Author: Graeme

This is how I work (March 2016)

This blog post was inspired by a similar post on Oliver Quinlan’s blog here; which I was directed to through his weekly Quinlearning newsletter (find out more here – it is a useful weekly round up of developments in edutech with other wider information).  This it itself is based on the lifehacker ‘this is how I work’ – which make interesting reading and can be found on the US Lifehacker site or the UK lifehacker site.

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Location: Live in Brentwood and work in Islington, North London

Current Job: Head of Humanities teaching Geography and Politics as well as managing a team of teachers.

One word that best describes how you work: Efficiently – I am quick to try and get through things and clear them off the list; though sometimes it means that I don’t proof read as much as I should.

Current mobile device: An iPhone 6s. I love the phone though recently the battery life has been awful. I need to investigate whether it is an app or a malfunction – as the phone is too new to just suffer from an elderly battery.

Current computer (and what OS is it running?): My school laptop is a Dell laptop – though that stays at work. It runs Windows 7.

My personal computer is a mid-2010 MacBook pro that is still going strong. I have upgraded it to 8GB memory and it is currently running OSX El Capitan. I keep thinking I should replace it – however there is no need at the moment as it is still works like a charm.

What apps, software, or tools can’t you live without?

Dropbox – it syncs my key files on all the computers I use; allows me to access files on my phone and effectively backs up all my files. It is also a really easy way of sharing large files without clogging up email.

Evernote – in the last few years I have essentially gone paperless; this allows me to maintain a virtual filing cabinet which I can access anywhere. I use it for keeping electronic copies of financial statements, periodicals, and anything else that traditionally would have been kept in a filing cabinet.

Endnote – this is used as a filing cabinet for academic papers – storing copies of PDF and creating references and bibliographies for writing. The iPad app is perfect for annotating papers on the go without printing. Its integration with Word makes writing  academic papers much easier as it automatically compiles bibliography and formats references.

Lastpass – this is a great way to remember passwords; I use this with the yubikey 2-factor authentication and I am just experimenting with their authenticator app.

Google Drive and Docs – at school we use Google Apps for Education. This allows sharing of documents among the team and with students. It is great value for educational institutions (free); and I currently have 85gb of files in the drive – this can be accessed from any computer and by mobile app.

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Physical tools that I can’t live without is my HP printer and Canon flatbed scanner; sometimes you need things on paper and my HP P1005 is cheap to run (if you use compatible cartridges), quick and good quality black and white. The scanner is essential in scanning paperwork and then getting them into evernote.

 

What’s your workspace setup like?

Both at home and at work I have a twin monitor set up (the laptop screen and an external screen). I find working across two monitors a huge time saver; particularly when looking at data or putting together lesson resources. I also have my iPad docked on my desk at home – this is great as it stays charged and can also function as a third monitor if needed.

I have stuck on the wall in eye line my teaching timetable. I will always have my moleskine notebook at arms reach. This is where I keep notes from meetings, to do lists, and facts that I use correctly.

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I also have a book shelf with textbooks that I regularly use and other reference tools at arms reach. I try to keep this well curated – with less use texts being demoted to other bookshelves or stored in the garage.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

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Using the same calendar for both home and work (I use google calendar) – and putting everything into the calendar. School deadlines, birthdays, even down to every lesson on my teaching timetable. This means I can instantly look either on my computer or phone and work out what I have coming up and if I am free to meet with colleagues or not. I used a free tool called timetable convertor – however just checking it seems to have disappeared – so will need to find a new tool next academic year. It took a couple of hours to set up at the beginning of the year but pays dividends many times over.

What’s your favourite to-do list manager?

I don’t use one – I have tried doing all kinds of electronic apps and websites however I find nothing beats pen and paper. I use my notebook for medium and long term to-do do lists. I sue a post it stuck on the outside of my notebook for that days list.

I also obsessively file emails – anything sitting in my inbox needs me to do something with it.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My external battery pack – my phone will usually run out of juice on the commute home unless I charge it at some point (particularly if I have been watching TV on the journey in the morning). The one I am using at the moment is this RAVPower 16750mAh; it is not the smallest but I find it convenient that it lasts the whole week so I only need to charge it at weekends.

I also really like my google chromecast. It is great to be able to steam digital media to my non-smart TV.

What are you currently reading?

With two hours a day spent commuting I read a significant amount; I usually manage about two books a week. Though recently I have read less, and been watching more TV on the train – this is something I need to redress.

At the moment I am reading:

freak

bounce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read about 100 books a year; and use goodreads to manage my reading; you can see more information about what I read on Goodreads. However I will frequenly just mark a book as currently reading when I start reading – and every few months tidy up the finish dates by estimating when I finished the book.

