Refuse, Resist

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:32 pm

Something I wrote elsewhere today and wanted to share:

There was real hope around the turn of the millenium, too, … and then Mr Bush and Mr Bin Laden got together and f***ed it all up. I was just thinking this morning that we’re in this weird situation where for most of us life is better than it’s ever been in terms of prosperity, safety and technology, but for their own reasons politicians want to tell us we’re poor and suffering and in danger… and we accept it. I’m refusing: life is freakin’ awesome for me! And that means I want to share that with others, not clutch my artificial scarcity…



Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:32 am

…captures the words used in a body of text and makes the most frequently used ones bigger. Here’s a Wordle for this blog:


“Our brains have only one scale and we resize our experiences to fit”

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:15 am

…is the mouseover tag for this XKCD comic:


As always, he’s onto something.


The Second-biggest Size

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:40 am

This is a great conference, but it’s very intense and you see the same people all day every day. And the campus is way out in the bush, so there’s nowhere convenient to escape to.

We got a little stir-crazy by this afternoon and decided to go for a walk to the nearby 7-11. Freaked out many Americans and risked our lives by walking: there was not really much of a shoulder and no footpath, and clearly no-one walks.

Made it to the 7-11, where Michelle was somewhat scandalised by the fact that, apart from a banana, none of what was sold there really fitted the category of food…

I have a slightly different approach, and decided to embrace the suck. I do have limits, however, so I skipped the biggest size and went for the Slurpee that was only twice as big as my brain:


Post Number 1500

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:26 am

…was that previous one about Teachers and Teaching that I just posted.

So yeah…

Teachers and Teaching

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:24 am

(d’oh! had this one as a draft but no web access in Townsville a couple of weeks ago, and so just discovered it in the Draft box and realised I’d never published it. Hope the content is still interesting)

I’ve been away from home this week conducting a research study in a school, basically observing lessons and interviewing students. This is the second such week in a school (I was in a different school a couple of weeks ago), and I’ve seen a huge range of teachers, students and lessons, in a wide range of subjects and at levels from Year 8 to Year 10.

As always I’ve been very impressed by the professionalism and commitment of the teachers I’ve seen, and the amazing work they do in sometimes very difficult conditions. I’m reminded of the demands on time and energy, particularly emotional energy, and it tends to blunt my yen to be back in the classroom when I see just how hard they work.

I’ll talk in a moment about some directions forward, and will first say that I haven’t seen any bad teachers. Every one of them has been a good person and taught good lessons. In some cases those lessons have been more effective and successful than in others, and that relates to a wide range of factors around the students, the teachers, the subject, the topic and even the time of day and day of the week.

(I think schools should take the advice in the old Dire Straits song ‘Industrial Disease’ to ‘Abolish Monday mornings, and Friday afternoons’.)

One thing that did strike me was how much time students spend in class not learning. In particular the kids who finish their work first spend huge amounts of time sitting around waiting for the teacher to dispense the next task or piece of information. Is it surprising they sometimes mess around? I was bored and fidgety!

There are lots of things that go to make it that way, too, from poorly behaved students who require a lot of teacher time to keep under control to students with reading levels 5 or more years below their grade levels. It also relates to the way we ‘do school’, though, in that students aren’t given autonomy to continue with other work or move ahead, but required to wait on the ‘drip feed’ from the teacher.

None of these problems are simple, but the cool thing about a study like this is that, for every classroom we see in which it doesn’t quite all go right, we see another one where it’s just amazing. A big part of the goal of the study I’m participating in, with an amazing group of colleagues, is to find what works in one teacher’s class and share it with other teachers. No direct transplant is possible, because every class is different, but the underlying themes and ideas can help to inform a teacher’s professional judgement as s/he thinks about how to improve what happens in the classroom.

All the teachers we’ve interviewed (on some earlier trips) value the students and learning and aspire to be the best teachers they can be and help their students achieve success in school and life. If we can equip them with some better strategies and approaches, that’s probably useful.

Here are a few themes that I’ve observed in classrooms that would help to enhance learning. I’ll try to unpack them a little bit, but obviously none of them are simple – or easy to implement in a busy, diverse classroom:

  • forward momentum – not rush, but in the best lessons there’s a drive on toward the next thing to be done and learned, rather than a sense of aimlessness. The students know there’ll be something along soon so they’d better get on with it.
  • explicit expectations – in the best lessons there’s no ‘do this, but I won’t tell you why’ or ‘guess what’s in my head, and if you get it wrong I’ll yell at you’. What the teacher expects – both in terms of behaviour and learning – is made clear and explicit for the students.
  • focus on learning – it’s ironic how easy it is, in school, to lose focus on the learning. There are so many other activities involved in ‘doing school’ that sometimes learning slips off the radar a bit. In the best lessons, it’s clear that students are here to learn, and that the teacher knows what is to be learned and how to check that it has been.
  • behaviour management in the service of learning – this is a similar point, but an important one. The management of behaviour – what used to be called ‘discipline’ – is a not a goal in itself. Behaviour is managed in the service of learning, and this principle will change the ways in which that happens. Of course, learning to behave well and do the right thing is also important, but it can’t be the main goal in the classroom.
  • engaging the disengaged – some of the students make the choice not to work. In the best classes, they don’t get away with it. I used to struggle with this one, because I’m all about allowing students to choose… but (some) adolescents aren’t mature enough to make good decisions about this. The teachers who are aware of what everyone is doing and can gently engage those students are the ones who are meeting the goal of challenging all students to succeed.
  • enhancing autonomy – students have very little choice about what happens in school. That includes both the rules in the classroom and what (and how) they’ll learn. Most of the examples we did hear about were things like whether or not to have music playing in the room while they work. Deeper forms of autonomy where they make real choices about how to learn would actually also help maintain forward momentum. (And this point doesn’t really contradict the previous one: they need scaffolding and support to make good decisions.)

There’s a companion piece to this post that I’ll write tomorrow that goes a little more deeply into what we’re up to: there are layers within layers and wheels within wheels.

Frankie Says ‘Relax’

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:23 am

Did my presentation, which I enjoyed a lot and seemed to be well received, and finished a good first draft of a grant application as well. With the workshop also over, my formal commitments at the conference are complete and I can focus on partying learning and making professional connections.


PZ Myers – Decent Human Being

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:01 pm

This post will be irrelevant to you if you’re not up to speed on the Rebecca Watson – Richard Dawkins kerfuffle. If you’re in the blogosphere at all – or even read a decent newspaper – though, you have probably heard something about it.

This is PZ riffing on the whole topic, but his responses throughout have been pitch-perfect demonstrations of thoughtful, considerate manhood: the kind of thing I aspire to.


Religious Stuff

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:35 pm


It’d be nice if everyone, on all sides, could show more respect for other viewpoints and more respect for the truth.

It’s what I increasingly come to: I’m not advocating for or against any particular view, I’m advocating for truth and honesty. By all means disagree with someone, but don’t lie or distort the evidence to do so. And even if you’re not lying but honestly mistaken, accept clarifications in the spirit of an honest desire for truth.

I try to do likewise, and am happy to have it pointed out when I’m falling short of that aspiration.

Second Life

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:40 am

Seen lots of presentations over the years about its educational use. Still to be convinced.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:37 am

I’m at Bryant University an undisclosed location in Rhode Island for the Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education. The rules of the Gordon Conferences are very strict, and say that no quotes, photos, papers or information about what is discussed at the conference can be shared. I take that very seriously, which means there might be relative silence on the blog from Monday ’til Thursday. The rationale is to allow people to talk about their most cutting-edge research work without other people pinching and sharing it.

The conference itself hasn’t started, though: I’m co-facilitating a workshop on evaluating visualizations with Martin Storksdieck from the (US) National Academy of Science. While the workshop is a pre-conference activity for the GRC-Viz, it’s not funded by the same people and I’m allowed to tell you about it.

I think it’s going pretty well. We’re at the end of Day 1 of 2. Two people have left a parallel workshop on 3D modelling and joined us, and another one left us to join them and quickly came back. 😉

As always, I think I’m probably learning as much as I’m teaching. Martin and I are quite complementary, in that my background is more in schools and his in informal learning settings like museums. He’s from Germany initially but now lives in the US. We get on very well and can bounce off one another in teaching, so it’s a lot of fun.

Jetlag is pretty much under control now too. I have tomorrow’s workshop, then a day off, then I’m presenting at the conference. Can’t tell you what I’m talking about at the conference… but to some extent I’ll be setting the cat amongst the pigeons in this environment.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:49 pm

Casper was the cat we had to leave behind in Canada when we returned to Australia (we looked into it, but quarantine costs were prohibitive).

He went to the Adamses first, but allergies meant he had to move on. Then he want to the Sirdars, but after a pretty major fight with George, one of their dogs, he moved on from there too.

He now lives with Ed and Janice, neighbours of the Sirdars, where he’s very happy and healthy, and has lots of mice to catch and squirrels to chase, as well as a couple of dogs to pointedly ignore.

The Sirdars

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:47 pm

The Adamses

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:45 pm


Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:44 pm

Our first home in Edmonton: the townhouse at 886 Erin Place.

Our home away from home when we lived in Erin Place: West Edmonton Mall.

Our second (and final) Edmonton home: Centurion (sic) Towers. We lived on the 13th floor.

Oliver School/Nellie McClung: the school Cassie and Alex spent most time at in Edmonton.

