It’s so not everyone else…

I went to Roof Helmets to see if I could find a Canadian distributor.  They put me on to Fullbore Marketing, a company that delivers motorcycle gear to retailers.  They told me that they aren’t distributing Roof Helmets any more, but they have a couple of models left over.  They put me on to Blackfoot Motorsport, and after a number of emails we got it a deal sorted out: a Roof Desmo for $400 Canadian (they usually run 469€ or about $673CAD, but you can’t get ’em here).

If you dig it, they had a pearl/white one still kicking around in XL too.  Good luck chasing the distribution flow.  If you succeed, you can get your Jo Sinnott on (Wild Camping is where I first saw the Roof and thought, wow, what a cool lid).  I’m going to!

In the meantime, I might be the only person in Canada this year with a new Roof Desmo, and it looks fantastic! (and also a crime).  All of those Arais and Shoeis on the road are going to look so… common.

The helmet fits my temples better than anything else previously.  It’s snug front to back, but it’s wearing in nicely.  When on it has a fantastic anime feel to it!

On the way home today it started to rain.  With a single motion I went from open face to closed face, but this isn’t just a modular helmet, it safeties as a full face helmet.  I can’t understand why these aren’t for sale in Canada any more.

There is no STEM

There has recently been a fair bit of push back against STEM as a focus in schools, but as a classroom technology and engineering teacher I have to tell you, there is no STEM.  By sticking science, technology, engineering and mathematics in an acronym, many people, especially people who aren’t in classrooms, think that this is some kind of coherent strategy, but I can assure you it isn’t, at least not in Ontario.

Maths and sciences are mandatory courses throughout a student’s career.  Technology and engineering are not, ever.  Maths gets even more additional attention because of EQAO standardized testing, so numeracy is an expectation for all teachers throughout the school.  Science is mandatory throughout elementary grades and high school students are required to take two science credits to graduate.  Maths and science are baked into a student’s school experience.

Want to feel the sting of irrelevance?  Waterloo University (and many others) do a fine job of underlining how little technology and engineering programs matter in high schools.  If you’re signing up for their software engineering program you need lots of maths… and lots of science.  Engineering for an engineering program?  Well, there’s no point in making it a requirement because it’s an optional course that is barely taught anywhere in Ontario.  At one point I heard less than 15% of Ontario schools run any kind of coherent computer engineering program.  The technology prejudice is a bit different, that’s more of a blue collar white collar thing, but engineering, as an academic focus, has been swallowed whole by science and maths.

SM has always been a foundational piece of public education, and remains so, but the entire ‘STEM push’ is really an SM push, engineering and technology remain barely taught and entirely optional and peripheral in Ontario classrooms, assuming they exist at all.  Tactile, hands on technology programs with their lower class sizes, expensive tools and safety concerns are the first to get canned when the money tightens up.  It’s cheaper to stuff 30+ kids into an ‘academic’ (aka: text based/theory) course where you can sit them in efficient rows and learn linearly until everyone gets the same right answer.  It doesn’t do much for them in the real world, but it’s cheaper.  Math and science make sense in a school system focused on those kinds of academic economics.

Governments get voted in by creating panic about student mathematics skills, and how science is taught is another political hot-spot that gives politicians lots of traction.  I have no doubt that these two subjects enjoy the attention they do because of this political fecundity.  Engineering and technology?  The skills that build the critical infrastructures that allow us to feed, connect and house people?  Not much political mucking to be done there, it just needs to work.

Last year I had a student graduate and go on to college for computer technology.  He had some trouble in school, but was on track to be a successful computer technician.  In his first post-secondary computer technology courses he was feeling well ahead of his classmates and was confident of success, but not all his classes went so well.  He ended up failing his maths course and eventually dropped out of the whole program.  Talking to his mother after this happened, she implied that I’d failed to teach him the mathematics he needed to succeed.  I didn’t argue the point (I don’t teach mathematics other than in conjunction with what we’re doing in computer technology).  There is an entire mathematics department with ten times more personnel, resources and infinitely more presence in the school than me an my oft-forgotten program, but with STEM ringing in her ears we’re all lumped into that failure.

This year I’m rocking a budget (which I’ve already exceeded in the second week of September) that is 25% of what it was a few years ago.  Everyone is seeing cuts, but the mandatory departments are protected in a way that our optional courses are not.  Where they might see a 10% cut, I’m seeing 75%, because what I teach is not a priority.  That cut is happening while I’m actually up in sections due the success we’ve had in various competitions and the media attention we’ve received (but not in our own yearbook).

You can rail against STEM all you like, but there is no such thing.  If there has been any STEM funding with this focus it hasn’t found my technology and engineering courses, because not all STEMs are considered worthy of political attention.  The best I’ve seen out of this are a few more manipulatives in maths classes based on corporate tech-in-a-box, but building a kit isn’t engineering.  When you’re engineering there are no instructions and the end goal may not even be possible, you certainly don’t end up with everyone looking at the same finished product.  That kind of stochastic process is another reason why eng/tech is frowned upon in academic settings; they like everyone to arrive at the same correct answer.  It makes for a clear sense of progress, but learning to deal with potential failure in reality isn’t wasted time in school.