How do you recharge?

I recharge through getting outside. This could be through walking in the countryside or just pounding the streets and people watching in a city. I also will spend time geocaching, particularly more rural geocache trails (my geocaching profile).

I also watch TV, currently working my way through DVDs of Chicago Fire.

What’s your sleep routine like?

My alarm goes off at 5am every weekday morning; therefore I am normally in bed around 10pm. I don’t have any problem sleeping most nights. The only problem is it means on weekends I am normally up by 6.30 as I can’t get used to lying in bed!

I try not to take my phone to bed – and instead put it on charge in either our office or the living room.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.

I don’t have a named individual, instead it is a group of people. I am not a personal fan of all politicians; though I think politicians do a fantastic job of multitasking. They have to manage pressures of Parliament, Party, Constituency, along with family and personal life.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t go to work to get your love. That doesn’t mean that you should not love your work; but don’t do things at work for love, praise, or approval – do them because they need doing or are in the pupil’s best interest.

Notes from ‘Status Syndrome’

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This is an interesting book that looks at the factors effecting health; in particularly factors affecting health within countries. Marmot refers to this as a social gradient or ‘status syndrome’, and explains that this is not just just between the rich and the poor, but also between the rich and the very rich. An example quoted in the book is that Academy Award winning actors and actresses lived four years longer than the co-stars and the actors nominated who did not win.

Once a country has basic clean water, sanitation, and sufficient food a larger national income doesn’t provide better health for the country as a whole. Once a country has solved its basic material conditions for good health, more money does not buy better health. When comparing whole countries, there is no gradient in the relation between income and health.

The following example from the United States exemplifies the health disadvantage in the United States. Consider two typical American teenagers of fifteen: a young white man in an urban area of Michigan, and a young black man living in Harlem in New York City. Michigan is about as close as you can get to the statistical average of life expectancy in the United States. The white teenager has a 77 percent change of still being alive at age 65. The black teenager has a  37% change. Two out of three black fifteen-year-olds on the streets of New York will not see their sixty-fifth birthday. Three out of four white fifteen-year-olds in Michigan will.

Relative deprivation in the space of incomes can yield absolute deprivation in the  space of capabilities.
The reason that people with higher incomes are more likely to have better health is due to a matter of resources; they have the resources to take control of the situation, rather than have events control them. These resources may be knowledge – how to operate the system; financial – the ability to bear the cost of the solution without pain; psychological – the confidence to know that they can do what is required and people respond to the confidence.

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There is a large body of evidence now exists that supports the demand/ control model:  people whose jobs are characterised by high demands and low control have a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease than those in other jobs with more control. The lower in the hierarchy you are, the less likely it is that you will have full control over your life and opportunities for full social participation. Autonomy and social participation are so important for health that their lack leads to deterioration in health.

The book also talks about the fact that those who participate more in social networks have better health. This is because of four primary pathways:    
  1.  Provision of social support;
  2. Social influence; 
  3. Social engagement and attachement
  4. Access to resources and material goods.
In New York city the life expectancy drops by 15 years from Fifth Avenue to Harlem.The major contributors to premature loss of life in the deprived areas are coronary heart disease, violent deaths and the consequences of HIV infection.

The league tables for school performance are a a remarkably good indicator of deprivation of the area in which the school i located. The more deprived the area the worse the average school performance. If you look up a school to see how it is performing, you are actually reading off an exquisitely sensitive indicator of depuration. The league table is telling us something, but if it is sol closely linked with deprivation, it may not be telling us much about schools.

There will always be inequalities in society but the magnitude of their effects on hearth is in our control. Why not make things better? It is in all our interests.
 
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Notes from “This much I know about Love over fear…”

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One of the many books that I read over the summer holidays is this book by John Tomsett. This is one of the best books that I have read on the field of education ever.

You need to know your core purpose – what is it that gets you out of bed each day to come to work? Schools should be re-structured to accommodate their core purpose; and that core purpose should guide every difficult decision. For example Hutchinson School’s core purpose is “to inspire confident leaners who will thrive in a changing world’.

“Target your resources on what matters most and just make do with everything else. Teaching is the thing that makes most difference to children’s academic performance so invest high quality continuing professional development CPD – train people to be good teachers.”

“In order to stay focused on professional development we need to stop worrying about things we cannot control and focus upon what we can do something about – our own practice. The only way to develop truly great schools is through each one of us taking responsibility for improving he quality of our teaching. We need to break the glass ceiling which surrounds great teaching so that we all aspire to it and see it is achievable. We need to foster a growth culture which is founded on the belief that all of us can improve.”

