Pandemicky Cancellations And Alternate Means

Thanksgiving weekend in Canada was to be my last big ride of the season.  It’s been a tough year and the chance to get away from the pressure cooker of teaching in a pandemic was something I was clinging to a bit too tight.  The daring plan was to finish another exhausting week of teaching in a too small masks in classrooms that are ignoring all the pandemic rules everyone else is following, get a much needed night of sleep and then make my way up to ride the Haliburton Highlands in all their autumn glory before spending a weekend far away from the noise of pandemicky 2020 in the woods near Bobcaygeon.  The ride back would have been 274 kms of backroads less travelled.

I discovered Friday afternoon that we’d been waved off from the in-law’s cottage because we’re too much of a pandemic risk.  The irony that I can’t get away from the thing that strangles me each week because I’m getting strangled by it each week isn’t lost on me.  Instead I took the sunny and 22°C forecast and headed up to Hornings Mills and River Road for some Niagara Escarpment twisties, except I never got there because forty minutes up the road just north of 89 in Shelburne the rain started to fall.

I turned around and came home again.  Riding with purpose through rain is an enjoyable experience.  The smells and feel during a rainy ride are unique and worth pursuing, but looking for rain when you’re on yet another pointless pandemic loop over familiar roads doesn’t make much sense, so I turned around and went home again.  Autumn colours were lovely and the Tiger ran like a top though.

The fire we thought we’d have that night didn’t happen because everything was wet.  The next day opened sunny and cold, but warmed up to the point where we went for a walk in the woods nearby.

When we got home I backed the Honda out of the garage and went for a ride in the cool, clear, autumn air.

Any weekend where you can take each of your two bikes out for a ride isn’t a bad weekend.  Soon enough we’ll be buried under a blanket of snow while the second wave of the coronavirus spreads in the closed places we share, like my classroom.  

The kick in the groin here was getting dumped by family on the weekend we were aiming to be away without warning.  Nothing like your own family treating you like a plague cow to really drive home the meaning of Thanksgiving.  What really burns my ass is having to depend on them to be able to access the things I was looking for:
  • getting away from the godforsaken suburbs and into THE WILD
  • off roading with my son
  • hanging out on a hammock in the wilderness with my wife
  • having a reason to ride beyond my usually riding range
  • being comfortable while we do it

I don’t live in the right generation to own a cottage (and the generation that does isn’t sharing during a pandemic), so I need to work out a way where I can check those boxes without depending on the vagaries of other people.  My wife won’t sleep on the ground any more so camping won’t cut it, but maybe a camper might.

A Skala Conversions Ram Promaster would do the trick.  With the right sized motor and towing package, we’d be able to tow my son’s ATV and my dirtbike into the woods and find our bliss without depending on anyone else.  Some crafty engineering and smart packaging and we could be mobile and efficient without a ludicrously large camper.  A membership with the OFTR and we could enjoy off roading together in a variety of different places and glamp like rock stars.  When we just wanted to disappear into the wilderness we could do that too.

A cheaper alternative is a used camper, and there are many about.  Eight grand’ll get you a low mileage older small camper.  The Roadtrek RS Adventurous looks promising and arrives in 2021. It gets great mileage (like 20mpg) and sleeps up to four.

If I had the shop space and time I’d go grab this disco 1974 ‘RekVee’ from where it’s parked up near Perry Sound for five hundred bucks, throw it on a flatbed and bring it back, strip it down and convert it to an electric/hybrid.  The electric RV isn’t viable yet with our medieval chemical battery technology but a hybrid diesel/electric option would work.

One way or another I want to get off the depending on other people to decide access to my mental health getaways.  What’s nice about the RV option is that it works while we’re in lock down.  Ontario is a big place and socially isolating when you’ve thousands of miles of wilderness north of you and your own place to sleep is perfectly doable).  When things open up again we could take the thing to Ushuaia.

In other circumstances we’ve gotten ourselves into a hotel when the cottage politics gets too thick, but the pandemic makes that next to impossible.  I need to engineer more flexibility and capability into our escape plans so we get to be the arbiters of our own mental health excursions. 

from Blogger

Simple Magic

We recently spent a day in Stratford and one of the more surprising and engaging events was a Q&A talk with two of the Festival’s experienced actors.  Maev Beatty and Ben Carlson are both starring in The Front Page.  We hadn’t seen the play and I was a bit worried that it’d be all about that, but it wasn’t at all.  When you get two smart, capable professionals showing you inside their process, whatever their profession, it’s an enlightening experience.  Here are some of the highlights that I’m still mulling over:


Early on someone intimated that it must be nice only having to work 2-3 times a week for a couple of hours and I think both actors bristled at that suggestion.  One of the stresses on acting that most people wouldn’t think about is the physiology of putting yourself out there in an absolute physical sense.  On an evening you’re going on stage you typically start to feel that intensity in the early afternoon.  By the time you’re on stage your adrenaline is peaking and, though they didn’t mention it, I doubt many actors can go right to bed after performing.  Ben noted a study that showed a working actor experiences as much adrenaline as you’d feel in a car accident, times two!  He noted that if a normal person were to receive that much adrenaline at once they’d have a heart attack and die; it’s a high intensity high.

