The Mediocrity Virus

So I’m sitting there with a room full of people who have just won the bronze medal world-wide in the most recent round of ‘who’s got the best education system’. After years of diligent effort and insightful leadership, Canada is ranked third worldwide in educational performance, and is very close to toppling the two leaders. In every metric you care to apply, we are awesome.
We’ve applied differentiated instruction, we push technology as far as our budgets will let us, we professionally consider every angle that we can to improve student achievement, from student centred learning to expanding non-academic stream programming in order to meaningfully serve our entire student base.
Are there still problems? Certainly. We still have to work to get every member of our team to produce a peak performance, but this too is happening. Our professionalism, our dedication and our society’s values allow us to compete at the highest level.
Into our victory celebration comes a guy from a team that didn’t even make the olympics. They’ve suffered a precipitous drop in performance, dropping from the mid-teens (the highest they’ve ever been) to thirty-third over all in terms of student performance. Their teaching profession is in shambles, and their society generally views educators as over paid loafers who take summers off. Their public education system (like their prison system or their military) is being taken over by private contractors who are more focused on simplistic metrics, like their own profitability.
He tells us that we have to drastically simplify what we’re doing, go back to drilling students on facts, strictly limit teachers to curriculum and install discipline back into education; this is the only way we will get them all back on a college track.  He exemplified teachers who drill their students and run their classes with a simple, military efficiency. He floated odd statistics like, students who already know a lesson will learn 400% better if they are made to repeat what they already know over again, rather than differentiating and enriching their specific learning.
He was statistics driven and awash in his country’s educational expertise (almost exclusively driven from privatized schools). He suggested that we might be ‘a bit ahead’.
The coach in me suggests that if your team is performing well, you keep doing what you’re doing. Certainly you tweak it here or there, but when you turn in a world class performance, you don’t bring in a coach from a team that didn’t even make the show to give suggestions, but we did, because we’re Canadian, and the one thing we have even more than an awesome education system is a giant inferiority complex with our big cousins to the south.

Secondary Like We Mean It

We’re getting squeezed for sections this year because bankers and multi-nationals wanted to play silly buggers with the world economy.  Watching my school cut English sections down to the bone is making me question the validity of requiring mandatory English throughout high school.

Academic English is very university focused with the almighty essay as the be-all and end-all of high school writing.  I’m an English major, I love essays, but I recognize that the vast majority of our students, even the university bound ones, will never write another essay in their lives after high school.  Asking senior academic English teachers to consider reports, or labs, or articles, or any other writing output is an uphill battle.  They don’t want to water down their subject; the essay is sacred.

I get that, so perhaps it’s time to water down their population.  Instead of dragging all senior students through years of mostly irrelevant English skills development, why not separate the vital from the overly specific?  Literacy is a vital skill the general population needs to have, regardless of whether they major in English in university or work at a cash register.

One of the biggest challenges in English is facing an always packed class (never off the cap) full of an astonishing range of students.  A typical academic English class will contain barely literate non-readers whose parents don’t want them to give up academic options (and who may be more than capable in numeracy, science or technology).  Academic English bludgeons them with essays and Shakespeare.  The solution is to pare off literacy from what is really a specific skill set needed only by advanced students of the arts and humanities.

The idea for mandatory grade 9 and 10 literacy and numeracy courses comes from this logic.  The grade 10 course is a survey/review course that works to assess students literacy skills in a granular and meaningful way.  The opposite of a standardized test, these courses challenge students in order to accurately assess their skills in numeracy and literacy in detail.  The end result would be a certification in two important foundational skills.

Students who are able to demonstrate these foundational skills are able to continue in high school in which ever direction they choose with a clear idea of their strengths or weaknesses in fundamentally skills, or move beyond the building and into apprenticeships or the work place knowing that they have displayed an appropriate level of literacy and numeracy.  Their proven ability in these two vital skill sets will resolve many of the fears surrounding letting students leave school early.  Those that stay in high school are offered a plethora of courses, local, remote or a hybrid of the two, that allow them to develop interests and abilities that are flexible, encourage their strengths and change with the times.

Those interested in post-secondary can still take advanced English and mathematics courses, but these are entirely optional.  They may also be specific to future needs.  Science and technology students may take English that focuses on report writing and presenting analysis in clear and concise ways.  Arts and humanities students may focus on more traditional English, such as literature and essays.

