Monday, March 23, 2009

Sixth Grade Lathe Demo

Today I demonstrated the lathe to the sixth graders. There are six classes of sixth graders so we made a vase in each class. After we cut and sanded each vase, we drilled a hole and applied polyurethane. Above you can see the six vases we made today as demonstrations in each of the classes. Below is a slide show of pictures from class today.

Mr. Wiemers

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring Break Photos: Thursday

Last night after class Toni and I went out to eat and then finally saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire at a very late show. Today, I finally got off the couch and got some work done. Toni and I ran five miles, raked the yard with the boys, got two maple trees planted, and then about 4:30 this afternoon, Zac, Jacob and I started to put a new, but temporary, fix on the deck. I plan to remove the whole deck this summer and turn the double level deck into four levels with twice the space.

Mr. Wiemers

Cutting a Circular Top on a Band Saw

A high school shop teacher from California sent the following in an email:
I found your great videos on Teacher Tube. I really like the one titled "Using a Jig on a Band Saw. I was wondering how the Jig is set up. It shows the ease and precision of use, but does not show how the Jig was created or works. Could you send me more info on that?
First of all thanks for the email asking about the circle cutting jig on the band saw. Here is a brief description of the jig and process with some photos. I will embed the schooltube video later.

The jig is simply a piece of plywood that sets on the table of the band saw. The plywood has a 3/8" bolt in the middle inserted and counter sunk from the bottom side. The bolt extends about 3/8" above the surface and will be inserted into a 3/8" hole drilled into the bottom of the project piece that you want to cut circular. The plywood jig is clamped to the band saw table with the distance between the bolt and the blade equal to the radius of your circle you want to cut. Then you will need to free hand cut into your project piece until the hole on the bottom of the project piece can be dropped onto the bolt. Once the hole in the project piece is sitting firmly on the bolt you simply rotate the project piece into the band saw until the circle is cut out.

The Jig

The 3/8" hole in the bottom

Fitting bolt into hole

Turn and cut

A happy, safe student

The top on the doll table

The tables are great for the American Girl dolls.

I will embed the video of this process later today on this blog. There are more and better videos available on at

Mr. Wiemers

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Convenience of Confusion

(The following is an excerpt from "Hope for America's Last Generation" written by Galyn Wiemers in 2007)
I AM A teacher, and I coach the boys’ track team at our school. Track practice takes place every weekday after school throughout the season. It’s always been that way, and probably always will be. One week I learned that a school dance was scheduled for Friday afternoon right after class ended. Because the dance was going to go well into the night, I told the boys we’d have track practice after school like usual, and they could head over to the dance when they were finished. I told them I was well aware of the dance, but practice was still on. I thought I’d made everything clear as the boys headed to their locker room after Thursday’s track practice.

On Friday, about five minutes before the last bell rang, I noticed a DJ setting up his sound equipment for the dance in the school gym. Since our track team practices right outside the gym, I knew the boys were going to be frustrated when they heard the music and saw fellow classmates dancing. I wondered if some boys might still be tempted to skip practice, so, for good measure, I decided to make one final announcement over the intercom as a reminder. The announcement was, “There will be track practice as usual immediately after school today for the entire boys track team.”

Right as the announcement ended, eight boys from the track team walked into my classroom dizzy with confusion. One boy conjured up his best look of bewilderment and asked, “Coach, do we have practice tonight? We were wondering because nobody really knows.” When I again confirmed that we did, another boy quickly asked, “What happens if we don’t come?” My reply was simple: “You’ll be punished.”

Confusion was not limited to this group of boys. Many members of the track team lingered in the hallway debating about whether or not there was track practice. One boy approached a team manager to inquire about it. The manager supposedly told him, “I think there’s practice…but it might be optional.” That was all that the boy needed. Now armed with words straight from the mouth of the team manager, he could claim ignorance to later justify the reason he followed his desires and went to the dance. As I left my classroom to head to the track, another boy stopped me to ask about practice. I looked right at him and said, “Yes, we have practice.” He went to the dance. The track boys who chose to go to the dance could actually see their teammates running warm up laps on the track outside as they walked into the gym. Yet these boys remained “confused” as to whether or not there was track practice.

When all seventy track boys showed up on Monday, I asked why twelve of them had missed Friday’s practice. The excuses varied but all came back to the same claim: they were in a state of ignorance due to so much confusion. Some insisted that I hadn’t made it clear. One blamed the manager for saying practice was optional. Others swore they forgot. And all the boys who went to the dance confirmed each other’s confusion by contending that there was just no way of knowing whether or not we had practice. Their strategy involved insisting on confusion. They figured if enough people said they were confused, I would have to accept it as a legitimate excuse. But I didn’t. The confused boys lost the privilege of
running in our first track meet.

As I stood there on Monday surrounded by the track team it became clear to me that, in life, people choose to be confused. I couldn’t have done anything more to get them to track practice short of picking them up and carrying them from the school to the track. (Even then some of the boys probably would have slipped away to the dance while I wasn’t looking.) After all my effort to communicate obvious truth, still almost 20% of the boys I spoke with chose to remain confused.

