Bike Van

This lightly used well optioned Ram Promaster is going for only $33k!

I’ve been stuck on the Ford Transit Van probably due to my Guy Martin fixation, but there are other choices for a motorcycle carrying vehicle.  I’d been looking at the full sized, extended Transit that is lucky to break 20mpg, but the Transit Connnect is a smaller, more frugal van that will just fit the Tiger while getting more than 30mpg.  It’s also on the road for thousands less than the big one.

The Dodge Ram Promaster City cargo van is another choice in the smaller van category.  It seems to beat the Transit in cargo size (the Tiger fits inside it and it’s likely to be the largest bike I’d ever transport).  It also gets the best mileage.  Comes in yellow too!

Nissan makes the NV200.  It’s the smallest in terms of dimensions and engine (a 2.0l 4 cylinder), and gets the best mileage.  The Tiger wouldn’t fit height or length wise in it, but a smaller bike would.

Looking at the three, I think the Dodge gets the nod, though the Transit Connect is within a whisker of it in every category and it starts quite a bit cheaper than the Dodge:

Every one of these manufacturers build a next-size up industrial version of these models.  Nissan makes the NV Cargo, which comes with a big V6 or V8 and gets 20mpg.  The fully sized Ford Transit is similar.  Dodge makes the Ram Promaster which comes with an optional 3.0l eco-diesel that gets an impressive 21/29mpg in a big vehicle. 

If efficiency is the goal, that big Dodge is in a class of its own.  Similar mileage to the little guys but in a van that I could pretty much stand up in and would carry not one but two Tigers.

It too comes in stunning yellow.  A nice Mechanical Sympathy screen on there and I’d be off to winter motorcycling trips, track days and picking up old bikes!

I think I might be over my Ford Transit fixation, but the whole van thing ain’t cheap.  Perhaps I can engineer a change to a cage that offers a lot of utility instead of just being what I drive when I can’t ride.

from Blogger

Chasing Virginia Waterfalls

My cousin in law shared this and I thought it would make for a nice, twisty ride.  It got to double digits yesterday and my throttle hand is getting itchy event though we’re still knee deep in snow.

It’s a 271 mile ride through the Virginia Appalachian Mountains connecting nine waterfalls.  It might be a bit much to try and manage in a day, but over a couple of days it’d be a two nearly 300km days of twisty road riding with a lot of waterfall watching in between.  If two days of mountain roads and waterfalls don’t cure what ails you, nothing will.

I’d previously thought about doing a ride down the Appalachians to Deal’s Gap as the full solar eclipse is passing over there in mid-August this year.  This is about two thirds of the way down from Ontario.  It’d make a nice break from the drive back north to spend a couple of days chasing waterfalls along winding mountain roads.

from Blogger

Velvet Ropes and Differentiated Access to Schooling in Ontario

As we stagger towards reopening Ontario classrooms, which is something that, quite frankly, I want to see happen, I’m left wondering why a number of obvious things aren’t happening.

In early August we all got a summer cold, but being the pandemic summer that it is we were worried, so we drove twenty miles south to the nearest city and got tested at the nearest COVID test centre that yes, required us to leave our low risk rural area and drive into a city riddled with it.

The testing centre wasn’t busy and was very efficiently run and we were in and out in about fifteen minutes.  Seventy-two hours later we all had piece of mind knowing we were not infected.  Considering how efficient the testing process has become and how important it is to ensure a safe environment, I’m at a loss to explain why no school board in Ontario is testing its face to face educators before we start up again.  Speaking as a parent, it would be a relief to know that all the staff at my son’s school isn’t guessing they don’t have COVID19, they know it.  Our approach to COVID is so low-resolution that its almost blind.  It certainly isn’t cost effective.

What a thing it would be to put out a press release saying all face to face staff have been tested and are COVID19 free prior to classes restarting. This could happen by school site or board wide, but it really should be happening. We’re all walking around school right now wearing masks and afraid of everything. Some piece of mind knowing we have a COVID-free site, even if it’s just in this moment, would be a welcome thing.

A friend who is a chef mentioned that she’s expected to be tested each week.  This is yet another example of how businesses are expected to (and do) comply with public health, but Ontario’s school reopening plan (which has a number of medical experts concerned) seems to go out of its way to ignore the rules that everyone else is complying with.  This virus is a slippery thing that ducks detection with a high number of asymptomatic carriers.  How ignoring the medical directions that everyone else is following to deal with that slipperiness is anything other than political cynicism at its worst is a betrayal of the public trust.  When things go wrong, and the biology suggests it will, I’m sure the weasels running this show will still somehow find a way to make it the teachers’ fault.