There’s something to be said for putting yourself out there.  It’s one of the reasons I encourage my students into competition.  The heightened sense of purpose that burst of adrenaline gives you allows you to do things you might not otherwise be able to do.  Experiencing that intensity also teaches you to manage it.  This is one of the reasons why I think things like school plays, competitions and sports are so important, yet they tend to be the first thing we throw under the bus when we start to look for ‘extracurriculars’ to cut.  The fact that the school system calls them extracurriculars is telling in and of itself.

Controlled adrenaline meant the busy kitchen we had lunch at was churning
out dishes at a prodigious rate.  The three chefs barely said a word to each
other, and could often be seen wordlessly handing each other what they needed
just as they needed it.  Professionalism kept popping up in all sorts of places
after that morning talk.

Teaching students to take risks and manage the adrenaline that comes from it should be a vital part of any school experience, but the vast majority of students running through schools don’t and the few that do tend to be the most economically advantaged ones; that’s a real system failure.

Watching these two professionals, who do a job that most people would find too terrifying to imagine (me being one of them), and listening to how they deal with that terror, was fascinating.  Many people say they wish they had a job like that, an extreme job that demands all of you, but even taking the exceptional skill-sets required out of the equation, the vast majority of people couldn’t take the heat of working in a kitchen like that.  For all the jealousy people feel for successful actors, musicians or athletes, most couldn’t handle the intensity of a life like that.  The amount of work involved puts it beyond the reach of most, but it’s the performance aspect that people don’t think about.  The wear and tear on their minds and bodies is astonishing.


There were a lot of questions around how you deal with failure in theatre production, including a number of questions about how you deal with poor performers or productions, but the most telling moment, again, I suspect in response to that initial intimation that acting was an easy gig, was how they both described auditioning.

These are two of Canada’s more well known actors and both are making a good living at it.  When asked if they still had to audition, they both said they did.  Ben suggested you could find the odd moment when you’d just give a hard no, but that isn’t generally the place of an actor.  Actors act and to do that you audition.

Once again referring back to how a Stratford actor fills their idle days, both said it isn’t uncommon for people in the troop to be on stage in up to half a dozen different plays, all of which required thousands of hours of preparation and rehearsal.  Since all actors are inherently self-employed, they also have to keep their ears to the ground in terms of possible TV and film opportunities and prepare auditions for them, which also take time and commitment.  The agonizing thing about this is that the vast majority, even if you’re a well known name, end up giving you back nothing.  To the I-do-work-and-get-paid-for-it crowd, this is yet another example of why one of those dream jobs like acting isn’t what you think it is.

Both Maev and Ben described weeks where they would audition almost daily and walk away empty handed.  Their experience has taught them to not take this personally (casting is alchemical and complicated and not about who is most well known).

At another point someone asked if they could create productions that suited them, but they said an obvious truth: “that’s not the job of an actor.”  They also mentioned that that’s a good thing.  Twenty-something Ben would have told you he could do anything, but the wiser, older Ben knows now that he couldn’t.  Letting directors direct and actors act is yet another of those intensity based requirements that we should consider in a classroom, but don’t because we shy away from genuine experiences in favour of artificially successful ones.

I’ve long talked about risk aversion and modern education’s almost psychotic insistence on success for everyone all the time.  Building resilience in an environment like that is nearly impossible.  Failure and our response to it is vital in everything from daily life to the grand trajectory of our lives.  Our education system is still built on the idea of passing and failing, but failing is where we learn the most and gain the least in our system.

Watching two toughened veterans of a brutal industry might make you think that they have become hardened themselves, but another repeating theme of their talk was in surviving the onslaught of theatre by working with the right people…

Working from a place of love and support

In the fiery crucible of the stage you really don’t want to be doubting where the people you’re in there with are coming from.  Any ideas of office politics or drama (the pedantic kind) make working in such an intense situation untenable.  Maev talked about a few productions where the people on stage were very difficult to work with due to their nastiness, but as a general rule this isn’t how actors relate.

When you’re displaying that kind of vulnerability on the stage you don’t want to be wondering if your partner is going to throw you under the bus.  She said, and it has stuck with me, that ” you want to be working with people who are coming from a place of love and support”.  Even under the crushing pressure of a live stage performance with everyone OD’ed on adrenaline, knowing that your colleagues have your back is vital.

I’ve been in situations where the pressure has created friendships that have lasted the rest of my life.  I can only imagine the personal connection actors feel with each other after going through that glorious hell together.  Staring into the abyss but knowing the person next to you isn’t going to let you down allows you to do incredible things, like create live art on stage.