Today the people of the United States of America have become just like those junior high boys. It’s a growing cultural pandemic to be confused about what’s right, true, and moral. It’s hip to claim ignorance and say, “I don’t think we can ever really know for sure about things we can’t see.” In fact, claiming ignorance is the quickest way to avoid any kind of personal responsibility to know and understand the certain areas of life. But just because there so are many conflicting beliefs in this world doesn’t mean we can claim to be “confused” about what’s right without facing serious consequences. And just because certain areas of thought may baffle us doesn’t give us a free pass to skip over them. Just because some issues are hotly debated doesn’t mean we aren’t accountable for examining the evidence ourselves. We can’t hide behind our claims of confusion any longer. We must stop making excuses and admit that things can be known for certain. It’s time for us to quit being lazy and get busy gaining the understanding we lack. Like the track boys, the excuse of, “I just wasn’t sure which way was right,” is not going to cut it in the end.

Mr. Wiemers

Friday, March 13, 2009

What We Needed To Know in 1902

The 1902 "Busy Man's Friend"

In 1902 J. L. Nichols & Co. published a book by Professor J. L. Nichols called The Busy Man's Friend or Guide to Success by Facts and Figures. Originally written in 1896, this book begins with a quote from Gibbon, the author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

Every person has two educations, one which he receives from others, and one more important which he gives to himself.
This book fills 250 pages with the best advice, guidelines, formulas and information needed to be successful and efficient in 1902. The book includes information concerning receipts, notes, bills, banks, power of attorney, law, legal forms, corporations, counterfeit money, swindling schemes, facts from the census of 1900 and computations. Below is some of the material from the section on computations that were used in the day. Remember vocational education would not be added to the public schools with federal support until the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.

On page 223 we find "A Complete Set of Carpenter's Rules" including information on how to use a carpenter's square. I learned how to use a carpenter's square from an old carpenter many years ago when he taught me how to figure the length of rafters and layout a set of stair stringers. This section also includes the following information and more:
  • How to find the number of shingles for a roof
  • How to find the number of laths for a room (laths were nailed to the studs and covered with plaster before sheet rock was developed)
  • How to find the area of a gable
  • How to find the number of feet of stock boards to cover a house or barn

Other useful information provided for a man in 1902 included:

How to find the size of a barrel.

How to find the number of common bricks in a wall.

How to calculate the weight of coal in a box.

How to find the distance traveled in ploughing.

How to figure the capacity of a wagon box.

How to measure ear corn in a crib.

How to measure hay in the mow or stack.

How to figure the advantage of an evener on a neck yoke for horses or oxen.

This book also explains how to secure a signature from a person who cannot write:

In the section of this book that addresses mortgages the author entitles the section: The Mortgage Grip Crushing the American People. The book then states the following facts to prove that "if the farmer does not lift his mortgage, it will lift him":
In 1890 there were 4,777,698 mortgages in force in the United States,
amounting to $6,019,679,985. The annual interest charged on these is

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) "Called Inappropriate"

The March 4, 2009 Education Week has an article entitled PISA Called Inappropriate for U.S. Benchmarking. PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) is described as "flawed" and may not be "appropriate for judging American schools."

The website for Program for Internation Students Assessment provides the following overview of what PISA actually is:

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that focus on 15-year-olds' capabilities in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies such as learning strategies. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of mandatory schooling. PISA is organized by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Begun in 2000, PISA is administered every 3 years. Each administration includes assessments of all three subjects, but assesses one of the subjects in depth. The most recent administration was in 2006 and focused on science literacy. Results are now available.

PISA 2009 data collection will take place from September to November 2009 and will focus on reading literacy. The PISA 2009 National Report will be released in December 2010. The national contractors for PISA 2009 are Windwalker Corporation, Westat Inc. and Pearson.

In the March 4, 2009 article in Education Week concern for PISA testing and evaluation ability are presented because "questions asked on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) surveys of students' beliefs and attitudes about science reflect an ideological bias, which undermines the test's credibility." I find this interesting that a education system that has repeated suppressed certain ideologies in the spirit of freedom while promoting other ideologies in the name of education is actually offended by the same thing when it is done on an international level. This article leads me to believe there may be a strand of integrity and a hope for an honest pursuit of fairness yet within our system.

One of the examples used in this article to prove PISA political or ideological slant is that the student survey portion of the test "asks test-takers if they agree with certain statements, such as 'having laws that protect the habitats of endangered species.' " This is not a test of knowledge but a test of the students ideological or political views. No facts or statistics are provided in the question. It is just a simple statement concerning the student's position on an issue. It may be appropriate on the government section of the test (which does not exist) but it is certainly NOT a science question.

