Thursday, May 31, 2012

Boarding for Boobies

I know the name sounds sexist and awful.  But the story linked below is about personalized learning.  In this case three boys who are skate boarding to raise money for breast cancer research.  Skate boarding, like so many other youthful passions, can be turned to serve education.


A friend just painted his boat.  He did a beautiful job.  Then he taped the rails for varnish.  We all warned him to re-tape daily, but he was quite certain that this new sort of tape would not require that.  Unfortunately, after a week, it did stick pretty solidly to his new paint.

My friend is not unintelligent.  We all have better ideas and new ways to beat popular wisdom.  Sometimes we're even right.  When we're not, experience is still the best teacher.

Why can't we be giving this valuable experience to our kids?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Accidents happen.  Little ones.  All the time.  We spill flour if we cook.  We grab and delete on our computer.  We slip on the ice in the driveway.

Those of us who live life by doing things make mistakes and have accidents because we put ourselves in that position.  I'm so much more likely to spill flour, for instance, if I'm actually baking something.  And, generally, when an accident happens, I spend a certain amount of time reminding myself why it happened and what I can do the next time to prevent it from happening again.  I do this sort of debrief, as most of us do, so that the same accident won't happen again.

People who sit at home and watch television don't have as many accidents because there is so little to go wrong in that lifestyle.  But is that really living?

I guess I'll just carry on having accidents, making mistakes, and learning from them.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012


It's easy to get fixated on a problem.  Easy, but unwise on a boat.  Jeff learned that today.  The harbor was thick of fog so we brought out the compass.  Course 090.  Course 270.  Basic stuff.  And Jeff did what every beginning helmsman does.  He fixated on the compass.

This sort of fixation has sent more than one boat on a collision course when something, anything, gets in front of your boat if the helmsman hasn't thought to look up occasionally.  It became a game with Jeff for me to count.  Just count while he was fixating on the compass watching the numbers swing by.  Then, once we passed five or six softly count out loud.  Jeff learned to laugh at himself, realizing his fixation, and correct it.

He learned this without being lectured.  Without losing "grade points".  Without ever once thinking of himself as incapable.   Jeff corrected himself because we could spend the time laughing with him til he learned the demanding double task.  He learned because he was guided through dozens of mistakes that he wasn't afraid to make.  He wasn't afraid to make mistakes because he commanded a crew of friends, all of whom had made mistakes when they were in his position.

It was a truly pleasant day on the water.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Appropriate learning

I love this part of the school cycle.  The kids know what to do.  Some are anxious to cox and they're good at it.  If the wind and tide are right I'll let them dock.  My job is to pull my oar.  My question to the cox once we leave the dock is "What do you want to do?"

Some want me to challenge them.  Some challenge themselves, picking hard targets and not using the tiller.  I'll often suggest we come along side one of the growing number of boats on their moorings.  Ask me intelligent questions.  What is the hauler used for in a lobster boat?  Why is a trimaran designed with three hulls?  Why is that boat a sloop and that one a schooner?  What does radar do on a boat?

The kids are peppered with random nautical facts.  I don't know how much of it they'll remember, but I'm always delighted when, weeks or months or years later, one of those random facts comes back to me in conversation.  The youth of the coast of Maine are learning about the coast of Maine.  All is right with the world.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Man Overboard

A man overboard drill is simple on our boat.  I throw my lifejacket overboard and call Man Overboard.  Johnny, our thirteen year old cox immediately began a chorus of "oh crap, oh crap oh crap".  Then he called the crew to oars, hold water, back water, and rescued the endangered lifejacket.  That is to say, he did everything right.  Yet, having succeeded at this task, told us all that he doesn't perform well under pressure.

I find it amusing that, having performed so well, Johnny's first reaction is to apologize.  Welcome to the life of the young adolescent, trying to fit into this world, knowing somehow that whatever he does isn't good enough.  There's no way to fast forward through this stage of life.  All we can do as teachers, as parents, and as caring adults is provide a myriad of experiences through which Johnny can learn that he actually does perform well under pressure, and provide the training from which Johnny can draw when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Johnny went home today feeling pretty good about himself.  He had succeeded in a pressure situation.  That success might save someone's life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How about a nap or some ping pong or just time to stare out the window?

