Author Archives: Richard Millwood

About Richard Millwood

I direct Core Education UK, where I am responsible for the National Archive of Educational Computing and I am also Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin responsible for the MSc Technology and Learning.

Until recently (July 2013) I was Reader in Distributed Learning working on the Inter-Disciplinary Inquiry-Based Learning project in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton since 2007. From Nov 2012 until Sep 2013 I was also a Research Fellow in the School of Information Systems, Computing and Mathematics at Brunel University.

From 2005 to 2006 I was head of Ultralab and worked with Stephen Heppell from 1990 to build it.

From 1980 to 1990 I developed simulations in the Computers in the Curriculum project with Margaret Cox.

I started out in 1976 for four years as a Mathematics and Computer Studies teacher in London schools.

Subtitles

One of my leisure activities is to screen films in the context of university outreach and a community film club. This blog is about an issue which has come up in that context.

Subtitles or captions are increasingly commonly available on films, particularly those distributed on DVD or Bluray disc. They can be switched on simply to display what is spoken, or they can be descriptive of the sounds generated by action in the film – audio description. This can help viewers who are hard of hearing, profoundly deaf or where the film’s spoken language is not the viewer’s mother tongue. But it is not only these viewers who benefit as this BBC article argued over ten years ago. Others express humorous, but strongly felt views about showing subtitles.

In my current practice,  we show subtitles for foreign language films, since predominantly the viewers’ mother tongue is English – their need is only to understand the words spoken, since most can hear and interpret other sounds.

Of course this is a compromise – the subtitles interfere with the picture, distract us from the action and demand eye movement and concentration when the visual aspect of the film is arguably more important. Nevertheless, we make that compromise in order to comprehend the film.

When we screen English language films, we only show subtitles if they are available and if we think there might be some difficulty in understanding the spoken word. This may be due to actors’ pronunciation, because it is poorly recorded or if there is significant interference from music or sound effects . A good example occurred when screening The Angels’ Share, in which the actors speak with broad Scottish accents.  So we try to make that judgement in advance of the screening on a case-by-case basis.

The problem

Recently, there was a call to show subtitles on English language films in order to welcome deaf and hard of hearing members to screenings. There are over eleven million hearing impaired in the UK (one in six) and this is even more prevalent amongst an elderly population, where more than 40% of over 50 year olds suffer from hearing loss. This proposal met with resistance, with some arguing that it spoilt enjoyment of the film and was not what viewers expected.

So what is the right thing to do?

Alternative solutions

As well as showing subtitles, there are other technical solutions that might help and there is good advice available from a range of sources, for example this from Cinema for All.

In brief, one can install sound-loop systems which amplify specific sounds, feeding them directly to a hearing aid. These cost money to install in the fabric of the building and are most useful to hard of hearing or deaf viewers when there is interference from other sounds. Infra-red transmission to headphones can also achieve this outcome, without the expense of building modifications.

For viewers with English as a second language, who do not need amplification but translation, subtitles can be viewed on a smartphone with specialist equipment to transmit this data. Clearly this means moving the eyes even further away from the action.

Each of these alternatives involve investment and do not cover all viewers’ need, but offer a different compromise. Simply amplifying the film’s sound is not adequate to address the diversity of hearing needs as one blogger points out. The advantage of switching on subtitles on the screen is that it costs nothing – an important issue for amateur organisations, and certainly the best option in the first place.

Mainstream cinema policies

Mainstream cinemas do try to support those who would benefit from subtitles, but arguably by supporting access rather than inclusion. They schedule screenings where subtitles are shown for specific times and these are rarely convenient for those working and don’t make it easy to join in a social event with friends and family. See for example the Odeon’s policy. 

It is also quite difficult to search for such screenings, so going to the cinema becomes a planned activity rather than a spontaneous pleasure.

Finding a subtitled screening

To tackle this problem, the website Your Local Cinema is dedicated to identifying when cinemas are showing subtitled and audio description films for the hearing or sight impaired. It explains the case for screening films with technical support of all kinds to create an inclusive cinema for all. It exhorts cinemas to provide an equal service so that a diverse public can enjoy the cinema experience with family & friends, and it is supported by the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund, UK film distributors (via the FDA) and the British Film Institute.

Through a competition inviting messages about subtitles they have created a list which is worth reading through to get a flavour of the range of experiences and wishes. This is a selection from that site:

“I know quite a few people who, like me, have become disabled in the prime of their lives. I served in Iraq, came home last year with permanent damage to my hearing. I can still enjoy music, it’s just not as clear as it used to be. I find I now read a lot of song lyrics! Never really bothered before. Same with films. I can still enjoy them with a little ‘assistance’. In this case, subtitles. I only go to the cinema now if the film is subtitled. Thankfully most are these days.”

“[my mother] has stopped going to see English language films as, even with hearing aids, she can’t really hear them properly (Also because sound levels fluctuate so much in movies that she has to keep on fiddling with aids). Waiting till something comes out in DVD is really not the same.”

“I think subtitled cinema is great, When i lost my hearing i thought my social life was over but subtitled cinema has proved me wrong!”

“I can honestly say that subtitled cinema has been a dream come true. It’s given me & my mum the chance to share quality time together. She’s profoundly deaf since she was aged four, preventing her from enjoying the cinema (whooping cough took her hearing away).”

“After I saw Inception (with subtitles, of course which I’m very grateful, cheers) I bumped into a friend who was working there at the time told me there was a hearing woman (who went to the same screening as me) made a complaint that there was subtitles on the screen! This totally annoyed me over the fact she did once not think of how lucky she is, that she can come to a cinema to watch any film at any time of any day whereas the rest of us with hearing difficulties has one or two subtitled film per week, sometimes none if those listed films aren’t our cup of tea. (And also why she came to see the subtitled film in the first place anyway, oh deary me!)”

“For years, as a teenager, all my friends would always want to go the cinema, so I’d go along, pretend to know what happened, and laugh when everyone else laughed at something funny.

But now subtitled movies allow me to enjoy watching films with my family and friends. I can talk about what happened in the movie and laugh along with the jokes – not because everyone else laughed! Best invention ever!!”

“”I’m hard of hearing. Subtitles are a godsend when visiting the Cinema, or watching a DVD at home. As a person of a certain age I only wish we had them back in the forties and fifties, when Brando and other Method actors were mumbling their way through various movies!”

“My wife is deaf and finds the high sound levels are useless to her, as is the loop system. I have only praise for the companies involved in producing subtitled facilities – they make the world of difference.”

“Hard of hearing folks without a hearing aid rely heavily on subtitling. Being able to go to the cinema and see a subtitled film really reduces the isolation they live with.”

“I have a friend whom English is her second language so reading the words as they’re said helps teach her the language.”

Conclusion

This issue is problematic and any solution involves compromise. My view is that the compromise of always showing subtitles is worth making in order to be inclusive and reduce social isolation in a small town with no cinema and an ageing population. I have become convinced that this is the best way to welcome the deaf, hard of hearing and those with English as a second language to watch and discuss films with their friends and families.

What do you think? Please feel free to express your views by adding a comment to this article or emailing me directly at richard.millwood@gmail.com.