Maybe America is getting a glimpse of the way other countries test their students and use the educational system to brainwash and control their citizens. Controlling a countries population through education is not a new thing, in fact, historically, whenever a government has engaged in educating their subjects there is a natural tendency to advance the government's agenda. Fortunately in America we have a two party system (with a third party always ready to emerge) to keep a checks-and-balance on the government's propaganda machine. At least Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution in Washington and Sean Cavanagh of Education Week have took note of this trend in PISA.

Other issues mentioned in the article:
  • "OECD takes policy positions that it should not be doing if it collects and interprets score data."
  • PISA emphasizes student ability to apply knowledge outside of school but does not measure where students gained the knowledge which means it it difficult to evaluate schools with this information.
  • "the questions are vague, making it difficult for the scientifically literate to know how to answer."
See the 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education concerning how well American students are learning.

Mr. Wiemers

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Oak Letter Bling-Bling

Each year, on the day I introduce the band saw, I take the last few minutes of the class to demonstrate the band saw by cutting out some oak initials of a few of the students. We drill a hole in the top, tie a sting in it and call it "bling-bling". The only requirement is that they wear their new jewelry the rest of the day. By the end of the day the new fashion in the sixth grade pod is to have a piece of oak wood hanging from a string. The students will have the rest of the quarter to create their own wood projects on several of the machines. It is refreshing to see a kid with a cell phone and ipod in their pocket smile when you give them a piece of scrap wood on a string!

Mr. Wiemers

Accident Free Sixth Grade Shop: 2 days

Today we began our third day of the quarter and my third day with 151 sixth grade shop students. The first two days we go over shop expectations, general shop safety and general machine safety. I make several comparisons between a mistake in math, spelling or history class with a mistake in shop class. I explain that parents are usually happy when a student gets 9 out of 10 spelling words right or 9 out of 10 questions right on a quiz. In fact, 9 out of 10 is considered an A- or B+. But, in the shop a parent who has a student who ends the quarter with 9 out of 10 fingers is not satisfied with the performance of the teacher or the student. Parents expect 100% safety in the shop.

Because of this, when we take the safety test next week, any student who misses one question on the fill in the blank written test will fail the test and will repeat the entire written exam. They will take the test until they can score a 100%. Then during the operation of a machine there will always be a spotter watching them cut and holding a clip board to mark any violation of twelve basic safety rules. If there is a violation by the machine operator they will stop using the machine and retake a modified form of the written test.

So far, the students have just been sitting and listening to me review the rules, tell safety stories and give simple demonstrations.

We have another safety feature on the front door as they come into the shop. It is a flip chart of the number of days the sixth grade has gone without an accident. After two days we have reached "Accident Free For 2 Days." Of course, all they have done is sit and listen to me, but I am trying to build momentum. Yesterday I almost had to take the chart back to zero because while I was talking one student did tip over in their chair and came crashing down to the floor. I had never seen this occur before during a safety lecture. I hope it is not a bad omen. Some assume the student fell asleep as I rambled on and on about safety. The student was not hurt (except for their pride) so I did not count it as an injury.

Mr. Wiemers

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When Should We Stop?

More about the information on this site later:

Is this random? Is it caused by an underlying philosophy? Is it the result of some unidentified plan? Is it necessary? Is it a good thing?

Mr. Wiemers

Monday, March 9, 2009

School Books from 1883-1904

Four elementary school books that I have from 1883-1904 belonged to my Grandmother and her family. My Grandmother was born in 1897 and would have used these books during her elementary years 1902-1909. The name and school written in calligraphy with an ink pen on the inside cover of The Modern Spelling Book (copyright 1883) is Ella Sonius, Prairie Queen School, Spencer , Iowa, Summit Township, District 4, Clay County. The four books are:
  • Baldwin's Readers - Third Year, printed by American Book Company, New York, Cincinnati and Chicago (See Baldwin and access his books online here.)
  • The Jones Readers By Grades Book Six, by Ginn and Company, Boston, New York, Chicago, London, in 1903 (This book online; Read it here.)
  • Punctuation and Letter Writing, by Raub and Co., Philadelphia, in 1899. (See photos of pages and read 1887 edition online here)
  • The Modern Spelling Book: Lessons in the Orthography, Pronunciation, Derivation, Meaning and Use of Words, by Merican Book Company, New York, Cincinnatic, Chicago, in 1883.
From the sixth grade reader, The Jones Readers By Grades, Book Six, the preface begins by saying:
This reader is intended as a basal reader for the sixth school year. The selections are made with due reference to the need of a wide range of ideas and a rapidly growing vocabulary to keep pace with the rapid developoment of the work in other subjects in this grade. The reading book in every grade should at once prepare the way for other work and add zest to it by the use of interesting related matter.