In the article that kicked this off, you get a very articulate and scholarly take on the value of a liberal arts education and how it can free you from economic bondage in our overpopulated and automated world.  The down-your-nose ‘yeomanship’ / servitude argument pasted on STEM and CTE as a preparation for the workplace ignores the many soft skills that hands-on technical training can provide in favour of the argument that students of technology are dimensionless corporate shills whose only interest is to find work in a system that doesn’t really need them.  But aren’t we all yoked to our broken economic system?  A degree doesn’t somehow free you from that commitment, but it will bury you in debt and the attendant servitude to it.  A technical education costs less and teaches you some valuable soft skills that will help you in any vocation, while also offering you a shot at something other than general labour.  The engineering design process technology training is predicated on would help anyone in any aspect of life where they must self-organize and tackle a problem that may not have a solution.

I have a liberal arts education (English and philosophy majors) and I greatly value the discipline it has brought to both my thinking and writing, but that doesn’t mean I don’t value hands-on mastery and the attendant good habits that accompany it.  It took me a long time to value my technical, hands-on skills against the constant noise of academic/white collar prejudice and privilege.  Since moving to technology from English teaching, I face that pressure daily, as do my tech-teaching colleagues.  In speaking to many people I still get the sense that technical, hands-on skills are inferior to academic skills, but I find them complimentary, not less than.  It would be quite a thing if we could value a student’s technical hands-on mastery as much as we value their academic grades… or even their sports abilities.

I get the sense that Professor Zaloom believes the future will be full of highly educated academics elucidating on the state of humanity while they float above economic necessities with their intellectual freedom.  I’d argue that learning hands-on technical skills gives you a variety of soft-skills (persistence, self-organization, resilience, humility to name a few) that will help students deal with that overpopulated, automated future every bit as much as a degree might.

If you follow that article through, it’s less about STEM and more about what we’re going to do in an increasingly automated world populated by more and more people with less and less to do.  In that no-win situation, the value of being able to repair your own technology and understand the hidden systems that regulate your life is another kind of literacy that I think all students should have, especially if they are going to depend on those systems and let them direct their lives.

A good read on the fecundity of hands-on mastery.

Technology education offers that insight along with a plethora of tough-soft skills that are wanting in many academic programs where established reality is whatever the teacher thinks it should be.  There is a hard, real-world edge to technology training that is often hard to find in the mentally constructed world of academic achievement.  Matt Crawford describes management thinking in Shop Class as Soulcraft as having a ‘peculiarly chancy and fluid character’ due to its success criteria being changeable depending on the whims of the people in charge.  That was my experience in too many academic situations.  You know where you stand in technology because reality isn’t fickle.

It’s a shame that this pointless acronym has thrown a blanket over the grossly neglected curriculums of technology and engineering, while giving even more attention to two of the Disney princesses of academia.  To be honest with you, I think technology and engineering would be just where it is now had this STEM focus never happened, which tells you something about how this ed-fad has gone down.

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Additional Reading:

The rich intersection of a liberal arts background and technology expertise:  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Shop Class as Soulcraft is a must read, but so is Matt’s follow-up, The World Beyond Your Head.  A philosophical look at the power of tactile skills to free us from consumerism and the mental world of the digital attention economy.


Elearning: How to make the inevitable more than a cash grab

My Background in Elearning:

I’ve been elearning since the early 1990s in university.  Back then it was called distance-ed or correspondence learning.  I’d get a big parcel int he mail and work my way through paper based course work before sending it back.  When I got my ESL teaching qualifications in Japan in 1999, it was through a distance-ed school in Scotland.  Those courses were difficult and made more so by the one way nature of the communication.  As email became prevalent I was able to establish faster two-way communication with instructors.  This finally evolved into an online, cloud based elearning system in the early zeroes.

In the 90s I was working in IT, which included a lot of user training on new, cloud based software management solutions, so the elearning concept wasn’t new to me.  From the very earliest cloud based management systems, I’ve had an oar in the water when it comes to elearning.

I became an Ontario teacher in 2004 and was a summer school elearning teacher by 2005.  Those early Learning Management Systems (LMSs) were very texty.  If you wanted graphics or even links, you had to HTML code them in yourself.  All of us (my students and I) were alone in cyber-space way back then, and some wonderful things happened that demonstrated the potential of this technology.  After two years of teaching elearning through Peel’s summer school program on the ANGEL LMS, I moved to Upper Grand DSB, who hadn’t touched elearning yet.

By 2007 UGDSB was starting to get into it and I volunteered to be in the first group sent to another board to learn how D2L’s new LMS worked.  The next year I was once again teaching elearning in summer school and then also teaching elearning during the school year as part of my course load.  By that point I was also taking Additional Qualification courses (AQs) in the summer on elearning.  Rather ironically, out of all the AQs I took in English and visual art, the only one that wasn’t elearning was computer technology.