This absurd situation is in no way the fault of the school boards.  My own board has done everything it possibly can with no centralized plan, insufficient funding and random changes in direction from our politically misguided Ministry.  If the province wanted to pivot and stop playing political games with staff and students’ lives, aligning Ontario’s school opening plan with what’s happening everywhere is an obvious starting point.  Working with local health units to provide onsite testing at schools would be a great next step.  It would also offer a glimpse into what a more functional COVID19 world might look like in the coming year.

Solutions to viruses in the form of a vaccine don’t arrive with Dustin Hoffman on a helicopter, except in movies.  In the world we actually live in we more often manage viruses with testing and social adaptation.  Our focus on testing has been… poor, but there is hope.  Rapid COVID19 testing is on the horizon and might get to market as soon as October.  What might this look like?  An automated, highly accurate, non-invasive testing system based on spit that provides results in seconds; that’s where the velvet rope comes in.

In my better Ontario we would be opening schools based on need rather than ramming through a poorly executed and underfunded plan that doesn’t even align with other public health rules.  Classes that have to be face to face for liability reasons (I’m thinking technology and physical education specifically), should have priority in f2f classrooms.  The other priority should be students in need.  We should be reopening based on equity needs rather than doing this poorly designed full-court press.  A cautious, differentiated f2f opening means our schools would stay open and the people who need them most would have access to them.

Students who are on the wrong side of the digital divide?  Families who are working in essential services and need schools to normalize?  Subjects that require the safety and expertise of a face to face classroom?  These are where schools should focus their reopening, but Ford’s inequitable government can’t conceive of its responsibilities when it comes to addressing inequity.

Our staged, differentiated, equitable reopening would also include on-site testing which would increase as testing improves.  Ideally, but the end of 2020, we’d have rapid on-site, automated testing at every public school in Ontario.  When we know (not guess) that our schools are COVID19 free, we can relax all of the other expensive and restrictive practices we’re doing poorly, like PPE, social distancing and OCD levels of cleaning, and all students could return to a safe, normalized learning environment.  Our current approach is expensive and not effective because we’re flying blind.

With cheap, effective, accessible testing COVID would stop sneaking around in asymptomatic carriers and spreading like it does.  There might still be COVID19 outbreaks, but they would be quickly recognized and stopped.  Carriers would be isolated and we’d finally have a handle on this thing.  Rapid testing would lead to less transmission and take the wind out of the COVID sails.

After months of flinching everytime someone sneezes, imagine how it would feel knowing your kids were going to school in a COVID-free environment.  Imagine how it would feel going out for dinner knowing everyone in the restaurant is green.  Playing hockey knowing that everyone on the ice was COVID-free?  Life as we once knew it could return and we could start to relax our blind, awkward and expensive social distancing/PPE/OCD cleaning scramble.

I have ten more years of teaching left and I have a number of things I want to achieve before I hang up my boots.  There may be teachers who don’t ever want to go back, but I’m not one of them.  We had a Skills Ontario championships and a pile of travel and learning opportunities taken from us by this lousy virus in 2020 and I want to get back to pushing pedagogy in a rapidly changing technological landscape and showing students that they can achieve things they never imagined.  A staged return focusing on differentiation of learning based on student and curriculum need and then embracing rapid testing as it comes online in the next few months is how we can get there.  What I fear is going to happen instead is that the current plan will cause schools to be shut down and emergency remote learning (which we’ve done nothing to prepare for) will land on us again by Thanksgiving.  And a lot of people will get ill as a result.

We need schools for students and programs that need that infrastructure to succeed, but throwing everyone back into it while ignoring public health requirements is going to cripple public education with another round of school closures and poorly delivered emergency remote learning that we’ve done nothing to resolve digital divide issues with.  A differentiated, staged return with testing anyone?

from Blogger

#ECOOcampON 2020 Virtual Conference Reflections

ECOOcamp Ontario happened in Peterborough last year and was the usual mix of keen people getting together to improve their technical skills and launch another year of teaching in an avant garde style.  Had you asked anyone there what the summer of 2020’s ECOOcamp would look like, a virtual online conference during a pandemic wouldn’t have been the obvious guess, but ECOO managed to pull off #ECOOcampON, a virtual conference using tech most people hadn’t used before, with astonishing fidelity.

As you’d expect there were technical issues, but what ECOO does a good job of spreading is the idea that teachers can become digitally fluent enough to resolve these problems themselves.  Early on link issues stopped the conference in its tracks, but the tech-savvy educators running the event iterated at high speed through troubleshooting and within twenty minutes everything was back on track again.