If we’re not going to do literacy and numeracy properly by underfunding it into oblivion, perhaps it’s time to separate the vital skills from overly specialized, academic English and mathematics and reconfigure for flexibility in our curriculum.

Forming an ECOO Presentation

Originally posted on Dusty World in October, 2012

There were three key books I read in the past year that have clarified for me a direction we could head in educational technology.  Ideas from each of those books, which at first appear to be in direct odds with each other, helped form the content of my ECOO presentation this year.

After reading The Shallows, Nick Carr’s carefully constructed argument held a lot of weight – the internet and how it is being adopted by the general public is actually making people less effective as both thinkers and doers.  As educators, we should all be concerned about this result.  At a conference this year a frustrated, thirty-something CEO said of the twenty-somethings she’s tried hiring recently, “I just wish they could finish a thought!  I can’t even get them to close a sale because they are checking Facebook!”  This problem goes well beyond education (where any teacher can tell you it’s an epidemic).  Everyone involved in education should read this book, especially if they are trying to implement technology in the classroom.

From The Shallows I took a serious concern about technological illiteracy and habitual use of computers actually injuring people’s ability to think.

I read Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularlity is Near as a counterpoint to Carr’s very accurate, and very depressing Shallows.  Kurzweil’s giddy optimism in our engineering skills verges on evangelism.  He is a wonderfully interesting and eccentric character.  His belief goes well beyond merely living in a time of transformative change.  The singularity he refers to is a moment in the near future where we are able to develop a greater intelligence than a single human brain, or even a group of them.  He goes into mathletic detail about exponential growth and how this is occurring in computers.  Very soon we’ll understand things in finer and more complete detail than we’ve ever been able to before and our management of the world will take on omniscient proportions.  Technologically enhanced humans exist beyond the technological singularity – living in a world that looks as alien to us now as ours would to someone from the middle ages.

From Kurzweil I recognized how technology is evolving in increasingly personalized ways.  This is an argument Carr makes from the other side too.  From external machines, we are on a journey to technological integration.  This integration is going to well beyond smartphones, that’s just the latest step in an inevitable trend.  If education does everything it can to present technology as generic and impersonal, it is failing to notice a key direction in technology, it’s failing to produce students who will be useful in their own futures.  This is perhaps the most controversial aspect of my BYOD/differentiated technology argument, but I believe it’s a fundamental part of our technological evolution.  Computers want to become a part of us.  We’re not going to develop a Skynet or Matrix that will take over.  Our technology IS us, and it wants a more perfect union.  This probably scares the shit out of most people.  My argument to that is: if you’re going to amalgamate with other systems, make sure you the one directing them effectively.

Matt Crawford’s wonderful philosophical treatise on the value of skilled labour goes well beyond simply being handy.  He argues that skilled labour psychically protects you from consumerism and makes management doublespeak and creative economies an obvious joke.  The value he places on objective, quantifiable skills development often savages the feel-good ethos of a lot of educational theory which then sounds like management double-speak nonsense.  I read the book after taking my AQ in computer engineering, and it made me re-evaluate (and recognize) the value of my skilled labour history – something I’d walked away from in becoming a teacher.  I’m loving being a tech teacher this year and working with my hands again.

From Shop Class For Soul Craft I took a recognition of the importance of hands on, skill based learning.  It brings real rigor to learning, and should be a vital part of developing past the poor digital literacy I see around me.  One other experience kicked this up a notch.  In the summer we visited the Durnin farm and Heather talked about how her husband teaches people to use the farm equipment.  He gives them the tools, and expects them to figure it out and get it done.  It’s a high expectation, immediate result environment that puts a great deal of expectation on the student; Crawford would approve.  I tell my students, “no one ever learned how to ride a bike by watching someone else riding a bike” – it’s an experiential thing that offers real (often painful) immediate feedback… what effective learning should be.

Into that mix of big ideas of warning, optimism and rigor I also mixed in the standard PLN secret sauce.  Concerns over BYOD abound with teachers online.  The idea that BYOD should just be thrown into curriculum struck me as simply wrong.  As Andrew Campbell suggests, it’s more about stretching a divide (or Carr would argue intellectually crippling idiots) than it is about increasing digital fluencies.

Teaching competency, flexibility and self awareness on digital tools should be a primary goal of current educational practice.  We’re graduating students who are dangerously useless to employers.  The idea of a continuum of digital mastery based on objectively developed skills linked to a gradual loosening of restrictions and access to increasingly diverse tools and online content was the result.