Knock knock! – an interpretation of ‘body syntonic’

I recently worked with colleagues to offer similar workshops at two conferences – SCoTENS 2017 in Dundalk (with Pamela Cowan from Queens University Belfast and Elizabeth Oldham from Trinity College Dublin), Ireland and ATEE 2017 in Dubrovnik, Croatia (with Nina Bresnihan, Glenn Strong and Elizabeth Oldham, all from Trinity College Dublin).

The workshops introduced our ideas about using a version of paired programming to give confidence to novices in programming. We had developed these ideas, together with colleagues Mags Amond and Lisa Hegarty, also from Trinity College Dublin, through the CTwins project funded by Google’s CS4HS – Computer Science for High School.

The workshop slides for ATEE 2017 also included ‘Art’ in the title, since it was my notion that developing an art project would be personally fulfilling.

You can see how I have been a little pre-occupied with the relationship between art, craft and programming through my recent blogs:

In a happy co-incidence, I today found myself in a useful conversation about the design of the programming tool, Scratch, that we used in the project and the workshop. In the conversation, we rightly focussed on the design of Scratch, which has become so wildly popular that a heavy weight of responsibility lies on the development team to get it right. I tried to explain why Scratch is important in this blog post:

Nevertheless, I feel that as well as considering the tool design, we must also shift attention to the activity and mental models that I believe learners symbiotically develop alongside their use of the Scratch tool. The Logo programming language developed in 1967 and its turtle geometry microworld is one of the most potent developments to recognise such activity and mental modelling – although I believe not the earliest (I believe sentence generation using lists preceded it?).

A microworld is a slippery concept, but Richard Noss and Celia Hoyles neatly sum up its importance in their book ‘Windows on Mathematical Meanings: Learning Cultures and Computers‘:

“In a microworld, the central technical actors are computational objects. The choice of such objects and the ways in which relationships between them are represented within the medium, are critical. Each object is a conceptual building block instantiated on the screen, which students may construct and reconstruct […]. To be effective, they must evoke something worthwhile in the learner, some rationale for wanting to explore with them, play with them, learn with them. they should evoke intuitions, current understandings and personal images – even preferences and pleasures. The primary difficulty facing learners in engaging directly with static formal systems concerns the gap between interaction within such systems and their existing experience: it is simply too great. That is why computational objects are an important intermediary in microworlds, precisely because the interaction with them stands a chance of connecting with existing knowledge and simultaneously points beyond it.”

In the turtle geometry microworld, the computational object is a robot turtle on a stage, equipped with a pen to trace out lines as it moves according to program steps.

Scratch starts with a different microworld sporting a cat rather than a turtle and is a particular kind of computer game with interacting sprites. It leaves in the jigsaw blocks for a turtle geometry microworld but they are somewhat spoiled by the sideways view of a stage rather than the top down view of the space that the turtle inhabits.

In the conference workshops we asked completely novice learners (adults using Scratch and ScratchJr) to program knock-knock jokes, with two sprites and message passing to synchronise the joke-telling activity.

Firstly, together with colleagues, we performed this joke (thanks to Pamela Cowan for such an excellent idea, performance and preparation):

Ghost: Knock knock!
Cat: Who’s there?
Ghost: Boo!
Cat: Boo who?
Ghost: No need to cry!

Secondly, we asked the adults to humanly perform their own jokes working in pairs, so that one adult would be the first actor in the joke and the other the second. I was building on the concept of ‘body syntonic’ which is so powerful in the turtle geometry microworld, but in this case, it is the act of interactive joke telling that forms the mental model of the problem, to be then expressed formally in programming and debugged.

In the Scratch  turtle geometry microworld, the pen jigsaw blocks are the foundations of formally expressing the acts of an imagined turtle with its pen. Children (and adults) can ‘be’ the turtle and act out the actions either bodily or in their heads, exercising their mental model of the turtle, which may then help them debug their formal expressions in code (jigsaw blocks).

In the case of our knock-knock microworld, we presented on the projector screen a subset of jigsaw blocks to start with:

In one instance of the workshop, to my delight, one learner added other blocks, using repetition to tell a more complex joke.

So perhaps the set of immediately available jigsaw blocks should reflect the microworld the learner’s imagination and mental models are anticipated to inhabit? I would go further and propose microworld-appropriate stages (and stage views, as we have in Turtlestitch and Beetleblocks), sprites and costumes. In Turtlestitch I would propose a spider sprite/costume and indeed rename it Spiderart or some-such. Perhaps there should be a choice of microworld, “I’m doing turtle geometry today” which leads one to the set of jigsaw blocks most appropriate to that microworld? I emphatically do not mean that this means restricting access to the wider set of jigsaw blocks, simply that it provides the best recommendations from the menu for the kind of restaurant you want / are ready to eat in.

To extend an already overworked metaphor, after the learner has been eating at diverse restaurants, each founded in the same underlying elements of heat, ingredients and combination, perhaps they would begin to strengthen their knowledge of the invariates which inform the mental models that underly their understanding of notional machine and programming language?

Turtlestitching – programming embroidery

Automated Landscape as an embroidery

Automated Landscape as an embroidery

 

 

 

 

 

My first introduction to programming an embroidery machine came at the Scratch 2015 conference in Amsterdam, when Andrea Mayr-Stalder from Vienna presented the Turtlestitch programming environment based on Snap. I didn’t take that much notice, however lovely the designs and the possibilities were.

Then I went to Seymour Papert’s commemoration in Boston in January 2016 and met Susan Ettenheim from New York. Susan had joined forces with Andrea to explore Turtlestitch and was on a learning journey with Susan’s student Jennifer Lin. Jennifer was struggling with a problem – how to fill in space with an embroidery machine using Turtlestitch. The task she was attempting was to fill in a petal shape. Artemis Papert had made a good solution, which tackled the problem using variables and trigonometry. In this program, the petals have become leafs:

Artemis Papert's petal

Artemis Papert’s petal

Susan told me that Jennifer struggled at first to understand such sophisticated mathematics. Never one to ignore a challenge, I designed an alternate solution which stuck to ‘body syntonic’ principles – essentially, exploiting a learner’s prior knowledge of moving their own body to make and debug a computer program. My solution involved three ‘sprites’ – one to run around one side of the petal, one to run round the other and finally another to run between them, filling in the space. One can imagine children actually acting this out for real, collaboratively, as a precursor to programming a solution in code, in the same way that turtle geometry allows them to solve geometric problems by imagining they themselves are moving and turning. It is salutary to note that my solution involves synchronising concurrent processes – a topic I would have considered above my pay grade, let alone appropriate for learners as young as 5! (Later I found out that ScratchJr, designed for younger learners, also included this kind of notional machine!).

After this, I was hooked, and at Scratch 2017 in Bordeaux I met Andrea, Susan and Jennifer together with Michael Aschaeur, who had programmed Turtlestitch, and had the opportunity to talk about my ideas and learn how they planned to go forward. As a result, I resolved to buy an embroidery machine!

I purchased a Brother Innov-is F440E embroidery machine in September 2017 from SOSBrother in Bray, I resolved to create an opportunity to play with colleagues and friends using Turtlestich to explore programming and embroidery, and thus was born the Turtlestitching workshop held today, Thursday 19th October as part of EU Code Week.

The introduction that Susan from SOSBrother gave me in to the machine’s operation was invaluable and I tried to pass on all I could remember to my collaborators.