That kind of empathic bonding is something else that too few students get to enjoy in school.  Once again this is a division of the haves and havenots.  The kids who have to go to work right after school never get to develop that sense of belonging whether it’s on a sports team or a stage production or a technical competition, and that’s a tragedy.  From that angle there is nothing extra about those extracurriculars.  There is a reason why you can’t remember a single lesson from high school but those experiences are pivotal to who you are today.  We’d be insane to dismantle them and should instead be incorporating them into learning expectations for all students.  Who doesn’t deserve to learn what that kind of love, belonging and support feels like?

Loving a bad character

The idea of having to act a character you hate came up along with the how do you work in a bad production or with bad people questions – there was a lot of curiosity from the audience about how things might go wrong.  The positivity and boundless optimism of the responses points to yet another difference between most people and the few who are willing to throw themselves at seemingly impossible jobs.

Ben’s answer to this once again pointed to that idea of positivity overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.  He and Maev gave several examples of characters they found so difficult that it seemed impossible to express them well.  In looking at the character, Ben said he always looks for something he can love about them and works from that.  Unlike the unwashed masses, actors can’t work from a binary place of I like ’em or I don’t like ’em.  This must seep out into their dealings with other people, though they didn’t mention that.

This was yet another theme that paralleled my own professional experience.  I’ve had students who I couldn’t stand, but I’ve always tried to operate from a place of positivity.  In getting to know them, I’ve always found some aspect of them that is worthy of appreciation.  It’s that approach that keeps me away from the staff room where well meaning binary colleagues want to tell you what a worthless piece of shit a child is when you mention that you’re teaching them for the first time.  I’ve never met a person so unworthy of any consideration.

Simple Magic

My glorious wife, Alanna, asked a question that had been tugging on her since our last trip to Stratford.  I commented, in my usual way, about how we are quite venerable ourselves and yet we were the youngest people in the audience by a decade or more.  In twenty years that theatre would be mostly empty.  My conclusion was that theatre is dying with this demographic.  The audience at the Q&A were of a similar demographic.

Alanna asked if theatre was evaporating before our eyes and Ben picked this up with glee.  He noted that theatre has been dying for centuries, but what always saves it is its simplicity. If you have an actor and an audience, you have theatre.  In talking it through, and this happened on many questions, both actors would think through the implications of a question out loud, he unpacked the history of theatre and came to a conclusion about how it always seems to survive its imminent demise; at its root, theatre is about people getting together.

That simple magic is what keeps theatre alive; it feeds a human need to gather together.  No number of screens, wifi or virtual presences have satisfied that need, and he noted there is some push back against the direction this has taken.  Making anonymous or even just remote comments online is nothing like the same as having a face to face encounter.  My role as a computer teacher and technician has no issue with this observation.  There is a quality in face to face human interaction that not only satisfies a deep human need, but also never be achieved through digitization, something will always be lost in translation whether through a lack of fidelity or a genuine presence and responsibility.

Theatre, like schools, libraries, concerts or sporting events, offer people something that digital experiences don’t.  That complexity of presence (call in bandwidth if you want) and sense of belonging call powerfully to the human psyche.  The sense of being there is important, though our digital adolescence crops up there too with idiots on lousy cell phone cameras making terrible media instead of enjoying the moment they went to so much trouble to experience first hand.

The current drive to elearning as a cost effective way to deliver learning is yet another example of failing forward into the idea that digital experiences can replace the real world.  It’s cheaper because it isn’t as good.  If you consider it from a bandwidth perspective, the sheer amount of data passing between a teacher and student in even a simple face to face encounter is something digital simply can’t touch.  Augment?  Assist?  Absolutely, but we replace basic human needs with poor digital equivalents at our own peril (and a multi-national’s profit).   We’re all poorer as a few get rich in this scenario.

That response got me thinking about how we prioritize our lives.  I’m an avid photographer, always have been, which is one of the reasons I don’t have a lousy cell phone camera in my hand all the time, especially when I’m at an event.  If I take a photo, it’s gonna be a good one.

Sean Penn has a great line in The Secret  Life of Walter Mitty when he’s talking about being in the moment instead of trying to record it, and he’s speaking about it from the perspective of a photographic artist, not some idiot with a cell phone in their hands.  These digital invasions, ironically driven by our need for digitally impoverished social contact, are eating away at our lived experience.

Simple magic is a good way to look at many aspects of modern life.  What core needs do human beings have and how have we always met them socially?  Are we meeting them as well in digital media?  Theatre is going to survive because it has more in common with genuine human need than social media ever will, and it’s able to do it in a simple and direct way.  The response to Alanna’s question gives me hope that one day we’ll wake up from this attention economy nightmare we’ve immersed ourselves in.


I went to this initially thinking that it would be a bunch of theatre shop talk, but there was barely any (and what there was came mostly from the audience).  Instead it was an introspective and insightful talk by two talented people at the height of their powers.  Their understanding of themselves, their art and the insight it gives them into the human condition makes it a must-do for anyone who can get out to Stratford… and it’s free!  It runs into October – a field trip including a talk like this  (though each is, of course, different) could change lives.

from Blogger

A Cruelty Free Response to Pandemic Response Teaching

Instead of double doubling classroom teachers with absurd remote/face to face simultaneous instructional expectations and a schedule that fires a month of work at students that teachers are then expected to prep, deliver (in two places at once) and mark with no time given, let’s review and improve this situation.