I present on Thursday, and I’m more interested in the discussion that ensues than I am in telling anyone anything.  ECOO is a wonderful braintrust, and usually super-charges my educational technology awareness.  I’m looking forward to the brain soup we create out of this!

Diversifying Edtech: the key to a digital skills continuum


Copyright is sticky business

I read this which led me to this, which made me want to write this: (!)

Copyright is a sticky business. More often than not it isn’t the artist that is being protected by copyright so much as the distribution company that owns the rights. The music industry is still trying to get itself out of being a manufacturing and distribution concern, which is where the copyright habits we’ve developed with music started.

When you’ve got to justify stamping millions of CDs to make music financially viable, the focus shifts from the artist to the manufacturing/distribution system (where big infrastructure costs exist). In order to protect this distribution system, a robust, aggressive and quite jackassey legal specialization developed that has nothing whatsoever to do with the art it claims to protect.

It seems we’ve arrived at an age where an artist can be stimulated by influences and then effectively prevent anyone else from evolving ideas out of them. The Beatles, perhaps one of the biggest offenders in this, freely stole ideas and even whole pieces of music from the black R&B musicians in the US that proceeded them. Later in their careers they made art by evolving influences from Indian and other world music as well. They then aggressively locked down the rights to the art they freely took from other people.

It seems that Boomers are unique in many ways, not the least of which is their self-claimed right to take everything that came before them and own it entirely forever. US copyright has led this erosion of artistic license for many years, continually expanding and pursuing the entertainment industry’s right to own a piece of music, eventually (they hope) forever.

One of my favorite cautionary tales is Sita Sings The Blues. An artist going through a breakup creates an animated piece that integrates the 1920s music she is listening to at the time with an ancient Indian myth and her own relationship disaster. It’s very thoughtfully done. Give it a look if you’ve never seen it before. The details are on the website, but here’s the summary: when she went to get the copyright for the 1920s recordings (long out of copyright) that she wanted, she discovered a copyright law firm (one of many that buy up copyright-passed, older material) contacted her back and wanted a quarter of a million dollars for songs they didn’t own by an artist they never represented.

This is the state of copyright nowadays: a savage wasteland of corporate vultures looking to pick the bones clean of any work of artistic merit. It’s a completely unsustainable system that stifles art and kills creativity. Had Shakespeare been alive now, he would not have been able to publish any of his work (almost all of which borrowed heavily from proceeding material). Corporate vultures would have swooped in and killed Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth or Hamlet stone dead.

I make no bones about artists being able to make a living from their work, I’m an artist myself. My hope is that digitization of the workflow will free us from the vultures that have been feeding (and killing) the artistic process for the past 60 years.

Many artists are beginning to push content directly to fans. Courtney Love famously once said, “I work for tips” when she was talking about how little she made from CD sales. Doing tours made more, but even live performance requires covering a lot of hangers on.

The irony in all of this is that the music industry claims to be the protector and savior of music, yet it is the very thing stifling creativity, and it’s doing it to protect an archaic manufacturing system that barely exists any more.

Ok, so after all that? I think NerdyTeacher’s blog is a great opportunity for Taylor to step into a new era and develop fan based appreciation through Twitter and social networking. Those students, and the people who see the performance will know of her willingness to share her art. What I fear is that she isn’t the one to make this decision. A legal firm representing her music industrial complex will make that decision, and it won’t go well.

Thanks to @dougpete and @TheNerdyTeacher (and twitter) for the impetus to write!

The New Literacy

I recently became the head of Computer & Information Technology at my high school.  To many this might cause confusion, not many schools appear to have a head of digital technology.  When recently asked to join up with the other two heads of Comp/Info tech in our region I discovered that there aren’t any, I am the sole head of digi-tech in my area.

A day in the life of that rare creature: the head of info-tech

I was supposed to be meeting up with them to plan our upcoming PD day.  Being the resourceful fellow I am, I started putting together ideas for the pd on prezi.  In thinking it through, I want to go after three ideas:  how we administer computer studies, how computer studies are presented in ministry curriculum (and the problems around that), and what the future of computer studies holds.

The general response I get from teachers around digital technology is that very few know anything about it, but they’re all expected to be comfortable with it.  The other response is that the digital natives won’t learn anything from us because they already know everything.

The myth of the digital native is just that, a myth.  Student digital fluency is pretty much the same as the general population, except they spend a lot more time doing the same, limited activities in digital space.  The digital native is, in  many cases, actually the digital serf.