Digital fluency has been cast in a stark light this year with Ontario’s sudden move to emergency remote learning, so you’d think that more educators have technical proficiency at front of mind as the first school year in a century kicks off in an ongoing pandemic.  ECOOcampON managed over 500 registrations this summer, which goes to show you just how resilient some Ontario educators can be in trying to get literate teaching in a still new(ish) digital medium, though only 0.3% of teachers attended in Ontario and I’d guess that 70% of them need it.  In a better world this conference would have drawn over one hundred thousand educators looking to raise their digital fluency in order to prepare for the inevitable next round of remote teaching.

What follows are some personal reflections prompted by the event.

Krista Sarginson and I presented on CyberTitan, the Canadian Student Cybersecurity Competition on the first day of the conference.  Krista’s CyberLions rocked a 2nd place finish in the middle school division in her first year coaching in 2019.  I’d been looking for a brave teacher to leap into this and help me advocate for it.  Krista is fierce and fearless and did a great job encouraging other elementary panelists to consider giving it a try.

Secondary teachers tend to be more reticent about participating in things they can’t show intellectual dominance in.  I’m hoping that Krista’s influence engages more elementary Ontario teachers in participating in this competition.  It’s a great way to raise awareness around information security and opens up an entire industry to students who might otherwise have no idea it exists.  It’s a tough year to encourage extracurriculars, but something like CyberTitan could become the basis for a cybersecurity course, which is something Ontario is way behind the curve on.  Here’s our presentation if you’re curious:

The round table discussion that night talked about resilience and how we frame challenges.  This past year seems like almost infinite challenges.  From a vindictive government intent on attacking our profession and diminishing public education to a worldwide pandemic, it’s been a burning dumpster fire of a year for educators in Ontario, with no end in site.  The new mix is the vindictive government using the pandemic to physically threaten staff and students.  It’s not understatement to say that I’ve never seen colleagues so scared and uncertain about teaching in a few weeks.  How can we be in poorly ventilated classrooms that ignore the rules we’ve been told to follow for the past six months and feel safe?  Our doughty premier is frustrated at the response (usually framed as an attack on unions), but no other front line workers are being forced to ignore public health rules in their workplaces.

In this context I found the roundtable discussion difficult to navigate, though they gave it a good try.  One of the speakers was a big fan of nature, but it was a romanticized view of nature where people should just find themselves at their ease in natural surroundings.  That park-setting idea of nature is very much dependent on a manicured and managed environment.  I love being out in nature, but I enjoy it because it’s relentless in its expectations of competence.  Being happy in nature is as simple as not being hungry or cold, or avoiding being eaten.  Few people have been face to face with that kind of nature.

Disney’s romanticized version of nature,
in reality this is a great way to get rabies.
Austin Vince has a documentary on riding into the Sahara Desert called Mondo Sahara.  In it he talks to an off-road expert who has spent a lot of time in the deep desert.  He makes a clear distinction on what your focus should be: always make sure you’re dictating what is happening because the moment the desert is in charge things fall apart quickly.

Survival training was like that too, especially the winter stuff.  Our instructors were insistent on the exhausting job of managing cold and wet to ward off the ever present fear of hypothermia.  Nature isn’t only beautiful, it’s also so immersive and demanding that you can quite easily drown in it.  Most people have never been in a survival situation like that.  Society does everything it can to ensure you don’t have to keep yourself alive in nature, it’ll do it for you – usually while killing nature in the process.  If most people got driven into the wilderness and dropped off they’d be dead in a week.  That is terribly beautiful, but that isn’t how nature was presented.  Being demanding is what makes nature teach resilience, but we try and weed harsh lessons like that out of education wherever we can.

I’ve recently had trouble with how our return to face to face classrooms was being framed.  We were initially told that relationships are all that matter and that we shouldn’t even worry about curriculum.  There is a place where that is the case, it’s a daycare centre, but I didn’t go through the long and difficult task of becoming a teacher so I could provide daycare.  Yet in the greatest social crisis we’ve seen in recent years, instead of focusing on being resilient and holding everyone to higher standards, the reflex is to do whatever it takes to make people more comfortable.  You can learn a lot by being uncomfortable.  A good place to realize that is in nature.