Mags created designs seeded by our date of birth:

Mary Jo followed the brilliant Turtlestitch cards to create some lovely interlocking circles:

Mary Jo's simple but effective design

Mary Jo’s simple but effective design

Jake was like a duck to water, his work here modelled by Mags:

Jake's pattern

Jake’s pattern modelled by Mags

John’s design started black and white, but became really beautiful when using the multi-coloured thread:

John's design

John’s design

Glenn inspected, analysed and modified an existing pattern to fit the Brother’s 18 by 13 cm space:

Glenn's pattern

Glenn’s pattern

And after they all went away, I made my own Automated Landscape (the illustration at the start of this blog) into an embroidery, using the wonderful multi-coloured thread.

The workshop taught us several things:

  • “move 10 steps” produced a 2mm stitch, which was a ‘good’ size stitch;
  • going over patterns twice or even three times could make stronger designs;
  • multicoloured thread could make spectacular embroideries;
  • more time was spent discussing computational issues than embroidery issues;
  • it was hard fun!

I am absolutely delighted to announce that Trinity College Dublin’s Visual Arts and Performance scheme have agreed to fund a course and exhibition based on this, following a successful Wearable Electronics Workshop last year – look out for the advert in the New Year!

Computational Thinking and Art

Automated Landscape - Richard Millwood (1971)

Automated Landscape – Richard Millwood (1971)

I recently made a presentation with Mags Amond at the Art Teachers Association of Ireland‘s 2017 Annual Conference in the National Gallery of Ireland. I spoke a little about technology and learning, technology and art and then gave some examples of our own experiences and thoughts. You can read our presentation ‘LED by the heart’ here.

Included was the picture above, which I painted in school in 1971 following an algorithm given to me by my art teacher. I remember being satisfied with the process and the outcome, and the pleasure never went away. This was what the teacher asked me to do:

  1. Draw a steep zig-zag line to make a mountain range
  2. Draw a less steep zig-zag line to make a range of foothills
  3. Draw a smoother zig-zag line to make rolling countryside
  4. Extend the lines thinly to divide the space into geometric sections
  5. Paint the sections using sky, mountain, hill and field colours

I have since written a computer program in Snap to do this automatically.

Mags demonstrated to the teachers how simple electrical circuits work, and later we encouraged them to ‘pimp their badge’ with LEDs, coin batteries and decorations.

pimping their badges

pimping their badges

Other examples I showed included the use of Snap by young children to program lights on the front of a four floor building at the Scratch Conference in Bordeaux this year, the use of light emitting diodes with micro-controllers to make wearable electronics and programming an embroidery machine to make patterns:

butterfly class embroidery

butterfly class embroidery

Our proposition to the art teachers, was that computational thinking and computing might be something they have the aptitude for, confirmed by Keith Gregg’s MSc dissertation.

We also proposed that STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics) might better be written ASTEM, putting the art first, and themselves taking a lead in developing computing in their schools.

Eclipse road trip 2017

Great Basin View from I15 near Fillmore, Utah

Great Basin View from I15 near Fillmore, Utah

This is a diary of my Eclipse road trip in August 2017 from Las Vegas to Idaho and back to Las Vegas via many canyons, an eclipse and a visit to my friend Derek in Sedona, Arizona.

I arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday 17th, with plenty of time for the long drive north to Idaho to find a good spot for the eclipse on Monday the 21st. After that, I planned to drive to Sedona to meet Derek and then back to Las Vegas and home.

Thursday 17th – Manchester to Las Vegas to North Rim

I flew to Las Vegas from Manchester at 9:15am, partly to get a good price and also to have the chance the night before to enjoy the company of friends Stephen, Joy & Lily and dine with them and niece & nephew-in-law Sineád & Adam, recently moved to Manchester.

I turned up at a reasonable hour, but neglected to plan accommodation in the US, intending to sleep in the back of the SUV I hired. I was surprised that the check-in desk wanted to know where I was staying in the US, but quickly located a motel and told them that – nobody cared whether it was the truth! I was flying with Thomas Cook on a budget and didn’t expect a meal, but they did serve two and ‘tap water’. You could buy drinks.

As we flew over Canada and the northern mid western states and finally Wyoming and Utah, I could just about work out where we were using Galileo and its offline maps. I had downloaded them earlier in England to help me navigate when I feared that out in the midst of the American West I’d be without a network to access Google maps. The last part of the flight, coming in over Utah, Arizona and into Nevada was really beautiful, although looked scarily desertified and hot – we landed around midday Pacific Time.

Las Vegas McCarran airport has a shuttle bus to the hire car centre, some blocks away, and I hired my SUV and set off to a nearby Walmart to shop for cooking gear and food, water, beer and ice. I got the cheapest sleeping bag for $15 and a foam mattress cover to sleep on for $2 instead of the inflatable bed I’d planned. Other camping purchases include a saucepan, frying pan and propane stove. I got two gallons of water in plastic containers.

Las Vegas Strip reflected in my sunglasses

Las Vegas Strip reflected in my sunglasses

I headed out of La Vegas via the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard and drove north on the interstate freeway I15, passing through the awesome Virgin River Canyon and paused in St George as evening descended, the first of many stops at Walmarts along the way to benefit from their free Wi-fi.

Las Vegas to North Rim

Las Vegas to North Rim

I drove on before finally stopping around 10:30pm along the state highway 89A, just before Jacob’s Lake. I was so tired, I could only drink a beer for supper.

I slept until 2:30am and woke to see the moon rise. With the clock in my head disrupted and feeling wakeful, I decided to drive on to North Rim to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. I had to refuel at Jacob Lake around 3am and arrived at the North Rim visitors’ centre around 4am in the black before dawn. I walked the path to Bright Angel Point in the dark and waited alone to watch the sun rise over the Grand Canyon.

Sun rise at Grand Canyon

Sun rise at Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon lit by sunrise

Grand Canyon lit by sunrise

Walking back, I realised how precipitous Bright Angel Point was, with sheer cliffs either side of the path and at one point a narrow bridge. Take a look at the link above and move the mouse around to shift your view! I suffer a little from fear of heights, and felt a little dizzy and out of breath on return to the car – later I learnt that it was most likely contributed to by the altitude, around 6,000 ft.

I drove back up the beautiful road, seeing wild bison, and then turned off to the East Rim overlook to cook breakfast in the forest.  After eating, I took a short walk to see the East Rim view over the Grand Canyon: behind me, a delightful alpine scene of forest, meadow, deer and antelope; before me, a flat desert plain scarred by the Colorado River’s canyon cut-in deep, dark and devilish looking.

East Rim Overlook

East Rim Overlook

Friday 18th – North Rim to Ogden

Rested and well fed,  I started the drive back through Jacob Lake and then Fredonia, Kanab and to visit Bryce Canyon.

North Rim to Ogden

North Rim to Ogden

Unlike the North Rim, Bryce Canyon was heaving with tourists and I parked and took the shuttle bus around to the viewpoints, again feeling the thinness of the air at around 8,000ft.

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

 

It was a most dramatic scene, demanding many photographs.

The road back from Bryce Canyon went through Red Canyon, remarkable by the standards of any other place, but overshadowed here:

Red Canyon panorama

Red Canyon panorama

Then north through Panguitch and across for the I15 to Salt Lake City and Ogden, reached in the dark, where I stopped, exhausted. I found a quiet place next to the freeway on an old main road at junction 341 on the I15 with West 31st Street and slept as long as I could.