Course duration has always been set in Ontario at 110 hours, but instructional time has been systemically devalued by waiving expectations for remote learning and dropping unqualified teachers into make-work support roles instead of using them for what they should be in schools for.

In a pandemic where everyone is stressed, a schedule that is uneven and cruel has put unnecessary pressure on both staff and students.  Let’s take a step back and see if I can’t spitball a better solution.  I ain’t no senator’s son sitting in an office deciding these things, I’m just one of the people who is being waterboarded by them, but I’ll take a swing at that difficult job anyhow.


A teacher typically teaches three classes of 20-31 students per semester.  Let’s say that’s 75 students you’re responsible for (some semesters I’ve had 90+).  If we made all classes capped at 20 students (a single cohort), each teacher would be responsible for 60 students, which is less than most of us normally are.

We have way fewer students in schools right now because many have opted for fully remote learning, so there are empty classrooms all about.

We have a shortage of specialist teachers and can’t provide qualified coverage for them.

We cling to the idea that we need to keep prep periods in our schedule and then fill them with meaningless, un-pedagogically sound busy work while causing always on quadmesters where your prep isn’t happening even as you’re being asked to rejig a curriculum to a schedule no one has ever seen before.

Students with special needs are swamped by the machine gun like efficiency of quadmestering.

Students without special needs are overwhelmed by the drink from the firehose curriculum of quadmestering.


  • in semester 2 return to semesters and end the quadmester cruelty
  • each week is one class with a weekend to de-COVID the place (that’s a good idea)
  • make every Friday an independent review and catch up day for students to give them time to make sense of the hectic influx of material
  • on those Fridays staff are given time to mark the week’s work, contact students with updates and concerns and prep for the next week’s influx
  • each month/4 weeks is a complete tumble of the schedule
  • teachers don’t have prep ‘periods’ any more (they have the Friday and smaller cohorts)
  • teachers all provide their own remote learning support (so a qualified person is teaching students they are familiar with)
  • leverage the empty classes generated by fully remote learning to spread out cohorts and cover the bump in classes running
  • leverage the teachers currently brought in at teacher salaries to babysit to actually teach classes
  • each class is a three hour face to face morning session (12 hours of instructional f2f time per four day week)
  • each class has a 2 hour remote/online expectation for review and consolidation of learning WITH THE SAME QUALIFIED TEACHER
  • teachers can leverage their relationships with students to engage them in online work
  • at five hours per day of instructional time, and 16 weeks of class (4 tumbles through the schedule), students would experience 48 hours of face to face instruction and 32 hours of guided online instruction with a qualified teacher familiar with them from face to face learning.  They would also have 5 hours of Friday consolidation of learning time each week for a total of 20 hours in the semester.  That adds up to one hundred hours of learning at a pedagogical effectiveness we can only dream of right now.
  • add in an exam/culminating presentation day per class at the end of the year and you’d be at 103 hours of instruction with credible culminating grades generated (exams are cancelled currently)
  • students cannot opt out of remote learning and every effort will be made to ensure they have connectivity and technology at home with which to do it (this is happening now anyway – not the opting out part, you can do that – people are knocking themselves out to ensure this isn’t a digital divide issue though and would continue to)

The benefits of this approach?

  • small cohorts to reduce the chance of COVID transmission
  • a qualified instructor who knows students providing remote learning
  • a much higher quality of remote teaching
  • a teacher not expected to be online and in class simultaneously
  • time given for meaningful one on one feedback both face to face and remotely
  • time given for redesigning an entirely curriculum schedule on the fly (that’s not happening right now)
  • time given to recognize the cognitive load on students trying to cover a month of material each week
  • time given for pedagogically sound learning
  • time given for students to sleep on and review their learning and consolidate it
  • students with special needs would have time given to support them (currently that’s all cancelled)
  • a more reasonable schedule that is evenly distributed and isn’t trying to kill people with stress during a pandemic (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write)
  • restore credibility to online/remote learning after a year of the Minister and now boards suggesting it’s optional and doesn’t matter


We’ve clung to some assumptions (teacher semestered prep periods in scheduling) while tossing out others (time spent in a course doesn’t really matter).  Our priorities are out of whack and the result is hurting people and damaging learning.  Things are never going to be as they were prior to COVID while we’re under the weight of this pandemic, but we can get closer with a bit of flexibility and kindness.

Teacher prep periods have remained even though they make no sense in a quadmestered system.  The result is a massively uneven quadmester schedule that waterboards staff with high class caps in one and leaves them with make-work in the other.  There is enough real work to go around.

By leveraging the empty space we currently have in schools due to fully remote learners and adjusting the work load by producing smaller class sizes and spreading out instruction, we could have a schedule that comes much closer to providing a kind and more effective learning environment.