In addition to teaching remote elearning in English, I also pushed for a blended learning course in my local school that uses elearning technology in a traditional classroom so that students can get familiar with this increasingly popular option for earning credits.  That blended elearning course in career studies was very successful in terms of introducing students to elearning.  Any student who took it knew what elearning was by the end of it and whether or not it would suit their learning habits.

Way back in 2011 I was trying to wrap my head around how to get students in a 1:1 technology situation to make effective use of technology that most people consider mainly entertainment focused.  Seven years ago I was trying to help our union understand elearning and how they could support effective implementation of it.  Many educators turned their nose up at elearning and the unions would rather it not exist at all, but this kind of disruption is exactly what digital information does, and ignoring it isn’t a good idea – just ask Blockbuster.

By six years ago I was thinking about applying to become an elearning coordinator at my board.  Strangely, after going in for the interview and not getting it, I was suddenly out of the pool of elearning teachers and haven’t taught it since.  I’ve found other ways to exercise my digital expertise, but elearning has always been a fascinating union between ICT, digital media and pedagogy that I’ve never really gone away from.

With the rise of GAFE in our board, all of my classes have essentially become blended learning classes.  I didn’t make any photocopies for my courses last year because our documentation and information all flows digitally.  I expect my computer-tech students to be able to effectively use our learning management systems.  Many of them take that digital expertise and use it to effectively engage in elearning.  Many other students from across the school show up at my door unable to effectively engage in elearning courses due to a lack of digital fluency – I still help with that, though it isn’t the gig I’m being paid for.

All that to say, I have a long history with elearning and think it can be a  powerful addition to our education system.

Meanwhile, in 2019…

The current provincial government, without a lot of forethought or apparent research, have stated that all students have to take four elearning courses.  The high number of expected elearning credits and lack of infrastructure around this would suggest that this is an excuse to create giant classes, ignore pedagogy and pump out students with little or no effective learning.  If elearning is going to be used to Walmart education into cheaper, less effective process, then it’s a disaster for students, educators and the tax payers who are funding a process that isn’t effective.

If elearning is going to become an effective tool in our education system (and it really should), it can’t be an excuse to cheapen learning.  There are too many corporate interests involved that want to make it exactly that.  Those interests may well be what is behind this latest lunge at Ontario’s education system.

This approach plays to a common tactic: grossly simplifying a complex public service in order to diminish it.  Many adults flippantly state that they have to do elearning through work so kids should get with it. Teaching children isn’t like teaching adults. When a wage earning adult takes a course, it’s an entirely different situation than a child doing it. Adults (most adults, the adult ones anyway), bring a degree of self-discipline and purpose to a course of study that children are still developing, because that part of their brain isn’t done growing yet; it’s neuro-science.  Saying that children should learn like adults do is like saying children should drive cars because adults do (ie: a profoundly ignorant and stupid thing to say).

Elearning in our schools should start off as blended learning  focusing on getting comfortable with the technology and expectations of remote instruction in a familiar, face to face environment.  Most students are dumped into it without any clear idea of what it is and then given minimal support. Once the tech is in hand and a student has a clear understanding of how elearning might work for them, pedagogy and high standards are vital or the whole thing becomes a cheaper, less effective option, which helps no one and just wastes money.  Having elearning as a required blended course using elearning technology in a face to face classroom is a great idea, but dumping 4 remote courses on every student in Ontario is a profoundly ignorant thing to do; differentiation based on student need should always be a driving force in effective elearning (or any kind of learning, right?).

Integrating elearning effectively is starting to feel like a no-win scenario.  Between callous government announcements about forced elearning courses for all and the reticence of unions and teachers to embrace this inevitable technology evolution, there are few who are willing to champion it.  If Luddite teachers (and their unions) would turn down the skepticism and negativity and get behind effective implementation of this inevitable technology, there is a chance to beat the politics.

Elearning is going to happen anyway, and if we don’t engage and participate in making it as pedagogically effective as possible it’ll end up being the corporate/neo-con money grab it’s being primed to be. When that happens, students and educators alike will be hurt. So will tax payers, because they won’t be getting their moneys worth – the corporations pushing it and the governments that serve them will always cash in though.

The way forward is clear:

  • prepare students for elearning by training them in the technology and the instructional expectations in a familiar f2f environment – no one should suddenly find themselves in a remote learning situation without knowing what to do
  • provide full support for elearning students including guidance and library/research support just like f2f students enjoy
  • set high standards and hold to them, including offering outs for students the process isn’t working for
  • develop LMSes that curate a learning community in digital spaces – a sense of community is vital to any classroom situation, physical or otherwise
  • provide elearning instructors with excellent technical skills and fluency in digital environments
  • provide passionate elearning instructors and support people who are willing to go the extra mile to ensure a successful online learning experience
At the moment we have post-secondary programs that won’t accept elearning grades on par with regular credits.  What does that tell you about the current quality of elearning?  It’s about to get inflated into an even less effective learning outcome unless Ontario educators come to the aid of this emergent type of learning.  We’ve fumbled it along so far, but without all learning partners engaging in this to ensure sound pedagogy, this forced approach is going to cause a lot of damage and cost a lot of money doing it.

