Living On The Concours

It doesn’t happen often, I’m usually the one taking the photos.
A student of mine saw me riding in to school from her school bus.

I’ve been riding the Concours for over a month now.  It came to me with a broken speedo reading 25073 miles.  Today it’s 25784 on it – 711 miles so far.  With some commuting and longer trips in the mix I’m starting to get a good sense of what the bike is capable of.

My most recent refill took me 175 miles and took just over 20 litres to refill (pardon my half imperial/half metric measurements).  It looks like I’m getting about 41mpg out of it, which is quite a surprise considering how often I push the RPMs up (it just sounds so good doing it).  I’ve been told you can get up near 50mpg if you don’t wring its neck, which should be doable if I’m on a longer road trip, especially if I’m covering miles at speed on the highway, which I never normally do.

The only time I pushed too hard was winding on the throttle when entering a main road a couple of weeks ago.  Being so torquey, the Connie broke loose on the back wheel when I rolled on the thottle.  I caught it in time but it was exciting!  Hooking up the bike and keeping it upright was surprisingly easy, this Kawasaki is remarkably responsive for how big it is.  Easing off the throttle and letting the tire reconnect was enough to get me straightened out and launched up the road right quick.  Other than that one bit of excitement the Concours has been an easy bike to live with.  It handles two up duty well, swallows the horrible roads around here with much better suspension than the Ninja had, and the engine has only gotten sweeter as I’ve started using it regularly.

With the Connie sorted I’ve been working on the rider too.  I started working on my weight in February when I was shocked to learn I was over two hundred and sixty pounds.  Most recently I was down to 248lbs, which is a 14lb drop, which isn’t bad considering I’m exercising regularly and have put on some muscle as well.  I’m aiming for under 240, but I’m going to keep up the exercise and eating choices and just see where it lands me.  The goal is still to eventually head off to racing school and not look like a tool in one piece leathers.

Twist of the Throttle

The cornering bible… 

I’m currently reading Keith Code‘s Twist of the Wrist.  I’ve been looking for an intelligent description of motorcycle operation that accurately explains the dynamics of two wheeled riding (which differs significantly from three and four wheeled operation).

I listened to an interview with a senior Honda engineer (I can’t remember where) and he said that after World War 2 the engineers that couldn’t go into aviation (because of the U.S. embargo that prevented a Japanese aviation industry from re-inventing Zeroes) went into motorcycle engineering because the dynamics are similar (motorcycles work in 3 dimensions like airplanes).  Victory in World War 2 meant the end of allied motorcycling manufacturing as they knew it… an irony of victory, but I digress.

The Ninja takes a breather at Higher Ground, the lovely
coffee shop at the top of the Forks of the Credit in Belfountain.

Professor Code’s book explains the dynamics of motorcycle riding in better detail than anything else I’ve found.  The video explains the psychology and physics of riding and dismisses many of the misconceptions.  

I spent this afternoon riding over to one of the few curvy roads in the farming desert I live in to practice my throttle control and make a conscious assessment of my fear reactions to riding.  I’m determined to get rid of the ‘chicken strips‘ on my tyres.  I got down to my peg feelers on a couple of the long corners, finally.

The distance between driving a multi-wheeled vehicle (which I’ve got a lot of experience on) and two wheeled vehicles is massive.  You have to fight a lot of habit and psychology to give the bike what it needs to corner well; the dynamics are completely different and counter-intuitive if you’re overly four wheel focused.  Even the process of approaching and exiting a corner is much more complex on the multi-axis two wheeled conveyance.  Driving and riding are two very different processes, and I’m frankly enjoying the complexity of the simplicity of two wheels by comparison.

Reading/watching Twist of the Wrist should be a requirement for anyone wanting to take on motorbiking, it’ll make you aware of the mechanics of riding.  

I really need a track day, not for the speed but for the ability to focus on process without worrying if the person coming the other way is texting.

Motorcycle Media Musings

If you’re in the mood for a motorbike adventure to the top of the world, give yourself fifty minutes and give this a watch…  


Evidently the company that runs this trip is no longer doing business, but here’s hoping they are able to get it going again, what a journey.

This is a compilation of amazing video.  Other than the first track I generally enjoyed the musical accompaniment too.


