Fidgeting and Hand Skill

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There’s a lot of outrage about fidget spinners right now. Some teachers are saying ban them! Other teachers are saying, Let students have them.

It’s a stupid argument.

Remember yo-yo’s? Finger skateboards? gear-powered spinning tops? String powered spinning tops? How about Rubik’s Cubes which made a comeback a couple of years back? Wind-up cars that did tricks?

Fidget Spinners have a place and a time in children’s hands.  And as some of you know, one of my mantras or principles is that What the Hands Do, the Mind Knows.  But here’s the thing.  If you don’t want the latest finger-toy-de-jour in your classroom, then you have to find other ways to put those hands to work, learning actual hand skills:

  • teach calligraphy
  • teach knitting
  • teach drawing
  • teach geometry with an actual ruler and compass
  • teach the use of a slide rule or abacus
  • teach the building of automata (cogs and gears)
  • teach carpentry and build yo-yos, finger skateboards, spinning tops, and fidget spinners.
  • teach contact juggling
  • teach juggling
  • teach beading
  • teach woodcarving
  • teach origami
  • teach flint-knapping
  • teach ceramics throwing on a wheel
  • teach students 3D geometry through the assembly of nets of the Platonic solids.
  • teach color theory and coloring at a more advanced level through color pencils.

The fidget spinner is an outward and visible sign of an inward need — a need for the hands to learn something.  Kids’ hands fidget because they’re of an age to want to do something, not just sit still.

(And I KNOW that we’re not making them sit still in schools — that they’re doing personal practice as well as listening, reading, writing, reflecting on their work and all that sort of stuff. That’s not what this is about).

Human beings need to use their hands. We learn things through manual dexterity, through touch, through manipulation of objects.  Our constant rejection of the toys-de-jour, be they yo-yos or balsa wood flyers or paper airplanes or fidget toys is part of the reason kids don’t learn as much in school as they could.

So if you want to fidget-spinner proof your classroom… figure out WHAT tool or hand-skill you want your students to have, learn HOW to teach it, and then TEACH THAT.

#edcampswct follow-up


During the last session of yesteday’s #Edcampswct (see about what an Edcamp is), I led a discussion on MakerSpaces and Maker Programs.  I want to summarize what points I made there, and provide links to deeper insights on those subjects; and make a few further points that I don’t think I made in the time allowed, but were on my mind.

Here are the key points, which are further summarized below (@MrPerraultGES took a photo of my notes):

  1. Visual Thinking
  2. 2D makes 3D
  3. Tools Make Tools Make Things
  4. What Hands Make, Mind Knows
  5. Recycle and D.I.Y.
  6. Space Requirements
    1. Tool Storage
    2. Materials Storage
    3. Project Storage
    4. Workspace
    5. Input/Receiving
    6. Archive Process
    7. How-To Library
    8. Repair (and Sharpening)
    9. First Aid
  7. Best Practice vs. Liability
  8. (And to these 7 steps  I’m adding—
    1. Games and Game Playing
    2. Past vs. Future Orientation )


2015 in review

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WordPress makes it possible for me to post their annual report to me to my blog.  If you’re interested in the contents of the report, you can click below and see it.

A couple of important highlights. Thanks to Christina, Robert, Stacey, Lisa, and Topher for being the most frequent commenters. Thanks to Gordon, for being my most frequent source of new readers that aren’t from Facebook, Twitter, etc, and for the continuing visits from the Artofmemory folks.

My own sense of the top ten posts of 2015 is here.


Millennials Challenges


I’ve been thinking about the Millennials — that is, the generation that pretty much came of age and entered the workforce as the Y2K panic was ending.  I was 10 years before that, so I think I belong to the prior generation.  But a friend of mine was sharing an article on Facebook about how spoiled and incompetent they are, and I thought to myself, That doesn’t really ring true to me. (Even Business Insider said something different about it).