To better understand the level of growth that this requirement would create, it is useful to examine what we know about the level of e-learning that currently exists in Ontario.
Traditionally, in Ontario, students have enrolled in e-learning courses for a number of reasons: to fast-track and get to graduation early, to catch up in credits, to accommodate their learning needs, or because particular courses are not offered in their communities. E-learning has benefits for many students, and for some it is challenging.
Expectations change as politics dictate new directions.

The digital divide is deep and wide:  Elearning has an expensive barrier to entry in terms of in-hand technology as well as broad-band access.  It isn’t a cheap alternative, but it can be a powerful tool in our educational toolbox.

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A Year of Living Dangerously

It’s been one heck of a year. Personal tragedies aside (and they were quite epic in scale), my year in teaching has been difficult to say the least.

I began the year suddenly being asked to fill the shoes of our head of computers and IT. He is a dynamic, patient, kind man who is adored by all who know him; I am not. The chances of me filling his shoes satisfactorily were not likely, but I was the only other person in the school with any IT experience, so it fell to me.
I was asked to field a robotics team (never before done) and maintain a computer club whose sole purpose appeared to be allowing socially derelict grade 10 boys the opportunity to swear at each other using an astonishing array of racially insensitive epithets, while playing FPSs on school PCs.
With no training or planning, I suddenly found myself teaching a course I almost failed in high school and a pilot course on new equipment that didn’t work. Oddly enough, this wasn’t really a concern for me, I love in-class challenges, and I beat up the tech to make it functional. A couple of years ago I did an inter-disciplinary media arts program for (very) at-risk students. It almost killed me, but I actually enjoyed the edginess of it (it was immediately cancelled in spite of being labelled a great success), but I digress.
At first I was excited to get back into coding, something I genuinely enjoyed as a child (I used to type whole programs out of COMPUTE! magazine, then mod them, just for fun!), but that was before my computer science teacher implied that I wasn’t competent and shouldn’t be there. Still, the thought of getting back into coding really appealed, I was excited to teach the course I almost failed.
That was before I started averaging 40-50 emails a day, mostly from people who couldn’t be bothered to check if the damn thing was plugged in before contacting me. My days were spent running around the school, plugging things in and restarting them, and constantly (and repeatedly) resetting students (who seemed incapable for remembering what they’d just typed) passwords.
Between pointless support based on shear laziness, the occasional genuine problem, students vandalizing equipment and some truly odd IT purchases (a wireless TV system purchased by student council a few years before that simply would not work), I typically missed lunch, had no prep and was buried in IT support and ordering; all while trying to teach three new classes in two departments I’d never taught in before, while being a department head for the first time. I never got that chance to model teaching my own re-introduction to programming, and struggled to be able to appreciate what my students were doing from a distance… very frustrating.
I kept coaching soccer, maybe not the wisest move considering, but I genuinely enjoy doing that. I don’t really remember much from the beginning of the year. Between multiple deaths in the family and the crushing weight of work, and knowing that I couldn’t spent the time I needed to on courses I had no experience with, I felt like I was doing too much, and none of it well.
The beginning of the year madness settled down, and soccer season ended. I staggered out of semester one feeling like I hadn’t done anyone justice, but I was still on my feet.
Semester two consisted of three more new courses I’d never taught before in two departments I’d never been in before. Once again, I tried to balance the teacher in charge of computers thing with actually teaching (I imagine this is much easier when you’re teaching things you’re familiar with). Again and again I tried to go out on a limb and push technology growth in the school, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, usually to scowls and complaints.
March Break rolled around and my first ever international field trip started with me on a buzzy high. We drove down to Pearson at 2am in the morning, met up with our kids and prepared for a life-altering nine days sharing our love of Japanese culture. Out of a 3 hour line in US customs we saw some footage, but left when we were told everything was reopened. In San Francisco we got turned back. I got back into my own bed 23 hours and 9000 kms after I woke up, having had students crying on me, a strange kind of survivor’s guilt and an exhausting and pointless trip across the continent (twice). And so ended my first international field trip experience.
In the weeks that followed we were accused of incompetence for not knowing what was happening while in customs lockup (or guessing what was going to happen next at Fukoshima), we had to fight for our students to get their money back, and were treated as a bothersome inconvenience by the travel company and our board. At no point did anyone ask us if *we* were alright, even after one of us had to cut their teaching time to get a grip on things. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I think we felt that we were being blamed for even trying to stage the trip.
At the end of the year I spent my extra exam day not getting marks and comments in order, but helping prepare the school for a 70 computer update, all while hearing constant complaints from people, some of them department heads, about how we better not mess anything up, and they better not lose anything on ‘their’ computer.
Difficult administrators, puerile teachers, arrogant students, and a crushing work/life combination made this a year to remember. At our end of the year meeting teachers were being rewarded for falling out of canoes and having to teach difficult classes, I just wanted to find the door and get out. Ending the meeting with a (attempted in humor) “teachers can go on summer break and wonder what working people do” felt like the right finish to this year; I would have laughed, but I’ve lost my sense of humor.
I now know what an anxiety attack feels like, and it seems like once you’ve had one, they are much easier to get again. Jittery and exhausted is how I feel; I don’t want to go back.
My foray into department headship and my willingness to leap into the breach when needed has put me in a bad place. I said to a colleague at the end of the year, “I don’t feel tired, I feel broken.”