What surprised me was the level of acrobatic control that is possible on a bike, and the drifting is astonishing.  Between the stunt bike riding and the race footage, it makes me wonder how someone learns this degree of control.  A bike with no plastic fairings that got dropped a lot must be somewhere in their past.  I’ve often thought that an old dirt bike that I could drop without worrying about it would help me get a feel for the limits on a bike, even at low speeds.

 

 

On a now-for-something-completely-different in terms of motorbike media, I’m finishing up the bike hole.  For decoration I wanted something bikey.  My wife got me some fantastic hand drawn prints while we were in England this summer, so they were destined for the finished garage.  

I also wanted some clean pictures of modern bikes that I like.  We just set up a photo printing station at work, so I found some clean, high-def side views of bikes on white backgrounds that made for some nice 4x6s.

The end result is a nicely bike themed bike hole.  It’s not quite finished yet, but it’s looking good.

Too Far Gone

Bike Magazine had an excerpt from Todd Blubaugh‘s Too Far Gone in the last issue.  The excerpt was so moving that I just got up and purchased the book on Amazon.


My favourite motorcycle reads have been the philosophical ones that dig deep.  The ‘I rode very far every day’ travel trips don’t always get to the why’s of the trip, often getting stuck in the trivial details.  The result ends up feeling like a travel advertisement rather than showing the real power of a journey.


Alternately, you have the books that aim directly at motorcycle culture but end up being dimensionless descriptions of it, hyping up the excitement of the ride without making any attempt to understand why people would take these risks and identify with such a divisive cultural icon.  

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was one of the first books to go deep, showing the depths to which some motorcyclists dive when out in the wind.  Anything by Matt Crawford does the same thing for mechanics in general, although he comes from a place of motorbikes.  Deep thoughts while flying through time and space on two wheels are kind of the point for me.  If I just wanted to go fast, I’d do it in a car or a plane.  There is something elemental about motorcycling that zens you into the moment.  The immediacy of it makes you honest.


After reading a few pages of excerpts in BIKE, I’m looking forward to reading not so much about Todd’s travels but about his insights.  The motorcycle isn’t the point, but it’s one of the best vehicles for taking you to eureka that I’ve found, and I’m more willing to follow an author to those moments of enlightenment on two wheels because I believe in the medium.

How good was it?  Read the followup post here!

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Simple Remote Learning Fixes

I was asked what our spec-ed teachers can do to help students with IEPs who are struggling with technology at home.  This might not be the answer they expected, but here’s 30 years of IT experience at work, and it follows the screensaver I always ran when I was a full time IT technician:  SIMPLIFY!

For many ‘tech’ is something out of their comfort zone which means you’re battling a confidence issue as well as the tech problem.  For others, especially younger people who have been told they’re digital natives who intuitively understand technology (which is hooey) you get the Dunning-Kruger Effect in full blossom and have have to back them out of the assumptions they jump into too quickly.

Here are the simple how-tos for tech support which will resolve the vast majority of technical problems you’ll face in our bizarre new world of COVID19 bubble remote learning (you’ll be building digital fluency in your users too!):

THE BASICS FOR TECH SUPPORTING REMOTE LEARNING


1. Have you tried turning it off and on again?  You’d be amazed how often that solves things.  There is a lot of data moving around in a computer and the person using it may very well have interrupted some of those processes.  Rebooting a computer lets it sort itself out and undo those interruptions.

 


2. SLOW DOWN! (it’s a theme) Actually read the error – the computer is trying to tell you something, slow down and read and understand it. Many people tend to make assumptions and then start mashing buttons and messing with settings.  This makes it even harder to fix the probably simple issue that kicked this off.




3. Get good at searching online for a solution.  Don’t paraphrase, put the specific message you’re getting in the search and you’ll get specific how-tos, you’ll also get a sense of how common what’s happened is.  Include details.  What operating system are you running?  Windows 10?  Windows 8?  Windows 7 even though it is no longer supported by Microsoft but your school board won’t update?  Mac OSx?  ChromeOS?  What model of computer are you using – it’s stamped on it somewhere.  Get details and use them in your online search. 