A bright light on education.  Read this article!

Taking some down time to process, to reset the brain, to boost creativity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Simple Experience

My puppy doesn't like the gritty feeling of sand in her mouth when we throw the ball on the beach.  She learned today to drop the ball in the shallow water once or twice to make it feel smooth.  I never taught her that.  She just figured it out because she spends a lot of time chasing that ball.

The kids in the parking lot are getting their thrills today by riding through the hot tarmac.  It throws black pebbles up at the bike fenders and gives off a satisfying burning smell.  Besides, leaving tire tracks behind forever is kind of cool.  If they last.  They'll see when they check back weeks or months from now.

This is not kings and queens of Europe higher mathematics sort of learning.  But it is learning.  There is so much learning to be gleaned from play, if only kids can be turned loose to learn.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Today was one of the first pretty days of late spring.  As I walked the shore line I saw experiential education all along my way.  The toddler who learned that my puppy was friendly and dogs aren't to be feared.  The ten year old who had the courage to swim and, yes, it was as cold as she thought.  The young boy learning to play frizbee with his father, honing a new skill.

There was a day, not so many years ago, when this sort of education took place all day every day.  It used to be normal to live in the physical world, to take your kids to the beach, to make castles in the sand.  We learned because we couldn't help but learn as we combed the beach for treasures and danced in the waves. We grew confident in our bodies.  How did we as a culture let it slip away.

Thank God for the many, many parents who take their kids outside on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  They are the true educators.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My seventh grade class helped with a capsized boat this morning.  A sudden gust caught the just launched vessel off guard and she went over.  The captain and a quickly responding power boat brought the vessel right again, but the scene sparked something in the kids.  This was a real emergency, like the sort we've been training for.  What would have happened if the captain had been caught under the boat?  What would have happened if the power boat hadn't been there?  Why didn't the captain get hypothermia in the water?  What should we have done if . . . ?

There are few aggressive sailors who haven't capsized a boat at one time or another.  In a small boat it's generally more of an embarrassment than an emergency.  But for these kids participating in a genuine life drama it was exciting.  Their assignment is to come back with an intelligent question relating to that capsizing.  I'm looking forward to their thoughts, because the more they have thought out the "what ifs" the better are their chances of acting appropriately when a real emergency happens.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The thickness of the wood

I'm putting thwarts (seats) in the boat.  There are few straight angles or lines on a boat.  All the thwarts are trapezoid shaped and cut to a bevel to fit the hull.  This probably isn't very complicated for boatbuilders, but for people with only house building skills, and few enough of them, it can be demanding.

I was in school for 20 years counting kindergarten and post-graduate work.  How is it in all that time nobody ever taught me to allow for the thickness of the wood?

Friday, May 18, 2012


I have wondered since the day, far too late in life, that I started pounding nails, why is it that we don't start teaching carpentry the day we start teaching math.  Other skills would work as well.  It's just that wood is so solid and so real.  We could start with balsa wood for children not ready for the challenge of sawing spruce or pine.  Or let the actual cutting be the teacher's job after the measurement has been checked.
Measuring, addition, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, geometry.

Why does school need to be so theoretical.  We are training our children to take their place in the world.  Can we not teach skills that will not only give them their math but teach them real world skills?

Thursday, May 17, 2012


We keep our gig safe from the dock with large mooring balls which we use as fenders.  The beauty of this system is that the gig is safe from pounding and scratching in any weather.  The down side is that it's a long step or leap for the crew to actually get in the boat.

This, too, becomes a skill.  If you take a timid step on the boat with one foot still safely secured on the dock the boat will move away, leaving you to strattle the icy North Atlantic.  You must make the step to with boldness.  Anything less will fail.