Winter Dreams: what I’d do the first week in January

Snow is flying outside.  It’s supposed to be -20°C by the end of the week with more snow on the way.  Working on the bike in the garage only gets me so far.  Time for some quality daydreaming…

Goal:  Find a quick bike, ride the Dragon, bring it home to race in the spring.

Looking around online I found a wounded Kawasaki ZX-6R for sale in Clinton, Tennessee for about $3400US.  It happens to be off the interstate right on the way to Knoxville (the city nearest the Smokey Mountains where the Tail of the Dragon is).  I’m a sucker for a wounded motorcycle.  The store selling it says it needs tires and they sell ’em, so I’d arrange them to do it and a tune up and then pick the bike up ready to ride.

Fixing the fairing is a little trickier, but Performance Bikes UK had an article on cheap Chinese replacement fairings which would be perfect for a bike that’s going to be all about track days and quick rides.

The only issue is whether or not I could get the bike road legal for a few days while I was down there in order to ride The Dragon.

A long drive to Clinton and a night in a hotel followed by a morning sorting out the bike and loading it into the van before driving down to Pigeon Forge for a few days riding the Smokey Mountains.

The slog back north into the frozen darkness would be a lot easier to take if I had a few days on two wheels before I had to do it.

Of course, if I’m getting a sports bike I can loose my mind on some sports bike kit.  If I’m on a quick Kawasaki I’d opt for gear that’d do me on track days as well…

Nothing like a little fantasy shopping to make the snow fly by.

Some colour matched gear to go with the new fairings and I’d be ready for race school in the spring.

Carbon fibre bits are also available for this ZX-6R, but if it’s going to be a track bike they seem like a silly expense.

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Agility Dies As Ontario Stiffens

While I was attending the Future of Work Summit with ICTC at the MaRS Centre in Toronto, just down the street Ontario’s teacher unions were having their yearly meetings.  The social media runoff from those meetings, and from Ontario Education in general, has been increasingly and overwhelmingly negative.  As I’m listening to talks about how to increase our flexibility and reduce institutional lag, the education system around me is going into a state of rigour mortis as it stiffens up to the point where nothing is acceptable and everything is rebuked out of hand.

In my time teaching in Ontario I’ve watched the provincial government break the law and end up paying millions in reparations as a result.  That mess was treated like a blip compared to what has been happening recently.  Before this new government even did anything we were warned that it was all going to hell.  Things went to hell with the previous government too, but that seemed to be ok because, ultimately, our unions had ongoing relationships with that government.  This is the first time I’ve seen Ontario education operating under a non-Liberal government and it isn’t pretty.  There was always some flexibility of approach previously, even when what has happening to us was ridiculous.  That flexibility is gone now.

Rae and the NDP pushed up our debt, but so did Harris
and the PCs. Interesting that McGinty and the Liberals
were actually more fiscally conservative than the PCs
until it all went to hell in 2008. Ontario is as in debt as
it is because it spent billions bailing out private corporations
that were playing silly buggers with the economy.

I’m well aware of what happened the last time a ‘progressive’ conservative government ran Ontario education into the ground.  At that point it was described as a needed financial correction from the previous NDP government, but the Financial Times doesn’t graph it like that.  Mike Harris and his government sold off money makers like the 407 to balance a single year and look fiscally tight.  It’s that kind of self serving short sightedness in our elected officials that frustrates me.  What I find strange is that Ontario defaulted to conservative leadership for many years, and in that time could depend on governance that wasn’t populist and myopic, but recent attempts seem to be all about violent correction catering to special interests without any long term intentions.

Ontario needs to get a handle on its debt and we need a capable leader who is willing to lead by example to do it.  The problem with Ontarians is that they won’t vote for someone like that.  Instead they are swayed by buck a beer huxtering.

Frankly, I don’t care whether they are liberal, conservative or NDP, but I do care that it happens.  We’re paying billions servicing debts we can’t afford.  If it has to be austerity, then it needs to be austerity for all.  I’d be willing to buckle down and do my best with larger classes and lower budgets if I felt that everyone else wasn’t voting themselves higher living allowances and inventing redundant jobs for friends.

Squeezing the system generally won’t yield the kind of savings we need, and it damages learning conditions for students as well as teachers.  Ontario students are some of the best in the world.  If we’re willing to sacrifice that excellence to protect a UN sanctioned publicly funded semi-private religious school system, or a questionable standardized testing regime brought to us by an under-performing US model of education, then we’re damaging our excellence to protect inequity and keep ourselves buried in debt.  There are plenty of places we could save billions in Ontario education by making systemic change while protecting the learning conditions of students.  It is only because we are trapped by our history and our selfish, short-sighted, tail-chasing political system that we can’t make the changes needed to make Ontario more sustainable.