At twelve years of age the child is entering upon a definite period of noble impulses and exalted ideals. HIs school reader more than any other book stimulates these impulses and assists these ideals.
I now quote a portion of a selection called "Character" by John Lubbock:
What is necessary for true success in life? But "one thing is needful. Money is not needful; power is not needful; cleverness is not needful; fame is not needful; liberty is not needful; even health is not the one thing needful; but character alone - a thoroughly cultivated will - is that which can truly save us." (quote by Blackie, a Scottish author)

Your character will be what you yourself choose to make it. We cannot all be poets or musicians, great artists or men of science, "but there are many other things of which thou canst not say, I am not formed from them by nature. Show those qualities, then, which are altogether in thy power, -sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor, aversion to luxury, benevolence, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from trifling, magnanimity." (quote by Marcus Aurelius, a famous Roman emperor and philosopher; you may remember him as the old Roman emperior in the movie "Gladiator" with Russell Crowe)

Never do anything of which you will have cause to be ashamed. There is one good opinion which is of the greatest importance to you, namely, your own. "An easy conscience," says Seneca, "is a continual feast" . . .

. . . No doubt, having regard to the realities of existence, the ordinary forms of ambition seem quite beneath our notice, and indeed our greatest men, Shakespeare and Milton, Newton and Darwin, have owed nothing to the honors or titles which governments can give.
There are several things worthy of comment or at least reflection in the above quote concerning philosophy, education and contemporary history from 1903. There are more quotes and other things I want to draw attention to in these books and other books like them in the next few weeks.

Mr. Wiemers

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Championship Race at Lunch

To end the seventh grade quarter in the shop we set up a tournament bracket for each class to determine the fastest car designed and manufactured during the students' three days at the Race Car Module. The top cars from each class advance to the "big dance", the championship race during the last lunch of the quarter. Each seventh grader has a chance to produce something at eighteen different modules or stations in the shop. Below is a video from lunch last Friday showing some of the details of the third quarter championship races during lunch:

Mr. Wiemers

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Small Towns Win Big

Friday night the IKM-Manning basketball team won the Iowa girls' state basketball championship for 2A. I find this note worthy since this is the first year for this school in its whole grade sharing program between the four towns of Irwin, Kirkman, Manilla and Manning. I coached the girls high school softball team in Manilla in 1980. Two of the teams on our schedule that year were Irwin-Kirkman and Manning. This year all four towns combined into one school. This should serve as a sign and a word of encouragement to small schools to take steps to make their schools more competitive both academically and in the area of activities.

The girls basketball team was not the only team to find success this year. Both the volleyball team and football teams this fall made a run for state championships. After Friday night's win in the girls' state finals this new school's sports record stands at a combined record of 98-6 since it began this last fall. The only two losses IKM-Manning's 2A girls' basketball team had this year were to Ballard, the 3A state champion (a one point loss), and Sioux City North, the 4A state champion. Simply put this is very impressive.


Yesterday in our teacher's meeting we talked about TAG (talented and gifted) funding.
  • First, remember I am a shop teacher and only can process information at my ability level.
  • Second, I know from logic and from past experience I am not always right, but I do believe what I say.
  • Third, "controversy causes learning" which means debate helps us determine the best way. Fear mixed with collective thinking will suppress the potential of individuals and groups. Do not be afraid, especially concerning something you care about. Seriously, on the other hand, if you don't care, put up with anything because, in this case, "mediocrity is underrated" (This is one of my original quotes and a favorite around the supper table at home as I teach my boys how the world works and how to set priorities. As surely as you can excel in somethings, you must accept mediocrity in somethings.)
So, where am I heading? Below are two videos of two high school students from Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. I am not comparing these two students but using them to prove a point. One student you should know. She is a national hero and a world wide celebrity who attends the same high school as my boys. In fact, one of my sons recently talked to her at a Valentine's dance a few weeks ago. The other video is of one of my high school sons performing today with his trumpet. He was featured in a song with his jazz band today and I put the video online. I am most certainly not comparing these two students. One is preparing to appear on the TV show "Dancing with the Stars". The other just left for work at the Italian restaurant (Bravo's) where he waits on tables. What I am going to talking about is the TAG program that neither of these people were involved in at their public schools to help them develop the areas of skill in these videos. They had good teachers, great teachers, but what they do in these videos comes from their own drive and their own parent's support, not from government funded TAG program. Remember what I said above. You have to set priorities. You can not individually, nor as an institution, be everything to everybody. Identify what you do and excel in it. My dad told me many years ago:
If you want to be a success, first, find out what you are good at and then do it all the time."
I think schools need to do this.

I am just a shop teacher with an idea that I want to present to help us find the best way. I have more to say concerning TAG including the concept that all kids are TAG, but many times schools can not identify the students area of strength because they do not teach to that area. Nor should they. Remember, focus on what your mission is and do not let someone else tell you what your mission is. Establish priorities and let the parents pick up in the areas we have chosen to accept mediocrity in. Here's the two videos of a junior and a senior at Valley High School in West Des Moines that are not in TAG.