The simple act of getting on the gig becomes a moment of empowerment for the kids.  A moment of courage when they learn that sometimes you just have to go for it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Check it out.  A study, or collection of studies that admits that technology does NOT improve learning or test scores.

I don't damn technology.  The article emphasizes, as many of us have known for years, that technology, rather like a good library, is a remarkably useful tool in teaching.  Ultimately it is good teachers and motivated students that will improve our country's education.  I think that teachers and students should have the advantage of technology as a part of an educational whole that includes both academics and experiential learning.  It all comes down to being a whole human being.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The average college student today graduates with a $25,000 debt.  That's obscene, to saddle a young person with that sort of handicap when they're just starting out in life.  I wonder what that sort of investment gives in return.  Do most of these students actually land jobs worthy of their expensive education?  I wonder, really, the value of force feeding great literature or higher mathematics on kids who retain these lessons only until they can vomit the answers out on a standardized test.  Most of America, even college educated America, gets its conversation material or clever witticisms from pop culture, not Julius Caesar.

Wouldn't a young person's time be better spent learning the skills to further his or her career?  Or useful skills and abilities that would serve to form him or her as a whole human being?

Friday, May 11, 2012


Can we think of any reason why kids should get all the fun?  The adult crew of Station Maine is forming.  It is mostly older adults, some of whom are good organizers, many of whom are anxious to push their comfort zone and learn to cox, all of whom realize that we live on the coast of Maine and that this is a wonderful opportunity to get out on the water and appreciate that coast with friends.

Some, even many, people stop growing as human beings after a certain age.  But a cheerfully growing number have decided to live their years out with joy in all that they can still learn and accomplish.  They cost the program nothing, organize themselves, and come with prudence already learned from a life well spent.  We need more opportunities for adults as well as kids to live in the physical world.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Hawser

Getting out of our slip is made more challenging in some tides by the presence of a larger boat's dock lines crossing our path.  The seamanship to be learned from this challenge is wonderful, but some days they're just a pain.  Like today.

The tide was so low and the area so confined that I found myself standing, poling through the mud with an oar facing aft.  My cox sort of giggled and pointed, nowhere near in time, to the hawser that was about to knock me over as we went under it.

She was not a bad kid, nor was she not mindful of the danger.  She had bought into the "teacher ideal"wherein teachers are the smart ones, the ones who always know what's going on, the ones who are always in control.

This, on the other hand, is a boat.  Everyone is responsible for safety.  Nobody, not even me, can see every rock, every gust of wind, every possible thing that can go wrong.  Kids who have no real experience in the physical world have no bench mark for teachers getting something wrong.  They always feel themselves inferior.  Or useless.

As we came back to the dock that same cox again had the opportunity to remind me about the hawser.  She did it seriously, and in plenty of time for me to duck under and be safe.

Lesson learned.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Today's conversation went something like this:
"How can I lash the oars when the lashing line isn't tied to the thwart?"
"Why isn't it tied to the thwart?"
"I don't know."
"Try again."
"Because somebody untied it."
"Who untied it?"
"I don't know."
"Was it untied when you got here?"
"Who untied it?"
"I untied it."
"OK, it just needs to be tied back on.  I'll show you how."

There followed a short lecture on mistakes.  I learned in the boatyard years ago that the most expensive mistakes are the ones that get covered up.  Tearing the stuffing out of a stuffing box is a minor mistake.  Launching that boat with the stuffing box insecure can result in the boat sinking.  For instance.

A wise captain encourages the crew to come forward with mistakes before they grow into something awful.  Kids make mistakes.  It is their job to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.  It is our job to make it easy for them to own up to those mistakes so they can learn from them.  It's sometimes opposite to what our society teaches us, but often it is the surest way to learn.

Monday, May 7, 2012

An Apprentice

I've often thought how pleasant life could be if every caring workman and woman could have an apprentice.  Not a full time Johnny Tremain sort of give your life over to learning my trade which you will follow for the rest of your life.  More like I'm pretty fair at tuning up my own car or building boats or shoeing horses.  If my "assigned apprentice" would join me then someone would be there to hand me the wrench that's always out of reach at the critical moment or hold the other end of the plank or steady the horse.  Someone who can't help but learn just by being in the presence of my trade.