After working my way through thinking about computer studies and how it’s taught in my school (and board), I want to try and change the way computer studies are delivered.  The current state of curriculum is that of a still maturing discipline, hogtied to its past.  In talking to other computer teachers, they find themselves (variously) under math or business headships as a sub-department.  On top of that computer studies are divided into two sections: computer engineering (hardware) which falls within the tech department (along with carpentry and automotive repair amongst others), and computer science (programming), which tends to get swallowed by business or math.

It’s common for computer science teachers to have nothing whatsoever to do with computer engineering teachers.  This makes it tricky to develop coordinated curriculum, share resources, plan field trips or even just advocate effectively to hire the vanishingly few qualified computer teachers there are out there.

As I mention in the prezi, this is the equivalent of us teaching music by having a course on maintaining, tuning, building and repairing musical instruments, and then having a completely different course on how to read and write music; theory separated from mechanics.  In the case of music, an ancient discipline that has evolved over millenia, we recognize an obviously unified course of study.  Computers do not have the benefit of these years of evolution.  We need to start unifying these skills.

The division of the discipline results in crushingly small numbers in computer science.  When I was in computer science in the 1980s, we ran six sections of senior computer science a year… on card readers!  Last year my high school (roughly the same size as the one I attended back in the day), ran a single, mixed (academic/applied) section of computer science at the grade 12 level, and it wasn’t full.  Did computers hit a high point in the 80’s and become a less relevant part of modern life?  Why on Earth would we teach fewer people how they work now?

Computers are a part of everyday life in 2012.  We have come to expect a level of competency in our population equivalent to the universality of literacy or numeracy, but we don’t teach to this need, and it is largely unmet.  We are instead producing graduates who teach themselves bad habits on computers and then we fear their apparent familiarity; we wouldn’t dream of teaching literacy or numeracy like this.

A coherent push to unify computer studies would reduce staff technology fears, improve digital pedagogy, build digital fluency in both staff and students and actually prepare people for the digital world that is being built around them.  Failure to do this is sending our students into the future without addressing an increasingly urgent and important skillset.

emotional intelligence

How we remove life experiences from life

I’ve had a tough week.  Whenever I thought about a parent dying, I figured I would rationalize my way through it.  It turns out you can’t do that at all.  The emotional journey I’ve been on has been as rich, complex and valuable as any rational mental exercise I’ve ever experienced, and it’s only just begun.  Not having a rational solution has made me realize how much we’re driven to that single mode of thinking.  No where is that more evident than in education.

Emotional intelligence is more than ignored, in fact, it’s actively discouraged in school.  Curriculum and bureaucratic process do everything they can to take the personal, emotive elements out of education; the fact that we teach kids in factory-like rows demonstrates clearly the singular approach we take to learning.  Emotionality is an embarrassment when it happens; it certainly isn’t a a form of human knowing we develop and nurture in modern education.  In fact, about the only time we do acknowledge emotional intelligence is when students don’t demonstrate it, then we tend to suspend them.

I went in to school last week for a day in between trying to sort out cremations, services and Byzantine government requirements, not to mention storms of crying, because a senior academic class of mine where contacting me directly asking for clarification on year end assignments.  Empathy wasn’t something that could (or should) have been expected.  If students aren’t expected to develop it in school, we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t display it.

The class I was most worried about, a primarily applied level media arts class, were fantastic.  They responded to my request for them to get their work done on their own and were empathetic to my situation.  Their response seemed genuine and we all felt better for the talk.  The academic classes sent condolences, but weren’t, for the most part, willing to help me by helping themselves.  The game they’ve learned to play so well is between them and the system, and their teacher is just the delivery man who should be delivering, regardless of what might be happening to him.

If we defined learning effectiveness in terms of emotional intelligence, I wonder what schools would look like.  I suspect a number of teachers wouldn’t be teaching.  I suspect a number of teachers who found themselves in trouble for being too passionate in school wouldn’t be suspended for it.  I suspect a number of academically proficient students would find themselves disadvantaged.  I suspect student engagement wouldn’t be a problem.

Unions are terrified of emotive responses in teachers, and actively discourage them because students aren’t the only ones to lack a developed emotional intelligence.  We’re developing a society that is emotionally bankrupt while entirely focusing on rationality.  We want students to engage, but be impartial with the process, then we complain when they don’t seem to care enough.  We want learning to happen, but we don’t want to let it be messy.  We want rational control over emotional engagement.

