Friday, December 4, 2009

Woodshop Christmas Project #1- Birdhouses (part 1)

Fridays are one of my busiest woodshop and scouting days of the week where up to 36 kids pass through my classes through out the day. Scouting classes normally center around various hands-on outdoor skills such as knots, fire building, or map & compass but during the holiday season scouting is all about crafts & gifts for the holiday season.

This time of the year is always exciting as the kids are anxious to make gifts for their family & friends so it's sometimes a challenge for me to also make their experience in crafting something that will benefit and compliment their individual educational goals. Our education theme this session is "Winter Holidays Around The World" so I like to find projects that center around sharing, giving, and spreading goodwill among family & friends and one popular project that always meets these objectives has been the construction of shelters for our feathered friends... the birdhouse.

Fortunately in North Carolina we have tons of sawmills since this is the No. 1 furniture producing state in the nation. One of our local sawmills always gives us a good deal on pine lumber that has enabled our tradition of building birdhouses to continue for more than a decade now where hundreds of kids have had a quality woodshop experience. The picture to the right shows the birdhouse that I designed which consists of 7 pieces of wood- the backboard, 2 sides, top, bottom, door, and door handle. All of the pine wood is locally cut, which is good, however the downside is that it isn't kiln dried so we have to be prepared to get them together quickly after processing the wood since it still contains quite a bit of moisture and will "cup" on you if it's left to sit around in the very dry & warm woodshop for any length of time. Some years are better than others but this years birdhouse wood probably still had about 30 percent moisture still inside. Of course the upside of using such lumber is that it's cheap to buy AND nails & screws penetrate the wood with ease so it's more kid friendly.

Year after year "the birdhouse" has proved itself worthy as truly being the classic woodshop project of all time. I always begin each class with an upbeat lecture/questions session that covers everything from why the birdhouse has a door that opens to how to get all your measurements right on the money during constructing. (By the way the door opens so that you can clean out the old nest during the winter months so that the bird can build a new nest each spring. It's amazing how many kids always say, "It's so that you can put food in the house", or "So I can watch the birds hatch from the eggs.")

Today's afternoon class went exceedingly well and the kids really got into getting their birdhouses put together correctly. Everyone was patient, even  when their board cracked when placing a screw but this provided the perfect opportunity to teach those students how to drill a pilot hole before screwing their boards together and thus prevent the wood from expanding and splitting.

Yeah, some wood still split beyond repair a few times but the main thing is that they learned to find solutions for these problems thus gaining a little more confidence in their ability to successfully construct a project. Learning how to patiently find workable solutions to woodshop construction problems is also a very powerful lesson that will also teach them how to handle other more intense situations with their families, teachers, and friends in everyday life. Their brains were really working on overdrive to soak up and better understand what I was showing them and it's moments like this that the contentment of a woodshop teacher comes together full-circle.

As the birdhouses started to be completed I then set new expectations for each student to find a way to extend their project to make it uniquely theirs. Teaching the kids how to extend their woodshop project has always been one of my most powerful teaching methods which challenges the students to take their completed project to the next level. They could add a woodburning, come up with a fancy paint job, add some kind of extension to their house such as a chimney, do a woodcarving, or whatever their creative side can  muster up. Expecting kids to extend their projects also teaches them to do their best work and it slows them down as they focus more on the creative side of their minds. Anyone can learn to make a basic birdhouse but once it's built how can the student make their project stick out from the crowd? When you ask that question you're taking education to a new level.

A male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinali...Image via Wikipedia

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1 comment:

  1. Great project, with a worthwhile cause. Looks like the class really got into it too.