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curriculum & grading Options
Posted: Friday, August 14, 2015 2:41:27 AM
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Joined: 9/18/2010
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Location: Santa Cruz, CA
I teach mostly science classes and one or two sections of introductory high school woodshop. This is a stand-alone woodshop class; there is a construction class, but no advanced woodshop class at our school. Even after some years of teaching woodshop I still have questions about the structure of my curriculum and grading. I would appreciate hearing thoughts from other shop teachers.

1. Do you have a favorite first project to start the semester?

2. How much freedom do you give students to choose from a variety of projects options or to design their own independent projects? I struggle to keep up if there are too many different projects happening at once and if students need too much help for one-of-a-kind projects.

3. How do you grade students? How much for projects vs. other things such as quizzes, safety sheets, clean up, etc. Do you have a daily or weekly grade students receive and can track? I find myself grading many projects completed and in progress in a hurry whenever grading periods come around (every 4-5 weeks at our school).

4. How do you accommodate students who are absent when a new machine, project or key steps are presented? What if some students simply start to fall behind the rest of the class?
How do students get the information they missed when they were absent? Do you use small “filler” projects for students who are ahead of the others? Do you have those students help the slower students?

5. Usually my curriculum progresses from simple to more complex and bigger projects (end tables, shelves, etc.), but some of the bigger projects don't get finished by the end of the term and a lot of wood or expensive wood is tied up in these projects.
Should I offer lots and lots of small projects and skip the bigger projects?

If you wish to respond in person or in more detail, please feel free to email me directly @
Posted: Friday, August 14, 2015 9:46:03 AM
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Joined: 11/17/2006
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You ask a lot of good questions that will require thought and time to answer, but I will attempt to start answering.

1. I spent 31 years teaching high school. I am a big fan of keeping it small and inexpensive, especially now that my middle school materials come entirely from cabinet shop cast offs. If I don't take them, they go into the dumpster. Once I had a store room full of free materials, I would tell the cabinet shop that I couldn't come back for a while.

This is a photo of the first high school project everyone had to make. I only have this model because my daughter made an extra one for her grandma. This roll top takes about 4 bdft of 1 x 12 pine so it doesn't cost much. It required every student to use every piece of equipment we had in the shop at the time. The students were encouraged to customize as much as possible... like adding the hidden compartment above the tambour. We also made secret slide out bottoms on the drawer. Later, state standards required use of CNC, so a laser engraver (see pane 87) became an integral part of the project.

2. In a semester, most students finished the roll top with time left over and could design another small project. I usually don't want to limit their imagination, but time wouldn't permit making something much bigger. If they had trouble coming up with their own idea, I had models of smaller projects they could choose to make. If students were quick, I would ask them to help others as needed. Most students seem willing to do that... more than working on their own projects. I know I did when I was in high school. I also know that by allowing students the opportunity to practice what you know (by teaching someone else) will only help them better retain the information. (See some of my past high school small project models pane 82-89.) If it's not fun for me, then I know it's not fun for them and their interest will wane just as mine could.

3. Wow.... grades. I tried not to sweat the small stuff. I gave progress grades for effort. To me, the final result is far less important than the process. Oh oh... that sounds suspiciously like common core where you get graded more for the process than actually getting the correct answer, but woodworking is not the same as common core. It can be really difficult for some kids to master techniques on their first project and I want to make them have early success so they don't become discouraged. That makes me want to see things like... Are they in class every day? Do they use their time well? Can they follow directions? Have they planned out their project? Is it wasting time, or fulfilling a need? Are they consistently putting forth effort? Can they innovate? When we could still do this... Is there a customer involved? How well are they servicing their customer? Can they listen and/or communicate effectively? I also had a project grading sheet for their opinion of how well they did when it came to cutting square, clean assembly, etc... The students were for the most part harder on themselves than I could ever be.

4. I wrote my own curriculum and created PowerPoint's for everything that could be uploaded to the school server and downloaded by students who fell behind or were absent. Someone once told me... death by PowerPoint... but the real reason I like the Powerpoint method of teaching is to keep track of all the little details covered by our state standards. You have only two wood shop classes... I had classes all day long and sometimes in the evening too. By the third class of the day, I found myself tripping up over whether or not I had already covered material. I would have to ask the students, did we talk about this concept yet? Later in my career, the students ended up having to take a state sponsored exit exam to prove their competency and gain a certificate. The PowerPoint's are very helpful in pacing the material and making sure every student is exposed to every detail. Each year after that, when my students took the exam, they outscored every other program in the state.