In the book John Tomsett quotes Professor Chris Husbands:

“We can all teach well and we can all teach badly.  Even good teachers teach some lessons and some groups less well; even the struggling teacher can teach a successful lesson on occasion. More generally, we can all teach better: teaching changes and develops. Skills improve. Ideas change. Practice alters. It’s teaching, not teachers.”

Taken from: https://ioelondonblog.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/great-teachers-or-great-teaching-why-mckinsey-got-it-wrong/

Another key quote, this time by Tomsett is:

“The one thing that destroys the energy of a workplace culture is a climate of fear. Conversely, people’s energies are maximised when they feel loved and safe. Love wins over fear every time. Ron Berger has never been so right when he says ‘Culture Matters”

Tomsett also quotes Roland Barth when talking about school culture:

To change a school’s culture requires mustering the courage and skill to not remain victimised by the toxic elements of the school’s culture but rather to address them.”

Some other notes that I took from the book:

  • Every teacher fails on a daily basis. If you are not failing you are just not paying attention. Because we fail all the time.
  • In building a classroom culture, I have based my whole career upon a line from Virgil, ‘Success nourishes them: they can because they think they can’ [when working with a difficult group Tomsett stated], I never, ever ,ever, ever diverged publicly from believing that every single one of them would get a minimum of a grade C.
  • When teaching hard classes, laugh with them and let them laugh at you. Trust them. Choose your moment and use the phrase, ‘I’m going to rust you to do this,’ looking directly into their eyes. On some things you have to compromise. I know it encourages learnt helplessness, but just buy a stack of biros and don’t get precious if you lose a load.
  • When giving explanations, pare down what you are explaining, have more than one way to explain something, and try to use subject specific vocabulary in your explanations.

Tomsett also gives some strategies to make time:

  • You have to privilege the time for teachers to work on their teaching if you want to grow a truly great school.
  • Beware of asking colleagues to do anything which impinges on their time without it being to their benefit.
  • Work in twenty-five-minute chunks and use the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Cut corners if you have to – sometimes just good enough is good enough.
  • Some things won’t get done. Period.

There is also a section about the things that are needed in order for teaching to become an evidence-based profession; creating structures in schools where classroom teachers:

  • Work in an environment where continual improvement is the cultural norm.
  • Can access good evidence easily.
  • Feel encouraged and safe to change their practice in the light of the evidence.
  • Are supported by a school-based research lead with a higher education connection.
  • Can evaluate the impact on student outcomes of the changes to their pedagogy.

The final take away from this book is this quote:

“The bottom line is that to be any good at teaching it has to matter to you, properly, right there in your chest.”

Get this book on Amazon here.

Notes from ‘Differentiated Coaching’

I read this book about six months ago and have just got round to typing up my notes; I found it less to be about coaching per say; and more how to use coaching and the pre-conditions needed for coaching to succeed.

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Six key steps for using coaching for effective staff development:

  1. Use a common framework for unbiased reflection on education.
  2. Understanding the strengths and beliefs of the teachers, instead of relying on our own ingrained beliefs of why teachers resist change.
  3. Provide information and evidence to influence teacher’s beliefs about how students learn.
  4. Meet the needs of individual teachers, often through coaching; however not all teachers would want a coach in their classroom for a significant amount of time.
  5. Focus on the problems teachers want to solve.
  6. Encourage deep, reflective collaboration.

A quote from Michael Fullan summarises what school reformers have learnt over past decades:

“The hardest core to crack is the learning core – changes in instructional practices and in the culture  of teaching towards greater collaborative relationships among students, teachers and other potential partners. Stated differently, to restructure is not to reculture – a lesson increasingly echoed in other attempts at reform. Changing formal structures is not the same as changing norms, habits, skills and beliefs.”

Pre-observation conferences are necessary to discuss:

  • Build trust.
  • Clarify the lesson goals and objectives.
  • Seek the coached input on what should be observed.
  • Help the coached clarify how they think the lesson would work.

Coaches often help teachers understand the benefits of practitioner research. Many teachers  seem to suffer from “research anxiety” stemming from several causes such as:

  • It will be too time consuming – a coach can help reframe action research as a part of a normal part of looking at student work.
  • I won’t discover anything useful – a coach can help a teacher identify the questions he or she wants answered and why other teachers might be interested as well.
  • I ‘m not a researcher – a coach can help tailor a research effort to match a teacher’s strength.
  • I don’t know what to measure or how to measure. – A coach can point out useful data besides assessment data.