Hawkeye, who plays the trumpet in the video above, fell in love with jazz music back when he was in the DCG middle school and took summer lessons from the legendary Mrs. Irwin. Valley High School has over 2,000 students. Hawkeye knew he wanted to be one of the best trumpet players there, so he sought out a private teacher on his own and then paid his own money to get private lessons from the trumpet professor at Drake University for the last couple of years. The public school provides a very, very good band program. I paid for the trumpet. The rest was up to Hawkeye. I do not think Hawkeye is TAG material in music, but I do know he is gifted at working hard and getting things done. My wife and I fall asleep (or, get awaken) most nights between 10:30 pm- 1:00 am to Hawkeye practicing his trumpet when he gets home from work which he goes to after track or cross country practice after school. If a kid is gifted (and, I think they all are) they should give something to society instead of demanding more from society.

As a shop teacher, I like this video of Shawn because there is a clip of her with safety glasses on at school:

Another Shawn Johnson video filmed at her home
Mr. Wiemers

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Sixth Graders are Coming

Today is the last day of the third quarter. Things will change drastically in Mr. Wiemers' Shop on Monday. Fourth quarter is six classes of sixth graders.
  • First Quarter was seven periods of 7th grade where we worked through the modules.
  • Second Quarter was seven periods of 8th grade where we built the oak end table.
  • Third Quarter was a combination of the 7th and 8th graders.
  • But, now, Fourth Quarter is all sixth graders.
This will be the first time in the shop for the six graders. For most of them it will be the first time they have used a power tool other than a hair dryer. For most of them the most dangerous experience they have had at school was sharpening a pencil to a sharp point in a pencil sharpener that could potentially grind the end of their finger. Then, of course, there is always the risk of falling on a fork at lunch.

Many things are important during the first two weeks of shop:
  • Establishment of Absolute Safety
  • Establishment of Absolute Shop Expectations
  • Establishment of the certain facts concerning what to expect from the shop teacher
This coming quarter is the toughest quarter of my year because I have so much information to cover, work expectations to demonstrate and attitudes to establish. They always love shop once I loosen up after the first two weeks. They do enjoy the safety stories I tell during the first two weeks.

I have been concerned about next Monday for the last two weeks. Ready or not, here come the sixth grade . . .

Mr. Wiemers

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Computers vs. Shop/Technology vs. Industry

After teaching Industrial Arts for several years I began to be approached in the early 1990's with the "threat" that my shop program was no longer going to be relevant. Computers were changing everything. Salesman would stop by to talk to me about converting my "dirty shop" (meaning sawdust, grease, piles of supplies, etc.) to a "clean shop" (carpet, climate control, computers, roll around chairs, etc.) Computers were going to effect everything, I was told, including what we taught and the way we taught it in the shop.

My response was negative for two reasons. First, the obvious reason. I was negative towards the "clean shop" and the new computer lab concept because I did not know how to use a computer. I did not own a computer at home nor did I use a computer at school. At school I had a computer on my desk but I didn't know how to use it, maneuver the mouse or check email. There was no tech support, but if there was, I would have had to walk down to their office to get assistance turning my computer on. But, what would I do then? Walk back down to the tech office and ask where my email was? It was easier just to walk to the teacher work room and pick up the hard copy in my mail box.

This was during the transition period between paper copies and email copies. During this transition the school would put a hard copy in our teacher mail boxes, and also, send us a copy by email. Back in the old days every piece of information was copied on a piece of paper and put in our teacher's mail boxes. I occasionally got calls from the office to check my box because it was full and they had more very important stuff to put in my box. I usually checked my box on pay day, though. Today they say, "Didn't you read the email?" A few years ago when I was shutting down for the summer I noticed I had 800 unread emails. I had no idea what to do with them at that time. Another similarity between my paper mail box and my email box is they both have a "trash" can.

My second reason, and my only correct reason, for rejecting the salesmen's alarm cry of, "The computers are coming! The computers are coming!!" was very simple. Computers could not eliminate basic industrial needs. Computers could not creatively manipulate material because they are material themselves. Our society is based on industry, not on computers. Computers can assist industry, but computers can not replace industry. If we lose computers we will have to go back to paper copies, a slower process time, a slower life, etc. But, if we lose industry we will lose everything our society knows. Without industry we would come very close to becoming a third world country. Remember the United States became wealthy and powerful with industry long before industry produced the computer.

I made it clear in my response to salesmen, and the futuristic educators that soon followed, that industry and technology were not synonyms.

Nonetheless, they soon began to refer to my Industrial Arts class as "Technology Education" or, "Tech Ed". In response I began to call it "shop" to maintain a separate identity from computers and computer labs. When I refer to my class as "shop class" people want to correct me. They figure I missed the last school bus route to the future. They only correct me once, though, because I feel obligated to provide them with my insight that is based on these simple concepts:
  1. Shop Vocabulary Lesson: Industry and Technology are not synonyms.
  2. Shop Economics 101: Our economy and society are based on industry not computers.
  3. Shop History Lesson: Industry produced the computer not vice verse.
  4. Shop Educational Principle: Teaching someone to move a mouse on a computer is not the same thing as training an electrician, a carpenter, a brick mason, a stone mason, or someone who hangs sheetrock.
  5. Shop Psychology Lesson: Educators are realizing the importance of hand on manipulation of material in the physical world. The visual observation of cyber space does not produce the same learning process.
So, today, in Mr. Wiemers' Shop we teach industrial skills, we manipulate material and we use technology and equipment which includes computers. But, we do not have a "clean shop". We do not have carpet. We do not confuse the "computer lab" with the "shop" or misuse the words "technology" and "industry."