Attending that summit once again got me thinking about how relentlessly and aggressively the best private enterprises chase efficiency.  There is nothing sacred in that environment, it’s eat or be eaten.  That kind of focus really appeals to the technician in me who builds technology based on efficiency and efficacy, but it’s short sighted when dealing with public education.  

Working for a system that is ultimately led by politicians who are in turn being led by the short-sightedness of our electorate has never been anything but frustrating.  Watching this government shore up the money-sinks while at the same time hurting learners and damaging our performance isn’t new.  Previous governments did the exact same thing.  There is nothing revolutionary or different about what’s happening now, other than the mass centralization of opposition against it.

Ontario continues to sink deeper into debt even as we’re catering to special interests as we’ve always done.  Things could be better, but the system we have does nothing to encourage intelligent decision making.  If you’re looking for change in Ontario any time soon, you’re not going to see it.  In the meantime, Ontario will drag Canada out of the top 10 worldwide as we intentionally damage one of Ontario’s most popular exports.

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Were I Home

March Break in the UK is a very different proposition to March Break in Ontario, Canada.  Here we’re looking at freezing temperatures, snow storms and general misery.  Everyone who was able has left.  A few minutes outside today in -20° wind chill left me broken.

Back home it’s mid to high teens with sunny spring days and flowers blooming.

Were I home I’d be rolling the Triumph Speed Triple out of the shed and going for a ride along the North Norfolk coast.  It’d be cool but clear.  Norfolk roads are medieval narrow, especially out in the country.  With tall hedge rows and few shoulders you don’t travel at break neck speed, but that’s kind of the point.

Enroute I’d be passing by small fishing villages, medieval priories and castle ruins.  Lunch stops could be any one of a dozen centuries old pubs.  When not doing that, pulling up a a seaside layby to watch the waves roll in would beat frostbite any day.

Do I ever miss being home sometimes.

Speaking of which, a nice little house on Beeston Hill is going for about £200k.  With a shed in the backyard to park up the motorbikes in, I’d have the ideal place to ride out into Norfolk from, and it’s less than a mile from each of the two houses I grew up in.

What would I do on these beautiful spring days?  Familiarize myself with the back roads of the country I grew up in for eight years before being emigrated to the land of ice and snow.

Triumph Scrambler might be a better choice for going off piste in deepest, darkest Norfolk where mud is the norm rather than the exception.
I’d be sharing roads that generations of my people have ridden on two wheels.  Maybe while out on those roads I’ll meet up with some family ghosts and be able to go riding with them for a while…

My great aunt died on the roads of Norfolk before I was born.  It’d be nice to be back sharing that space with her, if not the time.


That old Coventry Eagle disappearing around the hedgerow ahead of me could be Grandad Morris out for a spirited ride.


A modern roadster to tackle twisting Norfolk lanes single handed?
… or the more tractor like Scrambler to occasionally get dirty on the tractor splattered lanes of rural Norfolk?

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Is Ontario Anti-Motorcycle?

Motorcycle insurance in Ontario has always thrown me for a loop.  To emphasize that strangeness the Toronto Star recently printed a searing indictment of Ontario’s motorcycle insurance policies.   In it a rider who has been out west (California and B.C.) comes back to Ontario to experience the disastrous way Ontario does things.  He suddenly finds his $2-300 a year insurance rates multiply by ten to well over two thousand dollars a year, for the same bike!

In breaking down Ontario insurance he discovers some discrepencies that appear to be practically criminal:

“My motorcycle was assessed as if it was new — $20,000. But if I have a crash and the 12-year-old bike is destroyed, will I receive $20,000? Of course not. The payout would be more like $4,000 or $5,000. For the insurance companies in Ontario, this must the gift that keeps on giving.”

So, you’re insured on a new bike no matter what, but you’re only paid as little as possible on the back end.  That’s the kind of quality fairness that exemplifies Ontario’s approach to insuring motorcycles.

When I called in to see what a second bike would cost to insure I was told that another bike would essentially double my insurance.  I pointed out that I could only ride one at a time and having two would mean both would have fewer kilometres than a single bike.  They just smiled and said that’s the way it is.  If you read that Toronto Star article you have to be asking yourself, “why is this the way it is?”

Last year we went out to B.C. and discovered that my wife could easily rent a scooter with a G license and go for a ride around Victoria.  We had a fantastic time and she came closer to considering two wheels as a mode of transport, but not in Ontario.

To ride a scooter in Ontario you need to take courses and work your way through the graduated motorcycle license.  Ontario is determined to keep people off two wheels even if it is a much more efficient way of getting around.