When I thought about it, I realized that I could think of four things which might have had a serious and detrimental effect on their growing up and their early education.  I don’t mean to suggest that these things mean that  Millennials are spoiled and incompetent, or to suggest that these are the reasons that Millennials should be called spoiled and incompetent.  I’m simply pointing out that there were four themes or ongoing changes in America at the time that the Millennials were in school, and that maybe, just maybe, these had an effect on them.

I should also say that I haven’t really researched these yet, and this is very much a back-of-the-envelope estimation; I could be off by 4-8 years in my guesswork.

Here they are.

  1. The end of Shop, Home Economics, Drafting, and other technical classes.  Outside of technical high schools, most American schools bought into the idea that ‘everyone must go to college’.  As a result, schools began to shut down their technical classes, sell the drill presses and band saws.  This coincides with a wave of retirements for shop teachers; the guy who taught my shop class retired in 1982… and I think he’d started working at my school the year the school opened, as well, in 1961 or something like that.  Retired, or transferred, and never replaced.  Given what I do these days, that’s a big one — but it also strikes me as a major blow against kids developing practical experience in mathematics.  I learned weights, measures, angles, volume, and more from Home Economics and Shop and Drafting… and I don’t think I’d understand them today without that initial training.  Eliminate these classes, and you’d eliminate that practical, hands-on experience.
  2. The dramatic increase in testing. I remember sitting for two major examinations when I was in junior high school and high school: the SSAT, for admission to a private high school in 10th grade; and the SAT, for admission to a college.  I took that exam in 11th and 12th grade; the SSAT in 9th.  There were also AP examinations in 11th and 12th grade.  On average, tests consume about 20-25 hours of school time, or about three weeks of a school year, plus prep-time and review. I don’t even think I took the SSATs or SATs during the school day; the AP exams were a half-day at most, and they were final exams for college-credited classes (sorta.)
  3. The Rapid Expansion of Cable Television.  As Cable Television came online, and the number of available channels climbed, it came to be that reading, which was the first or second most important leisure activity in the country, became the fifth or sixth; and despite Harry Potter and the Books of the Restricted Section, (who wouldn’t read that one??) and all its actual sequels, the quality of reading material for young people has gone into a steady tailspin.  Come to think of it, the expansion of cable came at the expense of not just bookstores, but also newspapers — who were losing revenue even before the Internet really exploded on-scene in about 1996.  So the Millennials were the first generation to experience massive changes to the reading experience as a major form of entertainment.  And this has presented major challenges to literacy-as-a-skill in the same way that eliminating shop classes was a major challenge to numeracy-as-a-skill.
  4. The Information Firehose. Milennials, it seems to me, were the first generation subject to the Information Firehose.  (A superhighway has always struck me as the wrong metaphor — on a highway you travel fast… but on the Information Superhighway you go nowhere… everything comes at you immediately… rather like a firehose).  The textbook companies made the textbooks for every subject enormous; I had flimsy, 200-page textbooks for most of my classes in high school. I still have the 256-page textbook on the ancient world from 10th grade —jam-packed with diagrams and black-and-white photos on how to tell a krater from an hydria, how to tell a Minoan palace from a Mycenaean fortress, and how a Roman legion was organized.  The text explains in detail how Rome became a Republic, then a Dictatorship, then an Empire… and how it fell.  By contrast, the same era of history in the current textbook my school uses has 12 pages, explains nothing so detailed as what I’ve just explained, and has well over a thousand pages on all cultures and histories.  I’m not saying that we should study Greece and Rome to the exclusion of all other histories… but we need to explore some elements of history in greater depth than current textbooks do, so that students have something other than a 30,000-foot view of the past.

In any case, there’s the four areas in which the Millennials have been subjected to a quite-different regime of learning and education than the generations that went before them.  And I think that these may be signposts, as it were, pointing to what may have gone wrong.  In each case, there’s someone who profits from the new system — testing companies, cable companies, insurance companies and textbook publishing companies — and the results of the changes are subtle and longterm, far too long-term for most principals, superintendents and even some teachers to observe them.

However, the consequences of these changes are long-lasting, and I think that we haven’t seen the end of this particular set of rabbit-holes.

