Category Archives: life

Cycling for Leukaemia Care

Today I did a 110km training ride for this excellent cause: Podesta

I went on my own, because I missed yesterday’s training with the team.  I have to say this was absolutely the most horrible experience. I set off too quickly, and got into real difficulties in the headwind coming back from York.

The only thing making it even slightly bearable was knowing that some of my lovely friends might be able to make a donation (size irrelevant, it’s all good) to the charity Leukaemia Care.  This is a wonderful organisation that supports people with Leukaemia, and their families.  Please do send them some money if you can!

So, as Dad, Glen and I do the real event in July, we’ll be spurred on by the knowledge that we’ve raised some much needed funds for Leukaemia Care.


IMG_9457At the dentist a couple of weeks ago, whilst he tugged and levered a stoutly resisting molar, I wondered what they see when looking inside a mouth.  My dentist was sweating slightly, because pulling on the tooth had taken half an hour, and got us nowhere.  He suggested we cut it into quarters and do one bit at a time.

He got some sort of dental hacksaw, and go to work, muttering in grey, too near for focus, about the ‘strange morphology’ of my tooth.

To take my mind away, I wondered whether he considered the historical record that mouths present – my mouth in particular.  Was the decay a tell tale sign of the sweets and pepsi phase I went through in the late eighties?  Are there any traces left of Ed, university champion roll-up smoker and drinker of gallons of tea (being no good at drinking alcohol)?

I wondered if the few white fillings purchased in flush times before children, now coffee stained, are testimonials of my fall in the world, or whether it was just age, time passing, creeping entropy that he saw described in my ivories.

Nothing to say #28daysofwriting

Well, having missed a couple of days, I think I’ll have to carry on into March to make up for the lost posts.  Hope that’s not too far outside the rules.

It’s been a very hard week – pitching for work, helping out with PGCE interviews, teaching lessons, and the concomitant sleepless nights thinking about all the things like these and others that we have to get done before half term.

So, now that the work is over and half term is here, I have nothing to say.   I find that this feeling of blankness, suspended in the Friday night after the end of a term, is like anaesthetic.  On the floor of my car there’s a bag of marking, which I really intend to take back to school in a marked state, but which I haven’t yet been able to bring inside the house.  On my kitchen table valentine cards that my kids drew for my wife jostle with car keys, scissors, oven gloves, pencil cases,  a few textbooks and an almost read ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ (Absolutely brilliant, if you’re interested!).

By tomorrow afternoon, all of this will be cleared away, and half term will be in full swing as we get ready to host a party and plan day trips with the cousins, but tonight everything is suspended, paused.

Have you over-stimulated your limbic system?

brain2There’s a really interesting article in today’s Guardian about the way that checking email, Facebook and twitter sets up a cycle of distraction and reward in your brain that makes concentration very difficult.   I’ve been wondering about this a great deal recently, once of my resolutions for the coming year is to cut down drastically on my use of social media. I’ve taken Facebook off my phone, and would do the same to twitter if I thought I needed to.

Actually the reason I’m not so worried about twitter is that I don’t tend to use it very much any more.  Though the guardian article concentrates on the damage done to our thinking through constant shifts in attention, and the reward we get for clicking links and reading new emails, I wonder if there’s a second set of damage that occurs from too much social media use.  Ever since reading The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone by Wilkinson and Pickett I have been interested in the social mechanisms that they argue negatively affect a whole range of outcomes in more un-equal societies.

social relationships, insecurities about social status and how others see us have powerful effects on stress, cognitive performance and the emotions. (source)

Whether we are reading all about the great holidays, lovely meals, super family times, new jobs, new cars, idyllic boat trips etc that people post on Facebook and the ‘read my new book’, ‘this is what happens in my fantastic classroom’ type things I tend to see on twitter, I suspect that these are triggering the kinds of worries that make us unwell, and unhappy.

So, too much clicking between social media and email might not only damage our concentration, but make us anxious about our status.  Best go read a book…

Constructive Behaviourism – Pentatonic Minor and Major scales

brain2In the educ5252m module I’m doing at Leeds Uni we’ve been looking at various learning theories. What has struck me recently is the way that behaviourist and constructivist theorists and supporters like to throw mud at each other, rhetorically.  So, we get a lot of words like ‘mere’, ‘only’, ‘relativist’, ‘dry’, ‘simplistic’ used of each theory by various commentators with, for the want of a better phrase ‘the other view’.  I’m also struck by the way that each side imagines a typical classroom in which one or the other way of thinking ‘dominates’ (you see that work a lot).  Whilst I think that in ITE courses you hear about both sides, there is a kind of constructivist consensus, behaviourist approaches are also used, and approved.  In an effective classroom there is what I would judge (this is my partly informed reckon) to be a healthy mix of methods designed to help students with factual recall, but also to build up more complex understandings and structures in which that knowledge is used.

In such classrooms there’s not often much worry about whether knowledge ‘comes first’, though you often hear online that it has to, it comes at the same time.  It seems to me that knowledge is communicated as it is constructed (AFAIAC).  What looks like ‘merely passive’ behaviourism can often have surprisingly active effects, and sometimes the most interactive and collaborative learning can leave students cold.  Context is everything in this regard.

Anyway, I was moved to write this because I have had a behaviourist/constructivist perfect harmony moment myself this week.   I’m learning my guitar scales, with the good people at, as well as music theory with Guiseley Music Centre (which is AMAZING by the way, my kids love it).  I started with the A-major pentatonic and then, when I felt fairly confident with it’s five (count ’em!) positions, I moved on to the A-major pentatonic.  This was mechanistic, repetitive stuff.  I used the knowledge of my jamplay endorsed teacher and drilled, and as I did I started to learn the mechanics of the positions.

Then, last night when I got to the 5th position of the A-Major pentatonic scale I noticed something odd, and remembered something that had happened the last time I was practicing with the very patient Boo Littlewood.  He and I were playing an A minor pentatonic and he had told me that if I played the same shape further up I would still be in the correct key.  It kinda worked (as we played I worked out that there was a slight change in the shape) . This new almost position 1 shape is position 4 in the minor pentatonic I later learned.  Anyway, because I was so pleased with tweaking this shape and making it work higher up the fretboard, and because it sounded so great playing with Boo, I remembered it, and was pleased to see it there at position 4.

But, that’s not the odd thing that happened.  I picked up the Major pentatonic sheet and looked at the shapes that its positions made on the fretboard.   To my surprise, I saw my ‘minor pentatonic position 4’ shape, the one I’d worked out for myself under Boo’s tuition.  This time it was no longer at position 4.  In the major pentatonic scale that ‘shape’ works at position 3.  Then I noticed that position 1 of the minor pentatonic is exactly the same as position 5 of the major pentatonic.   Then the whole world shifted on its axis…. because I realised that this was because A minor is C major’s relative minor.  A  is a 5th up from C.  I’m still playing in C major if I play A minor pentatonic.

Now, depending on your musical theory knowledge that is either going to confuse you or seem dreadfully simplistic.  The music isn’t the point however.  The point is, for me this was was key learning moment.   I understand something about music theory that I did not before.  How anyone could tease out the behaviourist transmission and drill from the intuitive constructivist playing along and even throw in a couple of pragmatist ‘affordances’ of the new positions, I do not know.    Each of those theoretical lenses might be useful in understanding different aspects of how I learned.  I think you probably have to try and use all of them to really grasp how I did it.