Coaches can take on several roles, including:

  • Helping teachers select and define a problem that (a) interests them, (b) is within their realm of influence, and (c) involves measurable outcomes.
  • Brainstorm solution sets.
  • Providing guidance in selecting options.
  • Working with teachers, and helping teachers get beyond their habitual beliefs.

What gets in the way of teacher collaboration:

  • A culture of silence – that discourages teachers from talking about their classrooms; teachers are  afraid of being viewed as incompetent, or of being censured for questioning conventional wisdom.
  • Teachers as individual entrepreneurs or executives. Executives do not take kindly to others’ critique of their methods, decisions, or demeanour. Teachers reign in there individual classrooms and therefore take on executive characteristics.
  • Teaching as creative expression – a common theme is teaching can’t be taught; each teacher discovers his or her own norm of practice.
  • Bias towards noninterference.
  • Lack of common goals and meaning.
  • Intensifying work.

What is required for collaboration:

  • Time for reflective discussion.
  • A common framework for discussion teaching and learning.
  • Trust, respect, and honesty.
  • A willingness to probe one’s own beliefs and acknowledge boundaries of one’s experience.
  • Articulated goals to measure effectiveness.
  • If these are not present, a coach’s role is to help a team develop them.

A framework for authentic school change:

  1. A deep understanding of teachers’ strengths and beliefs.
  2. Concrete evidence that influence beliefs and shows that change will be worth the effort.
  3. Communication and assistance (coaching) in ways that meet each teacher’s learning style and needs.
  4. A focus on problems that concern the teachers.
  5. Deep collaboration.
  6. A common framework for unbiased discussion of education.

“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.- Buckminster Fuller

Notes from ‘Busy’ by Tony Crabbe

This book was an interesting one; and one that is relevant in all walks of life. However there are some clear ideas that can be applied to teaching. The below are my notes:

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‘Busyness’ is that frantic, always alert, multitasking that propels us through overburdened lives. It involves being always ‘on’, glancing regularly at our phones and jumping from task to task. It is the juggling, cramming, and rushing that makes up so much of our daily existence. It is urgency, distraction and exhaustion.

Why is busyness a bad thing?

  • Busyness is bad for your health – accelerated wear and tear on the human body.
  • Busyness is bad for relationships.
  • Busyness is bad for your happiness – people who focus on external values – money, stuff and status – are less happy and less healthy than people who focus on things that busyness kills: relationships, personal growth, or contribution to your community.
  • Busyness is bad for your career – it is not quantity that matters – the thing that matters it is attention and differentiation: people who are able to cut through the frenzy of activity are who get notice.
  • Busyness is bad for business – creativity is needed over busy.

Why we’re really busy

  • Lack of control – we give up our sense of control and feel helpless in the face of so many demands.
  • Lack of choice – We are too lazy to think of alternatives; busyness is the easiest option.
  • Lack of boundaries – work life boundary is diminished due to technology.
  • Lack of focus.
  • Lack of confidence.
  • Lack of momentum.

How to find time – quick ways to create space in your life

  1. Use the word ‘because’ – when turning down a request that will take up time use the word because; this makes the listener respond as though there must be a good reason.
  2. Switch off – be deliberate and intentional when you ‘check in’ on main and messages.
  3. Turn off the notifier – turn off the ping or email notification.
  4. Kill a meeting – either cancel a meeting or don’t attend.
  5. Think of the time … and double it – when planning how long a task will take, estimate it and then double it.
  6. Watch the clock – if you want to get through a large amount of tasks carefully watch the clock as this will focus you and help you work quicker.
  7. Finish on time – this helps raise time awareness, and it also stops creating space and time in our diaries.
  8. Start Quicker – read through a task or think through a task early on – then leave it and work on something else – your subconscious will be thinking through the task which will make it easier when attempting the main body.
  9. Clear your head – write down ideas rather than remember them, don’t analyse things when you record them. Go through your brain-dump list regularly.
  10. Hold on a minute – think through a task before you start it to ensure you are doing it the most efficient way.
  11. Take a (good) break – When you take a break (and do) make sure it is a valuable one and do something different than you have been doing.

Feeling More In Control

You cannot control the demands made on you, however you can feel in control of your response to those demands.

  • Let go – let the inputs wash by you, and focus on the outputs you choose to make.
  • It’s not your fault you can’t do it all – let go of your desire to do it all.
  • Create a rhythm to you day, build in breaks and recovery tim to reduce you allostatic load and to increase you ability to immerse yourself in the things that are important.