If students could be assigned and re-assigned and rotated through the community learning some level of skills and being exposed to a wide variety of caring adults they can't help but have more direction, more skills, and more confidence.

I know there are about a thousand "issues" between this idea and its execution, but I'd love to see somebody knocking them down and letting kids be part of the real world.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Anthony docked the gig today.  He is all of thirteen, pulls a good oar, and was very keen to try this occasionally difficult maneuver.  His crew agreed to cover his back.  The wind was gentle from the east and the dock was open.  It was a gentle landing.  As Anthony jumped ashore with the stern line and after spring he said, to nobody in particular, "I want to do this every day".

Who can blame him?  Who doesn't enjoy succeeding at a challenge, particularly one that is respected in the community.  How can one not walk taller after such a challenge?

The question remains, then, how can we offer more challenges in the physical world to our youth?  Why is memorizing facts and excelling on standardized tests so terribly important that we put it at the head of our national curriculum?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Respect for the young

There are dozens of people with whom we all come into contact every day who can share with us their experience if we will open ourselves to it.  Many of them are significantly younger than we are.

I learned this important lesson at the tender age of 22 when I began Irish Step Dancing.  The next oldest in the class was 10.  I probably wouldn't have asked her advice on managing my love life or my retirement fund, but she had been dancing for years, she was calmly confident in her skill, and for months she maneuvered me through the expectations of a demanding instructor who didn't have time to individually instruct each of us.

I like to think that I have a degree of maturity equal to my age.  But I long ago stopped believing that just because I'm older I'm supposed to know more than my students about everything.  Kids often have a lot to teach if we'll only get past ourselves and respect what they have to offer.  And, when we do, we will find them significantly more open to what we have to teach them.  Respect of experience is a two way street.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Interest Grouping

I was reading an article in Bright Futures  (  The author suggested that we group students according to their interests, knocking aside grades and even age barriers.  Imagine the learning possibilities of a group of kids who are all interested in history or woodcraft of cooking or mechanics or French.  Classroom management becomes significantly less of an issue when students are presented with something to DO.  How much more learning can happen when they are surrounded by other studnts with the same interest from whom they can learn and with whom they can share.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


It was raining too hard to enjoy rowing today.  Generally in these circumstances we do knots and rowing machines, depending on the energy level of the crew.  This time, however, was different.  One boy gravitated instantly to the keyboard.  A young girl found her way to the guitar and yet another to the fiddle.

This crew, not all of them but most of them, were drawn to music.  Our knot session became a jam session with something the kids could do with their hands while they listened.  Unless they were dancing.

We didn't make it a big deal, tuning all the instruments to one another and picking a tune we all knew.  We each played what we loved in our turn and each appreciated the skill in our crew mates.

Experiential education is about experience.  Live music counts, particularly as each of us, kids and adults, was completely engaged in what we were hearing.

Experiential education isn't necessarily about rowing.  It's about doing.  Doing music counts.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Homeschool Sports

Time Magazine tells me that home schoolers are still fighting in some states for the privilege of playing on school sports teams.  There are arguments on both sides.  Schools have academic requirements for sports teams to encourage students to keep their grades up.  Home schoolers don't generally follow a standardized curriculum that can produce those grades.  Some schools can be recalcitrant towards individual students.  Some home schooling involves little beyond watching television.

It is complicated to have an individualized education plan for each student.  Yet each student is an individual, subject to growth spurts, maturity spurts, and changes of interests.  It is important that we as a society find the flexibility to address the needs of individual students, not just purport the big box theory of education.  If we simply "offer" education then we are free to be as rigid as we choose.  Read West Point.  The moment we as a society decided to "require" education we committed ourselves to meeting a vast range of needs.  It is a huge responsibility which demands flexibility.  The world has outgrown one education fits all.  Schools must do the same.