Homemade toy train

I decided to make a toy for grandson Bryan’s Christmas gift. Collette is making some toys, too. For my first effort, I made a simple pull train out of wood.

Wooden train in bright colors. For a toddler

Simple wooden train for a toddler

This one is cut from white pine using a bandsaw. I cut the wheels with a hole saw. Sand everything, then paint with non-toxic paints. I used fluid acrylics from an art supply store. These are bright colors, selected to recognize his parents’ universities (U of Michigan and U of Tennessee). A non-toxic clear coat protects the finish.

It consists of a locomotive, tender, boxcar, hopper car and caboose.

Great idea

Jonathan Zaslof at Washington Monthly has a great idea. Sure, the GOP wants Obama to propose changes to entitlements? Yes. Go for it. Here’s how I envision the dialog.

POTUS: You’re right, Mr. Speaker. I should propose some reforms to Obamacare to reduce the deficit.

SOH: Thank you, Mr. President. I assure you reforms to Obamacare will receive serious consideration from us.

POTUS: Here’s what I propose. We amend Obamacare in a way that saves about $50 billion each year. You’d be with me on that, right? We need to include a public option. That would do it. Your move, John.


Great explanation, great video

From the NYTimes today – a really fascinating conversation and video on conducting music. “Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, demonstrates and discusses the role of a conductor.” The NYU Movement Lab details the conductor’s gestures and movement, while he discusses the role of the conductor.

Good blog

You might be interested in this post (or the blog) on Santorum (and others) and a new definition of religious freedom. My son Nate wrote it.



Update: The book is available now. Spannaus, T.W. (2012). Creating Video for Teachers and Trainers. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

My new book, titled Creating Video for Teachers and Trainers, will be available in May. Published by Pfeiffer, it covers planning, scripting, shooting and producing video, using inexpensive equipment and software.

I teach a course on digital video for teaching and learning and have never found a book on video production that showed equipment that teachers and trainers can actually afford. That’s what this book is about. You and your school, business, or church probably don’t have 5-figure budgets for a camcorder, lights, and all that great stuff. But with proper planning, and using professional thinking and techniques, amateur gear will produce videos you’re not ashamed to show and that your students can learn from.

The new site will be up with more resources soon. I’ll let you know when it and the book are ready.

Hot summer

Yes, it’s been hot here in Michigan and across much of the country. And we complain about the heat.

But while at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market Saturday, buying produce to eat right now and much more to can for later, it occurred to me that the beautiful cucumbers, tomatoes, berries, corn and other great food on display is there because it’s summer and it’s hot. It’s hard to grow tomatoes in cooler climates. Corn needs long hot days and nights.

Enjoy the great bounty of summer produce. And endure the heat that makes it all grow.

The deficit deal

I suppose one measure of a compromise is that no one is happy with the final deal. By that measure the proposed bill to raise the deficit ceiling is a good compromise. No one likes it. I don’t either. Here’s why:

From a policy perspective, it is certain to deepen the recession we’re in. Yes, I know technically we’re not in a recession. But no one I know thinks the recession is over. Maybe I don’t know enough bankers or financial wizards, who seem to be doing OK.

It will deepen the recession by pulling money out of federal expenditures, costing as many as 1.8 million* jobs in 2012. Did you notice last month that private sector employment was up by 58,000 jobs, but public sector layoffs cut so much that the net was only 18,000 job growth? That’s what happens when we cut government spending. People lose their jobs, either directly as government employees, or indirectly as suppliers to government. And many more lose out because those people aren’t spending any money.

Job growth was a lot stronger while the stimulus funds were being spent and have dropped as the stimulus dropped. Oh, yes, the stimulus worked, but it doesn’t work after the money runs out.

It harms the least of our brothers and sisters, who will necessarily be damaged by cuts to discretionary spending. They are the least able to cope with cuts because they have nothing to fall back on. Once again, the rich will be OK.

Other voices:

Paul Krugman, Nobel economist: “The deal itself…is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy…The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further.”

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary: “Anyone who characterizes the deal…as a victory for the American people over partisanship understands neither economics nor politics. The deal…puts the nation’s most important safety nets and public investments on the chopping block…the largest threat to our democracy is the emergence of a radical right capable of getting most of the ransom it demands.”

Another way to look at the deal is politically. Here, it’s a bad deal too. It rewards the Tea Party caucus of the House for holding the government and the economy hostage. Remember Pavlov? And Skinner?  The wingnuts will do it again because their irresponsible behavior was reinforced. The Progressives are weakened, because once Social Security and Medicare are put in play by Democrats, it’s hard to maintain the position that we’re the defenders of those programs that the vast majority of the population absolutely love.

Sure, nobody likes it. Maybe it’s because it’s a bad deal.


*Updated to use the numbers from the Economic Policy Institute

Science? What science? I know what I know.

Many have written about the systematic assault on science and reason. It comes largely but not exclusively from the right, including politicians and fundamentalists. Their reasons and methods vary but the result is the same: a conflation of expertise with elitism. And no one in this egalitarian nation wants to be considered elite.

What I have experienced in my classes is that a few students regard their opinions as worthy counters to research. I’ve recently posted some comments about learning styles, particularly the popular VARK (visual, aural, read/write, kinesthetic) or VAK (visual, audio, kinesthetic) schemes. My comments include references to research, which in general does not support either approach. My students often respond with their opinions, which are often supportive of VARK and other ways of thinking about learning styles, but devoid of any empirical support. When asked for empirical support, the response is often some variety of, It just seems to make sense; Or, Everybody knows learning styles are useful predictors.

There is a useful takeaway from the learning styles conversation. It’s that in general learning is enhanced when we use multiple senses or media. That is, people learn better from images and verbal content than from either alone. That’s based on Mayer’s Multimedia research, for which there is a lot of useful data. And it’s based on Paivio’s dual coding theory. But it’s not an individual thing, as the learning styles people presume. It’s a generalization that applies to most learners.

As educators, our responsibility is to make decisions based on evidence. There are different kinds of evidence, of course. But for questions amenable to empirical research, that’s the standard we look to. Our opinions, or common sense, are valuable. But we look to better evidence when we can.

As I turn 65 …

“It used to be that you could count on two pensions – social security and a pension from your employer. But now work-related pensions are an endangered species and Social Security is under assault from a lethal combination of Wall Street’s insatiable greed and the pernicious philosophy of Ayn Rand.”

From AlterNet, the clearest explanation of the economics of retirement and why it is getting so difficult. I know I’m not the only Boomer who plans on working well past 65. This helps explain why, and points to an even more challenging retirement for our kids.

Teachers aren’t the enemy

Excellent article in The Nation about teachers and current disputes about quality schools.