5. It's really your preference on this one... if you are having too many large expensive unfinished projects, then set limits. My larger projects were mostly saved for the advanced class and some of those were absolutely huge.... like entertainment centers. I would make the students earn their way into the big stuff. If they can prove trustworthy to complete such a project, then I would let them go on, but if they were untrustworthy about finishing what they started, then I would give them smaller project ideas.

As I think about this, I will come back and edit this response to include more thoughts. Until then, e-mail me and we can get into as much detail as you want, including shareable curriculum. Since DivShare has flaked out, I will be limited by how large a file can be e-mailed.

Remove what's in red before e-mailing...
Posted: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 12:03:58 PM
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Joined: 7/16/2011
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Location: Houston, TX
thibault -

I also am a sci teacher that dabbles in woodshop once in a while. I have a number of projects geared towards the middle school/science demo arena at You can find me at woodshopcowboy at gmail if you what to chat specifics about a project.

Posted: Thursday, September 10, 2015 9:06:50 PM
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Joined: 8/18/2015
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Location: Colorado
I had to join in on this thread. I have been lurking here for a while and just joined a few weeks ago. Thank You TBockman for all of the great information.

The reason I had to join in and announce myself is that I am also a science teacher, or at least I was until last May when my administrators asked me if I would be interested in restoring our Middle School shop program and asked me to apply for a newly created position.

I inherit a shop that was originally equipped as a high school wood shop in the 1960s. It has suffered from neglect and pilferage, and sat dark for three of the last five years. I'd planned to spend the summer developing projects and building curriculum. Instead I spent it trying to track down scattered tools, sharpening, repairing broken machines, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning...

Although I've been teaching reading, math, and science for the last 14 years, I worked in the trades and later in a small custom cabinet shop while pursuing a bunch of fancy degrees and highfalutin' titles. I then wandered through the bramble bush of law practice before taking a now permanent sabbatical to teach kids before they ended up needing a lawyer.

I never sold my tools, but they spent the better part of 20 years boxed up and pickled in light oil until I was settled and housed and all familied up with a couple of kids who wanted to start making things. Setting up a home workshop led to a re-ignition of my interest in woodworking, and a series of small projects that found their way into my science classroom led to the invitation to start a new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program at my school.

I'm now two weeks into class with 100 students in 5 sections of "STEM Explorations". We spent the first week on shop safety and I focused on "The Utility Knife" on the theory that the tools in the shop fall into three categories, things that grip and hold, things that guide, measure, or mark, and things that cut.

I have nightmares about the combination of 11 year-olds and things that cut, so we learned the Boy Scout rules of safe knife handling and I told them that the rules apply to anything that has a blade or is fragile, or that can be knocked out of adjustment...a knife, chisel, saw, hand plane, tablet computer. So they learned to hand over all tools handle first, wait for the recipient to say, "thank you" meaning "I have a firm grip of this tool, you can let go now." and for the giver to say "you're welcome", meaning "OK I am letting go of the tool, you have it now". There has been an outbreak of politeness at my school as students are applying my rules to everything from pencils to mathbooks.

Then I had kids complete a simple balsa wood airplane (a "Whipper Whiz" which most of the kids finished today and will trim and test fly tomorrow. To complete this project the kids all had to measure and mark out parts using a try-square, use the utility knife to cut the parts, making both "rip" and "cross-cuts", trim and sand the parts to make them straight, smooth, and square, and assemble the models following the written instructions.

So, I am off to a great start, and I have no idea what the kids are going to do next week!
Posted: Friday, September 11, 2015 2:41:43 AM
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Joined: 11/17/2006
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Welcome to the site Christopher and thank you for the compliment. One of the things I noticed when I first started contributing to this forum was that it was mainly geared towards high school woodworking. That has changed, not only because of the economy's effects on our mostly non-academic (not the three R's) subject, but also for me personally as my own high school woodworking career suddenly ended without warning forcing me into a very early retirement. I know of other good high school program (site participants) that went through similar ordeals and they completely disappeared from this forum. Participation is way down.

