Thursday, 26 May 2016

What's my doctoral thing?

Just me thinking and talking to myself again. A kind of where am I how did I end up here am I doing the right thing chatter.

As I have met more and more people in Social media who are on, or have done, a doctoral journey I reflect on the fascinating things they are exploring and I keep wondering whether I am doing the right thing. Just been reading about some natty DNA stuff and could easily get distracted into wanting to know all there is to know about it.

We start life wanting to know every thing about everything and school slowly narrows that lens as we are pushed towards a limited choice of subjects, then A levels or similar and the field of knowledge narrows again, undergraduate degree takes us even tighter and by the time a PhD is completed the focus is on knowing everything about virtually nothing a tiny window on a tiny thing. That was a perception that put me off doing a doctorate for decades, I like knowing loads about loads of things.

Archaeology oh yes that's my thing and always has been since I found an amber seal in my back garden when I was about 6 then a 10thC coin when walking and a whole host of microliths, flintlock flints, pottery shards etc. When I signed up for my U/G degree at the then Portsmouth Polytechnic late 70s I had to choose three 1st year subjects, geology was my main thing and I wanted to do archaeology and geography but archaeology clashed with geology on the timetabling so I ended up taking on computer science instead. I do still regret missing the opportunity to do archaeology  but in the longer term all that FORTRAN and C+ stuff did come in useful and the massive scale of mainframe computers in those pre desktop days was so impressive.

Geology yup that is my thing too, when I was 3- 7 yrs old we used to stay in a little cottage near Allenheads where blue and green fluorspar and silvery grey galena were scattered like gems in the gravel and even along the sides of paths and tracks, and the Permian/Carboniferous rocks on the Northumberland coast where I lived offered all sorts of fossils - it was inevitable that such free treasures sparked an interest. I had the change to do geology at O level in high school that really set me up with such an inspirational teacher, I graduated just as the north sea oil boom subsided, was offered a job in a deep African gold mine where a week later there was a riot so I left that one and moved on.

Geography was my thing and still is, well the geomorphology side if it more than the people stuff, again the wonderful glacial landscape of Northumberland grabbed my attention and the processes that moulded it were fascinating. Wherever I have gone in the world the way the landscape was made fascinated me. How to make money out of that was something I never cracked.

Photography was my thing from a fairly early age, at a time when black and white was the norm and just before the first Kodak Instamatics were revolutionising the sport I was lucky enough to be given a Pentax SV SLR - My uncle worked in Hong Kong and left his behind with us by accident, as he only visited every 4 years he said I could keep it yeeeha that got me started then I got a Leica and snapped away for years and even did a little bit of a stint working with a photography firm in Newcastle, it was so boring though.

Outdoors well I loved the outdoors I was addicted to moving, age 13 I rode my Claud Butler from Tynemouth to Edinburgh (118 miles) and got half way back that evening as the youth hostel was full so I had nowhere to stay, I ended up falling asleep in a ditch wrapped in a survival blanket near Holy Island. A few years later I ran around 250 miles in 4 and a bit days wearing canvas plimsolls and without any maps - across the bottom of Northumberland, up through Kielder, into the Cheviots to Kirk Yetholm and back down the coast. I started kayaking age 8, did a fair bit of rock climbing, loved mountaineering, got into surfing in a really big way... it never struck me as a way to make money and as my dad used to tell me I was a rotten waster I was not best set up to be competitive in a public arena.

I wanted to be Jacques Cousteau and joined the BSAC when I was 14, did a load of diving over the years but never made a life out of it. I don't like hurting or killing anything and bottled out of doing biology at school due to the having to cut up fish eyes and dissect frogs and in my teenage naivety thought that without biology there was no way I could do any undersea science.

Theology well I am not at all religious Bertrand Russell just made so much sense to me when I was young and my RE teachers did not have anything persuasive to offer me but am fascinated by the nature of religion and why people do buy into it and could have enjoyed spending a lifetime exploring that.

Art became a thing, I got into it late as an experiment // catharsis to depression. I sold paintings and sculptures in St Ives years ago but an opportunity to work in HE came along and that went by the wayside. Nest to my desk are three blank canvasses and some paints - back to it one day.

The sub-atomic stuff has always fascinated me quantum physics is oh so special, but the math oh the math was too much. Likewise with the big picture stuff the universe / universes and all that jazz. Maths is not my thing and without that I was never going to thrive in such a world.

I could go on I guess I am pretty much interested in everything apart from fashion and celebrity and the horridness that people do to each other.

So am I doing the right thing for my doctorate? Without spending ages on the detail what I am looking into is learning processes / the online learning experience. I guess what I am doing does have relevance to all that I have done and all that I want to do, how we learn and how we share knowledge is something that cuts across all of life. I do hanker for an existence in which we could live many lives and where I would be able to explore all of my other interests as lifetime passions but that ain't going to happen.

So what have I learned by writing to myself again - yup I am happy with what I am doing and should stop wasting time reflecting on the past and get on with refining my latest paper. Its a tough journey doing the doctorate thing, easy to get lost and isolated, thank goodness for Twitter. Here I am at the half way point of an EdD firming up my proposal and its not the tiny thing I imagined it would be all those years ago, its kind of big and complex and deep and fun.

Blimey I also learned that Google is rubbish at spellchecking UK place names - come on Google they are all there on Google Earth - make the link.