Boards come at it from the other side, driven by lawyers to reduce lawsuit visibility with their employees.  The whole affair is sat upon by societal expectations that press teachers to hold to professional standards (code for do everything at a distance) in all aspects of their lives, whether at work or not.  And ultimately to uphold that pinnacle of modern thought: rationalism.  If it can’t be measured or calculated, it has no real value, and is dangerous.  Modern society won’t create any Picasos or van Goghs or Shakespeares, we’re too busy building data and temples to it, like Google and Facebook.

The whole thing leaves me feeling like, as a teacher or even just a human being, I’m left unable to express my grief, or even expect basic levels of dignity when I try to take time away to deal with my loss.  Between the needs of my students, some of those same students yelling at me while I sit grieving in my backyard trying to write a very difficult eulogy on a Friday night, and the calculations of grief in my absences, I feel exhausted by my professional obligations.  I can’t even respond as a person when rudely interrupted.

All sides go on and on about the power differential, about how you as a teacher have all the power.  I don’t see it.  I’m a minor paper pusher in a massive bureaucracy that seems intent on minimizing any professional latitude I once had, and diminishing any opportunity for emotional development with students in order to ensure a clinical and generalized success.  Students are distanced from their learning, I can’t blame them for treating me like a thing, they are encouraged to see me as such.

Education has, like everything else, passed through industrialization and been changed into a Tayloresque production line.  What used to be a master/apprentice form of learning that was intensely personal and developed over years has turned into a bureaucratically driven production line focused on getting as many people through it in as antiseptic a manner as possible.

Every one of us will face death in our lives, yet everyone seems profoundly uncomfortable with it… like a room of children being expected to figure out calculus.  Shouldn’t education be a key part of learning empathy?  And anger?  And grief?  And then learning how to best express it?  Emotion ignored doesn’t disappear.

Emergency Memo: Post Peak, Nov 2014


NOTE: This memo is being sent to all staff within the board. Following the upheaval and violence over the summer, and the Federal Government applying the War Measures act on a national scale in August, the combined RCMP/Police/Military presence has restored some order. Fuel is being rationed by the Federal Government and the Provincial Government are being asked to enact emergency measures to normalize the situation and reduce chances of mass starvation and freezing as winter approaches. One of the key aspects of the plan is to normalize and enable basic rights, including the right to education. What follows is GRDSB’s plan…

The sudden, sharp rise in fossil fuel prices (here for information) have forced our board to make some dramatic policy revisions in order to match the new emergency management plan recently presented by the Ministry of Education, Province of Ontario.

A typical school bus run now costs approximately $550 in fuel costs alone, and is expected to become even more expensive, making this option economically untenable. With the various unions, we have tried to maintain the collegial relationship of previous collective bargaining agreements while working to create a sustainable public education system in our province. These changes are brought on by world-wide resource issues beyond our control, and we have to modify our approach to education in order to continue maintaining a sufficient level of service. The followings steps will ensure this:



1) Teachers are still required to attend the nearest school to them, preferably without the use of petrochemicals. Those schools with a sufficient number of local teachers will remain open while being retrofitted with sustainable energy devices. In many cases, if you can see a wind turbine or mini-hydro project being built near you, this will indicate a public school.

Note: This is a provincial and federally mandated program in order to ensure ‘energy islands’ in as many communities as possible. The lack of fossil fuels makes mega-infrastructure such as non-localized power generation unsustainable. All communities will now be responsible for generating their own power.

2) If you live out of the board area, it is suggested that you consider relocation, or contact your local board for employment opportunities. We will do everything we can with neighboring boards to ensure that teachers are able to make this transition. If you do neither, and you are no longer able to able to fulfill your contract, you will be declared surplus and released.

3) If there is no local school within walking distance of your home location you may:

a) Apply to the provincial online learning initiative. With this initiative any household with children under the age of 18 may receive free wireless high speed internet, meaning many students will take this opportunity to learn online. As an eteacher you would also qualify for sponsored high speed internet at home. You would then resume your duties by teaching remotely.

 Please click HERE to contact the board elearning conversion initiative for remote students and staff.

 b) Apply through our board for a provincial grant to open a learning centre. If you own or have access to a building that would provide a suitable environment for a micro-school, and there are enough local students you can consolidate your area students into this structure and initiate your own k-10 program. Since all schools are now k-10 schools, you would be in a very similar teaching environment to your colleagues. LCs will be developed where-ever a 10-1 student-teacher ratio can form.