Many programs survived by transitioning into STEM, STEAM, Maker or even Pre-engineering programs that are usually more inclusive of academics. Too bad I didn't have a Principal that believed in this avenue. Our school's students after all were college bound. Three years later it's beginning to take hold around here now. I'm very grateful however that my recent switch to teaching a somewhat traditional wood shop program (in a creative "outside the box" public Charter school) has been helpful to so many (at times new teachers) who have come "lurking" or even are currently active site members.

I have received e-mails from all over (mostly North America) for my (mostly now erased) posts and from the National publications WOOD, American Woodworker and American Woodturner's magazines. I had to erase a lot of previously posted materials because it attracted a few creepy on-line stalker/troll types, a new challenge created by technology and social sites. It's very hard to pin down as it could come from outside the country or can even come from colleagues or students within your own school. It certainly made me overly cautious for a time since I don't have a very thick skin.

In those early days of my involvement there was very little middle school participation and even I gave it little attention being a high school program myself, so when it all changed for me I solicited the forum members for "NEW" project ideas for the middle school. That began an epic journey to find the coolest most interesting, outrageous and fun things I could do with my new younger students. I never expected it to become this popular.

There was a short time when spam began to take over and the site had to be closed to new membership, so I'm glad to see that Woodcraft has managed to get that under control. I recently helped one of your Colorado colleagues and fellow lurker (a former English teacher turned middle school wood shop teacher). A little while ago I told him I saw your recent new membership announced and knew the site had to be open again and encouraged him to also join.

Here's hoping you get next week figured out. If there is anything I might be able to help you with, for example.... I have tons of curriculum materials that can be shared over e-mail... feel free to contact me.... by removing the red...
Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2015 10:35:54 AM
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Joined: 9/1/2009
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Location: Sebring Florida
Just a thought...
A good craftsperson is harder to find these days than a
Doctor or Lawyer.
This nation was not built by people who went to college, but those with great skills.
bob itnyre
Posted: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 11:42:17 PM
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Joined: 2/20/2006
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Location: 29 Palms, CA
This is primarily for Christopher Dahle in Colorado but also it’s a hello for Tom Bockman. Tom I’m glad you are in the schools so the youngsters can get the benefits of your wonderful skills, but I suspect you could do quite well writing for one of the woodworking magazines that are out there. Anyway by way of introduction, to others, I’m Bob Itnyre. Woodshop teacher in 29 Palms and Yucca Valley CA. Most of my career I taught Jr High woodworking and then my last four years I taught High School woodworking. I retired last June. I’m 72 and it was time.

Christopher, I am delighted that woodworking is making a comeback in your district. I think that educators are finding that the craft skills are really important, and even though craft skills are not tested on all these standardized tests they are now giving, Woodshop (for example) causes many students to come to school and thus they get to their other classes too. Additionally, they get as asides a lot of Math and I used to push some history too as in stories on the construction of Viking ships or nails found in England from the Roman occupation, or on selection of wood for the English longbow. I have former students who are now Plumbers, Heating and Air conditioning repairmen and a Farrier too, not to mention many who work in the construction trades. Every so often I run into a former student and so far every single one of them still has a project that they built in my class, or their mother has it. How many still have a term paper from English or History?

For Christopher, I have a brunch of plans for woodworking projects which I’ll be glad to mail to you at your school. I also have a small stool which I’ll put in there too. This stool was always a hit, especially with the Moms and Dads. Remember when mom says to the 12 year old, “get little brother or sister and wash their hands for dinner.” This stool is great for the little one to stand on while getting their hands washed.

You asked about projects. I pushed the tape measure. The reason was because many of my contractor friends were dismayed at the number of prospective employees who could not read a tape measure. I used to get a 12 inch piece of furring strip and then have the students cut it to 5 or 6 shorter specified lengths and then stop at four inches in length. They had to do these cuts on the HAND powered miter saw. Lots of complaining because they all want to use power saws. Not yet. If they got the cuts correct then they would use the metal stencils and stamp their name and the year in the block and then sand off the corners and edges and it would be their sanding block. If you can, get tape measures with the Metric system on the other edge of the tape. Great place to get them conversant in the Metric system.

Anyway, if you send me the address of your school. I’ll get these plans and the stool in the mail.
I hope you have a super year, I know the students will. Bob
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