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.

Moonbeam and Back: An In-Ontario Iron Butt & a Bike to Do It

The mighty Wolfe Bonham did a Moonbeam run this year as a part of one of his mega well-beyond an Iron Butt long distance rides.  I just popped it into Google maps and it happens to be a perfect first Iron Butt distance from home, and all in the province.

The starting Iron Butt is the Saddlesore 1000, 1000 miles in 24 hours.  They have a metric equivalent Saddlesore 1600 kilometre ride too.  The suggestion is to do a distance that can’t be short cutted for credibility’s sake.  Riding from Elora to Moonbeam and back is always going to be over 1600kms, no matter how you do it.  Another benefit is that by going up on Highway 11 through North Bay and back through Sudbury and on the 400, I won’t be riding the same route twice.

The Tiger has become fragile, so I’m jonesing for a long distance weapon, not that the vibey and exposed Tiger was ideal for that, but it’s what I had.  A few years ago Max and I rented a Kawasaki Concours14 for a ride in the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona, and it was a glorious thing.  That Connie was a first gen C14, the newer ones have one of the highest load carrying capacities of a modern bike – so big that they could carry Max and I two-up again.  Another thing about getting back into Connie ownership (I used to own a C10), is that I’d have an excuse to frequent the Concours Owners Group again.

There is a low mileage (31k) 2010 current generation C14 for sale in Toronto with some cosmetic damage and a dodgy windshield.  I can sort out the niggles, and then this thing would eat miles like nothing I’ve had before.  There is a strange lack of Kawasaki Heavy Industries motorbikes on the Iron Butt finisher’s list (Honda has six times more bikes, BMW over eight times more).  I want to represent!  I’ve owned more Kawis than any other brand to this point, so it’d also be coming home to team green.

This particular one is blue instead of tedious grey (Concourses tend to be very conservatively coloured), which appeals, I prefer a colourful bike.  The C14 has a number of optional touring pieces, including a variety of windshields, which is good because the slab on that Concours ain’t comely.

Love the Milano from Guardians of the Galaxy.  The C14
would be getting similar higher visibility trim, especially
around those Testarosa strakes!

Fortnine has the National Cycle Vstream windshield for the C14, which would give me a smaller but more functional, better made and swoopier look.  The bike comes with a top box and panniers, so there isn’t too much it’d need, other than sorting out the windshield and doing some touch up.  Seeing a blue bike, I immediately want to liven it up with some orange trim, Milano style.  Other than a full service and a few fixes, this bike is ready to do 100k.

The stock seat is already a comfortable thing, though I’ve enjoyed the Corbin on the Tiger so much I’d consider tapping them again for another custom saddle eventually.  The C14 Concours would be the biggest bike I’ve owned and could do something nothing in the garage can do right now, carry my son and I two-up while operating within the bike’s weight capacity.  It would also be just what I need to make a run to Moonbeam and back in 24 hours as the summer winds up.

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Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury

I came across Sturgill Simpson’s Sound & Fury on Netflex last month and I’m hooked!  I’ve been an anime fan since discovering Star Blazers in the early ’80s, and I’m always on the lookout for the good stuff.  That anime fandom was a motivator in moving to Japan for a couple of years at the end of the 20th Century.  While there I did me some kendo and got pretty handy with the old katana, so I have a soft spot for samurai too.

The first time I watched Sound & Fury I was swept away by the cinemtic quality of the thing and quickly became a fan of the musician, though I hadn’t heard of him before.  I especially enjoyed the disonance of a country music singer with a decidedly American sound being mixed with Japanese animation:

If you think the muscle car samurai is a cool opening, when she suddenly turns into a motorcycle wielding samurai with robot support it moves to a whole new level.  Just when you think vengence shall be hers everyone is suddenly line dancing – you won’t get bored watching this unfold.  It’s a visually stunning multimedia extravaganza that really pushes boundaries while offering a great way into a unique musical style that delivers intelligent and nuanced lyrics.  I’m not a particularly musical person, but this visual tour de force was right up my alley and encouraged me to engage with the songs.

One frustrating part of this is that Netflix seems particularly stingy with the art marketing of this project.  After looking for wallpapers online for the laptop, I gave up and made some of my own.  This is purely a work of fandom for this project.  I sincerely hope they come out with another visual album like this, it’s my kind of music.