4.  Having said number 3, the internet is populated with idiots, so don’t believe everything you read on the interwebs – be criticial!  Look for quality answers from a good source (it’s NEVER reddit – see the brilliant commentary on the right).
A Chrome answer from a Google page?  A Windows answer from a Microsoft page?  A Mac answer from an Apple page?  That’s where you want to look – and then SLOW DOWN (theme, remember?) read and understand what they’re saying.

5.  Make one change and test it.  As Charles from MASH once famously said, do one thing at a time, do it very well, and then move on.
Running off half cocked is what too many people do.  They end up making things worse by digging into settings and mashing buttons.  If it worked before, it’s probably a single thing that changed.  Slow down, read and understand what’s happening, isolate the problem, solve it – then reboot to let the computer sort itself out!


The technical side of things is only one part of the technical support equation.  Dealing with user psychology is the unspoken, secret side of the business.  User resilience plays a big part in how many technical issues you’re tasked with solving.  It’s a lack of confidence that prevents people from solving many of these issues themselves, not the technical complexity of the issue itself.  As my Dad once said, if a person built it, I can fix it.  Until we’re facing alien technology, you got this.

If we can build confidence and encourage everyone to take on responsibility for using the tech, everything tends to work better, the user included.  Don’t ignore the psychology – make a point of congratulating yourself or your user for resolving their own technical challenges – it helps bridge that confidence deficit.

6. BONUS:  it’s usually something simpler than you think it is.  When I was looking at blade server failure that had just knocked over 600 employees off the network for no reason everyone else in the department wanted to dive into software settings.  I went and looked at the thing and realized it had been plugged in to the wrong breaker (plug), and it kept popping when over 400 connected at time.  Others wanted to get into settings, I checked to see if it was plugged in properly.

Mike Meyers has a similar story in his CompTIA A+ Study manual:  a colleague was bragging about how great his security firewalls were on a new server.  Mike bet him he could get into it and the guy took the bet.  Mike put on overalls, walked into the office saying he was there to do some maintenance and the receptionist waved him in.  He walked into the server room, unplugged it and walked out of the office with it under his arm.  The receptionist didn’t notice because her internet was down (he’d just walked out with the thing that served it).



7. SUPER BONUS!!!  PUSH YOUR UPDATES!  If you’re on Windows type in update in the search bar and it’ll walk you through them – being out of date can stop your machine from working properly, especially in our interconnected techosystem (see what I did there/).  Being out of date also opens you up to all sorts of cybersecurity headaches.  If you’re on an Apple product, the process is similarChromebooks need updating love too, don’t forget it!

There is nothing magical about digital technology, or any technology really.  Our inability to manage it usually comes down to either a confidence problem around a lack of familiarity or an over falsity of confidence based on the same thing.

When you’re trying to get students connected during an emergency situation don’t over-complicate things and look for the easiest fix first.  I’ve seen ‘experts’ diving into Chrome settings and spending an hour messing with settings and still coming up short.  The IT tech in me always wonders why they don’t spend five minutes uninstalling and reinstalling it.  The point isn’t to show off your prowess (though I’m not sure that wandering through settings randomly trying things for an hour would do that), it’s to make things work.

In short, be humble, be helpful and be solutions focused which includes addressing where your user is in terms of psychology.  That’ll get 99% of your technical challenges sorted in our bizarre COVID remote learning bubbles.  For the other 1%, that’s why we have IT departments.

from DUSTY WORLD on Blogger ift.tt/2Xpg8jY published in the middle of the spring 2020 COVID19 emergency remote learning situation as I found myself buried under dozens of requests for help from frantic teachers and students.
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Mid-Winter Motorcycle Maintenance: Triumph Tiger Front Brakes


It was a busy long weekend in the winter maintenance garage.  In addition to going over all the electrical connectors on the Tiger, I also did the front brake pads, which weren’t making any noise, but after last year’s noisy rear brakes forcing a change during the too-short Canadian riding season, I figured some preventative maintenance was in order, and good thing too!  You can see the metal noise strips just becoming visible in the photo.

The brake change was pretty straightforward with the caliper pin cover coming off with a bit of heat and the rest of the pieces coming apart with no problems.  After cleaning up the metal spring pads with a wire brush and thoroughly cleaning the calipers, everything went back together with minimum fuss.  The caliper action was nice and smooth and they willingly got pushed to full open to accept the new pads.  After a couple of pumps of the lever everything was tight and grippy again.  I managed to find the types of caliper I was looking for on Fortnine, and they happened to be orange and look good on the Lucifer Orange Tiger.