Now, 20 years after the first warning that computers were going to change everything, we still live in houses, buy furniture, call the electrician or plumber, and build and sell many things including computers. One thing that has happened is the education systems has failed to avoid being sucked into the carpeted computer labs. Research is now sending us back into the traditional shop. We could have avoided this. We could have embraced technology with out flushing the shop program.

Today, I have embraced the computer at school and at home. We have computers running in this middle school shop (often covered in dust and grease!) for a mill, a lathe, podcasting, video production and CAD. We have plans to add a few more "industrial" related activities with computers next year. At home I have six computers running most of the time. Four are on my double desk in my office. Two of these are committed full time to running the two robotic CD burners/printers I use. Our house is wireless. When my boys come home with their laptops, and the girlfriends follow with their lap tops, we could easily have ten computers operating at a time. If someone can't get online with a computer we get out our ipod itouches.

But, if I need to remodel the house, build a piece of furniture, fix the toilet or wire some can lighting in the ceiling, I go into my garage which has been converted to a shop (with no computers!) and get the job done.

Read the latest research that supports this kind of thinking:

Below is one of our high school shop projects from the 1990's. We used no computers but drank a lot of Mt. Dew.

Mr. Wiemers

Waxing and Buffing the End Table

Mr. Wiemers demonstrates to a shop class the final step in finishing the oak mission style end table. The four coats of polyurethane on the tables will be wet sanded with 400 sandpaper, dried with a towel, coated with wax and buffed to hand finished shine. At least 4 or 5 coats of wax should be applied to the table tops. The former class record was 28 coats of wax.

Mr. Wiemers

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CNC Lathe

Students at the Dallas Center-Grimes Middle School demonstrate the CNC lathe. They will cut a chess piece out of acrylic plastic in Mr. Wiemers' Shop. Watch the video below (This video was updated the next day on Thursday to show more of the cutting action):

Mr. Wiemers

Eric Voelker, MS SS Blog

Here is one of the first teachers in our middle school to use a blog in the classroom for both instruction of students and interaction between students. The teacher, Eric Voelker (two time NCAA national wrestling champion for Iowa State University and Hall of Famer), is using this blog in his social studies class. He is also experimenting with video recording of students making comments and explaining their learning and playing the best back on the the "big screen." I can foresee an awards ceremony with Oscar awards for the best presentation, best supporting student, best research, and, of course, best online blog comments in this seventh grade social studies class. Mr. Voelker is on the point of the spear in technology at Dallas-Center Grimes!

Mr. Voelker's Social Studies Classroom Blog

Mr. Wiemers

Unbelievable PE Teacher Video

Click on this link to watch a PE teacher's amazing hand eye coordination and strategic use of angles combined with good luck and a whole lot of extra time:

Mr. Wiemers

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Students Recording Teachers

In response to a blog about a student recording a teacher's profanity laced classroom rant I posted a comment that is seen below. I obviously think a teacher can cross a line and even become dangerous with their words. I believe they should be held accountable. But, I also think this is a dangerous game I do not want to play. Here is the news paper article. Here is the blog. Here is the comment I posted:
If everything I said to students, or for that matter, everything I said in any setting where there were cell phones to record with, I would be in trouble with a lot of people including . . . well, pretty much everybody . . . but, I am probably unique. I am sure most everyone else would have no reason to be concerned.

Imagine if kids would record parents at home? or, if kids would record other kids at the lunch table or on the school bus and then turn that recording in for administrative justice? How about recording half time in the locker room? My favorite would be a recording of a conversation in the teacher's lounge played back at parent/teacher conferences. How about recording school board members as they talked after the Monday night board meeting? We could play that on the local talk radio station. We will all be jobless, friendless.

Question: If there is no teacher to hear the student cuss is it still considered profanity if captured on a cell phone?

Question: What would happen if I could hear everything you said to my own son? How about if I could hear everything you said about my son??

Question: How about if I record our next conversation?
Who wants to play this telephone game? Anyone? Anyone? Hello . . . aren't you going to say anything??