In the meantime, if you’re a fan of the anime, these might satisfy the wallpaper itch for your digital device:

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Pandemic Reflections: F2F Has Way Better Bandwidth

I’m a teacher with a lot of technical expertise.  I don’t just teach effectively with digital technology, I teach the subject itself.  Fifteen years working in information technology in roles ranging from systems implementation to technical support and training are what led me into teaching the subject.  When I began teaching in 2004 elearning was beginning to evolve out of distance (ie: mail order paper based) material.  I jumped on it the summer after I started teaching at Peel DSB.  At that point elearning was a very loose HTML webpage where you had to write code to display the content properly.  I had some very interesting experiences teaching senior, university bound English on that system.  When I moved to my current board I volunteered for their pilot elearning program and taught a variety of elearning courses purely online, and then did a blended face to face introduction to elearning while teaching the mandatory career studies course.  One of the best things to come out of that project was that all of those students had a very clear idea of whether or not elearning would work for them.  A third of the class never wanted to see it again, and the correlation between students with IEPs and students who had trouble with elearning was nearly 100%.

All that to say, I’ve spent a great deal of my career exploring how digital technologies might augment our teaching, but I’m also well aware of the shortfalls.

The recent pandemic shutdown has driven a lot of teachers and students online, and the framing by our Ministry early on was very elearning focused, but a colleague in our first ever staff video conference said something that resonated for me:  this isn’t elearning, it’s isn’t business as usual, this is emergency response remote learning – we’re not ‘going online’ we doing everything we can to keep education alive at a time when it’s too easily dismissed.  This might sound like an arbitrary distinction, but it isn’t.  Not everyone needs to go online, and in many cases (as in the 2011 career studies experiment above), we have a sizable portion of our student population who cannot learn effectively in that space.  When you also toss in the inequity of online learning, it leaves option looking like a very poor go-to.  As educators, whenever we see the system roll out an undifferentiated, blanket response to an issue (like EQAO), we should take a hard pedagogical look at it.  Uniform responses that don’t honour our student (and teacher’s) individual approaches to learning and teaching are, by definition, unresponsive and ineffective. 

Since the school closures happened, I’ve been very conscious of the economically disadvantaged students who have been cut off at home.  This may very well be a home that isn’t safe, isn’t providing adequate care and isn’t where the student wants to spend their time.  The “stay at home” message that started this off is couched in privilege.  For many students home isn’t a nice word.  I’ve been frustrated by the lack of initiative shown in this crisis, but the digital divide many of our students face was something we could have addressed before, but didn’t.  Some leaders are now using that lack of equity as an excuse to do nothing, which strikes me as the worst kind of hypocrisy.  If we messed it up before, we’re messing it up now for even more people because what we didn’t do before is an excuse to do nothing now?  Wow.

I’m also staggered that there is evidently no one in the largest school system in the country who is responsible for emergency response planning.  We seem to be making it up as we go and delivering planning by press conference, and we’ve already lost three weeks to plan something that should have been in place from the go.  You know what’s harder than teaching remotely?  Teaching remotely using constantly changing expectations.

So here we are, in a pandemic situation that people have been warning is coming for years.  Our solution is to throw elearning at it, and (so far, 3 weeks in) do nothing to address the fact that thousands of Ontario students don’t have the devices at home and/or the internet connectivity to access it – and those are the students who most needed education to support them from the beginning.

There is a reason why we truck in students on diesel fume spewing school buses each day to a face to face learning environment; public education is the great equalizer.  More than anything else it helps us find the best in our population and enable them to achieve beyond the socio-economic situation they find themselves in.  For wealthy students school can feel like a step down from a life of choice and excess, but for others it is a bastion of reliability; the only time in their day when they’re talking to dependable, capable adults.  For some it’s the only time when they aren’t hungry, and our solution in an emergency situation that demands isolation is to ignore them?
Level 3 means you can take a time and date out of an email
and put it in an online calendar, this isn’t rocket science,
and yet most people aren’t even there.

