from the cupboard of things made in the past, a part of the theory of Educational Sloyd applies: Move from the concrete to the abstract.

The point of Kindergarten as it was first invented, was to introduce the child to the wholeness of real life, not to get a leg up on the competition through increased emphasis on reading, standardized testing and academics. Educational Sloyd shared that original intent.

Make, fix, create, and inspire others to learn likewise.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

paperfuge...

Yesterday I sanded boxes to send to Appalachian Spring Gallery, and today I'll apply Danish Oil to a variety of projects that have been waiting for it. With my income these days being balanced between writing, teaching and making, the selling of work gets pushed to the back burner. In addition to oiling boxes, I'll take breaks to clean the wood shop at school, and to work on a product review and an article for Fine Woodworking. Unless I get distracted from all that.

My daughter, teaching chemistry and physics in New York City, marched in the Science parade in New York, and her sign, acknowledging both her position as a teacher and the importance of science in all things, brought new friends. My own spirits are lifted by a generation that will sooner or later send us back in the right direction and reverse the efforts of the Trump administration. I hope we once again protect our air, water, lands and forests from corporate predation. Corporations are NOT people, have no soul, and must be controlled by regulations to prevent them from inflicting huge irreparable damage on the planet.

My daughter alerted me to two new science tools. One is the origami microscope that can be bought for a dollar and that folds to fit your pocket. Another is the use of the button toy model to make a paper centrifuge or paperfuge.

We've made hundreds of button toys in the wood shop at Clear Spring School, but never thought of them being for something so important. But why should it be any surprise that a toy might serve as a model for a useful tool? Toys are tools for learning, and are most effective when children have made them themselves. The sound of the paperfuge at work is one that my students know

The seesaw that the students and I made at Clear Spring School continues to be the main attraction at recess. There are nearly always 4 students on at a time, with one or two standing by for a turn. Is it because they'd never seen seesaws before or because they had taken a hand in the making of it? I know the latter to be true.

Make, fix, create, and enjoy helping others to learn likewise.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Happy Earth Day...

Scott Bultman has a new trailer for the History of Kindergarten project, and it now includes short b roll views of some of my students at work. https://vimeo.com/214080852/5b3a212cdf

I found it lovely to see some of my student's working represented in this important project.

One of the questions that Scott asked me to answer in my interview had to do with the relationship between Educational Sloyd and the rising maker movement. My point was that the maker movement is a wonderful turn of events that would be enriched by an understanding of its place in the history of manual arts education. Makers have a sense that they've arrived here fresh, that they present something new and vital, and that manual arts training is something old and no longer essential. From that narrow view a rich history and depth of purpose may be missed.

This being Earth Day brings part of that important story to mind. Woodworking in particular, working with very basic tools, as simple as a knife, can provide an intersection between personal creativity and the natural world that surrounds us and upon which we depend. In a maker space, the student is surrounded by manufactured materials and processes that tend to be far greater than arms length from the natural world.

A simple way to think about Educational Sloyd, comparing it to the maker movement would be to think of organic and natural vs. inorganic and chock full of artificial ingredients. Woodworking is one of the ways that students engage in an exploration of materials drawn directly from the natural world. As children spend  more time on the artifice presented by their high tech digital devices, an exploration of the natural world through the child's personal manipulation of natural materials and expressions of personal creativity are far more essential, not less so.

My youngest students love to give me things, and the image above is what Joe called "organic wood." It has a nail carefully driven home at each end. Evidently, the term organic (for Joe) refers to wholesome materials, simple and pure to which no bad things have been done.

Today, scientists are gathering in Washington, DC in a march for science. Some scientists have been concerned that speaking out will cause them to lose voice. The following is from the organizers of the march, with whom I agree.
“In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, we might ask instead: can we afford not to speak out in its defense? There is no Planet B.”
Donald Trump will no doubt celebrate Earth Day by removing more of the carefully crafted regulations designed to protect our environment. As we near the 100th day of his presidency, he can lay claim to having destroyed more of the regulations intended to protect the planet, and put more of the environment at risk than any other president to date.