The only real pain were the brake master cylinder cover bolts.  The first one came out easily enough, but the second didn’t want to come no matter what I did.  Eventually a hammered in Phillip’s head screwdriver and some heat cracked the bolt’s grip and out it came, but it’s pretty mangled.

I was able to find that the bolt is a countersunk M5x16mm bolt.  It’s a pretty common thing so I’m hoping I don’t have to order it online and can pick one up locally.  It’s probably too much to ask to find one that’s got a nice coloured, metallic finish.

That covers what I wanted to get done as far as winter maintenance goes with the Tiger.  Other than the brakes and a clean and grease, it was all about the LED indicator upgrade.  Next year it’ll be a swing arm removal and chassis grease and it’ll have been several seasons since I last did the brake fluid and coolant, so that’s on the future list too.  Now it’s just the long wait for spring and a chance to get out and ride again.

In the meantime the Honda Fireblade Project is also in pretty good shape.  The carbs are sorted, as is the petcock.  I’m only waiting on a break in the weather to test everything.  In the meantime I’ve got another set of the LED indicators waiting to go on, but I’m tempted to wait on that as long as the stock ones work.


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M2: Double the Fun

I got my M2 yesterday, which means I’m off double secret probation and able to ride at night, double people and/or go on the big highways.  Two hours after I got my M2 I took the bike over to my eight year old’s school and drove him home on it.  It was a nice, leisurely ride through town.  He hasn’t been able to talk about much else since.

Just like Nana used to drive:
The Isetta 3 Wheeler

One of our instructors at the motorbike course wasn’t a fan of taking passengers.  To him it defeated the point of the whole experience; a singular, tight bond between rider and bike, and a chance to be alone with your thoughts.  I think that’s an important part of biking, but I’m digging being able to share the feel of riding with my son.  To that end, I’m thinking about the options available.  The idea of a big touring bike doesn’t really thrill, but in the antique and adventure bike arenas there are a lot of options.

I’ve got a thing for asymmetrical vehicles.  My Nana had a three wheeler when I was growing up in Norfolk. I loved that car, the door was the whole front end, and she looked so cool driving it.

Royal Enfield Bullet Classic

When I was a kid I also saw my share of Morgan Aeros, and the new Morgan 3 scratches that same itch.  Bikes have a long tradition of three wheeling too.  I’ve always thought the sidecar look was classic cool.  When I discovered that one of the premier vintage side car shops (Old Vintage Cranks) is only 20 minutes away from me in Hillsburgh, I could see me getting something from them in the future.

They also happen to be a Royal Enfield dealer, so I could get a classic look with modern parts!  With that bike a sidecar is almost a necessity!  OVC is the place to get that done.  A Royal Enfield Bullet Classic in blue with a matching classic side car would be an awesome way to share the open feel of riding with my family.

I think there will always be a place in the stable for a two wheeler, but it’s nice to have a not crazy-expensive option like the RE Bullet and sidecar sitting there waiting for a tear down the road.  Cool chrome riding goggles and classic leather gear would be the accessory of choice.

At the moment I’m finding the Ninja to be a great first bike.  It’s athletic, sounds wonderful and is always rearing to go.  With my son on the back I feel the weight, especially on the shocks.  Something with longer suspension travel, like that KLR I originally considered, would also allow for a better two person ride.  A KLR with luggage means I’m less worried about him flying off too, something the twitchy Ninja seems eager to do.

Now that I can do pretty much everything you can do on a bike on the road, the perfect bike isn’t one bike.  I’d eventually want an enduro that can go anywhere, a road specialist, and something odd-ball, like that classic bike and sidecar combo.  At the moment my dream stable is a Triumph Tiger 800 adventure bike, a Triumph Street Triple naked road bike and that whacky classic with sidecar.  Being able to open the garage and see those three sitting there would mean all options are on the table… and the three together still cost less than a new mid-sized SUV.

Road Specialist
Triumph Street Triple
Enduro Go Anywhere Bike
Triumph Tiger 800

Old Vintage Cranks: a hidden side to bike culture

Ural project: ready for combat!