How to Make Better Choices

  • We make great choices when we’re cold, but in the grip of temptation (when we’re hot) all our best intentions disappear. So stay ‘cold’ for longer, and make better decisions about your priorities.
  • When the brain is tired, we’re more likely to do the thing that requires less choice, less risk/ That means the busy, depleted brain is less able to make the choices to step beyond busyness. Make your choices when your brain is fresh.

Setting Limits

  • Boundaries restrict us, but they also protect us; we have to set them, and negotiate them ourselves.
  • Manage your boundaries in three ways: offer more to get more in return; be clear about which boundaries matter for you.
  • When negotiating don’t offer just one option; but three; more often than not, people will choose the middle ‘compromise’ option.

Being Different: Positioning and Differentiation

  • There are two ways to succeed: through productivity (the ‘More’ game) or through differentiation. The best way is to differentiate yourself; do things better.
  • There are four strategic positions you can take: everything, everyone; audience-based; product-based; niche. Everything, everyone is the most common, and it’s rubbish. Audience-based differentiation means serving the unique needs of your key stakeholders; product-based differentiation means developing unique capabilities or expertise.
  • Trade-offs: choosing not to pursue great ideas in order to go deep on others is hard, but that is strategy.

Efficient Thinking

  • The big thing to remember if you want to think better is to minimise your multitasking. Switching regularly between tasks makes you slower and dumber, even if you feel productive.
  • Do one thing at a time by getting things out of your head and externalising your thinking.
  • Cut down on the amount you switch your attention between tasks by working in bigger chunks of time, and minimising distraction.

Stop Procrastinating

  • Busyness is a form of procrastination: doing lots of simple, un-taxing activities rather than a few important ones.
  • The four horseman of procrastination are: Perfection, Mood, Fear and Dependence.
  • Deal with perfection by creating momentum through thin-slicing and swiss-cheesing. (Thin-slicing is tackling a task for dedicated fixed periods of time; whereas swiss-cheesing is tackling bits of a task one by one).
  • When you’re ‘not in the Mood’ make progress despite that by selecting useful, but easier tasks; reverse your mood with music or movement.

Confidence

  • To make a less defensive, more positive approach requires confidence. To build confidence you need to work on your self-esteem and self-efficacy.
  • Low self-esteem makes us poorer judges of the best focus of our attention, focusing on keeping everyone happy all of the time, and trapping us in a prevention mindset.
  • Have the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to make mistakes – all three things we need to move beyond busyness.
  • High self-efficacy makes you more able to take the ‘road less travelled’ – it increases your belief, lets you persist longer in the face of challenges, and you experience more flow.
  • When you’re confident you will be able to cope no matter what ; you will have self-efficacy.

It is important to ‘Make Good Intentions Stick’

Building Momentum

  • Good intentions don’t last long; if you intent to do something, take action quickly! It’s all about momentum.
  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lapse into inertia. So start building momentum by getting really clear about the behaviour you want to change, and the context you’ll make that change in.
  • Start really small, build on the fact that we like to be consistent and make the next step for yourself obvious.

Willpower

  • To make lasting changes you need willpower. But one thing is almost certain: your willpower is weaker than you think it is.
  • Willpower is limited; it gets used up, leaving us ego depleted and less able to resist further temptations.
  • The good news is that you can strengthen your willpower. A strengthening of willpower in one area spreads to other aspects of your life.

Notes from ‘Prisoners of Geography’

This book is an interesting read that looks at the impact of Geography on global politics; I have made some notes from my reading. However there is much more in the book that I left out of my notes!

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The land on which we live has always shaped us. It has shaped the wars the power, politics and social development of the peoples that now inhabit nearly every part of the earth. Technology may seem to overcome the distances between us in both mental and physical space, but it is easy to forget that the land where we live, work and raise our children is hugely important, and that the choices of those who lead the seven billion in habitants of this planet will to some degree always be shaped by the rivers, mountains, deserts, lake and seas that constrain as all -as they always have.

There are numerous examples of how different countries are limited by there geography, for example the author states that “In Russia we see the influence of the Arctic, and how its freezing climate limits Russia’s ability to be a truly global power. In China we see the limitation of power without a global navy.” Or alternatively how geographical decisions in the past impact the future: “The conflict in Iraq and Syria is rooted in colonial powers ignoring the rules of geography, whereas the Chinese occupation of Tibet is rooted in obeying them; America’s global foreign policy is dictated by them” These claims, among others made in the introduction are later discussed in further chapters.