But what to I know, I’m just a classroom teacher.

from Blogger

Going Places

The first real cross country trip

I’ve been going out on local jaunts, no more than an hour out and back again.  Last weekend I did my first cross country trip, actually going somewhere.  A Saturday trip from Elora to Ancaster for an education conference.  75 kms each way and well out of my right around the house roads.

The ride down was a bit awkward.  It was cool, but I went light knowing that it was getting hotter later in the day.  After about half an hour on the bike I realized that I was tense all over, not the best approach to riding.  I made a point of unclenching and trying to go for alert and relaxed.

I got there early, elated, and a bit cold,
the Starbucks on tap helped

The ride had a lot of firsts: my first passing of another vehicle, my first time on a divided, multi-lane highway and my first time on non-local, unfamiliar roads.  I stopped a couple of times to make adjustments and to stretch.  That unclenching thing is perhaps the best thing I learned.  Rather than gripping the handlebars, I started holding them more loosely, which stopped the fingers from stiffening up.  I also made a point to move around a lot on the bike, sometimes getting down behind the windshield and out of the blast, other times sitting up into it.

The ride ended uneventfully with me pulling in to the school parking lot early and parking next to another teacher I’d been talking bikes with the week before.  I was able to drop my gear in an office in the school and enjoyed the gathering.  Showing up to something like this after a bike ride has you full of oxygen and feeling energized, it’s a nice way to start the day.

Sulfur Springs Road out of Ancaster

I left from downtown Ancaster in late afternoon.  The temperature was about fifteen degrees warmer than it had been, but the nicest surprise was stumbling across Sulfur Springs Road as I was mapping my way out.  This was five kilometers of decidedly un-Ontario curvy road.  I got my gearing wrong on almost all of it, but it was nice to wind my way through.  If you’re down Hamilton way, I’d highly recommend it.  There are some really nice, old pubs on Ancaster’s main street as well, which was the only time I regretted riding the bike (no Guinness for me).

The ride back was beautiful.  Warm but not hot, sunny, but I wasn’t riding into it, mostly empty roads, and the ride down had shown me a couple of ways not to get too tense while in the saddle for a long time.  If you can stay loose, you’ll be more aware of what’s going on around you and be better able to respond to it.  If that’s a 150 kilometer trip then I think I could squeeze out 100km bursts four or five times in a day with breaks between quite comfortably.  On a more comfortable bike (the Ninja is a little high strung), I’d do a couple of tanks (about 160 miles to a tank on the Ninja) a day and feel like I’m covering miles well without pushing hard.  That puts me well over 500kms a day on two tanks (about thirty bucks worth of premium gas).

Back over the 401 on my way back I came upon a multi-vehicle accident with ambulances tearing away with lights and sirens and several police and fire/emergency units on hand.  The wrecked vehicles were both SUVs… those things just aren’t safe, especially when one runs a four way stop and broadsides another one.  Many people were very anxious about my riding down to this thing.  I wonder how many worried about making the trip in SUVs.

I’m suspicious of anyone in a car when I’m on the bike, but I find that bleeding over into when I’m in a car too.  I’m beginning to think anyone who wants to drive a car should have to do a year on a bike first, it’d give them some much needed humility, and an opportunity to appreciate the physics of driving without being isolated in a metal box.

Rainy Day Carburators

A cold, rainy Saturday had me break down the carburetor on the Yamaha XS1100.  A Triumph Spitfire and Mercury LN7 owned as a teen made me pretty handy with carburetors.  In addition to multiple rebuilds I also got handy at jury rigging manual chokes thanks to the utterly crap Ford Escort carb set up.

The beautiful Mikuni unit on the Yamaha looks like a piece of industrial art in comparison to the pedestrian Triumph and Ford carbs, unfortunately it’s seized.  After breaking down the top end I soaked it and freed up the seized throttle body.

The next to-do with the Yamaha is to clean up the gas tank and then reassemble the fuel system.  The engine isn’t seized and spins easily, so I think I’ll have an easy time firing it up for the first time in years (knock on wood).

Here are some pics of Mikuni’s Yamaha masterpiece:


The throttle cable wasn’t playing nice even after taking apart the handle bar – so into the carb I go…


The Yamaha XS1100 engine block with the carbs off – it got the Warhol treatment….


Like everything else so far, the internals look to be in good shape on the old (35 year old!) Yamaha


Cleaning up the fasteners using the caps from each carb to keep things organized.



XS1100 is in for surgery


Not many riding days left as the weather turns up here in Canada


Why We Drive by Matt Crawford

I just started “Why We Drive” by Matthew Crawford.  I was in the middle of transitioning from being an English teacher to a technology teacher back in 2012 when my university prof suggested Shop Class as Soul Craft, Crawford’s first book.  It gave me the philosophical grounding I needed to value my manual expertise and to fight the prevailing academic prejudices of the education system I work in.

A few years later I’d embraced my new role teaching technology and found myself constantly arguing for parity with academic programs like the English one I’d just left.  Crawford came out with his second book called “The World Beyond Your Head“, which made a strong argument for human expertise in a world where blind allegiance to system think made management a fragile grasp at control for people who have no other skills of value.