Saturday 19th – Ogden to Forest Road 142, Mackay, Idaho

Waking again to the moon rise, now a slim crescent, I drove on.

Ogden to Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho

Ogden to Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho

Short of Pocatello, I took a turn to look for a breakfast spot and found myself in the South Mink Creek and stopped in the Slate Mountain trailhead car park to make breakfast and read a book for an hour.

Back on to the I15 and through Pocatello, I visited the Shoshone-Bannocks tribes’ museum at Fort Hall, notable for the abstract patterns on the Native American art:

Shoshone-Bannocks museum example of Porcupine Quillwork

Shoshone-Bannocks museum example of Porcupine Quillwork

Through Blackfoot, where I turned north west on the US26, I crossed the Snake River plain and passed Atomic City. This small village was built to house the scientists operating the many nuclear research establishments scattered widely over this desert plain as part of the Idaho National Laboratory. I visited  the EBR-1 nuclear reactor museum near Arco which was the first Uraniam breeder reactor to generate electricity.

Four famous light bulbs lit on Dec 20 1951 proving the potential for nuclear power

Four famous light bulbs lit on Dec 20 1951 proving the potential for nuclear power

Filled up with petrol in Arco, I drove up past Mackay and its reservoir, an area I had scouted out on Google street view, but it was already pretty busy, so I drove on and turned off towards the hills on the west side of the valley. After seeing Ospreys with fish in their talons by the side of the road, I discovered a track and stopped to ask two men in camouflage clothing where it went.  They turned out to be hunting with bow and arrow and advised me it would lead to the top and that there would be good camping spots there.

They were absolutely right – I drove up and found an excellent camp site in the shade of some pine trees and set about eating dinner. I had established my eclipse camping spot a day earlier than I had left time for, so felt really pleased to get some good rest and enjoyed the sunset illuminating the Lost River mountain range to the east across the valley, which included Borah Peak, the highest mountain in Idaho at 12,661 ft.

Lost River mountain range sunset

Lost River mountain range sunset

Sunday 20th – day of rest

After a good sleep, I still woke up early and watched the moon rise – so thin now as it neared the sun that it was almost invisible.

After breakfast, I walked along the road and then sat down to read Analogue Mountain, a gift from friend Doireann for Derek, but here I was with nothing to read and a day to fill!

For some reason a little later I discovered that the car wouldn’t start – the battery had run down. I blamed the sidelights.

After much worrying and thinking – I was a good way off the road and from the nearest habitation – I decided to make a sign to invite help. Every hour or so, a vehicle might pass on its way further in to the forest – there may have been as many as 12 people camping within a mile or two of me by the time of the eclipse.

Flat battery sign

Flat battery sign

The first encounter was with two quad bikers who couldn’t help, but promised to pass on the message.

Then a Mercedes van stopped and Dan Stempien got out, full of good cheer and had the jumper leads needed to start the car. Phew.

He travelled, lived and conducted his work in the summer months from his converted van. He was pleased to have found a mobile signal, with the help of an extra arial on the roof, which meant that he decided to camp next to me – welcome company.

A generous soul, he also gave me a spare pair of eclipse spectacles to watch with the next day.

Me and Dan waiting for the eclipse

Me and Dan waiting for the eclipse

Later, four other friendly eclipse watchers from Salt Lake City came along to say hi to us as their ‘neighbours’ and we enjoyed a discussion of stars and constellations over a drink.

Monday 21st – eclipse day

I was up early to watch the sun rise – no sign of the moon!

After breakfast, Dan and I watched the eclipse together and agreed it was both fantastic and emotional. The reduction in light and warmth as we watched the sun being ‘eaten’ was remarkable, perhaps exaggerated by the mountain top location. At totality, I was surprised that I could see the photosphere (atmosphere) of the sun with its coronal flares so comfortably and so brilliantly. The moment of the ‘diamond ring’ was phenomenal, a genuine jolt of adrenaline and cheers and whoops where audible from our neighbours, who were at least a mile away on another hilltop.

Me trying to photograph totality

Me trying to photograph totality

I set off for Sedona shortly later, finding modest queues as I exited the valley to Arco. Traffic was light until arriving in Blackfoot, where I mistook the northbound I15 slip road to Idaho Falls for the entrance to Walmart, so wasted time finding the next exit back to Blackfoot and to Walmart to pause and connect to the internet. Traffic on the I15 south was so bad that getting out of Blackfoot proved very slow and so I drove on side roads to avoid the masses. Eventually it picked up and I drove until nightfall to the same spot in Ogden, just North of Salt Lake City, that I had slept in on the way north.

Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho to Sedona

Forest Rd 142 Mackay Idaho to Sedona

I didn’t sleep long and woke in the night, deciding to drive on. This was premature, and I had to stop again just south of Salt Lake City to sleep some more.

Tuesday 22nd Salt Lake City to Sedona

I woke early and drove on, stopping to breakfast just off the I15 outside Fillmore, and then visited the statehouse museum in the city (town).

Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore

Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum in Fillmore

The museum had interesting original artefacts and explanations of the history of Mormon settlement and Native American relations in the early days. Particularly miserable to hear of the slave trading undertaken by a local chief, and his burial, which entailed the slaughtering  of his two wives and his favourite horses to lie in his burial site with him. Also the staking of a young Indian child to district wolves from desecrating the grave. Shocking.

I then drove on a bit and stopped to visit the Kolob Canyons – remarkable rocks.

Next to Jacob Lake again and more petrol before descending the East Rim of the Grand Canyon and visiting Marble Canyon and the Navajo bridge as the sun was going down.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Then a long drive to Flagstaff, passing mile after mile after mile of Vermillion Cliffs and seeing many Native American homes and villages. In Flagstaff, I paused to connect with the Airbnb host for the place where I was to stay in Sedona, and tell Derek I was an hour away, before driving down to Sedona. Derek met me outside the house I rented and we eat takeaway and locally brewed beer and had a good talk before a much needed sleep.

Wednesday 23rd – Sedona

Derek came round in the morning and we went to buy a pass to visit sites in Sedona and breakfast in a nice cafe with traditional Mexican food.

We visit the ruined Sinagua dwellings in the Palatki Heritage Site and a grotto with cave paintings and a house built by a more recent settler who planted fruit trees in the canyon. We returned to drink in a lovely cafe and talk about micro worlds.

Later we visited Derek’s mum, talked butterflies and then went to sit on a rocky platform near Chimney Rock, not far from where I was staying, and enjoyed the sun set, talked about Derek’s condition and made a video for the Italian teachers in Urbino, who we were missing.

Derek and the sunset

Derek and the sunset

Finally, we enjoyed a delightful meal at the Mariposa (butterfly). A real pleasure to have such quality time with Derek.

Thursday 24th

Set off at 6:20 to drive to Las Vegas, with a brief visit to the Hoover Dam. Cool and rainy for the first time, flight home uneventful.

I drove 2,332 miles all told.

Wearable Electronics Workshop

 

Richard explaining Doireann Wallace's musical glove at the Wearable Electronics Workshop exhibition April 26 2017

Richard explaining Doireann Wallace’s musical glove at the Wearable Electronics Workshop exhibition April 26 2017

This is the story of the Wearable Electronics Workshop, given by MAKESHOP by Science Gallery Dublin in March and April 2017, in collaboration with the School of Computer Science and Statistics, Trinity College Dublin.