The block is systemic, from insurance practices that are out of sync with the rest of North America (and the planet) to governmental regulations that are more focused on milking citizens for license money than they are on offering access to an environmentally friendly, efficient and exciting way to get around.  Ontario couldn’t help but become more efficient with more people hoping on scooters and motorbikes to get where they’re going, but that isn’t the vision.  Ontario isn’t about environmental consideration, efficiency or excitement.

Free parking, but Ontario makes riding so difficult to access that it’s empty.

How un-bike focused is Toronto?  On my recent trip down there I could use HOV lanes and park for free downtown, but the bike parking area was virtually empty.

After reading that Star article I’m thinking that Ontario is anti-motorcycle.  The government supports an insurance industry out of whack with the rest of the world and throws as many blocks as it can at riding.  Ontario may be the most over licensed and expensive place to insure a bike in the world.

Below I looked up costs randomly in the US and the UK and Ontario is way out of whack with the the results.  If I lived five hundred kilometres south of here in urban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (instead of in rural Ontario), I’d be paying about $295 Canadian for my insurance this year (that’s with equivalent policy).  I currently pay almost $900 a year on a twenty year old bike that I bought for eight hundred bucks.  A second bike in PA would cost me an additional hundred bucks, so I’d be paying about $400 a year for both.  In Ontario I’m paying three times that.

When I first started riding I considered a new bike for safety reasons.  When I requested a quote on a new Suzuki Gladius (a 650cc, mid sized, standard motorbike), I was quoted at about $3000, but most insurers just refused to offer coverage – this on a guy in his forties, married with auto and home insurance and a family.  Had I been in England I could have quickly been insured with equivalent coverage AND road support and bike transport in a breakdown for about $950 Canadian in my first year of riding.

Considering the blocks to access on basic scooters and the insurance madness, Ontario isn’t maybe anti-motorcycle, it’s systemically anti-motorcycle.

Inside Motorcycles had a good article on the benefits of integrating motorcycles and scooters into a coherent traffic plan.  It would be nice if Ontario followed the research and encouraged more people onto two wheels.

My buddy in Japan got back to me – he pays $161 a year in motorcycle insurance… in Japan, one of the most expensive places to live in the world!


Just to torture myself I got a quote from Progressive as if I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – my stats, my bike.  The cost for basic insurance was $75 a year.  To get Ontario equivalent insurance it went up to $226 a year.

Are you feeling the love yet?

£467 works out to about $950 Canadian


Think it’s expensive to live in the U.K.?  Not if you’re insuring a motorbike.  MCN’s site has a listing of new motorbike insurance costs (on the right).  A new Gladius in Ontario will cost you well north of three grand to insure new if you’re a new rider and assuming you can find someone to insure you at all.  The quote on the right is full insurance with more bells and whistles than the Ontario minimum including road side assistance and bike return in case of a breakdown.

What is the average cost of motorcycle insurance?

“Drivers above the age of 25 with a good driving record usually qualify for good prices. Combine those factors with liability only coverage and a touring bike and you are looking at $200 to $500 a year”  – Ha!  Not in Ontario
“You can reduce your rate further by purchasing motorcycle insurance through your auto insurance carrier, owning a home, having good credit, and taking a motorcycle safety course.” – I have all those things (auto, house, good record, good credit, a safety course) and my auto insurer wouldn’t touch me. They said to come back after I’d been riding for a few years.

EdCamp Waterloo

My second EdCamp in the past six months, I guess I’m hooked.  EdCamp Waterloo Region was, like EdCamp Toronto, a chance to break the mold on how PD is done to us.

I volunteered before hand to do a first round session mainly because, after seeing the nerves and reticence at EdCampTO, I thought I could bring some experience to it and help it start a bit smoother.  I started off with an excerpt from a TEDtalk looking at how future technology could become more interactive and intuitive in the class room, and how we could access and present data more seamlessly while teaching.  Everyone seemed content enough to be lectured at, so I made it difficult for them.

Being an edcamper means being a good listener too, something else we’ve learned not to do in PD.  I made a point of listening closely to comments from the audience, and tried to reply with a question that refocused the discussion on them rather than trying to get them back to what I want them to know (standard PD protocol).  It took about 20 minutes, but they started to realize that EdCamp was all about the US, not the ‘expert’.  A few of the bolder people spoke up, but by the end I think everyone in the room had said something at some point, and we went 15 minutes over.  That doesn’t happen too often in PD, but then PD doesn’t happen on Saturday mornings too often either (unless you’ve got a PLN).

About half an hour in I said, “there are no rules in EdCamp, but I’m going to make one anyway, no more hands.”  It became a running joke, but the conversation began to flow after we got that nineteenth century convention of teacher control put behind us.


As a survival mechanism, many of us have developed the habit of, at best, being passive in PD in order to make it end sooner, or worse, have found ways to wander off in our minds while it’s happening so the condescension, repetitiveness and/or latest poorly performing American EduFad which we have no interest in, doesn’t make us angry.