Tai Chi Y4D180: What is coming

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I did druidry in the little room off the kitchen this morning: the rite of the pentagram, and the central ray exercise, and some meditation.  Then, in the office, I did tai chi: two tai chi forms, and twenty-five pushups ( I could/should have done thirty), then two more tai chi forms, then Five Golden Coins, then two more tai chi forms.  That’s two tai chi forms less and one qi gong form less, than what I think of as my overall goal.  But it felt like enough.  I was decently sweaty by the end, enough that I didn’t sit right down and write my entry; I wanted to shower first.

After showering, I walked a few blocks to my coffee house (which is, by the way, the best in New England).  It’s really the first Sunday of autumn here in the US, which means that churches are going back to their fall schedules instead of being on the ‘light summer attendance’ schedule.  I could hear the bells of Saint Sebastian’s in the distance, and lots of people were going into the Congregational Church (which is built of Portland brownstone in an English Perpendicular style, with stained glass. John Calvin would be horrified).  Inside the coffee house, the heathens were busy telling religious jokes and musician jokes (“What’s the difference between a trombone and a ’57 Chevy? You can tune the Chevy.”).

The work of willpower that I talked about yesterday, and Gordon’s cogent reminder about the power of links to shape the Internet, has suggested that there’s value in reporting about not just what I did, but also what I’ve been reading.  And that means, just as I have used this to keep a record of what has happened, I should be thinking about where we’re going.  To that end, I offer a couple of cogent lessons in willpower.  Here’s an emerging 16-year-old celebrity chef, an article I found while reading about the emergence of Chaos Magic as a trend in fashion design. I don’t understand how those two things combine yet, but maybe I will someday soon.  The image of the “Walled World” came up yesterday in something that I was reading, and I think that everyone should see this image, and consider how the recent refugee crisis in Hungary plays into this — part of this wall has been breached, and it has long-range consequences.  I don’t want to say that those consequences are all bad, either. But neither do I think we should just assume it’s happening a world away; when one wall is breached, it’s usually the case that the whole wall falls sooner or later; the Mexico wall is the one that Americans should think about carefully, because even if it’s built a la Trump, it will not remain long.  Perhaps it would be better to consider what it means to be the sugar or the milk in the tea, what it means to be a minority in a land of many interacting cultures.

Along those lines… we also need to be more aware of our own internal walls. There are realities which we are not comfortable confronting. And it doesn’t help that the business world is working to privatize information and pools of skills that used to be open to all. Our emerging Internet of Things (IoT) is actually built upon the assumption that we can be robbed by the makers of said IoT infrastructure.  Here’s this bit about how copyright law makes it profitable to convince you to throw away ink cartridges that still have 20% of their ink volume in them:

Eleven years [after a 2004 court ruling], something funny has happened to toner cartridges: they’ve gotten a lot smarter. Off-the-shelf controllers for disposable consumables like cartridges (and smart lightbulbs, and a thousand other IoT gewgaws) have real, no-fooling copyrighted works — sometimes whole operating systems.

The companies that have come to rely on DMCA 1201 include John Deere (its tractors’ wheel-sensors collect centimeter-accurate soil-density maps that it keeps secret from farmers and monetizes by using to predict regional crop yields ahead of the market); GM (who use DRM on engine diagnostic data to lock out third party mechanics who might buy parts from its competition), as well as companies that make voting machines, insulin pumps, implanted defibrillators and pacemakers, mobile devices, and many, many others.

So, think about that.  Epson has figured out a way to make you waste 20% of your purchased product, and it accrues to them as profit.  How many of us have pulled a toner cartridge out of a photocopier, shaken it up, and put it back in, just to try to squeeze out a few more pages from a ‘low toner’ alert light?  I know I have. Now John Deere says you don’t own the data that your tractor collects on your own land.  Your mobile device monitors where you are, your pacemaker or defibrillator can kill you, your voting machine may count your vote for the paper tally as part of the total but award the office to the other guy.  Important medical machines can be made to malfunction despite safeguards, to collect data … or possibly kill the person with the implant. What does it mean that an insulin pump can be hacked?