Russia

Russia is not an Asian power for many reasons. 75 per cent of its territory is in Asia, only 22 per cent of its population lives there. Siberia may be Russia’s ‘treasure chest’, containing the majority of the mineral wealth, oil, and gas, but it is a harsh land, freezing for months on end, with vast forest (taiga), poor soil for farming and large stretches of swampland. Only two railway networks run west to earth. There are few transport routs leading north to south and so no easy way for Russia to project power southward into modern Mongolia or China; it lacks the manpower and supply lines to do so.

China

Until now China has never been a naval power- with its large land mass, multiple borders and short sea routes to trading partners, it had no need to be, and it was rarely ideologically expansive. Its merchants have long sailed the oceans to trade goods, btus its navy did not seek territory beyond its region, and the difficulty of patrolling the great sea lanes of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans was not worth the effort. It was always a land power, with a lot of land and a lot of people – now nearly 1.4 billion.

[The reason for the Chinese control of Tibet] is the geopolitics of fear. IF China did not control Tibet, it would be always be possible that India might attempt to do so. This would give India the commanding heights of the Tibetan Plateau and a base from which to push into the Chinese heartland, as well as control of the Tibetan sources of three of China’s great rivers, the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong.

China has locked itself into the global economy. If we don’t buy, they don’t make. And if they don’t make there will be mass unemployment. If there is mass and long-term unemployment, in an age when the Chinese are a people packed into urban areas, the inevitable social unrest could be – like everything else in modern China – on a scale hitherto unseen.

Western Europe

Western Europe has no real deserts, the frozen wasters are confined to a few areas in the far north, and earthquakes, volcanoes and massive flooding are rare. The rivers are long, flat , navigable and made for trade. As they empty into a variety of seas and oceans they flow into coast lines which are, west, north and south, abundant in natural harbours.

Greece suffers due to its geography. Much of the coastline comprises steep cliffs and there are few coastal plains for agriculture. Inland are more steep cliffs, rivers which will not allow transportation, and few wide, fertile valleys. What agricultural land there is is of high quality; the problem is that there is too little of it to allow Greece to become a major agricultural exporter, or to develop more than a handful of major urban areas containing highly educated, highly skilled and technologically advanced populations.

Geographically, the Brits are in a good place. Good farmland, decent rives, excellent access to the seas and their fish stocks, close enough to the European Continent to trade and yet protected by dint of being an island race – there have been times when the UK gave thanks for its geography as wars and revolutions wept over its neighbours.

Africa

Africa’s coastline? Great beaches, really, really, really loverly beaches, but terrible natural harbours. Rivers? Amazing rivers but most of them are rubbish for actually transporting anything, given that every few miles you go over a waterfall.

As long ago as the fifth century BCE the historian Herodotus said: ‘Egypt is the Nile, and the Nile is Egypt.’ It is still true, and so a threat to the supply to Egypt’s 700-mile-long, fully navigable section of the Nile is for Cairo a concern – one over which it would be prepared to go to ware. Without the Nile, there would be no one there. It may be a huge country, but the vast majority of its 84 million population lives within a few miles of the Nile. Measured by the area in which people dwell, Egypt is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The Africa of the past was given no choice – its geography shaped it – and then the Europeans engineered most of today’s borders. Now with its booming populations and developing mega-cities, it has no choice but to embrace the modern globalised world to which it is so connected.

The Middle East

The Middle of What? East of Where? The region’s very name is based on a European view of the world, and it is a European view of the region that shaped it. The Europeans used ink to draw lines on maps: they were lines that did not exist in reality and created some of the most artificial borders the world has seen.

Groups such as Al Qaeda and, more recently, Islamic State have garnered what support they have partially because of the humiliation caused by colonialism and then the failure of pan-Arab nationalism – and to an extent the Arab nation state. Arab leaders have failed to deliver prosperity or freedom, and the siren call of Islamism, which promises to solve all problems, has proved attractive to many in a region marked by a toxic mix of piety, unemployment and repression.

In impoverished societies with few accountable institutions, power rests with gangs disguised as ‘militia’ and ‘political parties’. While they fight for power, sometimes cheered on by naive Western sympathisers many innocent people die.

India and Pakistan

India and Pakistan can agree on one thing: neither wants the other one around. This is somewhat problematic given they share a 900-mile long border.

Pakistan is geographically, economically, demographically and militarily weaker than India. Its national identity is also not as strong. India, despite its size, cultural diversity, and secessionist movements, has built a solid secular democracy with a unified sense of Indian identity. Pakistan wis an Islamic state with a  history of dictatorship and populations whose loyalty is often more to their cultural region than to the state.

With India, it always comes back to Pakistan, and with Pakistan, to India.

