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  • Doug Stowe

Wisdom of the Hands: Serial Position Effect

Serial Position Effect refers to an important principle in psychology having to do with how and if we remember things, and attention to it can have a profound effect on the effectiveness of teaching.

In woodworking how we break down things into steps can have an effect on how the steps are remembered, and so in teaching woodshop whether with kids or adults, how we offer necessary information can make all the difference in the world.

In a list of items, steps, or facts we have a greater ability to remember the first things and the last, and a greater tendency to forget the things in the middle. Test yourself in this. Head to the grocery store with a list in your head of things you need to pick up and then see which things have been forgotten, which in all likelihood will be things in the middle. Remembering the first things on the list is called the primary effect, and the things mentioned last are called the regency effect. By avoiding overloading the middle steps in an order of operations can be better recalled. This can be help for a teacher planning lessons. Arrange things in groups of two or three ad suggest o the student, "ask me for your next steps when you've done the first two."

Another way teachers use serial position effect is to offer the most important facts or information first and last with things of lesser importance occupying the middle ground. I was talking with a friend this morning about the challenge of training employees to be effective educators. They may not even think of themselves in that role. But they are, especially in sales of things that are complex and sometimes daunting to the user. Teaching and marketing are a whole lot alike and the principles of Educational Sloyd can fit. Make sure your explanations for things fit the prior experience of the customer. Getting to know our customers and their prior experiences can help you to tailor your presentation of information to fit their needs. Build from the known to the unknown, from the easy to more difficult, from the simple to the complex, and from the concrete to the abstract. And sometimes what the customer wants is not all that much complex information, but information that is tailored to their framework of understanding, along with the assurance that you care bout their success in the use of your product.


180 years old and fresh as the day it was born.

The kindergarten model of education launched by Froebel in the 19th century should be the model of all schooling from pre-K through university. The ideal is that we learn through play within the realm of real life. Artificiality and contrivance are the banes of effective learning. They kill it dead.

For instance, students who want to be teachers should be launched into classrooms their first term at the university so that they are provided a means to test and utilize and be energized and awakened by what they are learning in class. Froebel offered an understanding that what was taken into the mind needed to be tested through the outcome of the hands and in real life.

You can participate in a renewal by paying attention to the Kindergarten documentary film series, and by attending to the path to learning podcasts created by my friends Scott Bultman, Jay Irwin, and John Pottinger. Path to learning can be found here.


Sloyd trivets and Paper Sloyd

Yesterday, students in my class made sloyd trivets. In the meantime, one of the members of the New England Association of Woodworking Teachers (NEAWT) noted that he'll be out of his classroom for 10 days after becoming exposed to Covid-19 by a close encounter with an infected student. Asking the members of NEAWT about projects he could have his students do while he's out, I suggested paper sloyd. You can view and download the book free from this site.

His students may argue about being required to learn what students had once learned in Kindergarten and first grade, but they would benefit from it nonetheless, gaining skills they'll need for other things.

It is no longer surprising for teachers of design at the university level to learn that many of their students no longer have skills in the use of rulers, scissors, and paper folding. Paper Sloyd, intended as a precursor to Educational Sloyd and originally intended for the younger set, can fix that. It also helps develop skills in utilizing instructions and plans. Today my students will be making tiny house letter holders. If you are reading this on the blog and not on Facebook, you can use the search function at the upper left to learn more about Paper Sloyd. There are a number of reasons I want to encourage readers to go to the blog rather than Facebook. The blog allows me to use more photos and offer richer content. So if you find facebook down or want to avoid it because it's eating away at our lives, go to


A New Cover

Linden Press has offered a revised cover to my new book as shown. Unlike the stock photo image used on the advanced review copy, this image was taken by a photographer visiting my woodshop at the Clear Spring School.

Professional photographer Arshia Khan took the photo in 2012 for an article in Arkansas Life Magazine. In it, I'm showing a student how to mark the center of a turning blank to mount on the lathe.

-- Doug Stowe


"Make, fix and create. Assist others in learning likewise."

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