I finally made some time to stop by OVC in Hillsburgh this week; it’s everything I’d hoped it would be.  Only a few years ago this was a one man operation running out of his garage, but as the need grew he moved into a garage space and now has employees and is so busy that he is thinking about expanding again.

The shop was busy with sidecar projects as well as working on what they sell as a dealership (Urals and Royal Enfields mainly).  It was organized, but busy, and every inch of space was in use.  Out front they had sidecar rigs on a Royal Enfield 500cc and the fantastically Soviet styled Ural.

Royal Enfield & sidecar

I’d gone to see the Royal Enfield, I think the Bullet Classic is a fantastic looking classic bike.  With the modern engine and fuel system it’s super dependable.  At 500cc I thought it would be much too small, but I (at 6’3″) felt more comfortable on it than I do scrunched up on my Ninja, which has a lower seat and higher pegs.  The problem came when I saw the Ural.

The Soviet cool Ural

I was indifferent to it, though impressed by how tough it is from online writing like Hubert’s Timeless Ride.  When I finally saw one in person it has a unique aesthetic that you don’t find in any other bike.  The lights are blocky and purely functional where an Italian would have made them streamlined and an American would have drenched them in chrome.  There is nothing dainty about the Ural, it’s a tough machine built by tough people for a tough environment.  If you dig Soyuz space capsules and the no-nonsense style of Russian technology, you’ll totally dig the Ural.  It comes with a movable spotlight (standard), but machine gun mounts are an option… this is the bike that Russians manufacture for their own military, and it looks it.

Max digs that Bullet Classic

After looking at the Royal Enfield and the Ural, I wouldn’t want to saddle the RE to a sidecar, it’s such a pretty bike on its own, and without the extra weight, even with 500cc, it would move around in a spritely fashion.

The Ural is a beast, and with the sidecar it looks like it could come thundering out of Moscow to chase the Nazis back to Germany (the bike itself is copied from German designs).

OVC’s busy show room

If you have the time to drop by Old Vintage Cranks in Hillsburgh, it’ll show you another side of motorcycling culture about as far away from the big manufacturer’s aesthetics as you can get.  With no American=too much, German detailism or Japanese techno-crush, the bikes at OVC offer you another
avenue into biking that’s so not mainstream that it’s shocking.  That it’s a tiny, independent, busy, working shop packed to the gills just adds to the flavor.

It’s only a matter of time before my son and I are on a Ural pounding through the woods, or I’m on a Royal Enfield weaving along back roads, enjoying a bike that’s as much a part of the scenery as the scenery is.

If you’re heading out of the GTA, I have a suggestion, head north on the 410 out of Brampton (it turns into Highway 10) and hang a left onto Forks of the Credit Road (about 10 minutes up the road after the 410), enjoy that, grab an ice cream or coffee in Belfountain.  Hang a right onto Bush Street/Wellington Rd 52 until it Ts in Erin, go right to the light, left to the next light and you’re at Trafalgar Road North.  Hang a right there and OVC is on your left about five minutes up the road as you ride into Hillsburgh.

There are lots of nice riding roads around there if you’ve never been up that way before.

https://maps.google.ca/maps/ms?msid=205122563591402305709.0004e2439c2d8f15b9ee9&msa=0&ll=43.802819,-80.021324&spn=0.137025,0.338173
Forks of The Credit to Old Vintage Cranks, a nice ride out of the GTA for an afternoon
link to GOOGLE MAP

 

The Corbin Experience

The big five-oh is coming up so I got myself a present.  I’ve always wanted a custom saddle and after seeing buddy Jeff’s new Sargent seat, I started looking into what’s available for the Tiger.  Sargent doesn’t do anything for Tigers as old as mine, but Corbin does.  Their site lets you customize your seat with material and stitching.  The Tiger isn’t a shy and retiring sort of motorbike, so I wasn’t very conservative in my seat design.

Corbin lets you play with variations on their online customizing tool.  I started off with basic black but quickly moved on from there.  You can go full disco oligarch if you want, but I looked at the Tiger and worked out a design that pulls the colours already on the bike together on the seat.  I took the most shocking part of the Tiger, the Lucifer Orange paint, and did the stitching in orange.  Most of the mechanical bits are black, so I stayed with a black set but went with a gripper material rather than leather.  The side panels I matched in navy blue with the blue on the swing arm.  The goal was to design a seat that looks like it belongs on the bike, and I think it does that while not being dull.