Please click HERE to contact the board provincial liaison for learning centre creation.

 4) Curriculum has been revised and the law altered to reflect our new circumstances. The old standardized tests have been removed and in their place the New Ontario Diploma now exists. This diploma follows previous standards, but offers students earlier departure (students may now graduate between 15-16 years of age) while ensuring that fundamental skills are still evident. The NOD review is highlighted on the updated Ministry curriculum page. It is a two week series of literacy, numeracy, citizenship and general knowledge assessments designed to ensure that a graduating student has sufficient skills to survive in the new, post-peak-oil economy.

 Please click HERE to see the NOD initiative and the new requirements for graduation.



 Ontario curriculum will now be revised and the law changed to reflect our new reality. Students are legally required to be in a virtual or physical personal learning plan until the age of 16. During their 15th or 16th year, students may take the Literacy & Numeracy Review. A mark of 70% or higher in both of these reviews will grant them a NOD (New Ontario Diploma). NOD now takes the place of the OSSD.

 Students who fail the NOD at the end of their 16th year are assessed and presented with a Sub-NOD rating. SNOD60 would indicate a student at 60% NOD requirements. SNOD30 would indicate a student at 30% of NOD requirements.

 Young adults who have finished school at 16 may choose to return, but like ANOD students, they will be required to support their learning financially.

 Following passage of the NOD, students may choose to:

 1) WORK: the reduction in mechanization has put a premium on physical labour, and graduates will have no trouble making a living wage in the new economy. Jobs in agricultural and infrastructure labour are not only available but in great demand. One of the key reasons for reducing the graduation age was to fulfill this need. We can no longer afford to hold willing workers in public institutions until they are 18.

 2) APPRENTICESHIP: the skilled trades have made agreements with the Ministry of Education and post secondary institutions in order to encourage and maintain high skill positions. Students may choose, after completing their NODs in their 15th or 16th years to begin an apprenticeship in any one of dozens of trades. These apprenticeships often involve moving away from home. The Ministry will continue to track and support these students until they reach journeyman status (usually in their 5th year of apprenticeship). Regular reviews will ensure students are in productive, safe, learning and working environments.

 3) ANODs: students interested in pursuing academic streams may choose to complete their Advanced New Ontario Diplomas. These courses are designed to be completed by a capable student within one year. As a result, funding is only available for the 12 months following successful NOD graduation. Students taking longer will have to fund their own studies, including the costs of energy and school access.

 Graduates with ANODs will be able to apply to one of the four remaining universities in the province. Entry into these institutions is very competitive. Only students who complete ANODs on time (or early) with exceptional grades should apply. Courses in post-secondary now tend to be much more applied in nature. Universities are intent on turning out doctors, engineers and teachers rather than unused undergraduate degrees. Students who do not know their major, will find access to university very limited. Students who do not have a working plan for their academic studies will also find post secondary access challenging.

 The new streams are designed around an expected distribution of 60% NOD to the workplace, 30% apprenticeship and 10% ANOD graduates. The manual nature of post-oil food production and distribution alone requires this kind demographic.



The Federal and Provincial mandates recognize that the era of cheap energy is over, and our society needs to adapt in order to maintain and improve our technical skills and preserve the rights found in the Constitution. Public structures such as law and education can ensure that human rights are not being violated and children still have an opportunity to become educated, effective members of our brave new world.

 Children and the poor are at risk of being tyrannized as their value as manual labour has increased and the petro-chemical basis of pre-peak social justice is broken. Without a presence in every community, the weakest members of society are at risk of abuse. With this in mind, it is vital that our public education system reassert itself with the support of regionalized arms of the provincial and federal governments.

 By normalizing schools and supporting local sheriffs, we hope to rebuild a safe and fair society. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Please consider being part of the solution, it’s time to let go of the past.

 Stay warm as the weather is getting cold and ensure that your lodgings are able to withstand a non-chemically heated winter.

 Best of luck,

Your Superintendent.


 ps: as further information becomes available, and the board network comes back up under its own power, I will continue to email the latest.

How to take striking 360 photos while riding a motorbike

I’ve been asked how I manage to get on-motorcycle photos while riding, it isn’t with a drone!  Here’s a quick how-to on taking striking action shots while you ride using a 360 camera attached to your bike using a flexible tripod.  There are links at the bottom to other examples of on-bike 360 imaging.