In 2015, I was introduced to the idea of ‘pimping your badge’ at a conference by friend Mags Amond.

Mags Amond in Rang na bhFéileacán

Mags Amond in Rang na bhFéileacán

It involved adding a watch battery and an LED (light emitting diode) to my conference badge to make it light up – my first wearable electronics!

Conference badge with LED and watch battery

Mags was later to get involved in the workshop to introduce some basic ideas about circuits.

That Christmas, at my annual birthday party, I gave similar treatment to a bow tie, and it was well received.

Bow tie with LED lights

Bow tie with LED lights

The following summer (2016) I found myself in St Vincent’s hospital in Dublin, having my heart checked out when experiencing a rare irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). The time in the hospital was short, since I proved to be in robust health, but enough to stimulate an idea for another wearable electronic – something driven by my own pulse:

 

The experience stimulated the following design, ‘LED by the heart’, which pleased me, so I resolved to try and make something wearable with it.

'LED by the heart' - a design based on the symbol for an LED (Light Emitting Diode)

‘LED by the heart’ – a design based on the symbol for an LED (Light Emitting Diode)

Feeling a little worried that it might be hard work, I sought friends and advice. My good friend at Trinity College Dublin, Doireann Wallace, offered support and interest, and later helped me to invite all my party guests in Christmas 2016 to complete and wear a glowy wearable. Doireann kindly prepared for this by cutting felt into Christmas shapes and stitching battery pockets for the partygoers to assemble.

Felt fir trees for glowy Christmas badges

Felt fir trees for glowy Christmas badges

Friends wearing their glowies at the party

On a hunt for new components and advice, I visited the MAKESHOP by Science Gallery here in Dublin. There, I got into a conversation with Jessica Stanley, who runs electronics workshops for them, and as luck would have it, had a background in wearable electronics. She had wanted to offer a course on this for some time, so I promised to help by finding some other participants.

Then I came across the Trinity College Dublin Visual Arts and Performance Fund. I made an application, and the committee were kind enough to sponsor our course. So in March 2017, we recruited participants to join us: some had craft experience, others programming and design knowledge – all were keen to know more.

Working together, with Jessica’s supportive and knowledgeable leadership, we each made artefacts to be proud of. Over six weeks of Wednesday evenings in the MAKESHOP we learnt to sew conductive thread, programme micro-controllers and solder circuits, as well as make sense of the exciting electronic components we could combine with interesting fabrics in our designs

Finally we demonstrated our work in an exhibition in the Science Gallery on April 26th 2017:

Doireann’s glove instrument

Susan Reardon's jacket

Susan Reardon’s jacket

John Hegarty's bowler hat

John Hegarty’s bowler hat

Una O'Malley's scarf with loudspeakers

Una O’Malley’s scarf with loudspeakers

Katrina Enros' badge

Katrina Enros’ badge

Caroline Kelly wearing her necklace made with handmade felt, slices of stalactite and LEDs next to Richard Millwood wearing his LED lit bowtie, braces and beating 'LED by the heart' decoration

Caroline Kelly wearing her necklace made with handmade felt, slices of stalactite and LEDs next to Richard Millwood wearing his LED lit bowtie, braces and beating ‘LED by the heart’ decoration

I am now wondering how far this can go.

The initial premise was for me to find a course to fulfil my own creative aspiration. I now think that it may be a route to learning about programming and technology, starting with our desire to be crafty and creative, building from where we are already comfortable in making things, to add a desirable electronic aesthetic dimension. Having broken the ice with this encounter, perhaps participants will find a better relationship with  programming and technology, or at least a greater clarity about how such things work.

So now I feel it may be the basis for an adult education model, and so intend to pursue this as an idea for Art teachers, working with the Art Teachers Association of Ireland and the National College of Art and Design and of course MAKESHOP!

I also think it may be interesting to explore the idea with a more general public, by seeking support from Enterprise Ireland to establish feasibility.

Personally I am now the proud owner of two Adafruit Flora Arduinos – small computers usually called micro-controllers, two BBC Microbit computers and lots of lovely LED swag – I can’t wait to make the next mad idea come to fruition!

Thanks to Doireann Wallace & Jessica Stanley for working with me, to all the participants for working so hard and to Nadine McDonogh Cunningham & Rozenn Dahyot for the photographs.

Women in Film

In the university at which I am currently employed, Trinity College Dublin, some enterprising staff have organised a free course titled ‘Women in Film’. Over ten weeks or so, academic enthusiasts present a film each week which they feel illuminates that theme. I proposed two, hoping that one might be chosen, but both were accepted and then found myself filling in a gap for an indisposed colleague to make it three – this blog is derived from my notes and presentation to the audiences.

women-in-film

I saw the first two of these three films in the same weekend just before Christmas 2015 by complete chance:

  •   ‘Woman in Gold’ at the Little Baddow film club in Essex, England – I went to meet and help my friends with the event;
  •   ‘Camille Redouble’ at the French Town Twinning Association in Brentwood Essex – I was their technician!

In each case, I had no part in the choice nor any knowledge beforehand of what I was to see, but I felt they both had interesting concerns about being a woman, addressing lifetime change and exploring the contradictions between past potential and present condition.

The third ‘Trois Couleurs: Bleu’ is perhaps the film I most enjoy of all films, having first seen it perhaps twenty years ago – the chance to show it at short notice was willingly seized.

Woman in Gold

Screened 28th January 2016

In ‘Woman in Gold’, Helen Mirren plays a strong older woman lead, telling the story of someone who has lived through some of the most wicked acts of the 20th century – the Kristallnacht and consequent theft of Jewish assets, and the flight of Jews from Nazi persecution and death.

The film has mixed reviews.

My reaction was a certain sense of misguided moral compass – what is the meaning of ownership of great works of art and is it properly answered by this film?

Did this film pass the Bechdel test? –  “at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man”? The test is claimed to be an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism. I didn’t spot it, despite the film featuring at least three strong women.

Finally, is it enough for a film to be carried by a first class actor, offering a compelling and exciting characterisation?

Camille Redouble

Screened 11th February 2016

Camille Redouble’, directed and starring Noémie Lvovsky, follows a familiar plot device of time transport back to teenage years and reappraisal of life based on the re-confrontation with earlier life decisions and events.

‘Peggy Sue Got Married ‘, ‘Big’ and 200 other films, according to Wikipedia, feature time loops or travel, so this is a well-worn path.

But, typical of french film, the story is told more naturally, humorously but not forced and ends in a more interesting and realistic manner. I felt it relevant to the Women in Film series because it didn’t portray women in the way Hollywood so often does.

Does this film pass the Bechdel test? It did, but it also certainly passed the ‘Millwood test’ for a good film  – ‘did I like any character and begin to care about them’ – I liked them all.

Trois couleurs: Bleu

Screened 25th February 2016

Trois couleurs: Bleu’ forms the first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy ‘Trois Couleurs’, which addresses the French flag and motto – liberté, égalité, fraternité. Bleu‘s theme is liberté. Colin McCabe, in a Criterion Collection essay proposes that

“…what Kieslowski had achieved in these films marked a cross-fertilization of the two great postwar European cinemas that could never be surpassed. He  had composed the hymn to Europe…”.