I’m only through the opening chapters of “Why We Drive“, but I’m enjoying the angle Crawford it taking in using driving (and riding, he doesn’t distinguish) as a means of questioning the assumptions we’re all increasingly living under.  In the opening chapters he suggests that operating a vehicle is one of the few domains left that demand human expertise as the rest of society falls into a WALL-E like world of of systemic technology driven infantilism.

From Uber’s malicious dismantling of existing industries to suit the long term game of its investors to the NHTSA’s outright misleading information on Tesla’s Autopilot feature (they claimed that it radically reduced accidents when this was simply untrue), and the industry driven big government money drive to chase old cars off the street by misleading the public with even more false statistics, Crawford tears apart many of the assumptions around environmental NIMBYISM and the relentless capitalism that underlies it.

I’ve questioned the environmentalism of hybrid and electric cars before.  It’s a classic case of NIMBYism where the wealthy hide their pollution further up the chain and then claim superiority over all the people who can’t afford to give up a tail pipe.  One of the difficulties in being a teacher of technology is that I understand it, warts and all.  Our battery technology is still medieval in both construction and effectiveness.  They don’t hold a lot of power and don’t last very long, but any analysis of electric vehicle efficiency likes to sidestep that factNissan Leaf owners can’t though.

Crawford also brings up the idea of recycling already manufactured vehicles rather than giving in to the relentless futurism of consumer society where owning anything old is paramount to a crime.  He compares a massive new SUV (all modern vehicles are massive compared to older ones as they get weighed down with safety-at-all-costs tech and grown to maximum size) to his old VW.  They get about the same mileage, but driving the Karmen Ghia is a very different experience to driving a modern safety tank.

I’m about half way through it but the hits keep on coming:

It’s a challenging read, but also an opportunity to wake up from the progress pills everyone has been popping and understand that being human isn’t about efficiency and management, it’s about agency.

from Blogger

Is It Over?


No, it hasn’t.  Prepare to get maytagged by quadmesters for the foreseeable future

I’m staggering to the end of this absurd quadmester. When it started I wondered if less was all we could manage, and it turns out that it is.  From administration dismissing concerns about masks that don’t fit (or really matter when you can catch COVID through your eyes) and are so far beyond of Health Canada and local health unit expectations that they end up being more restrictive than needed and not at all designed for all-day use (especially while performing instruction), to a schedule that seems explicitly designed to download an abusive amount of work on classroom teachers with the highest class caps, this quadmester has been a disaster.

The lack of focus on what we’re supposed to be doing (providing effective and differentiated instruction that maximizes student learning, remember?) suggests that these things never really mattered in the first place.  Got special learning needs?  Too bad, special education support is cancelled.  Find keeping up with school difficult?  Too bad, we’re going to fire you through courses at record pace even though everyone is reeling from a pandemic.  Don’t worry though, it doesn’t really matter if you keep up or not because you’re getting credits regardless.

I’m able to provide interactive, relevant online learning opportunities for my students and even I still struggled with between 20-40% disengagement in remote learning this quadmester.  I’ve heard of other classes that just did nothing online.  If you talk to admin about it they’d rather pretend it’s happening than do anything to ensure it is with anything like quality in mind.  I had a class drop down to twenty students which means it could have become a single cohort and I could be their online instructor, but making a change for pedagogical effectiveness that would have alleviated a staff member’s medically supported issues with the provided face masks wasn’t something anyone had any time for.

I recently learned that students can opt out of remote learning entirely if they want.  This has resulted in kids who have attended less than fifty hours of instruction earning Ontario high school credits this quadmester (Ontario high school courses are supposed to be 110 hours of instruction).  Remote learning with a teacher unqualified or even knowledgeable about the subject (as was my case with both of my online support teachers) can’t be called instructional time anyway.  ‘Quadmester’ should be changed to ‘freemester’ or ‘fakemester’. 

This kind of inflation is exactly what the current government has been trying to do over the past two years by pushing massive class sizes (even during a pandemic) and devaluing complex pedagogical practice in order to cheapen public education.  They couldn’t stuff more students into classes, so they reduced expectations and lowered the efficacy of the system to the point of absurdity while handing out credits like candy, and the people making it happen are getting bonuses for devaluing our education system!  They must be very proud.  Fear not though, PC party backers are ready to step in with private for-profit options that are likely to perform worse and cost more.


As I wrap things up from my double cohort/teaching continuously all day/double class/teaching continuously every week quadmester one I’m struck with how this drink-from-the-firehose schedule that doesn’t remotely meet Ontario standards not only injures already traumatized students and staff but also removes the most challenging work I do in class.

We got to the culminating projects (exams are cancelled – as is all safety paperwork because why not) and I found that my grade 9s have not had the opportunity to develop a rigorous and resilient engineering process in the way that they would in any other year, though considering the class is half as long as it should be I shouldn’t be surprised.  I’ve been able to cover the basic material, though the speed at which that came at students was overwhelming even to the stronger ones.  Neurologically speaking, you need time to reflect and internalize new learning, but best pedagogical practices have long since been flushed down the toilet.