How does daily practice of tai chi and druidry — or really, any system of spiritual or physical development — help us cope with these things? Well, for one thing, a system of physical development such as a martial art helps keep us physically fit, so that we’re healthy to confront the world’s changes. And ideally, a system of spiritual development helps us understand the process of change, both in ourselves and in the world around us.  I can look at the trends I’ve identified — the growing trend of collapse of the world’s walls between haves and have-nots, the increasing responsibilities of communities to establish cultural networks, so that they can be the sugar in the tea, and the general responsibility to own up to the injustices of the past.

Because the future that’s coming is inhuman.  It’s built on robotic motives, that say that humans are not going to drive cars, that our internet is going to rob.  Can you imagine what happens when the internet of things hooks into our k-cup system into the waste-as-profit and secret-software-as-profit-margin?

The Sci-Fi author Charles Stross has made a career out of reminding people that we don’t live in the world we think we do. For example, here in my apartment is a thermostat, a tv (over my objections, but it’s here), a computer, a fan, and some other bits of tech. Of them, as near as I can tell, only the fan doesn’t have an implanted computer of some kind.  We’re not going to live in a future of rocket ships and jet packs, as near as I can tell; but we are going to live in a world of robots, at least for a short while… and those robots are going to be shoddy and designed to rip us off.

In this sort of world, knowing how to be your own spiritual counselor, your own fitness coach, is a step toward independence. Knowing how to be your own chef, your own cleaner, your own teacher, your own entertainer, these are important next steps.  Food and drink, as Ivy has suggested elsewhere, is even more foundational.  But everyone has to begin somewhere.

This is where. This is how. I began.

Search Term Track Back June 2015

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I learned this from Sam at Digital Ambler, who is one of the most sophisticated modern writers about Geomancy that I know of. And “This” in this case, is the reconnection of the blog to its ten or twelve most popular posts in the last 30 days.

  • how to make tattwa cards, tattwa cards pdf, pics of tattwa cards — yep, all of these different searches found the same thing, my post where I provided a PDF you can print out of the design of the Tattwa cards, which are useful for elemental scrying work and other techniques.  Which is weird, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone use these cards, only talk about them. 
  • pagan calendar — There’s a pagan calendar which I created and host through Google Calendar, and the links to add it to your own calendar are in this webpage. This particular calendar is strongly rooted in a Roman pagan tradition, since much of my ‘pagan poetry‘ revolves around Roman-ish spirits of various types, adapted to a modern American experience. 
  • libra 2nd decan, libra decan 2 month of july.— I made an astrological image for the second decan of Libra, which you can find here. The second decan’s traditional image is “the strong African returning from a voyage with the fruits and rewards of his labor,” which I’ve depicted as a man standing on a dock, surrounded by chests and boxes, dancing.  I did this image as a present for my father for his birthday several years ago.  Libra’s Decan 2 is not in the month of July, however.
  • the horse could talk, the horse may talk The story of Nasruddin teaching a horse to talk appeared on this blog in 2009.  The figure of Nasruddin is, depending on whom you ask, either a folk-tale character from the Middle East, or an important teaching persona in Sufi tradition, or just a character that you use when you want people to know it’s a joke when you start.  
  • first decan of virgo — 
  • magic to win lottery, how to use magic square for gambling?, use magic to win lottery, magic to win lotto, how to win lotto by spell blogYes, I did use magic to win the lottery.  And yes, I feel that I did win, although you may not agree.  I also learned that the powers that I worked with to win the lottery are either tricksters, or jerks, depending on how you look at it.
  • y4d88 — This code, Y4D88, led people to this particular post, the 88th day of year 4 of my tai chi practice.  I wonder what they were looking for? It’s not a solstice poem, nor a geomantic image, nor nothing particularly important.  Anyway, this is what they found.
  • geomancy love judge, larn geomantic – I assume these people want to be learning Geomancy, and hopefully they mean western-style geomancy rather than Chinese-style geomancy; because that’s what I know.  I imagine they’re after this post, which is adapted from one I originally posted on Tumblr, that lays out how to learn geomancy, but they might be interested to know that I’ve also taught geomancy. Both of these reference a poem I wrote, called Geomantic Quatrains or Quatrains on Geomancy.
  • historical trends in emotional intelligence — You’re probably after my notes from the lecture by Peter Salovey. I don’t know what’s useful to you there, but that’s why you got directed here.  I took these notes at a conference on learning and the brain in 2010, which I believe was held at Avon Old Farms School here in Connecticut.
  • visual aids in teaching ideas — I’ve written a great deal about this subject in my blog, because visual thinking is an important part of what and how I teach these days. But this is probably a good place to begin, or you could start here, with the idea of lenses, or with a sample of it in Latin class.
  • winter solstice poetry — Southern Hemisphere person?  I don’t know if my poetry is appropriate to the southern hemisphere, but this is what I’ve got about the Winter Solstice here and here.