Let’s say we get the digital divide under control and manage to get everyone connected (we haven’t and we wont’, but let’s imagine we did).  Now that we have everyone online and using an appropriate device, we need the majority to leverage digital skills they haven’t developed and get them learning remotely.  Ontario doesn’t have a digital skills continuum, other than some vague language dropped into other subjects here and there, yet we were increasingly expecting students and teachers to use digital tools in school and now they have suddenly become a necessity.  I teach computer technology and have a well developed program, but I only reach about 100 students out of the 1300 in our school.  If you count the business tech courses and media arts that also build digital fluency, all together we’d be lucky to reach a quarter of our student population, the rest have basic, habitual digital experience – like most of the population.  What we’re doing with elearning is akin to handing out books to illiterate people so they can learn at home with them.

Could elearning work?  It has in my experience, and I’m seeing some of my very digitally fluent seniors doing outstanding work online now.  I’ve had some very positive elearning teaching experiences where we leveraged technology and created a remote learning environment that was rich and responsive.  When it’s happened it was with a digitally focused and experienced teacher and voluntary students who also had the resilience and technical expertise to make it happen.  When you teach online it feels like you’re looking at your students through a wrong-way-around telescope.  I described this recently in terms of bandwidth.  When you’re face to face with someone you’re able to read their body language in fine detail.  The tone of their voice isn’t a dimensionless thing coming out of a tiny computer speaker, but it doesn’t end there.  I’ve had students with obvious (when face to face) hygiene issues that I’m able to notice and subtly address by getting our councillors involved.  I’m able to leverage the fantastic food school resources our school offers to get hungry students fed when we’re face to face.  I’m able to overhear student conversation in class that gives me the context I need to connect with them more effectively.  I’m able to present body language and nuance of voice that develops trust and a human relationship.  I’m able to differentiate instruction with students quickly and effectively while face to face.  I’m able to close the digital divide for all my students when they enter my lab.  There is a reason we learn best face to face, it has way better bandwidth than any digital option.  Even if you and your students are digital ninjas, remote/online learning is always going to be a lower bandwidth, less effective option that face to face learning.

In a perfect world we’d develop our staff and student’s digital fluency and engage in augmented 21st Century learning using digital tools and connectivity to enhance our ability to collaborate and communicate (and be ready for bizarre emergencies like this one), but it makes for a poor replacement; educational technology for augmentation is a worthy pedagogical goal.  Educational digital technology replacing face to face learning isn’t pedagogically motivated, it’s usually tied to scalability and the resultant monetization of a platform, usually with an eye to reducing costs.  The elearning push by Ontario’s current government was entirely focused on this without any thought given to the digital divide, dearth of digital skills and pedagogically reductive nature of remote elearning.

This pandemic has shone a harsh light on the inadequacies of our system in terms of emergency response and digital skills training, as well as highlighting the ongoing digital divide.  A good that might come of it is that we begin to address all of these issues and build a more resilient and effective education system that is able to take initiative and respond to an emergency situation without taking a month to think about it.

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Dinosaurs & Motorcycles

The only thing cooler than hunting with velociraptors on a
motorbike is hunting with velociraptors on motorbikes!

I don’t know how Triumph manages it, but they got a Scrambler into most of the scenes that involve chasing dinosaurs in the new Jurassic World flick. We just got back from it today and it’s a good time, especially if you’ve seen the original.

You see Chris Pratt fiddling with the bullet proof fuel injected Scrambler in an early scene, then he breaks it out for the big hunt half way through the film.  The kids in the film point out, “your boyfriend is pretty bad ass!” – well of course he is, he’s riding a classically styled form before function bike!

My hair never looked that good,
even when I had some.

So just in case David Beckham riding into the unknown (except for the people who live there – they know about it) on a Triumph Scrambler wasn’t enough, you’ve now got hunting dinosaurs WITH DINOSAURS!

The former might have pegged the hipster meter, but the later turns it up to eleven!

Needless to say, the interwebs couldn’t resist, and it didn’t take long to get a parody out of it:

I didn’t realize I was sitting on a
movie star at the Toronto Bike
Show this year!

The Triumph Scrambler seems to have this magical ability to look like a capable off road bike while weighing over five hundred pounds (handy perhaps if you’re riding with dinosaurs).