The other side of the roundtable focused on happiness, which is much more complicated because we’re more than happy to destroy nature just to ensure our own short-term comfort, future generations be damned.  If we want to consider nature it’s as a form of entertainment.  Living in nature is nasty, brutish and short, to paraphrase Hobbes, and too much like hard work unless you think nature is pulling your RV into a campground.  Look no further than our response to COVID19 (which is nature at work).  We’ve actually slew footed our own self-serving, cancerous economic system just to keep as many humans alive as we can, yet even during a world wide health emergency we’re still adding the populations of Guelph AND North Bay to the planet every single day, while stopping economies to keep everyone alive for as long as we can.  Everything we do with technology, economics and society are contrary to nature, so holding it up as a solution seems a bit disingenuous.  It doesn’t matter though, nature will sort things out soon enough.  If we’re too stupid and selfish to be on the right side of that it won’t matter because ultimately what we think doesn’t matter.

The happiness side of the discussion was enlightening.  The question of what is happiness is a surprisingly complicated one.  I was chasing it in an online psych course from Yale earlier this year called The Science of Well Being.  For many people happiness is doing as little as possible, but I’m all about agency (your ability to act).  When that is cut away from me I become very frustrated.  The best leaders I’ve had recognise that I’m a self starter who wants to act and provide a framework that directs me into doing what they need to get done.  The vast majority of leaders I’ve had are frustrated by my inability to stand in line waiting to be handed the same work as someone who doesn’t want to do anything at all.  During the pandemic this everyone-do-less approach has been strangling me.  Most of the managers I’ve had in Ontario education are of the lesser variety who want to cookie cutter everyone into undifferentiated jobs.  I’d hoped being a professional in a recognized field would bypass that, but Ontario education is remarkably juvenile in how it directs its employees.

If you’ve ever seen Saving Private Ryan, I’m a Tom Hanks kinda guy: I don’t care if the work’s difficult, but I need the people in charge to recognize that with a bit of latitude I can get things done that others cannot.  Most organizations’ inability to differentiate their duties for employees is why I often have problems with organizational structure.  The people who maintain that structure very much identify their own self worth through it, and I frequently come into conflict with them as a result.  Give me a big, difficult job and the latitude to attack it and that’s happiness for me.  It’s why I’ve never been on a cruise or to an all-inclusive resort, it’s my idea of hell.  That understanding was a great metacognitive reflection that ECOOcampON provided for me at the end of day one.

I attended a number of sessions ranging from equity to media literacy around the credibility of sources, and found them rich and helpful in framing this year’s difficulties, but it was the closing keynote that closed the circle for me.  Daniel Lewis is a successful entrepreneur who struggled in the education system and overcame a number of personal hardships to find success.  He is inspirational by nature, and I enjoyed his relentless positivity, though I’m often cautious with optimism because it can be used to overly simplify a difficult situation.  When someone says, “you got this” in terms of going back to school it feels an attempt to ignore the difficulties.

Daniel didn’t take that approach though.  He emphasized the power of your own thinking; self determination was the underlying message.  Even if you’re in a broken, leaderless system staggering under absurd political machinations, you are still free to think what you want to think.  There is power in that kind of stoicism, especially in tough times.

There was a lot of talk about getting out of the box in terms of thinking without being restricted by the people and systems around you, which aligned well with the keynote’s theme (though it contrasted with the resiliency and happiness roundtable from the beginning).

I’m always cautious around entrepreneurial pep talks.  Business has a way of turning that optimism and relentless enthusiasm into sales.  In this case it was the idea that once you free yourself of the boxes other people have put your thinking in, YOU then get to make the boxes.  I took that to mean for other people.  Why would you want to make a box to limit your own thinking?

Perhaps I’m odd in that I educate to empower, so breaking out of the box aligns with that, but the last thing I’d want people to do with that freedom is start boxing in other people, but that’s society.  I was troubled by the idea that the moment we free our minds we look to use that freedom to enslave others, but maybe that’s just how people work.  Freeing people doesn’t guarantee happiness in any case.

Boxes aside, it was an engaging and uplifting closing keynote to a remarkably resonant ECOO Conference.  We are free in our own minds regardless of how tightly our struggling school system ties us, and there is comfort in that.  If you’re able to free your mind from the fear and uncertainty you can grasp your own agency and get things done.  The pandemic has deeply wounded everyone’s agency, so Daniel’s stoic message resonated well, though I’m still troubled by the reflexive need to box people.

If you bounce over to the ECOOcampON webpage, you’ll find links to all the presentations.  I think they’re also wrangling the recordings of all the presentations together so you can view what you might have missed.  I’ve always found ECOO’s model of teachers directing their own PD to be both engaging and effective.  When I compare it to professional development that’s mandated and thrown at me, this feels much more valuable, but that’s probably because I use my own agency to create and participate in it.  There is a distinctinction in there somewhere around passive and active learning that anyone interested in pedagogy should be considering, especially in a world where a passive-do-nothing approach is now a governmental demand.