Korea

How do you solve a problem like Korea? You don’t, you just manage it – after all, there’s a lot of other stuff going on around the world which needs immediate attention.

North Korea is a poverty-stricken country of an estimated 25 million people, led by a basket case of a morally corrupt, bankrupt Communist monarchy, and supported by China, partly out of a fear of millions of refugees flooding north across the Yalu River. The USA, anxious that a military withdrawal would send out the wrong signal and embolden North Korean adventurism, continues to station almost 30,00 troops in South Korea, and the South, with mixed feelings about risking its prosperity, continues to do little to advance reunification.

The geography of the peninsula is fairly uncomplicated and a reminder of how artificial the division is between North and South. The real (broad-brush) split is west to east. The west of the peninsula is much flatter than the east and is where the majority of people life. The east has the Hamgyon mountain range in the north and lower ranges in the south. The demilitarised zone (DMZ), which cuts the peninsular in half, in parts follows the path of the Imjin-gang River, but this was never a natural barrier between two entities, just a river within a unified geographical space all too frequently entered by foreigners.

Latin America

Latin America, particularly its south, is proof that you can bring the Old World’s knowledge and technology to the new, but if geography is against you, then you will have limited success, especially if you get the politics wrong. Just as the geography of the USA helped it become a great power, so that of the twenty countries to the south ensures that none will rise to seriously challenge the North American giant this century nor come together to do so collectively.

The River Amazon may be navigable in parts, but its banks are muddy and the surrounding land makes it difficult to build on. This problem, too, seriously limits the amount of profitable land available.

The Arctic

The effects of global warming are now showing more than ever in the Arctic: the ice is melting, allowing easier access to the region, coinciding with the discovery of energy deposits and the development of technology to get at them – all of which has focused the Arctic nations’ attention on the potential gains and losses to be made in the world’s most difficult environment.

the Arctic Ocean is 5.4 million square miles; this might make it the world’s smallest ocean but it is still almost as big as Russia, and one and a half times the size of the USA.

There currently are at least nine legal disputes and claims over sovereignty in the Arctic Ocean, all legally complicated, and some with the potential to cause serious tensions between the nations. One of the most brazen comes from the Russians: Moscow has already put a marker down – a long way down. In 2007 it sent two manned submersibles 13,980 feet below the waves to the seabed of the North Pole and planted a rust-proof titanium Russian flag as a statement of ambition.

Perhaps the Arctic will turn out to be just another battleground for the nation states – after all, wars are started by fear of the other as well as by greed; but the Arctic is different, and so perhaps how it is dealt with will be different.

 

 

 

Pretty Good – or why we need Great Expectations in Education.

This poem was in ‘There are no shortcuts’ by Rafe Esquith, however was written by Charles Osgood in 1986. It is an interesting read and is an interesting explanation of why teachers should continually improve.

exam hall

Pretty Good

There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class;
And was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass –
He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
But for him, education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well;
And he did have some trouble with writing,
Since nobody taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine-
5+5 needn’t always add up to be 10
A pretty good answer was 9.
The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school;
And the student was not an exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town,
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.
The pretty good student in fact was
Part of a pretty good mob;
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough,
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There once was a pretty good nation
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

Taken from:

There are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquiththere are no shortcuts

Notes from “Addiction by Design”

I read this book because a small part of it was referenced in a book I read earlier this year. It presents an interesting view of what gambling is in Las Vegas, and how important machine gambling is. It also presents a interesting perspective of why people gamble – essentially they gamble because they need to, not because they want to win.

addictionbydesign

A quote from Mollie (a gambler), when asked if she was hoping for a big win:

“In the beginning there was excitement about winning,” she says, “but the more I gambled, the wiser I got about my chances. Wiser, but also weaker, less able to stop. Today when I win – and I do win, from time to time – I just put in back in the machines. The thing people never understand is I am not playing to win.”

Why, then, does she play? “To keep playing – to stay in that machine zone where nothing else matters.”

The author talks about the rise of gambling machines, by the late 1990s, gambling machines had been moved to key positions on the casino floor and were generating twice as much revenue as all “live games” put together. Prior to this they had been placed along hallways or near elevators and reservation desks, rarely without chairs or stools, the devices had occupied transitional spaces rather than gambling destinations. At industry conventions such as G2E the machines were being referred to as “cash cows”, “golden geese”, or the “workhorses” of the industry. In 2003 it was estimated that 85% of industry profits came from machines.

Machines gambling is distinguished by its solitary, continuous, and rapid mode of wagering. Without waiting for “horses to run, a dealer to shuffle or deal, or a roulette wheel to stop spinning,” it is possible to complete a game every three to four seconds. It involves the most intensive “event frequency” of any existing gambling activity.