But Kieslowski’s purpose is not to pursue politics, instead it is to explore the interleaving of human lives, coincidences, and the individual challenges faced in overcoming great tragedy. In this sense, ‘Bleu’ has a lot in common with both ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘Camille Redouble’

It begins with a car crash, setting an unbearable challenge to Julie (Juliette Binoche) as she encounters a disastrous form of liberté, shaped by one question : how to continue living when all ties are broken.

Filmed with remarkable cinematography, thrilling music and a delightful, sparse intensity, the story addresses some of the accommodations women must confront due to significant loss, discovered adultery, maternity, sexual promiscuity, a fractured relationship, Alzheimers and a musical Matilda Effect (the systematic repression and denial of the contribution of woman scientists in research, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues). As Julie navigates these issues, her growing generosity and engagement with creativity and life is uplifting, and the ending is deeply moving with its vital optimism and hymn to enduring love.

A theme which is explored throughout Kieslowski’s trilogy, is the reunification of Europe. The connection between Poland and France, at that time perhaps the leading nations in art cinema, is personified by Juliette Binoche herself who has Polish origins. I find it hard to recall just how things were in the early ’90s, when such countries were only recently reconnected after being on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain for forty years or so, but I did feel excitement.  In ‘Bleu’ the choral music is an anthem to the unified European ideal, which was so vitalising and influential at the time of the film’s making in 1993. In a parallel with the negotiation involved in making a new Europe, the process of composition to complete the music takes place in the film itself.

All this is sadly apposite in the current circumstances of ‘Brexit’ inspired by Little Englanders in my own home country of England. For me, as a committed European, the unutterable loss that Julie endures, and overcomes, is perhaps a metaphor for my own prospective loss with an impending referendum on leaving the EU, all thanks to that other car crash known as Cameron and his Conservative cronies.

Juliette Binoche

What about Juliette Binoche? It is hard for me to guess how others, men and women, react to her, but for me she is without compare, not for her sexuality, but for her powerful sense of moral compass and serene beauty. Her own discussion about involvement in the making of the film touches on a central concern for women actors – how is the film to portray women’s position? Binoche, in her discussion about the possibility of gratuitous nudity, says: “You feel like an object. You no longer feel like a subject”, explaining how the media so often misinterpret her acting as a result. And yet she is generally content to see her body used as a vehicle for communicating the director’s intent. With “Bleu” she describes a happy and relaxed relationship with Kieslowski, who seems to be concerned that she does not suffer indignities, even reportedly flying into a rage when Binoche proposes to cut her knuckles for one rather harrowing scene.

Binoche-Gyllenhaal

Just two nights before showing ‘Bleu’, by chance, I watched Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Demolition’ as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. ‘Demolition’ arguably parallels much in ‘Bleu’, starting with a car crash which kills Gyllenhaal’s partner, but with a quite different sensibility and rather less ambition. Indeed ‘Demolition’ might well fit into a ‘Men in Film’ course: the camera lingers on Gyllenhaal’s face and body for much of the time, but I suspect the media will see it as great acting rather than exploitation of his undoubtedly handsome face and body!

In both films, in truth, I didn’t once doubt the director’s intent – to make the best possible use of the sophisticated collaboration between actors, crew and director, and their profound artistry.

I recommend all these (films, directors, actors and crew) to you without reservation and thank the organisers of the Women in Film series for the opportunity to indulge myself. The opportunities and coincidences that lead to this particular set coming together would have had Kieslowski smiling.

David Garland

David Garland

David Garland

David Garland was without doubt the most accomplished professional I have ever had the honour to work with. I first met him when interviewing candidates for the headship of Holly Trees Infants in May 1997. He didn’t interview as well as some – his charming self-deprecation didn’t show off his strengths, but luckily we saw through that, picked him and never looked back.

He worked hard to create the most effective education for local children by organising the merger of the infants and junior schools to create the current Holly Trees Primary School. Not content with that, he organised the building of the current premises, moving from one of the worst buildings in Essex to one of the best. He did all of this whilst maintaining a hands-on, compassionate and high-standards job running the school (both schools for a short while) and did this through effective delegation, systems and support for colleagues. He earned their respect through his willingness to muck in and teach classes when needed and showed everyone what clear vision can do and how to go about making it work. When he was obliged to apply for the Primary headship, every member of staff wrote to me offering their support for his application.

All this I learnt through my professional relationship with him, but on a personal front he also welcomed my own son as a pupil, diagnosed on the autistic spectrum, with open arms. He built trust and friendship for my son from the whole community at Holly Trees to nurture his strengths and manage his weaknesses. Subsequently, my son went on to Cambridge, gained a Masters at Guildhall and is now studying for his Doctorate. I believe the teachers, assistants and pupil community at Holly Trees together made this possible, but David was at the heart of this community. My gratitude to him and all the team knows no bounds. I feel nothing but love for this man and deeply regret the lack of opportunity to show it and return the kindness and service he made possible with his vision and his heart. To his family, I can only say how sorry I am that he is gone and offer my thanks to them for their support for him, a man who I feel shaped so many lives for the better. He will never be forgotten.

David passed away on December 26th 2015.

Bianca’s “MakerMeet”

I had the privilege of attending the funeral for Bianca Ní Ghrógáin on Thursday 11th June in Clondalkin, Dublin.

Here she is, relaxed at a meeting last year, where we were discussing technology and learning. She has a half smile playing on her lips, a familiar look of sceptical inquiry as I pompously drone on, and a sense of sassy clarity as I introduce her to the audience. She was someone who had a lot to tell about making learning meaningful, delightful and successful.

Bianca Ní Ghrógáin and Richard Millwood at AUECi 2014 in Trinity College Dublin

Bianca Ní Ghrógáin and Richard Millwood at AUECi 2014 in Trinity College Dublin

 

 

 

 

Her untimely passing – she was 32 –  leaves a legacy of powerful educational ideas, but more importantly action. She benefited from technical confidence, educational inspiration and powerful moral purpose. The students and children she taught were challenged to question everything, fired-up to take meaningful action and reminded to be both sceptical and open-minded.

Today, at the Computer Education Society of Ireland meeting, I was reminded of her version of the flipped classroom. Normally this means flipping the content, otherwise presented by the teacher during a lesson, so that information is accessed beforehand. The time released is then given over to activity rather than passive listening –  mutual exploration, problem solving and discussion. In her case there was a further flip – the learner taking the front-seat, managing their inquiry, pursuing a problem and acting-up to the status of adult with responsibility for their learning. She found that her 9 and 10 year olds were hungry to be the teacher  – the highest reward she could offer for good work or behaviour.

Lessons with Bianca tackled problems normally thought suitable for much older learners, but she found no difficulty in balancing their immaturity and lack of experience with a young person’s ambition.

Her humility would mean that she rarely bragged about these success – I think she thought them to be vital and obvious as ways for her learners to ‘become’, paying attention explicitly to adult dispositions in development.

Naturally, this attitude spilled over into her work with adults. I am proud to have worked with her (and best friend and collaborator Susan Nic Réamoinn) in workshops at the CESI conference, learning about the Makey-makey kit for turning programming into real-world, tactile problem solving and design. She understood the value of making working prototypes as a way of understanding complex abstractions and was a supporter of the Maker movement and involved in running MakerMeets to bring like-minded makers together.