You need a camera with a very wide angle of view.  My preference is for a full 360 degree camera as this also lets you form your images into ‘tiny-planet‘ photos, which are a unique, relatively new way to compose a photograph.  As part of my job I’ve tried many different 360° cameras, but my favourite for on-bike shots is the Ricoh Theta.  It has bright, clear LEDs to let you know what it’s doing and is easy to operate (even when wearing motorcycle gloves) physical controls.  It’ll let you preset things on a smartphone if you want, but it works just as well firing the shutter button for video or photo.

Other 360° cameras I’ve tried have you faffing around with smartphone based controls which don’t work with gloves on.  I’ve also had problems, especially with Samsung’s Gear360, rendering images out of that camera in the provided software.  The Ricoh software offers settings I value like interval photography and the software has never had a problem rendering quickly.  All the 360° cameras I’ve tried have surprisingly good light retention and clarity of image for fixed lens cameras.

You might be able to get away with a 180° camera or something like a go-pro with fish-eye lens, but the 360° camera guarantees you catch everything because it catches everything with no need to aim and focus.

I started doing on bike photos by firing the shutter using the big button on the Theta.  This produced some good on-bike shots, but you always end up with an arm in the photo holding the camera, and you look like you’re not focused purely on riding because you’re not.

There are some benefits to firing the shutter manually.  You can time it to catch something interesting.  You don’t have to focus or aim at anything because the camera catches it all in focus.  You can make some interesting angles holding it low over the pavement, overhead or anywhere else you’re flexible enough to reach.  Even with all that though, you’ve still got an arm in every shot, unless you’re really cunning with the cropping in post processing.



Last summer I was testing a self levelling gimbal for 360° video and made a video under the most challenging circumstances I could devise (riding a motorbike):

The gimbal did a good job of levelling things when the bike went around corners and I liked the focused-on-riding look of the shots.  This experiment got me thinking about a way of fixing a camera to the bike that would match angles with the bike when it leaned over in a corner.  I also wanted something that didn’t involve a camera right in front of me while I was riding.

I finally settled on a gorilla-pod type flexible tripod.  If your bike has raised rear view mirrors they make the perfect mounting point for the camera.  If you wrap the tripod around the wing mirror with some care, you can still use the mirror effectively.  Flexible tripods have good stretch, so I’d recommend wrapping one of the arms right around the mirror arm to ensure it stays attached even if it comes loose.  I pre-set the camera to take a photo on interval mode every 5-10 seconds and then forget about it.  When I get back I look through the photos for interesting shots and then pull them into the 360 software which takes the raw image data and lets you move around within the photo to frame the part you’re looking for.  The shots you end up getting look like they were taken from a drone flying along next to you:

You can play with the geometry of 360 photos and video in a number of interesting ways.  One of the most popular is the little planet shot where the image is distorted to make the ground a circle in the centre of the photo.  The Theta software does this if you put your photos onto the theta360 website with the click of a button.  Here are some ‘tiny planet’ images:

It’s digital photography, so don’t be tentative.  Try different things, fire a lot of shots and keep the good stuff.  With a bit of practice you’ll be producing amazing looking on-bike shots that’ll have people asking you, ‘how’d you do that?’

Here are the bullet points in case you’re a millennial that doesn’t read long form text:


  • Get yourself a quality Gorilla Pod type tripod.  I use this one I got from Amazon, but I’d suggest  going up market a bit – this thing is a plastic piece of crap.
  • Wrap it around one of your rear view mirrors.
  • I loop one tripod leg right around the mirror arm, so there is no chance of losing the camera (I learned that the hard way).
  • I prefer the Ricoh Theta because:
    • it has physical buttons that are easily usable even with gloves on
    • it has clearly visible LEDs and modes
    • the Theta has superior software for video and photo editing, including built in tiny planet settings and it never crashes or renders pixelated (like Samsung software)
    • it’s aerodynamic and much lighter than alternatives
  • Set the camera to video or interval photo-shooting, start it up and forget about it
  • When you get back download the videos or photos and check out what you caught
  • When you use the software you can look around within each photo and video and compose photos and video based on the bit you want to see

Here are some other links to 360 media making:

When you’re collecting many photos on auto shutter it’s relatively easy to combine them all together into a stop motion video.
Links to other 360 motorcycle photo examples:

Some other variations with camera location on the bike:

Mounted on the riser on the windshield so you get an off the front view.
360 shots make for good imaging backgrounds in posters and online content.  Mechanical Sympathy is my homepage…