Some Congressional Sausage

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So… Hi, my name is Andrew.  Back in the early 1990s, I worked for Congress, and then for various lobbying groups that tried to influence Congress.  I like to joke that I spent two years on Capitol Hill, and two years in seminary as penance for that; and twenty years teaching middle school as penance for both of those things.  Sadly, it’s not much of a joke.

Today is a relevant point.  I read today in the Huffington Post that the Senate passed Fast Track Authority, finally, and now the bill containing those provisions goes to the President to be signed into law.

I spent a fair bit of time today on trying to figure out how this all was done.  And it’s a clever bit of Congressional sausage.  Back in the 1800s, a custom evolved that members of Congress carried around little lists of House and Senate bill numbers on sheets of paper marked “Yes” and “No”.  At least, I imagine that this is how it was done.  There’s so many numbers, and so many amendments, I doubt that many members of Congress can keep them clear in their heads.

And so evolved a dirty trick, much like the one that may have been used over the last few weeks.

See, the text of Fast Track authority has been around for a while. It’s very precise legal language, not at all like the stuff you see in the papers or the screen-pixels.  It has to be.  It’s conferring formal authority on the President to, you know, Do Stuff About Trade (And Not Do Other Stuff).  And it lasts for six years. Through the first term of the next President.  It is in theory, battle-hardened and bureaucracy- and general-counsel-approved.

But until June 18 or so, it wasn’t in the bill that got passed this morning by the Senate.  It was … I don’t know where it was.  It looks like Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin dumped the entire Fast Track Authority amendment into a bill numbered HR 2146.  Before that time, HR 2146 was a bill which made some minor changes to the process by which firefighters, police officers and some other types of federal employees could withdraw money from retirement accounts at age 50 (instead of 68). Here’s the bill as presented to the Senate in mid-May, and to which they made only minor changes.  This bill was very popular: it passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent, basically 100-0 (the way most Senate business that passes at all, passes), and got through the House by a vote of 407 to 5, with 20-ish abstentions and absences.

So then it goes to Resolution. Resolution’s nominal job is to confirm sameness: that all the periods and commas, each and every word, of the final version of the Senate bill, and the final version of the House bill, are the same.  Congress has to vote for one bill, not two, that has to be the same in all particulars, before they can send it to the President for signature and veto.

And the Senate version, passed on June 4, was still about early retirement for firefighters. So was the House version.  And then, June 18, the whole Fast Track authority got added to the bill, and the bill’s title (but not its number), was changed.

I have to wonder how many people voted for this bill thinking that it was about early retirement for firefighters, or even just worked from those cards in their pocket.  They have to look like Masters of the Universe up there on Capitol Hill, even if they’re not.  And I wonder how many people are now trying to figure out how to say, “I meant to do that.”  Certainly some of the meant to vote for Fast Track Authority for the President.  The newspapers have been full of carefully worded news about this for months, even while the exact bill to complain about has been exceedingly difficult to hunt down. (No wonder. The text wasn’t actually in the bill that would eventually pass muster)