I keep hoping that we’ll make adjustments toward making Ontario education more equitable and fair to everyone as this slow burn pandemic grinds on, but the powers that be appear to believe that they are finished and are ready to fire us through quadmester after quadmester rather than responding in a best practices-continuous evolution.  I’ve suggested previously that the week-on week-off is already problematic, so why not just go back to week on week off semesters?  If we did that with a Friday fully remote review day we could also give teachers and students the headspace they need to consume new learning, but the new normal is too waterboard everyone with a pedagogically bankrupt schedule that only has the appearance of credibility.

As we lurch into quadmester two with no quadmester ending in sight I’m looking forward to not being waterboarded any more, but I’ve still been handed another technology course with two cohorts and a teacher who has no background in my speciality ‘covering’ the remote part of the course, so I can expect another poorly engineered schedule designed to hand out cheap credits.  I got handed the same thing (a course I’m not qualified to teach) to provide remote support in even while I’m still providing technical support to people across the school and beyond.  There is evidently no way to differentiate teacher schedules to give them time to provide system support either.

I’ll do what I can to mitigate this poor scheduling (again), but since the system has downloaded all guidance and special education expectations on me as well I’ll be stretched (once again) to the breaking point trying to protect students from a schedule designed by people who don’t seem to care for their personal circumstances and well being… while struggling through a pandemic with my own health concerns.

Even evidence that the system think types are evolving this in the right direction would be helpful, but communications are nearly non-existent and there is no sense of vision or even an acknowledgement that what we’re doing isn’t kind, let alone working.  The new normal is a cruel, undifferentiated and ultimately meaningless place.  With a complete lack of leadership from the Ministry or Minister, we’re likely to see Ontario plunge in years of darkness as a result of this overwhelming and cruel schedule.

from Blogger

Game Mastery

I misspent an awful lot of my youth Dungeon Mastering. We often spent whole days, ten-twelve hour stretches in a row, playing Dungeons and Dragons in various basements. During the summer it wasn’t uncommon for us to do whole weeks of days (or nights) like that.

If you’ve never played the game before, it’s basically a combination of story telling, creative writing, map making, art and random dice rolls. You create a character with a set of statistics and you go out and adventure with them. As you gain experience, you get to improve your statistics and get better chances to survive battles and face greater challenges. The characters develop based on their experiences (and their luck). Over time people get mighty attached to them. The players control themselves, the DM is the story teller, the one who controls the world in which they find themselves. When it’s done well, it feels a lot like you’re all creating a fantastic narrative together, and none of you knows how it’s going to end.

I ended up falling into the role of the DM because I could story tell well, and I learned to roll with the dice, I didn’t try to force the story when a lucky dice roll would change my expectations. Early on I’d over-script adventures and then have trouble when the dice allowed characters to do things I didn’t expect (or shouldn’t have had a statistical chance of happening). It took a bit of practice (and developing confidence) to trust that the story would unfold before us.

In one case I planned to kill off all the characters in the first five minutes, and then have them adventure in the after-life trying to get their lives back. As I mentioned, people get mighty attached to their characters. Dying freaked them out, they fought and fought. Finally, a tiny little hobbit-thief was the last one standing, facing the Grim Reaper himself. I had to give him a chance, otherwise the dice (and game) are pointless, so I said he had to roll a natural 20 (a 20 on a 20 sided dice) to successfully attack death. He actually did it. Right then I had to throw away my plan and go in a new direction. It wasn’t as nuanced as what I had prepared, but it mattered more to the players because they were authoring it, rather than having it read to them. Giving players no authorship in the game made it empty, pointless. That game became infamous, as did the Halfling who foot swept Death.

After a while, DMing all came down to world building (those are two of dozens) for me. I didn’t worry so much about what they would be facing on a situation by situation basis, as long as I knew where we were and when we were. The more richly we’d develop the world, its politics, religion, history, geography, the easier it was to create a rich, interactive experience around my players (this was a very collaborative thing, players would bring maps, histories, heraldry, costumes and all sorts of other surprises to games).

Our first road trip at 17 years old was an adventure in a rickety Chevette from Toronto to Milwaukee for GenCon, the gaming fair put on by the makers of Dungeons and Dragons. In the ’80s, this place was the Mecca for gaming. Tens of thousands of attendees in the largest conference centre in town. We attended lectures on ethics in gaming, integrating history and geology into world creation, and we played tournaments with thousands of others. We met the artists and authors that we loved; a professional conference for geeky seventeen year olds!

We took that richness and turned it over into our game play. Our stories evolved from dungeon crawls for loot, to archetypal quests to modern day parables about the evils people do. At its leading edge one of our games could speak to our own alienation and sense of desperation, while simultaneously giving us a means to exorcise it.