Rear camera mounting positions…

On the pillion footpeg mount on the Fireblade
Playing with geometry and distortion in the Ricoh 360 software
Mounted on the rear pillion frame on the Triumph Tiger…
A more extreme rear camera mounting position can be found here:
A primer on how to use automation in Adobe Photoshop and Premier Pro to create a little planet stop motion video from 360 photos:
Getting a grip on running scripts in Photoshop lets you automatically generate hundreds of tiny planet images that can then be dropped into a stop motion video.
Another crack at it using photos taken from a summer 2020 ride through the Haliburton Highlands in Central Ontario.
2020 360 on-bike photography album:

Decentralizing 20th Century School IT Infrastructure

From the Prezi brainstorming digital sandbox:

30:1 student to computer ratios?  It’s too expensive to have a 1:1 student to computer ratio?

This is a load of nonsense.  While the business world has moved on to individualized computing devices and cloud based software solutions, school boards still doggedly hang on to 20th Century thinking about centralized IT with massive, complex software images, difficult to manage intranetworks and remote maintenance of shared machines.

I’ve been on the ground, at class-level watching this fail again and again.  Equipment is vandalized and left inoperable for weeks at a time because no one local bears any responsibility for it.  Technicians are stretched thin between many schools, often not returning for weeks on end.  The already dismal student access to technology becomes even worse.

Labs that contain over-priced, years old hardware are kept under contracted repair long after they have given up every ounce of their residual value and are little more than landfill (and a heavy weight on network efficiency).  Those same labs contain the same, tedious software on the same, tedious hardware; a monotony of labs that offer nothing of the variety and opportunity available in the world beyond school.

The networks are overburdened with file sharing intranets that grind to a halt when many users begin to copy large files to network servers, or overfill limited on-site storage, causing the whole thing to simply stop.  So much focus is placed on intranet software and file sharing that access to the internet itself is through a tiny bit of bandwidth, making access to the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled jerky, slow or utterly useless.

A modern business office uses task specific equipment to enable users continuous access to their data and their colleagues.  Phones are used when appropriate, but phones are never appropriate in school.  Tablets and ultralight laptops serve the mobile employee, allowing them to input information and communicate as though they are in the office when thousands of miles away.

Technology in education studiously ignores the needs of the student who must travel from home to school and class to class, carrying bags of massive, out of date textbooks.  Student to student communication is discouraged in most learning situations in favour of discipline and order.  If students do communicate in school (and I assure you, they do), they have to do it in underhanded, devious ways that violate whatever the latest technology-banishing rules dictate.

Information Technology in school is anything but.  Perhaps Lack of Information Technology would be a better title.

The mini-lab idea returns technical literacy to teachers from the star chamber of board based IT.  It places local people in charge of local equipment and drastically reduces the costs of educational technology while dramatically boosting the student to digital tool ratio.  Instead of the monotony of labs of out of date, inefficient, over-priced desktops, staff and students would gain access to an eclectic mix of digital tools and begin to develop meaningful digital fluency in both hardware familiarity and data management.  It’s a first, small step in a diaspora away from centralized board IT and toward differentiated technology access that truly serves our teacher’s and student’s needs in the evolving datasphere.

Snows And Crows and Adobe’s Lightroom

A crow playing in the wind on a snowy Saturday afternoon in February prompted me to get the Canon T6i out.  These were taken with the 55-250mm lens.  The original photos are so atmospheric that I started posterizing them in Photoshop and then gave Lightroom a try.  I’ve never used it before and was curious to see what it could do.  As a simple image editor it can do quick and effective image touch-ups.  LIghtroom did a nice job of making the images posterized in Photoshop pop…

The original image: f/8 1/500 sec, ISO 200 -1 Exposure, 250mm


Posterized (colour reduced) in Photoshop 


Details tweaked in Lightroom
Original image f/7.1, 1/400 sec. ISO 100 250mm brightened in curves in PS.


The crow colourized and layered with the background monochromed in black & white
After some tweaking in Lightroom.  The tree reflection caught in the window could have been washed out, but I liked how it came out with the vignetting.  I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s Norse Gods at the moment and this reminds me of Odin’s crow Huginn and Yggdrasil, the world tree.
Original photo: f/10, 1/800sec, ISO 200, -1 stop, 250mm


Posterized in Photoshop
Touched up in Lightroom…


from Blogger