I”ve been reading a lot of Tao Te Ching this week.  It offers me some perspective when the walls feel like they’re closing in.

Tao is empty (like a bowl). It may be used but its capacity is never exhausted
It is bottomless, perhaps the ancestor of all things.
It blunts its sharpness. It unties its tangles. It softens its light. It becomes one with the dusty world.
Deep and still, it appears to exist forever.
I do not know whose son it is. It seems to have existed before the Lord.

Heaven is eternal and Earth everlasting.
They can be eternal and everlasting because they do not exist for themselves, And for this reason can exist forever.
Therefore the sage places himself in the background but finds himself in the foreground.
He puts himself away, and yet he always remains.
Is it not because he has no personal interests? This is the reason why his personal interests are fulfilled.

To hold and fill a cup to overflowing Is not as good as to stop in time.
Sharpen a sword edge to its very sharpest, And the (edge) will not last long.
When gold and jade fill your hall, You will not be able to keep them.
To be proud with honour and wealth Is to cause one’s own downfall.
withdraw as soon as your work is done. Such is Heaven’s Way.

from Blogger

A Superior Week in the Woods

I always get to this time of year when I’m 50+ hours a week at work and get antsy.  Instead of having my waking hours decided for me days hence, I wonder what I’d do if my time was my own.

It hasn’t been a great fall for colours.  A brief cold spell followed by a long period of strangely hot weather means the leaves haven’t been shocked into a super colour burst, but if it’s autumn I’d still like to see some colours.  

Rounding Lake Superior would certainly surround me with trees.  This time of year it’s half empty up there, so the roads would be mine.  It’s a long ride around the largest of the great lakes with half of it in Minnesota and Michigan, about 1700kms just to ride around the lake.  

It’s pushing my luck to expect the weather to be with me, snow is a distinct possibility in October in Northern Ontario, but it’d be an epic last ride before the doors close on another riding season.

Riding Superior means I could pop in to Aerostich in Deluth, Minnesota and look at Roadcrafters.  They even have a sale on now!  I might be able to get one of these bespoke super-suits and finish the ride looking like a cross between an astronaut and a ghostbuster.

Day 1 (289kms+ferry)
Elora to Tobermory (225kms, 3 hours):  Leave Friday after work (3:30pm), get to Tobermory quickly!
Ferry Friday Night:  6:10pm from Tobermory to South Bend 7:55pm.
South Baymouth to Little Current: (64kms, 1 hour), get in at about 9pm.  289kms on the bike plus a ferry ride across Georgian Bay.
Overnight:  Anchor Inn, a 19th Century hotel in Little Current

Day 2 (512kms)
Little Current to Wawa (512kms, 6 hours):  lunch in Sault Ste Marie. 

Overnight:  Wawa Motor Inn

Day 3 (482kms)
Wawa to Thunder Bay (482kms, 5.5 hours): across the top of Superior

Overnight: Hampton Inn & Suites Thunder Bay.

Day 4 (301kms + border crossing)
Thunder Bay to Deluth, MN. (301kms, 3.5 hours)

Get there early and checkout Aerostich (there’s a sale on!) open 8-6 Monday to Friday.

Overnight: Holiday Inn Downtown Deluth.

Day 5 (406kms)
Deluth to Marquette (406kms, 5 hours)

OvernightCedar Motor Inn, Marquette

Day 6 (364kms + border crossing)
Marquette to Sault Ste Marie (364kms, 5 hours)

OvernightHoliday Inn Express Sault Ste Marie.

Day 7 (624kms+ferry)
Sault Ste Marie to South Baymouth (353kms, 4 hours)
Get to South Baymouth for 12:30
Ferry 1:30 to 3:30pm
Tobermory to Elora (225kms, 2.75hrs)

The whole thing (624kms, 9+ hours including ferry)

HOME!  Three thousand kilometres in a week.

from Blogger

3d modelling for everyone!

Unboxing the Structure Sensor

This week, thanks to our forward thinking student council, we received a Structure 3d scanner.  Unboxing created a lot of curiosity.  In about five minutes we had the sensor mounted on the front of our ipad mini and we were off to the races.

3d modelling is a tricky business.  It typically takes a fairly comprehensive knowledge of software to get yourself a decent 3d model.  Thanks to the Structure sensor, anyone with an ipad (grade 3 and up?) could quickly and easily create a 3d model of pretty much anything they can walk around.