All of this made me aware of how a game works on a fundamental level. If you apply certainty and destroy choice (and chance), you kill it stone dead. If you place one participant in a position of absolute power so that they become a teller, rather than a participant, you’ve killed it again. You play a game best when you play it within its own context. Any game that breaks the forth wall falls to pieces. Game coherency requires consistency, not to a person’s will, but to the circumstances of the game. The best games are flexible enough to become richer as players add their own content (experiences, objects, ideas) to the game.

I’ve seen players cry when their character dies, but not only in sadness, also with respect. A good death is a good story, it honours the player’s efforts, the character’s beliefs and the game itself. The nice thing about a game is that sometimes Valkyries can then bring that dead hero to Valhalla, and you never know what can happen from there… good games give you a chance to maximize people’s involvement in them using the full spectrum of human emotion and intellect.

This has been percolating since I met another former DnDer (@liamodonnell) at OTF21C a few weeks ago and said, “everything I know about teaching, I learned from DMing.” It’s the truth.

I wanted to turn this into a rant on gamification in education, but in looking back on this, I realize that these ideas are very important to me. I’ve always had a great deal of trouble believing, but my years spent as an acolyte of gaming have made me just that, a believer.

I’m going to leave the other bits below, but feel free to stop reading here. I’m happy with clarifying a good idea rather than attacking a bad one.


Notes that didn’t make the cut:

Games aren’t ephemeral, if you want them to work, you have to nurture coherency within the game context

Not knowing what was going to happen also, ultimately, made it easier for me as a game master. I got to share in the story instead of telling it. I wasn’t a transmitter, I was part of a cast, bringing a story to life.

Any of this sound familiar from a teaching perspective?

If you deliver your teaching with cardboard certainty and inflexible perfection, your students have no authorship in that experience, it means nothing to them. If you teach as a participant, the interaction has life, and everyone involved is authoring it. It might not be as efficient or technically perfect as you’d like, but then I think perfection is entirely overrated.

The real danger is when those cardboard teachers try to use games as if they were a sugar coating you can apply to make something edible. Gamification tries to use game play as a way of getting people to do things, but that is a disaster.

Gold stars aren’t a new idea, but they sound like one if you throw fancy terms like gamification on them.

A good game needs to work within its own limits, but those limits should be deeply embedded within the game dynamics, and they should be designed to be adjustable, games should evolve meaningfully as their players do.

Victoria and Vancouver Island on Two Wheels

The loop!

Everything is set!  A BMW F800ST for the day on Friday from CycleBC Victoria.  My son and I will head west and up the coast before crossing the mountains and coming back down the east coast back into Victoria.  It’ll be a long awesome day in the saddle.

You’d normally be worried about the weather heading out to the wet coast, but not this weekend!

Can’t wait!

To make things even more interesting, we’re going to scooter over to Bouchart Gardens on Thursday.  I can’t believe my wife suggested it… a family outing on two wheels, awesome!

Architectural Responses to Virtual Mindspaces

I’ve been watching home reno shows over Alanna’s shoulder and noticed that in almost all cases everyone is knocking out walls and creating ‘open concept’ living spaces.  I can’t help but think this is a side effect of personalized media.

Once you had a ‘TV room’ but it’s no longer needed.  We still share media, but we don’t sit in a room staring at a cathode ray tube in groups.  Without the need for shared broadcast media viewing spaces we open up our living spaces.  Any time we want some privacy, we simply dive into a screen.

One of the unique features of digital technology is that it creates a self-directed, private virtual space for your interests.  If you want to drop out of your surroundings you can do it in a moment on a smartphone or tablet.  You can see people doing this in public spaces all the time, but it also works at home.  We used to do this with watching TV, but the broadcast nature of that media meant not everyone watching wanted to.  Even the ones who chose the show were passive consumers.  In a world where some people wanted to watch TV and others wanted to read, we built up walls as the two aren’t mutually conducive.  With personal devices and media you can have ten people all doing exactly what they want in media rich ways, all in the same space.

Digital media is much stickier and attention grabbing than broadcast media because it’s self directed and participatory instead of passive and consumptive.  Digital immersion can happen in much busier places because we are active participants.  It can also thrive in those places because digital media offers a richer variety of media.  It effectively amalgamates all previous forms of media as well as spawning new ones.

Architecture reflects our communication habits: this space
is designed for the telling of information.  Self directed
information gathering and collaboration are not what
this room is about.

Architecture adapts to changes in how we communicate.  Classrooms in school are an architectural response to a model of teaching based on the verbal transmission of information.  You couldn’t have twenty teachers all talking to their students in an open concept space, it wouldn’t work, so walls went up.  Now that we’re evolving into personalized virtual spaces that offer access to information, communication and collaboration on a level unimaginable twenty years ago, what will physical classrooms evolve into?  If you don’t have to wait for someone to verbally communicate information, what will schools look like?

We lament digital distraction as a scourge on society, but it is also an information rich immersive experience that offers us a new dimension of mental privacy.  We are increasingly able to collaborate and communicate in complex, geographically irrelevant ways.  Watching how architecture responds to this change in behaviour is one of the surest ways to see how influential this digital revolution has become.