Mr. Wiemers

By the Numbers

Check out the National Center for Education Statistics at

What does this mean?
850,000 students ages 5-17 homeschooled in 1999
1,500,000 students ages 5-17 homeschooled in 2007
(see report here. Get pdf here.)
Parents tell why they homeschool at:

Other numbers (below information found here):
  • Public school systems will employ about 3.3 million teachers in 2008-09, resulting in a pupil/teacher ratio of 15.3, which is lower than in 2000, when the ratio was 16.0. An additional 0.5 million teachers will be working in private schools this year, where the pupil/teacher ratio is estimated at 13.0.
  • There are about 14,200 public school districts containing about 97,000 public schools, including about 4,000 charter schools. There were about 35,000 private schools offering kindergarten or higher grades.
  • Current expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools will be about $519 billion for the 2008-09 school year. The national average current expenditure per student is around $10,418, up from $9,154 in 2005-06.
  • During the 2008-09 school year, 714,000 associate's degrees; 1,585,000 bachelor's degrees; 647,000 master's degrees; 91,000 first-professional degrees; and 55,800 doctor's degrees are expected to be awarded.
Select a letter to do a popular key word search on the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics website:
Access 3,390 tables and figures for K-12 HERE.

Mr. Wiemers

Monday, March 2, 2009

Test Tube Trays for Sixth Grade Science

This morning during first period Mr. Gilroy, the sixth grade science teacher, came into the shop with an old wooden test tube holder. He wanted to put something together from some scrap wood to make a few more holders for his class by tomorrow. We looked around at the wood and talked about some options then we decided I would cut some of the scrap oak up, drill some holes and make him about twelve new test tube trays.

I enjoy this kind of project so during the day, as time allowed, I resawed some 3/4 inch oak, cut the tops and bottoms to length, marked out the holes and did some drilling. By lunch time I began to assemble the trays.

When my advisory class came in for their 25 minute class, I had them assemble the remaining trays, quickly sand them all and begin applying a coat of polyurethane. At the end of the day I put a second coat of polyurethane on. Tomorrow morning I will polish them up and then take twelve new test tube trays down to my friend and excellent teacher, Chad Gilroy.

Mr. Wiemers

Link to Teacher Blogs

Here is a link to a large list of active classroom teacher blogs and other educators:

Mr. Wiemers

The Paper Route

When I was in fourth grade, still back in the 1960's, my mom let me sign up for an afternoon paper route to deliver the Mason City Globe Gazette. This is when my paper route education began. (You can see my dad's 1963 Chevy in the background of this photo. I remember the day we got it. I helped wash the old 1955 Chevy one last time before dad traded it in. Dad was a vocational agriculture teacher and taught shop in the 1950's, but in 1963 he became a school administrator.)

Every weekday after school I would have to start my paper route. I learned many things right away. For example, a man who has worked all day will want his afternoon paper ready to read when he gets home at 5:00. The man does not care if the paper boy wanted to stop and play with friends or if the paper boy didn't get started on his route on time. The man wants his paper and he is not afraid to tell a fourth grader not to be late with the paper tomorrow.

Concerning dogs: When a dog begins to chase you, pedal your bike faster and lead the dog away from where the owners can see him. Then let the dog catch up to you, steady your bike and kick the dog in his head as hard as you can. The dog will still bark at you and he may still chase you, but he will not want to catch the paper boy again. If you fail to do this correctly your jeans will get ripped and you may have teeth marks in your leg. Also, if you get scared and do not control your kick you could crash your bike and the dog will end up on top of you. (This is the worst case scenario.)

Another thing the customers taught me is that wet papers are not readable. There is a big difference between getting the paper to the right house on time and getting it there dry. Customers want the whole package: right location, on time and dry.

Each Saturday I would have to visit each customer and collect 50 cents for the week. If they were not home or did not have the money I would have to return later in the day. Customers did not like to fall behind on their bill. They wanted to stay current and would be upset if I let their bill get up to $1 or $2.

I quickly figured out that the more papers I delivered the more money I would make with basically no extra effort. I walked by houses every day that did not get the paper. I started visiting these houses and explaining the benefits of getting the daily Mason City Globe Gazette. Within a month my paper route had doubled. The representative of the paper from Mason City showered me with gifts and prizes and I was hooked.

I delivered papers for years. I was the one who delivered the paper that told of the first moon landing. I remember the headlines when President Nixon resigned. The headlines were simply big block letters that said, "I QUIT." I also remember Hank Aaron chasing Babe Ruth's home run record, and finally, getting to deliver the big one: "715, Move Over Babe!"

I delivered the afternoon paper until I was in junior high. Then, because of sports I moved to a morning route and began to deliver the Des Moines Register.

My education would have been much, much different if I had not had that one last class each afternoon after school. The paper route class that included responsibility, speech, history, money, sales, and, of course, self-defense.

Mr. Wiemers

Lawn Mower Engine Module

A seventh grade student from Dallas Center-Grimes introduces the lawn mower engine module:

Mr. Wiemers

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Education Week" Article

An article in the February 25, 2008 Education Week entitled Waiting for the Transformation makes a good comparison of two education systems. One system focuses on:
  • time
  • teaching
  • formal classrooms
The second system focuses on:
  • outcomes . . . instead of time spent in a class (45 min, 1 semester, etc.)
  • learning . . . instead of teaching the material (finishing the book, covering the curriculum, etc.)
  • education in and out of school . . . instead of turning education on and off and limiting teaching opportunities
The author Arthur E. Levine (photo to left) describes our typical education system in this article by saying:
It puts all students through a common process tied to the clock; children progress based upon the amount of time they spend being taught in a classroom, with all students required to master the same body of knowledge in the same period of time . . . We now know that all students learn at different rates; the same individual even learns different subjects at different rates. It would make more sense, therefore, to have an education system that focuses on what students learn, rather than what they are taught, and sets common standards for what they must learn, rather than common amounts of time for them to learn those things.
First, I think our school system at DCG is implementing this idea in many different classes and with a variety of strategies. I still think as a whole our entire society needs to renew their concept of the effective educational model and begin to think in terms of learning and not just teaching. To evaluate the process on outcomes achieved instead of time spent.