I’m still looking for my basic dual purpose machine, but I can’t say that Triumph’s cunning placements don’t have be jonesing for a Scrambler, at least until I’ve had to pick it up out of the dirt a couple of times and discovered that the retro look is also very breakable, then I’d be begging for the two hundred (!) pound lighter and more robust Suzuki I’ve been longing for, though it wouldn’t be nearly so nostalgic and hipster chic.  

I’ve always gone for function over appearance in my motorbiking, but Chris Pratt on a Scrambler isn’t making it easy.

Max & Tim’s Around The World Expedition

Everyone gets all kitted out with monster adventure bikes to travel around the world.  A monkey could get a big KTM or BMW around the world, and they’re all adults with giant production budgets and crews!

I want a challenge!

Max & Tim Around the World Expedition!

My eight year old and I do the long way around from Ontario, across the Atlantic, through Ireland and the U.K., across Europe and Asia, through Japan and back through San Francisco and the Western U.S. to Canada.

The Over Map, you can click on pieces to get a breakdown of each leg


1. Canada East    3223kms

2. Europe           4377kms
3. Russia            4300kms
4. Mongolia        2272kms
5. China             1925kms
6. Japan             1503kms
7. America West 2619kms
TOTAL:             20,219kms on the ground, plus trips across the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Leave Ontario April 1st and put up with some dodgy weather in Canada before making our way to Ireland in May and out of Europe.  Across Russia and Siberia in early summer, and then south through Mongolia into China in later summer.  End summer across Japan and then do a fall drive through the Western U.S. back to Ontario, returning before Hallow e’en.  214 days, 10 days crossing the Atlantic, 20 days crossing the Pacific, so 184 days on the road, which makes for an average of about 110kms/day, which should be more than possible (with some days off too!).  It’ll be slower in some places, but easily doable in developed areas.  400kms/day would be a comfortable five hours of riding in Canada, Europe and the States, as well as Japan and most of China.

So it’s a big impressive map, but we aren’t doing it on a giant adventure bike, we’re doing it on what has always been in my mind the toughest looking motorbike there is!

A Classically Styled Bike & Sidecar!

The bike and sidecar has faded into history as a cool means of getting through anything, but I still have memories of seeing them in action on the roads of England in the ’70s, and a chance to resurrect the awesome cool of a bike and sidecar on a modern adventure ride is too much to resist.  That it allows my son to enjoy biking without being perched on a saddle is also nice.  I haven’t seen too many options for adventure touring with a bike and sidecar so we’d get to explore some interesting new ways of loading up a three wheeler for an expedition!

Engines of the Red Army! The 
classic sidecar and bike!

My weapon of choice would be a Royal Enfield Classic with a matching sidecar.  The Classic is modeled on the old Royal Enfield bikes but with modern technology.  They are easy to get into and take care of, and the modern touches make it a dependable, tough piece of kit.  Besides, everyone and their dog has gone around the world on a BMW, or other big adventure bike.  The Classic with a sidecar would bring an entirely different vibe to the macho around the world trek.

With the bike itself and the sidecar capable of carrying gear we could make some interesting choices for building an expedition ready motorbike.  I imagine a bike that is capable of carrying spares, as well as camping gear and all our kit in a more elegant way than the typically overloaded adventure two wheeler.

If they can hold machine guns and ammo, they can certainly carry what we need for our expedition!  Once we’ve got our kit worked out and our aesthetic set, we need to work out…


The bike will be kitted out with Gopros and we’ll have a video/still camera on hand for video diaries.  The trick will be to create a narrative from the media we create.  As we collect footage from each leg we’ll hand off the media to our Production Manager (Alanna) and take a few days with her in each place before loading up for another leg.  Some ideas for narrative might be an ASD father/son relationship as we cross the planet or a look at the history of motorbikes around the world.  No matter what, I’d want to film it pushing what technology can do to capture a live experience.  To that end, I’d like to create a videoblog of the trip as it happens, as well as a travel documentary when we’re home.

April to October would be travelling, then the winter would be resolving the footage into a story in post-production.