It wasn’t until today, listening to Mags Amond, another of Bianca’s best friends and collaborators, that I realised that Bianca’s ultimate “MakerMeet” was on Thursday 🙂

Mathematics and ICT

Searching through an old computer back up recently, I found this foreword I wrote for a colleague’s book over ten years ago, back in 2004. I found that I still felt I agreed with these earlier views, and that it might be useful to others:

There is a relationship between the human mind, the modern computer and mathematics which is often misunderstood. Indeed over centuries, humankind has used the developing concept of the computer as a metaphor for the mind, and the growing knowledge of the human mind as a metaphor for the computer, and it is now unclear which was the chicken or the egg. This interchange of conceptions suggests a central place for the computer in our culture, that the often heard, but rather dismissive remark, “it’s just a tool”, can underestimate.

It can be persuasively argued that tools and technology have been at the heart of intellectual endeavour since the stone age, and that the sciences and mathematics owe a debt to tools, rather than the reverse, as a source of intellectual development in our culture.

Since mathematical concepts and logic lie at the heart of the computer’s function, it comes as no surprise that the study of mathematics and the use of ICT may be profitably intermingled. The concepts of algorithm, function, operation and set all have concrete manifestation in the world of computers to parallel their abstraction in mathematics. One consequence is that the computer, through the spreadsheet, database, LOGO programming and modelling & simulation environments, has the delightful capacity to make concrete of the otherwise abstract ideas of relationship and process. For example the mathematical variable in algebra is often a mysterious object: “Please miss, tell me how much x is?”. The same (but subtly different) X on a computer, although capable of varying, can always be known as a value at any given time. A spreadsheet cell containing a function always shows an answer, for the moment. Suddenly, elusive mathematical ideas become tangible and may be played with, bringing dead algebra to a ‘what if?’ life.

So far so good – it seems that there is already an impressive case for doing mathematics, practically, with a computer.

But in fact, there is even greater scope, because the computer has added to this capacity for logic and computation a unique facility to integrate and generate visual and dynamic material – multimedia – and to portray the most aesthetically pleasing visual and musical outputs based on mathematical data. Using LOGO and other software to discover geometry empowers us to pin down elusive abstractions with concrete experiences. LOGO also encourages us to benefit from our kinaesthetic, body-centred capacities when solving problems by acting ‘turtles’ ourselves.

In all of these ways, mathematics and the computer can combine to appeal to our multiple intelligences and raise the stakes for capability in learning mathematics.

But sadly, the potential identified here is often missing – why? – perhaps in part because such experiences have not been lived by many of today’s teachers. Hence the purpose of this book: to begin to unlock the genie in the bottle and promote creativity in mathematics teaching and learning through practical advice and relevant detail.

Such advice is legion in this book, with valuable commentary to reassure the inexperienced teacher so that they may tackle both statutory and unspoken expectations, from the National Curriculum and the Numeracy and Literacy Strategies, with carefully explained and justified lesson ideas.

Pupils will also benefit from the appropriate deployment of ICT in Mathematics advocated here: the handling of data and creation of graph & chart which may come from speedy ICT tools and the teacher’s knowledge, enhanced by this book’s exposition, coupled with the generation of their own data and purposes conspire to make the exploration of mathematical concepts both meaningful and relevant. Genuine ‘what if?’ questions may be asked and answered, alternatives judged and genuine inquiry fostered – the ‘quantitative’ improvement in the speed of production brought about by ICT begins to change the ‘qualitative’ nature of engagement with mathematics.

With the confidence that this book will inspire, the truth and beauty that excites successful mathematicians may begin to be appreciated by a much wider audience of teachers and learners, and the symbiotic relationship between our society and its most powerful tools may be continued, to all humankind’s benefit.

Richard Millwood

Reader, Ultralab, Anglia Polytechnic University

This text was the foreword to:
ICT and Primary Mathematics: A Teacher’s Guide
Nick Easingwood and John Williams
Published by Routledge 5 Aug, 2004

A response to Secret Teacher’s breakdown

Dear Secret Teacher,

I found your report in the Guardian moving and important – recognition and acceptance that we have a problem is vital to recovery and I wish you well with yours.

I, like you, subscribe to Hargreaves’ “unconditional positive regard” and I am an unreformed “new romantic”, tempered with a little “lion tamer” and “entertainer” when needed!

Nevertheless, I was troubled by this paragraph:

“They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. At last I can admit that, yes, I do have a mental health problem. I don’t know what it is about me but, without my daily dose of antidepressants, I stop being the man I should be. There is a chemical inbalance in my brain that needs this but I have stopped wondering why: I just accept it. I have depression and, like my asthma, it’s something I have to learn to live with.”

I rewrote it in my own words as though speaking for society rather than as an individual:

“They say the first step to improvement is admitting there is a problem. At last society can admit that, yes, it does have more people experiencing mental health problems. We don’t know what it is about society but, without daily doses of antidepressants, people stop being as functional as they should be. There is a chemical inbalance in their brains that needs this but we do not need to wonder why: we just accept it. They have depression and, like asthma, it’s something they have to learn to live with.”

I find this rewrite unnacceptable!

It is not good enough for society to be satisfied with recognition of illness: we must challenge the root cause. In this case, the currently accepted model, that there is a chemical imbalance in brain, is not supported by the scientific evidence, as most psychiatrists will now agree ( see http://joannamoncrieff.com ).

An obvious alternative explanation for society to consider is that ill-health may be caused by the increased complexity and demand placed on teachers, especially if they are child-centred in their approach and subject to ever increasing inspection, parental demands and concerns about risk. I experienced a little of this stress recently as a school governor (my teaching days were in the seventies): we were expected to take responsibility for and annually review over twenty school policies, all with the threat of imagined risks if we were to put a foot wrong – and we weren’t even doing the day-to-day job!

My view is that we, society, needs to take this seriously: that we are placing too high a demand on teachers. When this is combined with teachers’ dedication to every individual child, management by targets & competition and a media habit of blaming teachers for problems in education, it can surely explain the kind of breakdown you report. It is in my view society’s responsibility to find solutions through better organisation of education. Sadly, it is simpler to blame the individual’s biochemistry and hand out unproven chemical ‘cures’ to paper over the cracks. It remains to be seen if it is cheaper or more sustainable.

I hope you do not take my words as suggesting that you were not up to the challenge of modern society and that if only you could “pull your socks up” you’d be able to overcome your condition – I am anxious here to show that the argument that we should “man-up” as individuals to modern problems is ignorant and inadequate. My purpose in writing this is to say we, society, have created the conditions for people to suffer and we should take our collective responsibility seriously. I suggest that for every person like you, there will be many more who aren’t able to recognise a mental health problem, but who are quietly self-medicating with alcohol.

With unconditional positive regard and the greatest respect to all those suffering,

Richard

PS Thanks to @Yorks_Bunny for alerting me to this, and for giving me this link to a Secret Teacher blog from a year ago which also addresses this issue.

Jigsaw programming

Blockly program to compute a factorial

A program to compute the factorial of a number using Blockly

I’m sure many of my readers will know what I mean, but just in case, I am talking about the visual programming languages for programming computers which use blocks that plug together like a jigsaw to express algorithms. Examples include StarLogo, App Inventor, Scratch and Blockly.