Edcamp throws all that on its ear.  It’s all about you being there.  It assumes your experiences in your profession, which are current and unique, are as valuable as an entrepreneurial guest speaker’s (who hasn’t been in a classroom in decades and when they were tried to get out of it as soon as they could to become a paid speaker and sell their latest book on a fad they’ve invented).  It assumes that teachers talking to teachers and valuing each others experiences are what professionalism and developing it are all about.


For me this EdCamp started with teachers showing and telling what they are doing to make the future in technology available to their students.  I then wandered into a group talk on the nature of professional development that evolved into a deeply nuanced philosophical discussion about the subtle, individually powered profession of teaching.  After lunch I watched a bit on Edmodo then finished listening to a talk on technology use across k-12 curriculum.  The last one was on how to continue EdCamp ideas beyond EdCamp.  By that point I was intellectually fried; something that doesn’t happen too often in PD.  I found the focus on how to cater to the disinterested tedious, but if you don’t get where it’s going, you can leave!

EdCamp is, by its nature, an experimental process.  After doing a couple, I still wonder at the blocking of time, like classes.  Some of the discussions still had a lot of steam, others were ready to end (or should have earlier).  A more flexible schedule might be interesting to try.  Perhaps having spill-off areas where groups that want to finish a discussion can go would offer an out there, or having enough rooms that they aren’t booked one after the other might work; built in extra time if you need it.

The other trick is to ensure that it’s easy for people to slip in and out of classes.  Regular classrooms are designed around the opposite idea (keep them contained and accountable).  There were a couple of times where rooms were full enough that getting out would have been overly disruptive.  The classroom seating arrangements of rows facing a central board also cater to the sage on the stage, something EdCamps ideals don’t seem thrilled with.

If you’ve never done an EdCamp, I highly recommend the experience.  You’ll find it personal, meaningful, intense and empowering.  You’ll have to break through many of those learned PD habits, but it’ll be nice to let your chained inner-professional out to see the sun for the first time in years.

The only PD experience I’ve ever had that came close was (is) ECOO conference, which is very teacher driven as well, and Barrie Bennett’s Beyond Monet workshop, which was career changing.  The vast majority of the rest feel like an infomercial admin demands that you sit through.

The next time I’m grinding my teeth as another professional presenter with a new book to hawk is telling me how I have to revolutionize my practice by doing exactly what they suggest (and nothing else, until the next book comes out), and who has been flown up to us (business class), and paid thousands of dollars that could have gone into classrooms instead, I’ll think back on EdCamp and wonder why administration is so afraid to trust us with our own PD.

EdCamp Waterloo Region Twitter Doc

The Utterly Baffling Biker

We’re minutes away from collapsing from heat exhaustion on our rally ride the other week when I start to hear voices.  We’re riding through Elora on our way to Fergus and a flock of cruisers have just pulled out in front of us.  The large man on a Harley ahead of me creates concussive sound waves that knock birds out of the sky whenever he cracks the throttle, which he has to keep doing because his Milwaukee iron doesn’t idle very well.

Between hundred and forty decibel POTATO POTATO, a voice, as clear as a bell was talking directly into my ear. It was telling me about carpets, I should buy them, but they’re all out of off white Persian.

From this far back you can’t hear yourself think.
I wonder if he’s in his happy place.  I’m not.

Am I losing my mind? It took me several moments to realize that the three hundred pounder in beanie helmet, t-shirt and shorts on his baaiiiike in front of me had the radio so loud it was like I was in the front row of a concert, if it was a concert about carpet advertising.  That we were at the end of a marathon ride and I was exhausted didn’t put me in the greatest of moods, but genuinely, other than making me think I’d lost my mind, what was the point of this man?

Mushin: literally means no mind,
but he’s doing it wrong.

I’ve had Lee Park’s Total Control on Kindle for a while.  I got lost in Park’s OCD maze of suspension minutia, but the latest chapters are much more accessible and are about your mindset when riding.  Lee describes the perfect motorcyclist in Zen terms: completely in the moment, aware of everything with no specific focus drawing attention away from that whole.  You should be using all of your senses to do this.  He’s quite serious about how you should approach the zone of peak performance while riding (and make no mistake, you should treat riding like a competitive sport – one you don’t want to lose).  None of it involves pipes so loud they cause small children to cry, a radio turned up so loud someone a hundred yards back can hear it clearly or wearing a beanie helmet and next to no clothes.

There is much I really dig about motorcycle culture, but it all has to do with excellence.  Watching a thirty-eight year old, six foot tall Valentino Rossi win a race again at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing last weekend was an example.  Watching Dakar riders survive the marathon they run (if marathons were run over two weeks) is another.  Watching a skilled road rider showing how it’s done on a high mileage bike with a kind of effortless ease, that’s impressive.  I’ve got a lot of words for what I saw last Sunday, but impressive isn’t one of them.

At one point I’d closed up on him while he was adjusting his radio.  I revved the bike to let him know I was there and he practically jumped out of his skin.  As far as awareness and respect for the act of riding goes, I’m just not seeing it.

They puttered down the road ahead of us when we pulled over in Fergus.  A steady stream of traffic followed them down the road at their leisurely but loud pace.

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