PITSTOPS (where we meet up with our production team)

  1. Quebec City
  2. St. John’s 
  3. Dublin
  4. Norwich
  5. Brugges
  6. Warsaw
  7. Minsk
  8. Moscow
  9. Novosibirsk
  10. Ulaanbaatar
  11. Beijing
  12. Shanghai
  13. Nagasaki
  14. Kyoto
  15. Tokyo
  16. San Francisco
  17. Omaha
  18. Chicago

Our production/travel support team meets us at each pit-stop and takes our media while giving us fresh memory to save stuff too.  We spend a couple of days at each spot touring about and resting up then we’re off on the road again as Alanna and team flies ahead of us to the next destination.  Having a travel expert in country ahead of us should ease crossings and make entry into each new area more efficient.

Alanna could also help produce some establishing shots and other footage for the final product.  Needless to say she’d need a production partner… she and I both think… Jeanette!  They’d have a fabulous time.

Back To The Kit

Here’s a fun statistic!

  • Royal Enfield Classic 500cc = 183 kgs
  • Classic side car:  80 kgs
  • TOTAL WEIGHT:  263 kgs, or about 88 kgs per wheel
A BMW R1200GS Adventure weighs 260kgs or about 130kgs per wheel, so with a side car and another wheel to share the weight, the Classic weighs about the same as BMW’s big adventure bike, but has a much lighter presence on and off road.
Royal Enfield Classic with Classic Rocket Sidecar

With some handiwork we should be able to fabricate a tonneau cover for the sidecar that keeps Max warm and dry in nasty weather, but disappears when not needed.  I’d also look at  putting together a canvas tent that works off the structure of the bike.

The Classic Enfield also has a back deck we could fabricate a rack on for carrying, and the long nose in the sidecar could easily hold soft bags and other equipment.

The bike itself could also hold gear in front of the handlebars and behind the saddle.  It isn’t a giant bike, but at 500ccs it would be more than capable of getting us down the road with our gear and would get good mileage too.

In parts of the world where lodging is available, we’d refocus the expedition machine on a lighter load with less food carried and minimal equipment.  In places more remote, we’d reconfigure for camping and be sure to have the kit we need to get by in the rough.

A year off with an epic trip across the planet with Max would be fantastic!  Seeing how he sees the world would be unique.

CBR900rr Aerospace Motorcycling

With the carbs sorted and the oil changed, the Fireblade sounds like the machine it is (ie: fantastic!).  On the to-do list now is chasing down some wiring issues and shaking down the rest of the bike because a monkey was working on it before and I don’t trust his choices.

In working in and around the Fireblade, it’s the little differences that add up to a bike 50+ kilos lighter than the Tiger and over 100 (!) kilos lighter than the Concours (while making 33% more horsepower than either).  At 195kg, the Fireblade is even 10 kilos lighter than my first bike, a svelte 2007 Ninja 650r.

The ‘Blade makes lightness pretty much everywhere.  I’m particularly fond of the speedholes all over it.

When it isn’t holey, it’s reduced material wherever possible.  Even the rim spokes are thinned out:

Where Honda had to use material, it’s the lightest they could manage…

Compared to the Kawasaki Heavy Industries bikes I’ve owned, this CBR900rr is a built for purpose thing that feels more like working on an aeroplane than it does a motorbike.

… and it sure is pretty.

from Blogger

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


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Mechanics

After another fraught week remote working in a pandemic working twice as hard to do half as much, I was at it again all Saturday morning before finally springing free for the afternoon, but I had a lot to do and I was already off-kilter from a two hour meeting.  I walked into my happy place (the garage) after once again spending too much time trying to work with people badly through screens (one of the joys of a pandemic is WAY too much screen-time) and went about reassembling the Tiger, which was causing anxiety by occasionally not holding an idle and stalling.  

The Tiger rebuild began poorly.  I couldn’t find one of the two retaining bolts for the spark plug top I’d taken off the week before.  In the days between taking it apart and waiting for Amazon to get its finger out and deliver new spark plugs, the bike must have been jostled in my too-small garage and the bolts rolled off the head where I’d evidently left them.  I know better than that.  If I remove fasteners I usually put them in a container in groups or loosely reattach them to where they came from so they’ll be there when I come back.