Oh it can't even recognise itself good grief what a company.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Hot stuff, shoes and Learnometer

The Learnometer team and this post: The secret to calm classrooms? Lose the shoes got me thinking and as writing helps me sort out what I am thinking about here goes...

I am and always have been a 'hot person' the kind of chap who is wearing shorts and sandals in February while others are still in winter coats and who likes the central heating set to about 16C or left switched off and the windows open. I get twitchy hot feet at night and spent a fair bit of my time in school with my feet slipped out of my shoes (just the toes in so teacher wouldn't notice) while sat at a desk. I work from home and rarely wear shoes during the day unless I have to head out into public spaces. When I spotted the Lose the Shoes article in Twitter I was into it in seconds - at last someone who acknowledges shoes on is not essential for good learning.

There is a lot of variation in how people perceive temperature, a fine body of research that shows that in general the ladies feel the cold more than the gents but there are hot and cold people of both genders. A key factor here is that when the environment is too cold it is possible to put more clothes on, if it is too hot there is only so far you can go as far as removing layers goes. What I experienced in school is not dissimilar to what all of my 5 children have reported and they range in age from 12 to 34 so that covers a fair time period, 60s-70s, 80s-90s and 2005-2916.

In the height of summer I was expected to wear a black blazer, long sleeved shirt tucked in and done up to the top button with a tie just make sure there was no possibility of ventilation. We also had to wear long black trousers, black socks and black shoes.

Black soaks up heat, solar water heater panels are painted black for that reason - don't ever design a black school uniform its totally the wrong colour.

Even way up in Geordieland perched on the north east coast that uniform was a bit uncomfortable to say the least in summer. What do boys do at break time? Well for me it was move around a lot - a whole host of playground ball and chase games and girls to impress ensured we came back into class panting for air, gasping for water and pretty much spent the first part of most lessons broiling alive wrapped cosily in the uniform. The only reasons for wearing such kit seemed to be to teach us to be smart and to do what we were told and to develop endurance during adversity skills. The lesson in how to be smart could be learned at home easily enough, I didn't need 5 years of immersion to take on board what smart meant.

So there I am in French with Mrs X who seemed to be aged about 120 but was probably in her 60s and had spent break sat down drinking tea and chatting in a light summer dress so would make sure that the classroom windows were closed on all but the most scorching of days. If there was a breeze through the window she was cold and it did not matter that we were all boiling alive, twitching and shuddering with the heat. Blazers were allowed to be taken off in class but anyone who loosened a tie or undid their top button was in for a look, a reprimand or a whacking. Fortunately corporal punishment has gone but sanctions are still deployed for uniform infringements. With around 30 people pumping body heat into Mrs Xs class the sealed room got hotter, we robbed it of oxygen, filled it with CO2 and tried to learn despite the environment. We also learned to resent the teacher and the uniform and that rules was rules even if they were not based on any tangible thread of common sense or logic. It is hard to respect someone or a school system when it places you in discomfort for no apparent reason. My two boys just arrived back from school as I am writing this, they both came through the door red faced and hot then threw off the uniform and are sitting in shorts chilling. OK it wasn't like that for me every day, neither is it for my children, but it certainly was often enough to stick in my memory as a thing I hated about school.

When I read about the Learnometer Kickstarter project my first thought was of that classroom and wondering whether Mrs X might have taken notice of the evidence and let some cool and some O2 in, put her cardigan on, let us loosen our shirts, slip off our shoes and chill. Then reading the shoes off article reminded me of the times I have raced to undo walking boots and plunge my sweltering feet in a mountain stream, raced from car to sea and felt the joy of cool water on my feet taking the head from my body, stepped out of trainers after a cycle or run and let the wet grass sap the heat away. Feet, hands and heads are the things outdoor folk know to cover up when the temperature plummets and the same three places are the ones to cool when you are overheating.

It is easy to respect someone who cares for your comfort, who will say go on slip your shoes off the smart police are off duty in here, ye open your shirt and slip the tie off if your too hot or wear a short sleeved shirt that's fine. Its easy to keep still and to focus when your body is not screaming at you, easier to listen and to learn and to enjoy life. I can't see any persuasive arguments against being comfortable or in favour of sitting in an airless hothouse.

I have not yet experienced what LOM devices do first hand but knowing the team who made them I have every confidence that they will do what it says on the tin. It is hard to please everyone, no one size/temperature/humidity fits all but there are ranges within which comfort is likely and Learnometer seems to be designed to help identify how to stay within sensible environmental parameters, There are attitudes to clothing that can help children personalise their own micro environment and help them be comfortable. Putting the two together makes sense, I don't know if that would enhance attainment and progression but it is unlikely to have a negative effect. I do feel it is likely to have a positive effect on pupil's comfort and well-being, on their willingness to be in school and on their respect for the adults in school.

Then there is all the science to learn - how does LOM react when variables are introduced; what was it reading in an empty room? What happens after the same room has been full of people for 30 mins? How does a room in shade change when the sunshine starts to come through the windows? How does outdoor weather affect indoor environment? Do conditions vary in different parts of a room? Does leaving a tray of water out really affect humidity; do those effects vary depending on other conditions in the room? 0h there are loads of things to ask it. I am interested in experimenting with one in my house and if I was still working in a school would be persuading management to sign up for a couple at least.