It’s a pretty thing.

The customization options offered by Corbin are exceptional.  Less so was communication.  I sent in the request online and got an email asking me to confirm the order.  When I questioned the $120US delivery fee added on, I got no reply.  The initial email also promised a follow up when the seat was going into production, but that didn’t happen either.  What did happen was one day I got a bill for $94CAD on my front door when I got home from work.  After driving over to the post office I got told there was a bill for taxes on the shipment, so that puts getting my Corbin to me at two hundred and fifty-five bucks (I could fly back from San Francisco where Corbin’s factory is for about the same price)… and I had to go pick it up.

The seat itself is very nice on top.  The underside looks a bit rough with loose bits and rough holes , but I guess no one will ever see it but me.  It’s heavy duty leather so it’ll take a while to break in and will look better and better as it does.

Comfort wise, it feels very different from the curved stock saddle.  The Corbin is much wider, making the ground further away.  I can flat foot the Tiger on the stock saddle even when it’s in its highest position.  The Corbin doesn’t adjust for height, but its width makes it feel much taller.  The width was such a concern that I tried standing on the pegs to see if the seat interfered with my legs.  I can feel the seat (not so with the curved and narrower stock seat), but it’s not pushing my knees away, so I can still stand on the pegs if necessary.

The seat’s back is so steep that it feels like a small backrest, which does wonders for support and comfort.  My son is too big now to pillion with me (we exceed the bike’s carrying capacity), but if my wife ever comes for a ride, I think she’ll have a better view from a higher back seat.

The seat feels firm, but Corbin mention that as it breaks in it will conform to your butt specifically and soften.  The width of it handles weight so well that I really don’t notice the hardness, and it’s supposed to fade away over time anyway.  They suggest a 2000 mile break in period, which seems like a long one, but it is what it is.

It isn’t cheap, but the lifetime warranty takes care of any quality worries, and it seems a well put together thing, once I got it to attach to the bike.

Installation wasn’t as easy as I’d have hoped.  The Corbin is a single seat unit replacing a separate rider and passenger stock seat set.  The stock rider seat has a couple of hoops on the frame that locate the front and a pin locking mechanism in the rear.  The passenger seat has hooks on the front another pin locking mechanism at the back.  The all-in-one Corbin seat doesn’t use the middle pin at all and wouldn’t locate and lock in the rear pin.  Putting it on and off the big over and over trying to figure out why it wouldn’t lock ended up scratching the triangular side panels under the seat a bit, which was annoying.

I ended up removing the fuse box and taking out the middle locking pin as I was afraid it was preventing the seat from sitting down on the frame properly, but it ended up being the front metal bars that hook on the frame loops.  They weren’t bent down enough to allow the seat to sit flat.  After a bit of bending, I was finally able to get the seat to click into place.

I’m sitting higher on this new, firm Corbin seat, but it’s supposed to soften over time, so I think the height will ease a bit too.  The ‘gripper’ fabric feels quality and tough and isn’t particularly grippy.  I’m able to move around on it quite easily and I’m hoping it breathes a bit better than leather would.  Hot seat in the summer is one of the things I’m hoping this solves.

I’d be happier with Corbin communicating (at all) and I’d have been a lot happier with the stratospheric shipping charge if it took care of border costs too.  Paying the equivalent of airfare from San Francisco seems a bit excessive, especially when I get to deliver it to myself anyway.  If you’re ever on holiday in northern California, pre-order your seat and then pick it up from the factory near San Jose and save yourself a pile of cash.

Overall?  I’m happy with the seat.  The upside is a quality seat that you can make uniquely yours for what I consider a reasonable amount of money for a bespoke item like this.  When people are dropping twice this on slip on exhausts and helmets, the Corbin starts to look like good farkling value.  It certainly makes a statement and as one of the key connection pieces between rider and motorbike, it’s a customization option that does a lot to make a bike feel special.

I just got back from a 232km romp across the Niagara Escarpment.  Never once did I have to stop for numb bum.  That’s never happened before, and it’s only supposed to get better?