While that was going on I got Lloyd’s message from Mostly Ironheads saying that I could bring the Fireblade in for a safety, so I cleaned up and got it over there for that.  He has some fantastic projects going on, I’ve got to see if he’ll let me do another round of photos – that shop is half working garage, half motorcycle museum.  (He did let me do another round, they’re here).

Back in the garage I was now frazzled with things going on in multiple places and the Tiger rebuild frozen by a lost bolt.  I found a replacement, but doing things half-assed means doing them for way longer than you need to.  It makes me feel like I’m my own make-work project.  I was angry at myself and swearing as I put it back together.  I took it out for a ride in the clearing afternoon weather (it had been threatening rain all morning), but the intermittent stall still happened, even after all the pain in the ass parts ordering waiting during a social distancing slow down.

I put the Tiger up on its stand and figured I’d take a run at it again the next day.  Then Lloyd called saying the ‘Blade was all good except tires – so now I have to try and find some tires, in a pandemic (I did, Revco is fantastic).  I brought the Honda home got into a ridiculously complicated plan for suspending it so I could remove both wheels at once.  The end product looked more like a roof mounting for a sex swing when I finally gave up on it and locked up the garage for the night.


The next day I spent the morning brain storming ideas for a work project and then finally got to the garage mid-afternoon.  My mind-set was completely different this time.  Instead of being weighed down by worries from a meeting, I was buoyant from just having thought my way out of them.  In a good mood and with the importance of keeping my shit organized clearly at front of mind, I went about fabricating chocks for the front wheel of the Honda and attached them to Jeff’s motorcycle stand.

They worked a treat and before I knew it the CBR was suspended and the wheels were off.  The brakes were pretty grotty, so taking it all apart, even if the pads and rotors do all meet MoT safety standards, wasn’t a bad thing.  The music was playing, it was a cool, sunny afternoon and I was getting shit done.

As I disassembled the Fireblade, I was Sharpy marking parts, taking photos and batching fasteners together so I can find everything when I reassemble.  I’ve been mechanicking for too long not to do this, but a callous disregard for shop etiquette gave me the result I knew I deserved the day before, but not this time.  The jigs we create make the jobs we do possible, and vice versa.

What had taken me twice as long to do badly the day before, took me a fraction of the time to do better the next day.  Instead of spiralling into anger and frustration, I was in the zone.  Problems still occurred, of course.  This is mechanics where I’m dealing with immutable reality, I have to bend because reality won’t, but rather than succumb to those problems I was agile and adaptive.  I can hear the sound of one hand clapping when I’m in the zone like that.  It feels effortless and completely engaging.

The Honda was sorted so quickly I turned to the Tiger and began the astonishingly fussy job of taking the fuel tank off (again).  What was tedious the day before became a matter of minutes the next day.  With the tank and air-box off (again), I looked over the idle control valve under the air-box and discovered one of the tubes going into the back of it was loose.  I cleaned up all the connecting and ensured they were tight and put some gasket compound on the rubber gasket to help it seal where it was squashed.

The whole thing went back together again equally quickly and the bike started and ran, so I shut it all down and cleaned up (some more good shop etiquette I’d been ignoring).

I’d gotten two days of work done in one, but it didn’t feel like it.  Disappearing into the garage is one of my favourite things to do, but doing it when you’re frazzled and fraught can mean you’re bringing a lot of negative energy in with you.  That negativity can make you ignore best practices you’d otherwise follow and might result in simple jobs becoming much more frustrating than they need to be.

Just like when you’re riding, you need to find your inner zen when wrenching.  Not only will it make you a better mechanic, but it’ll also make the work itself a joy.


A couple of days later I was working through week six of the Science of Well Being course I’ve been taking and it went over the state of flow and how it induces a sense of happiness.  There is a lot of research into flow states, especially in terms of peak performance in sports, but any complex task, from painting to mechanics, will offer that moment when you’re balancing your skills with your situation in a way that’s so engaging you forget yourself.  That’s actually what you’re doing in a state of flow, you’re so immersed in what you’re doing that you don’t have any mental acuity left to self realize.

Sony’s mission statement:  what a place to work that would be!
If that doesn’t clear it up for you, maybe the TEDtalk by the guy who invented the concept of flow will:

from Blogger