It takes a bit of practice, but once you see how the laser sensor paints the object (it looks like it’s covering it with clay on the ipad display), you get the hang of it and you’re producing remarkably accurate 3d models.

In about 15 minutes I had it figured out and took a detailed model of my partially dismantled Kawasaki Concours in the garage.

Our principal!

The files are obj format – an open source format that a lot of software can easily read.  I’ve found that is a handy way to share the models and offers a fair bit of customization in how the models present as well.

At school we’ve had a good time making busts, while at home I’ve tried modelling complex mechanical items.

I’ve been using Obj Viewer to see the 3d models on the desktop (they’re all saved as model.obj, so very quickly you’ll find yourself buried in model.obj files not knowing which one is which).  I quickly got into the habit of renaming them as I opened them.

As an avenue into more complex 3d modelling software (like Blender, which imports obj files with no problems), the Structure scanner is a great starting point.  You can quickly create 3d models and then clean them up or embellish them in something like Blender (also an open source, astonishingly good piece of freeware).

You can view your model once you’ve painted it on the ipad screen (the pictures here are screen captures from the ipad).  If you like the model you can email the obj file.  The largest (an attempt at scanning our computer lab) was about 4 megabytes.  A smaller object, like a head, is usually under two.

Being able to quickly and easily model 3d objects offers all sorts of interesting educational opportunities.  Because you’re accurately measuring volume, the immediate uses as a measuring tool in mathematics and the sciences are obvious.  Using this scanner you could quickly and accurately measure the growth by volume of a very complex shape like a plant.  If you’re creating clothing, you would be able to scan your prototype and then see what it looks like in a wide variety of textures from all angles.  As a prototyping and measurement tool, the Structure Scanner takes some beating.

Our focus is on creating 3d models for our software engineering project.  3d models are often too perfect, looking rather plastic.  The Structure sensor is going to allow us to model clothing and other complex textures and organic shapes much more realistically and quickly.

At less than the price of a game console, this little sensor opens up what used to be the inaccessible world of 3d modelling to everyone.

Cultivating Genius & the Zen Teacher

A recent issue of WIRED has an article on student directed learning called: The Next Steve Jobs, which asks some hard questions about teaching and learning during an information revolution.

The idea of regimented learning in rows in classrooms is so obviously indicative of 19th Century factory thinking that it begs for change, but many traditional education organizations have so much invested in the status quo that they will spend all our time and money hammering people into system-serving standardized thinking.  Instead of developing the skills vital for learning in an information revolution, we cling to politics and habits.  Nowhere was this more obvious than in a poor Mexican school that wasn’t serving a genius in their mix.

You have to wonder how many of our students are marginalized and never see their own potential because we are wringing our hands about how not-average they are and how they don’t respond appropriately to being indoctrinated by an archaic education system.

The article leans on technology, brain science and student centred and directed learning to bring out real genius in a student who was otherwise disengaged.  The brain research is fairly straightforward (though ignored by most education systems):

“The bottom line is, if you’re not the one who’s controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well,” says lead researcher Joel Voss, now a neuroscientist at Northwestern University.

Neuroscience has proven this again and again, but education stubbornly holds to an information limited, rigidly programmed learning system because these traditions support the political makeup of that education system.

“If you put a computer in front of children and remove all other adult restrictions, they will self-organize around it,” Mitra says, “like bees around a flower.”

Mitra’s research still assumes a teaching presence that will bump students along when they run into repetitive habitual patterns.  The key is a good leading question and then that dogged support as students find their own way to an answer.  The urge to interfere in this process in order to make learning clinical and exact is great, and many teachers do this with the best possible intentions, but what they are actually doing is taking away the student’s opportunity to internalize learning.

Learning is a messy process, at its best teaching is a subtle presence focused on producing a fecund environment for fearless experimentation and research.  An idea is only learned when it is internalized by the learner and that can only happen experientially.  Any time you see a teacher talking at students there isn’t any learning happening.

Faith in the self direction of a learner is something we’ve tried to remove from every aspect of the education system.  The system becomes the intent rather than the learner’s learning.  Words like curriculum, assessment and standardized data become watchwords for how effective the system is as a system, it all has nothing to do with learning.  

Many of the fads we embrace in education around self-directed learning are little more than smoke and mirrors – the appearance of self-direction in order to fool the student into engagement with otherwise rigid systemic need.  This is exactly why a genius in a poor Mexican school couldn’t engage enough to show her talents until her teacher threw away the paradigm.