But here’s the dark side of it, too.  Congress is a spider-and-snake-filled cesspit of hard-dealing villains, and a good many members of Congress are either good-hearted people who are genuinely not up to the tasks of back-room dealing and back-stabbing; or are up to that task, and use it to far more nefarious purposes than helping people back home. “I meant to do that,” can come from a place of “I was bribed into doing it; or I was coerced through a combination of blackmail and/or leverage; or, I had to choose between voting for this and losing on some other cause I care about, like getting re-elected.” Because no matter how wonderful or awful a given senator or representative may be, their  public and private identities are worlds apart. These men (and women) drink like mad, get in accidents, and have checkered pasts that have sometimes mysteriously disappeared.  A good many of them, over the years, have turned out to have foibles or weaknesses that could be exploited by far more gifted players than them, to turn their constituencies against them: in former times, it was being a closeted homosexual, or having a fondness for overly young girls or what have you.  Who knows what it is today?  Actually, I must admit, I don’t really want to know— how many members  of Congress are there, do you suppose, who were tapped for the House of Representatives because someone had some really damaging dirt on them, that would have wrecked their lives? And, how do you go about continuing to hold that kind of influence over someone’s life?

Do I think they’re all like that? No.  Some of them got where they are because they’re great fighters, and good at managing this kind of work.  Some of them are great at people work, or fund-raising, or networking.  Some of them are probably quite genial sociopaths. Some of them are the real-deal masters of the universe. Some of them started out as pawns, but they’ve advanced to be promoted bishops, rooks, or even queens. Some have cast off the chains that bound them and gained the supposed greatness of their office.  And yet, these folks, by virtue of their alleged power to craft the laws of the United States, are subject to constant efforts of activism and open persuasion, and covert harassment of every sort.  And when you want something from a Congressman, or a Senator, and you have money and power enough, what would you be willing to do to get power over them?  

I suppose it’s telling that yesterday I watched Jupiter Ascending.  Plots within plots within plots, government officials and military personnel and freelance agents and marshals on distant frontiers all cobbling together an effort to win special concessions from the alleged masters of the universe… who are themselves just as subject to trickery and fraud, just as willing to engage in deceit and violence, to attain what they think they want.

And I wonder how many of them are physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong enough to resist temptation, or to fight oppression.  And even then, it seems to me, that this Fast Track Authority passed by the skin of its teeth… and only under the presence of the covering story of the Emmanuel AME murders, and the subsequent effort to condemn and pull down the remaining open symbols of the Confederacy.  I don’t think that the AME murders were staged as part of a larger conspiracy, mind you. But I think that the focus on the emotions and tribulations of the assassination gave Congressional leadership a chance to act on this — and a perhaps-genuine desire to help firefighters played into their hands. When you watch C-Span, follow a member of Congress for a while, and see if you can figure out where he keeps his little cards.

For my own part, I find myself stunned at the path this Fast Track Authority took, even though I knew it could be done this way, as it has been done before.  I admire the trickery, the prestidigitation, even as I howl in frustration at the result of this particular magic.  It’s the essence of what Gordon calls enchanting for the long-term: design the amendment, round up supporters, find the votes, and magic it here and there and everywhere a little at a time until it’s all ready to go.   And I think that it points to one of the great frustrations, and helplessness, that many Americans feel toward the actions of their government.  I get eight to ten emails every day that Congress is in session from one activist group or another, trying to rouse enough Americans from complacency to call their senator or representative.  I couldn’t work on anything else but Congress to stop them from doing this, in order to keep up with all these sorts of actions… and frankly, the flow of desperate email urging action is always at the same panicked volume, and the more of these emails that move me to action, the more of them I get.  The act of getting involved alerts other organizations that “hey, this is a live person who calls Congress or writes to them!” and so I become ever more enmeshed in calling for this group or that group, insisting for a saner course of action, or resisting an insane course of action.

I always lose. Always— even when I was sitting in the office of a Member of Congress, speaking directly to his face and to his ears and eyes, I can’t recall a single time when a proposal I thought was stupid and fought, didn’t wind up on the president’s desk anyway.  Can’t recall a single bill I supported getting through Congress, either.

Again, I admire the genius of the managers of the process, even as I fault the result.

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