The author talks about the increase in rate of game play when machines change from pull handle machines to push button machines. The rate of game play could double from 300 to 600 games per hour.

The CEO of Las Vegas Stratosphere said this about slot machines – “When we put 50 slot machines in, I always consider them 50 more mousetraps. You have to do something to catch a mouse. It’s our duty to extract as much money as we can from customers.

One surprising development is the decrease in denomination used for game play. In 2000 nickels began to overtake quarters as the most popular denomination of play. However it is not really nickel players, as machines also multiple line play at the same time. “You are not really a nickel player when you are playing 90 nickels at one time”.

The book talks about the two different casinos in Las Vegas; the tourist casinos and the local casinos. “Local-market casinos are not designed for enchantment; they are designed for connivence and habit.”

bliss-sean-o-brien

Notes from ‘The Energy Bus’

“Every morning you have a choice. Are you going to be a positive thinker or a negative thinker? Positive thinking will energise you.”

energy busThis book is a short book that presents a philosophy on life that is essentially, remain positive, and surround yourself by positive people. The message is given through the story of a man called George. The author explains what he means by positive energy. “No one goes through life untested, and the answer to these tests is positive energy – not the rah-rah, cheering kind of positive energy… But when I talk about positive energy I’m referring to the optimism, trust, enthusiasm, love , purpose, joy, passion, and spirit to live, work, and perform at a higher level; to build and lead successful teams; to overcome adversity in life and at work; to share contagious energy with employees, colleagues, and customers; to bering out the best in others and in-yourself; and to overcome all the negative people and negative situations”.

The story equips the reader with a list of 10 rules ‘for ride of your life’:

  1. You’re the driver of your bus. – If you don’t take responsibility for your life and control of your bus then you can’t take it where you want to go. If you’re not the driver, then you’ll always be at the whim of everyone else’s travel plans.
  2. Desire, vision, and focus move your bus in the right direction.
  3. Fuel your bus with positive energy.
  4. Invite people on your bus and share your vision for the road ahead.
  5. Don’t waste your energy on those who don’t get on your bus – if people don’t get on ou bus just let them sit at the station as you drive on by.
  6. Post a sign that says NO ENERGY VAMPIRES ALLOWED on your bus. – E-motion stands for energy in motion and your emotional state is all about how the energy is flowing through you. So instead of letting negative emotions take you down a dark road of negativity, sadness, and despair we can take control of our emotions, charge ourselves up, and let the positive energy flow.
  7. Enthusiasm attracts more passengers and energises them during the ride.
  8. Love your passengers.
  9. Drive with purpose.
  10. Have fun and enjoy the ride.

The author has this to say about complaining: When you complain you get more things to complaining. I don’t allow complaining because if you are complaining you cant be thinking about or creating what you do want. Plus complaining also ruins everyone else’s ride. Stop thinking about what you don’t want and start focusing your energy on your vision and what you do want.

As part of ‘being the driver of your own bus the author suggests you answer the following questions:

  • My vision for my life (including my health) is…
  • My vision for my work, career, job, and team is…
  • My vision for my relationship and family is…

The author expands on rule 8 (love your passengers); and gives five ways to ‘love your passengers;:

  1. Make time for them.
  2. Listen to them.
  3. Recognise them.
  4. Serve them.
  5. Bring out the best in them.

Energy Bus

 

One of the key takeaway quotes for me was:

“Your success and life are so important that you must surround yourself with a positive support team. No one creates success in a vacuum and the people we surround ourselves with have a big influence on the life and success we create. If you want to be successful you have to to be very careful about who is on your bus. After all there are people who increase your energy and there are people who drain your energy.”

The author has a website here.

The book can be purchased from amazon via the link below:

Comparison of the New Draft GCSE Syllabuses

Over the last week the examination boards have released DRAFT syllabuses for the new GCSE courses. These are for first teaching from September 2016, with examination from Summer 2018. However if your school does a three year Key Stage Four this will be for first teaching from September 2015.

Although the specifications still need to be approved by OFQUAL and therefore there will be some changes it provides an initial incite into government thinking.

I have created a one-page word document overview which is downloadable below.

Comparison of New Geography GCSE Specs

Draft Specifications

These have been provided here for ease of access – the most up to date version can be found on the examination board websites.

AQA Draft Spec

Edexcel A Draft Spec

Edexcel B Draft Spec

EDUQAS A Draft Spec

EDUQAS B Draft Spec

OCR A Draft Spec

OCR B Draft Spec