Chromatic Sunsets on two wheels in 360°

360° motorcycle photos taken with a Ricoh Theta attached to the windshield with an octopus mount (see how to take photos like these here).  They were cleaned up in Adobe Lightroom.  Various digital edits to abstract the images done in Paperartist and touched up in Lightroom.





Photos first:  the Theta photos came out dark, but Lightroom was able to make them look HDR with a click of the auto setting:



 You can see the shutter struggling to catch enough light there…













I then took the Lightroom edits and ran them through PaperArtist beforre touching them up again.  So the workflow here is photo in the Theta, download to desktop, edit in Lightroom, upload to phone for PaperArtist edit, download back to desktop for final lightroom touch up.



















The sunset the next night was another stunner, but I was on the deck with the Oneplus5 smartphone for these ones…



from Blogger

The Ready Launch™

A momentum driven motorcycle turntable.

We pulled in to the garage yesterday and I wished for this: The Ready Launch™.  Backing the Concours out of a single car garage and around parked vehicles can be onerous, and as we rode right in and the door closed behind us it reminded me of the Bat Cave.  When Batman does it he drives the Batmobile in and it rotates for a quick getaway; I want that.

When you pull in to your garage and brake on The Ready Launch™, it transfers the forward braking momentum of the bike into a mechanical system that produces a slow, rotating motion spinning through 180° before locking again.

With some calibration and gearing it should be no trouble to capture all the momentum of a stopping motorcycle and pour it into the rotating platform.  It would be a zero energy system, reliant on the bike pulling on to it and stopping to produce the energy needed to spin, and it doesn’t need to spin quickly or far.  After a few test stops a rider would know how hard to pull the brakes to produce the energy needed for the 180° turn.

The braking mass of the bike is applied to the piston, which then turns the gears to make the platform rotate.
The rack being pulled is where the bike parks, spinning up a flywheel that rather than lifting a weight transfers to a rotational plane under the platform.  With proper gearing the heavy platform slowly rotates using the short but heavy stopping momentum of the bike.

Stretched Thin

Originally published pre-pandemic in March of 2019 on Dusty World:

I need to reflect my way out of a dark corner.  Yesterday I got some surprise PD on students I have with profound hearing loss.  The PD was quality.  The person presenting it was not only very knowledgeable, but she was also wearing two cochlear implants, so could speak from experience.  By the end of it we had a very tangible idea of just how difficult and exhausting it is for hearing impaired students to function in a standard classroom, and yet a standard classroom is where we expect them to thrive.

How do we expect them to thrive?  By depending on the teacher to differentiate instruction, use technology and modify their lesson delivery to reach those students.  Why that?  Because any other alternative is much more expensive and downloading onto teachers is the default approach to any problem from a cost-effectiveness point of view (that’s the dark corner talking).

Empathy is my superpower when it comes to teaching.  It’s a reflex I can’t stop, but it’s also exhausting me.  By the end of that PD I was emotional about the difficulties these HH students experience all day every day and wanted to do all I could to help, but I’m not sure how much of me there is left to do it.

In a capped-at-27 students open technology class where we are working hands on with 400° soldering irons, sharp edges and live electricity, I have two students who are hard of hearing to such a degree that we are legally required to address it.  I have 9 students, or a third of the class, who have learning impairments ranging from autism to ADHD that I’m legally required to address individually.  The entire class is also in the throes of puberty.  As an open class it contains students who range from gifted/academic and on track to becoming engineers to essential students who are functionally illiterate.  Some students are living in luxury and are about to take a three week March Break on holiday (I’m supposed to plan for that too), while others aren’t getting fed before coming to school in the morning.  I’m supposed to engage all 27 of them equally and consistently no matter where they are using differentiation while also ensuring their safety.  Feel overwhelmed yet?  I do.  And that’s just one class of three.  The other two have similar expectations around size and diversity.

A long time ago now in Teacher’s College we did a day on assistive technology and I couldn’t help but think that this technology would help everyone learn more effectively regardless of where they were.  One of the reasons I enjoy teaching technology is for how it can functionally improve us.  People who use technology to waste time and distract have missed a golden opportunity in my eyes.

At our HH PD the instructor ended with this cartoon.  It speaks to that feeling I had years ago at the assistive tech day.  The sound-field system that I now have not only assists my HH students, but also my students who have signal processing problems with background noise.  If everyone can hear better, everyone will learn better.  It also saves my battered vocal cords, which is no bad thing.  It begs the question, why we don’t have sound field systems in every classroom?  But we all know the answer to that, don’t we.