Presentation Success, Photography Fail

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:55 am

Presented at the U of A yesterday, and had a great time. I’d expected an almost empty room since it’s summer holidays here, but ended up with a full one. A great mix of old friends and new faces. Sitting in a circle, in a room I’ve taught in many times (didn’t even need any help setting up the tech), with the Timbits going around the circle, was a shot of deja vu.

The presentation went well: basically I was trialling the talk I’m giving at the Gordon Research Conference next week. A good chance to look at the order and length and so on. Talked for a little under 40 min, and then led a discussion for another 15 or so.

Had lunch at Earl’s with Frank Elliot and Frank Jenkins, which was great as well: a couple of my favourite former colleagues from here.

But, um – no photos. I guess a few of landmarks from our life here might be good for my family, and I’ll do some of that today and post tonight, but really, photos with people in them are a lot more compelling. I meant to take some during the presentation but forgot while I was focusing on leading out in the session, and then forgot again at lunch. I’m hoping to meet up with friends today, so I’ll definitely try to get pics of them.


Ooops – dang!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:43 pm

Got an email to say one of my courses started yesterday without me… I didn’t realise that Ipswich classes were starting 3 weeks before St Lucia classes.

I need to do something about the class for next week, because I won’t be back. I only get 9 weeks with these guys, so losing 2 would be very bad.

I suspect I might end up video recording a lecture or two for them, with perhaps sending a colleague along as well.


Kind Hearts and Gentle People

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:09 am

Had dinner last night at the lovely home, out in the country, of my friend and colleague Brian Martin. It was great to drive out into the prairies, and everything is lush and green at the moment. I was almost tempted to head on out to Elk Island park, which is in the same direction and full of elk and bison. If I work hard today and tomorrow I might even do that on Wednesday (there will be pics if I do).

Here’s what it was like sitting down to dinner: I’ll name people as I get to them. As much as anything, this is to help my family put faces to the names when I talk about Brian and Peter.

First up, for Alex mainly, here’s Kepler (yeah, Brian is an astronomer):

Brian and Evelyn’s daughter Leah and her daughter Mia, who is 4. (Cassie, note tiara)

Brian’s wife Evelyn, our hostess for the evening.

Violet, who is nearly 1 and was trying to climb to the top of the mantlepiece. Anyone detecting any themes here? 😉

Brian, and Leah’s husband Darcy.

Peter’s wife Cheryl.

Peter is a very nice man – but that’s not really a halo!


The Quest for the Energetic Electrons

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:55 am

Frustrating morning. Woke up at 4 am to do some work – probably unsurprising because Lisbon is 7 time zones earlier than Edmonton.

Unfortunately, both my laptop and my phone had dead flat batteries from the trip, and I didn’t have a North American power adapter with me.

Headed out in search of that and a few other items. Here’s my little list:

  • phone card
  • power adapter
  • breakfast cereal/milk
  • shoe laces
  • Twizzlers

Sadly, Edmonton is dead, dead, dead on a Sunday morning. Drove out to West Ed Mall at 6:30, only to discover Zellers doesn’t open until 10 and the Mall until 11. Found a Safeway that opened at 7:00, so I went for a short walk, which was glorious. Saw bunnies, breathed the cool dry air and enjoyed the sunshine. As part of the walk found that Canadian Tire opened at 7:30. When Safeway opened I got cereal and Twizzlers (only strawberry – will keep an eye out for raspberry) (these have been ordered by Cassie and Alex). They didn’t have any of the other stuff.

Went for a little drive to see our old house at 886 Erin Place while I waited for Canadian Tire1, and then wandered around in there for a while, but they didn’t have any of what I needed.

Drove back to the hotel and dropped off the groceries, watched TV for a few minutes and was bored by it. Decided to jump on the LRT (light rail) and head downtown… did so, but it was equally incredibly dead.

Went back, and by the time I’d finished all this it was 10ish… so off I drove to West Ed again, this time via the Whitemud (bad idea, roadworks) instead of 104th/Stony Plain, just for variety.

Eventually got everything I needed, including a phone card. Currently charging batteries, catching up on email and waiting for the sleepyheads in Australia to wake up so I can phone them…

Oh, and since I had no adapter, I also slept the night without my sleep apnea machine, which meant I went through all these frustrations with a pounding headache.

Still fun to be here, though.

  1. Sorry, no pics of any of this – remember the flat phone battery?

Short Thought: Holiday Snaps

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:41 am

Nothing too profound, but I realised digital photography and the web have changed the meaning and purpose of holiday snaps.

In the olden days you had to take the photos home, get them developed, then a few weeks later bore everyone rigid with a slidshow or a deck of pics.

Now, though, you can do what I’ve been doing on this trip: pick a small handful of images and use them to tell stories of what you’re up to so the people at home get a sense of it, while you’re away.