Originally published from Blogger in May of 2019:   bit.ly/2PP84mB
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Procedural Learning

From Dusty World in December of 2014:

You can learn anywhere, but some places are better than others

We had one of our few professional development days last week (this one on metacognitionand I had a moment of insight in spite of the circumstances.

For the better part of three hours we were sitting on too-small benches designed for children in a large, drafty, echo-y cafeteria listening to booming, static-y microphones and online videos.  It was a near perfect storm of poor environmental factors around learning for me.  I’m not a good auditory learner at the best of times, when barriers to listening are in place I quickly fall off the engagement wagon, though I try to hang on.

Why was our professional development done here?  Because we could fit two schools worth of teachers into that space.  When teachers don’t consider basic pedagogical factors in teaching each other, it makes me wonder what happens in their classrooms (also designed to fit as many bodies as possible).

What would a learning space designed for learning (rather than body count) look like?  Tech could mitigate the need for massive spaces to warehouse lots of bodies.  We’ve build this complex and expensive communications infrastructure between schools, but we still expect teachers to burn fossil fuels and gather physically for material that could have more efficiently and effectively been delivered through interactive video and shared notes.  If the advanced life-long learners aren’t going to test these possibilities, who will?

It was in this environment, rather ironically, that Jenny Donohoo, one of the presenters, clarified procedural learning for me.  She did it in the context of metacognition, but it allowed me to more accurately understand why I fell out of subjects in high school that I otherwise had a great deal of interest in.

I’d initially entered physics wanting to get into astronomy, but instead of science being a tool with which to explore the universe, I discovered that it (at least in high school in the 1980s) was a procedural course designed to chase anyone who didn’t like repetition for the sake of it out.  I greatly enjoyed computers too, but the computer science teacher approached the subject with the same procedural bent, as did most of my math teachers.  I’d like to think that things have changed since I was taking those classes, but the amount of photocopies still pouring out of those departments suggests otherwise.

I’d often find myself in a  math or science class doing procedural work with no idea why.  I’m not averse to procedural work, in fact, I have a great deal of respect for it.  You don’t spend hundreds of hours power skating with a psychotic Russian figure skating instructor in full goalie’s equipment if you don’t appreciate what drilling can do for you, but I never suffered through that for the sake of suffering through that, I did it to become a better hockey goalie.

You don’t have to look far for inspirational sports quotes.
Many encourage practice, but the goal is never practice itself.

When students are asked to do procedural work (ie: getting drilled in skills so they become second nature), the reason why they are being asked to do this difficult, repetitive thing had better be crystal clear or you’re going to run into engagement problems.  I’ll suffer through power skating, or exhausting 6am practices in a frozen arena if I know it’ll give me a better chance at peak performance in my next game.  I’ll get up early and ride a motorbike until my legs are jello if I know it will lead me to a moment of bliss on two wheels.  I won’t do these difficult things without a reason.  No one has ever described dedication as doing something for no clear reason (that would be futility).

When I look back on my experiences in mathematics, science and computer science I see teachers who want to drill students without telling them why.  They want stringent discipline without a goal.  Unless you’re some sort of masochist or really enjoy being told what to do, procedural learning for the sake of it is likely to cause a great deal of friction with your learners; it chased me right out of those subjects.

Another thing Donohoo said in that PD was, “the most useful thing you can do for your students is find ways to communicate what is going on in your mind when you are practising your discipline.”  Maybe some teachers simply enjoy solving problems and couldn’t give a care that there isn’t a greater goal in mind, but that alienates a lot of students.  If your expertise allows you to do something useful, articulating that to your students is a valuable way to engage them in your discipline.


I’ve tackled this from an individual teacher perspective, but procedural learning leaks into the classroom in other ways.  The most obvious example is the data gathering process of standardized testing.  You can take any complex skill like literacy or numeracy and by applying standardized testing to it, reduce learning to procedure.  Doing this can often result in better standardized testing scores!  No one loves procedure more than statistics gatherers.  I’m speculating, but I bet there is a high correlation between those teachers with encyclopedic, complex marks books and procedural approaches to learning.

They are usually the ones wringing their hands over engagement and classroom management.

The idea that education is something we do to students fits well with this procedural approach.  Bells ring, ten year old photocopies are handed out, teachers repeat what they’ve said before word for word, and we continue the production line.  Sometimes I’m amazed that anyone learns anything in a school.