In the PD it was also suggested that we have acoustically effective rooms by covering walls and floors with soft surfaces that don’t create hard, echoey soundscapes.  It was suggested that we bring in carpets and wall hangings, but based on health and safety responses to other brought in furniture, I doubt that would be allowed.  Having soft materials on the concrete blocks and industrial linoleum floors of our classroom would be great, but I doubt money exists for any of that.  It sure would be nice to work in a typical office environment, but we’re not that lucky.  Plastic floors, plastic chairs and cinder block walls are where learning happens in Ontario.

We were also encouraged to remove ambient noise as it has a deleterious effect on signal processing and requires everyone to be louder to overcome it.  That increased volume wears out voices and ears and makes for a less effective learning environment.  That’s why lawyers, bankers and politicians all have nice carpets and soft walls in their offices.

There is a lot of ambient noise in our computer technology shop.  We happen to be next to the heat exchanger in my relatively new school,, so when the HVAC system spins up background noise thrumming out of the ceiling  jumps by 15 decibels.  The 30+ fan cooled PCs in our lab add to the din, as to the dozens of adolescents sitting at them.  A typical student needs a 5-10 decibel volume bump to clearly understand instruction.  Hard of hearing students need even more.  How do we make quieter learning environments?  By not building schools as cheaply as we can, but that isn’t going to stop.  Well it is, because we’re just going to stop building schools.

So, rather than provide technology and acoustically healthy environments in reasonably sized classes for everyone, including HH students, to more effectively learn, the answer is to download the problem on teachers.  At least then it can be said that we’re doing something about it.  That’s assuming things stay as they are, but they won’t.

All this is happening in an environment of anxious uncertainty.  The general feeling is that Ontario education will be cut to the bone and what we’re expected to do will only become more absurd in the next few months.  It isn’t just in education either.  As the new Ontario cuts programs to support children with special needs, guess who will pick up the slack on that?  Yep, the education system, and it’ll be expected to do it with less.  Fortunately they have a free escape valve, just ask teachers to do more with less, probably for less.

There are numerous places we could find efficiencies in education in Ontario, but thanks to trickle down economics you can bet that the majority of those cuts will land on frontline classroom teachers and negatively impact student experience.  Those higher up the food chain will make sure their jobs are secure.  The Heinlein Starship Troopers part of me wishes we ran things like the mobile infantry: everyone drops, everyone is on the front line.  Too many people find ways out of teaching and yet get paid more for it.  In my efficient Ontario education system everyone keeps a toe in the classroom and teaches.  No one gets to opt out into a support role with zero instructional responsibility.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of my job and have no wish to leave the classroom.  Launching my students into meaningful careers in much-needed ICT roles from workplace to university streams isn’t easy but it is a real thrill.  It’s important work for Canada’s future and I want to keep doing it.  All I ask is that we be supported in that effort and not have the system punish us for its own shortcomings.  What got me down about this PD was that it boiled down to yet another level of differentiation I’m expected to deliver with little or no support.  That the system thinks this somehow resolves the problem is really aggravating; these kids deserve better.

I don’t only cater to easy to teach academics (though my classroom is capped the same way) and want to see my full spectrum of students find success, that includes special needs students like my HH kids.  My goal is to maximize their learning and help them find their best selves.  Because we’re working in ICT I hope this means they will find satisfying and challenging careers that will enable them to support themselves and their families in a very changeable future.

With all that in mind, I’m already stretched thin trying to teach with and around various special needs in a hands-on technology environment that is designed around thrift and the biggest caps in the province rather than effective learning.  That we’re as good as we are now (and that’s in national competition) in spite of all that is great, but the thought of things only getting worse is wearing me down.  If we’re going to up the ante to 35+ students and cut budgets so that we can pay for increased housing allowances and make new jobs at EQAO, I’m going to have to start putting the things down that I don’t get paid for in order to manage a punishing work load designed with generic production lines in mind.

Lowering my efficiency and not pushing us all to be our best in an emerging industry is the last thing I want to do, but needs must.  That HH PD on Friday only underlined for me how complex and multifaceted what I do is.  All I want to do is try and fulfill that difficult role as well as I possibly can, but I can’t do it if the system is intent on being less for less.

If what’s got me down are the dark headlines and ominous future of Ontario education, then I’m falling into the old trap that J.K. warns of.  What I should be doing is what I’ve always done, make best use of what I’ve got and try and reach as many students as I can.  Thanks to Friday’s PD I now have some tech in my room that should help me do that.  On Monday I’ll be speaking a bit softer but being heard better.  I’ll deal with what happens later this year when it happens.

from Blogger