When I had a construction business both the customer and myself wanted the same thing. We wanted the project completed fast and done right. Neither of us just wanted me to spend time working. We wanted the project done. Time was the enemy. Speed and efficiency made me money and gave the customer their product. It is not about working longer, it is about getting the job done.

Part of the teaching experience is seeing students process information and perform tasks proficiently at different speeds. An example of me as a teacher resisting this tendency can be seen each year in the shop during our nine week woodworking class with the eighth graders. If the above information presented by Levine is true (and, I know it is) why do 100 students in seven different classes all end up on the same day ready to begin staining their oak end tables? The answer is not something I want to brag about. It happens because I manipulate (as in, I slow down) the learning process for the first seven weeks. I do this by:
  1. limiting the amount of knowledge I present so that the faster students are continually hitting a wall (figuratively) and need to beg me to show them the next step.
  2. creating different standards of excellence to be reached. For example, the faster more proficient student may be asked to expend more energy or accomplish a task with out the benefit of "hidden" techniques or tools.
  3. having skilled students repeat a process they already understand by helping catch up another student.
Now, all of these techniques of manipulation have an education silver lining. Some student may produces a finer project, refine their skills, or develop leadership ability. My point is that the way the eighth grade class is set up I need to "manipulate" the learning process in order to manage the class. (Of course, a "better" teacher will suggest I create additional learning situations for the students, but, I would bet this teacher has not made one hundred oak end tables with one hundred thirteen year old kids! I don't want additional learning situations! I want order and efficiency.)

I assume many teachers feel the same way about progressing through the chapters of their curriculum. How can you have a few students in chapter 13 while others are still reviewing the material in chapter 8. In fact, if what Levine says is true then in a class of 25 students a teacher may have 25 different lesson plans.

And, this is exactly what I have set up in the seventh grade shop classes.

In the seventh grade classes I have a completely different instructional system organized. I literally have 18 different lesson plans all happening at the same time. The students work in partners, or alone, to acquire the knowledge and perform a task at a module in basically a three day period. Daily students move through these stations at different speeds depending on skill, previous learning, interest, motivation, and whatever else their personal repertoire of characteristics bring to class. We have modules that include construction, electrical wiring, computers, cnc lathes, assembly, etc. We add to them each year in the way of content, experience and instruction.

Some students successfully achieve in a class period what others struggle with for four days. Or, some students get interested in a station and hang around it for four days gaining additional knowledge and developing additional skills while others do the minimum work with the least amount of knowledge and move on to something they find more interesting. Concerning levels of interest in the variety of modules, the students have never agreed which one is the best module. What one student considers boring another student will consider their favorite.

In the seventh grade class we have the critical content and skill that is communicated to each student, but after that the sky is the limit. There can easily be additional modules added. The level of required skill and knowledge can be increased at the modules we do have. I have plans for three more modules for next year and students are consistently "experimenting" with the material and knowledge that is available. In fact, many of the students ideas have developed into the actual project that is now required at certain modules.

I am not going to change my nine week eighth grade woodworking class because it is what it is. Each eighth grader will build and finish an oak end table. I see students each year who could easily build the end table in 4-5 weeks, but if everyone is going to achieve at the level we want, some are going to have to engage in learning at a different level as we explained above.

But, I do wonder if our seventh grade classroom could contribute to what Levine calls a "revolutionary change" that "will necessitate an individualized, time-variable system of education." I like the idea. I have seen it work. I know Levine is heading the right direction and I know the answer is going to come in a classroom organized in an educational system that is understood by a society that sets priorities on learning and outcomes and not on the time spent teaching.

Could more classes be set up like our seventh grade modules? Would it be more effective? Would teachers enjoy the module set classroom? Do you wonder if China is doing this?

Mr. Wiemers

US Air Force Award

Saturday night we went to Iowa State University to the US Air Force ROTC Detachment 250 Dining Out event and award ceremony. Our son, Benjamin, received the National Sojourners Award and was recognized for his attributes of Americanism, Leadership and support of the United States. Benjamin is majoring in computer engineering with an emphasis in computer security for the military. Here is a brief video of him receiving his award.

Mr. Wiemers

Here is another video from the night showing Benjamin getting grilled and grogged in front of the whole crowd which included former combat pilots and a helicopter pilot from the Iranian Hostage Crisis rescue attempt from 1980. Watch it at this LINK