Happy Earth Day. May we all work toward living in a world in which no bad things have been done.

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


Friday, April 21, 2017

odd mail...

I received an odd piece of mail yesterday. It was a request for sources for the brand of hinge that I reviewed in a recent issue of Fine Woodworking.

But what made it odd was not the subject nor the sender, but that I received it at all. As you can see, it was addressed not to my address, but to my type of work.  "Mr. Doug Stowe, Boxmaker and Furniture Maker" is not an address but an occupation.

Where else but the small town of Eureka Springs, where I've lived for the past 40 plus years, would postal clerks actually deliver mail with such an insufficient address?

The envelope contained a stamped/self-addressed envelope, which is now on its way to an address in Indiana.

The Vertex round stopped hinges that inspired the Indiana woodworker to write me are available from Rockler.com and from Woodcraft.com

 I have written many times of the wonder of small town life. It may not be for everyone. Folks can get on each other's nerves. But when a piece of mail arrives in such an unexpected manner, it reminds me to feel a sense of belonging in this place.  It is wise wherever you are to plant your feet and make an investment in community life.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others learn and grow likewise.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

call to makers.

We are developing a gallery section for my box guitar book, and if any of my readers have favorite makers to suggest, please submit contact information to the comments section below.

The book have a section in the gallery about Ed Stilley's guitars as well as work by another local maker, Ron Lutz. My emailed call for guitars brought an immediate result from an old friend Zeke Leonard whose guitars are lovely as you can see.

In the meantime, progress continues on the new wood studio at ESSA, and shipping of the work benches will be today.

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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

starting with the interests of the child

I was contacted by a man interested in starting a woodworking program who had read some old books about Sloyd and was surprised (it seemed) that we at the Clear Spring School are not following a model series. He wanted to know if I knew of anyplace in the world where Sloyd was being practiced as it was and as represented in the old books.

I explained that it would be a violation of the principles of Educational Sloyd if it was. I attempted to explain my own program as follows:
No, I do not claim to be following Sloyd, but rather attempting to utilize the philosophy of Sloyd, outlined as follows.
  • Start with the interests of the child.
  • Move from the known to the unknown
  • from the easy to more difficult,
  • from the simple to the complex and
  • from the concrete to the abstract.
As with most models (sloyd itself is a model), there are problems that emerge when slavishly applied. Salomon saw sloyd as a "casting mold" from which better models would emerge. Or in other words, he saw it as a step in a process.

But what happens in all models is that adherents adopt them as though they are the last word. Sloyd should be the first word, not the last.

So starting with the interests of the child, what he knows, etc, the models or the 19th century are not necessarily what a child in the 21st wants to make. I could work to come up with my own model series that would be just as out of touch if I am truly attempting to consider and continuously reconsider the interests of the child.

So my own teaching requires flexibility, some negotiation, and a lot of individual attention to each child.
I've gotten requests from teachers who want me to share a “Clear Spring School woodworking curriculum.” I have a philosophy instead, that attempts to utilize the principles of Educational Sloyd.
I am sorry if this philosophy does not give a clearer starting point for teachers interested in starting programs. The important part is to simply start. Just as the student will learn by observation, so does the teacher. Choose some very simple models of things your child would like to make, remembering that at first you and your child will know very little about what it takes, the skill involved, or the steps. For that starting point, some of the old Sloyd models from the books can be of clear use.

Mike Mascelli, one of my fellow teachers at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, suggested that my students would love learning to sew. He suggested the Singer Model 20 as being the ideal machine to get them started. It was originally sold as a "toy" but one that does real sewing. My first, second and third grade students will start today. When one little girl saw the machine, her eyes lit up. "Doll clothes!" she exclaimed.

Make, fix, and create. Help others to learn likewise.