These are widely used to introduce programming for the following reasons:

  1. such languages tap in to a pre-literate capacity to help learners make sense of things without depending on technical reading and writing literacies;
  2. learners appreciate the tactile and kinaesthetic sensibilities involved in producing a visually pleasing artefact, the program, regardless of what it does;
  3. such languages clarify the logic of the program through the display of visual, diagrammatic shapes that make it easy to determine the relationship and scope of program elements;
  4. it is impossible to make syntax errors such as incorrect spelling, conjunction or punctuation;
  5. they provide a visual menu of programming elements so that opportunities for expression are clear and the learner’s memory is not overtaxed.

All this I can understand and I am very much a fan, but I am unclear why there is considered to be a desirable progression from these languages to the traditional text-based languages?

In some cases features are missing from the visual programming languages. For example Scratch doesn’t do functions and local variables.

It may be thought that a complex program would be visually unwieldy, but I find that true of any reasonably sized textual program.

Then there is the historical/cultural/custom-and-practice concerns of experienced programmers – I can hear them saying “surely there is something important, expressive and pure about traditional programming languages?”.

I maintain an open mind about this and can even imagine jigsaw programming becoming the method of choice for serious programming in the workplace. If I am right, there are some interesting challenges:

  1. What are the criteria for judging the effectiveness / efficiency / legibility of a program made using jigsaw programming?
  2. What are the examples of programming problems that cannot be solved using jigsaw programming?
  3. How do we benefit from the version control and sharing that matter for collaborative development?
  4. How do they effectively encapsulate and hide libraries of service functions and procedures?
  5. Can we add styling control so that we can tailor the visual appearance to suit the person and the task, or simply provide an alternative view?
  6. How can they reveal and make editable the variables and data they manipulate? (Scratch does this well with lists).
  7. How can they animate the program’s diagram to illustrate its execution, single step, interrupt and thus help us debug?

Some of these challenges may already be tackled – I’d be pleased to hear about where to find developments!

The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs cover

I have recently read this excellent book  about research into the drug treatment of mental health conditions.

My review which offers an overview and my opinion is at the end of this post, but you may find it even more useful to listen to the author speak about the issues in this video made by the Open Paradigm Project.

The book made me think hard, and raised some very serious questions for me about our confidence in the ‘gold standard’ – double blind medical trial research data – which is held up as such a paragon of reliability. It is particularly annoying to think that education research is criticised as not being rigorous enough in comparison, when such a large scale failure of scientific thinking is reported.

The story, which tells of hubris and ambition amongst scientists, corruption from big business and the damage done, especially in relation to children, is enough to make me angry, but it also inspires me to look for parallel concerns in education.

One such concern is about the confusion between the organ which we call the brain and the phenomenon we call the mind. The story of drugs used to treat complex disorders of the mind is one of treating the brain with blanket interference at the level of the neuron and synapse, and then trying to explain the effects at the level of the mind.

It’s a bit like suggesting rain as a solution for society’s ills. Clearly rain has an effect on society’s functioning, but it has an indiscriminate dampening effect which doesn’t explain, predict or cause something like war, for example, although it may make for a temporary cessation if heavy enough. Indeed, it could be that such a break from the routine of war may help peace efforts to succeed. But nobody is confused that the rain is curing society’s problems in the way that ‘antipsychotic’ drugs are foolishly thought to target mental conditions.

These two things, brain and mind, are for me on completely separate ‘trophic levels‘, using the language of the ecosystems of food chains, just as rain and society are. One affects the other but not in simple ways that can explain the function of the mind through specific events in the brain nor vice versa, for that matter.

So, this analysis leads me to be cautious of any scientific report that attempts to relate brain biology directly to teaching and learning, although I have every confidence that hydration is important for our brains to work well and thus we should provide safe drinking fountains in schools, just as I find at Trinity College Dublin on every floor. Did I mention I now work there? 🙂

My review of The Bitterest Pills: The Troubling Story of Antipsychotic Drugs

A must-read for anyone concerned with the well-being of society

In this book, Dr Moncrieff explains carefully, soberly and with considerable academic integrity, how the world of psychiatry has become distorted by its own desire for recognition as a medical profession, its dubious assumptions about the nature of mental conditions and by the efforts made by drugs companies to increase their business.

Dr Moncrieff explains how the desire for psychiatry to be as scientific/medical as other areas of health has led to rushed conclusions about the link between brain chemistry/biology and complex mental conditions of the mind such as schizophrenia, manic depression and anxiety.

The assumption made is that a chemical imbalance in the brain requires toxic ‘antipsychotic’ drugs to counter it, and like insulin for diabetes, over a lifetime since it is a permanent deficiency in the brain. This assumption is shown to have little or no evidence to support it, yet is the mainstay of modern psychiatric practice. Dr Moncrieff proposes an alternative view, that the drugs are simply suppressing brain activity, and thus appear to ‘cure’ mental conditions. The trouble is, whichever view is taken, the drugs have toxic effects which are in many ways no different those from the illegal drugs taken for pleasure that we criminalise in society. These effects are downplayed as ‘side effects’ despite there being substantial evidence of long term damage to body and brain health.

Dr Moncrieff shows how drugs companies, keen to maintain and improve their business, have funded research which shows marginal and questionable improvement through their drugs and have suppressed negative reports. Despite contradictory results, this ‘research’ is followed by advertising and efforts to shift the wider society understanding of mental health, so that patients demand ever more drugs to ‘cure’ their sometimes modest problems, now made to sound like serious illnesses.

The distortions to academic practice, pyschiatric prescription and most damning of all, the attempts to treat young children with toxic drugs are revealed by Dr Moncrieff with careful attention to the published record in a convincing manner, providing a solid basis for further debate.

But, most damning of all, is the experience that Dr Moncrieff reports of a refusal in the psychiatric world to engage with these issues or to properly discuss the ethical dilemmas that arise. I found myself intrigued, challenged but ultimately enraged by the failure of the academic/medical professionals to ‘do no harm’.

I recommend this book without reservation to anyone prepared to think hard about these issues, and who perhaps has been unaware of concerns about mental health treatment and the huge cost to the well-being of society. It is then for us to take up the challenges Dr Moncrieff has described and ask how are we and society to respond?

Learning Theory

Learning Theory concept map

I have been working for the HoTEL EU Support Action recently at Brunel University and I was asked to produced a report on learning theories – a struggle, since there seem to be so many ‘isms’ and often I come across what seems to be the same theory, but from a different disciplinary or professional context.

So, this A3 poster of Learning Theory was central to the outcome and I would welcome feedback, especially since I will use it as part of my theoretical and conceptual framework for my PhD by Retrospective Practice. There is also the live this CmapTools version with clickable links to Wikipedia and InfEd.

Here is an extract from the report:

“Learning theory has been a contested scientific field for most of its history, with conflicting contributions from many scientific disciplines, practice and policy positions. With the continuing and disruptive influence of technology on information, knowledge and practice in all sectors of society it is no wonder that innovators, drawn to the interactive potential that computers bring to learning, are challenged by the theoretical basis for their innovations.

Formal education is also a high stakes, culturally & institutionally conservative activity, which serves more than one societal purpose, including:

  • learner development and fulfilment;
  • child care;
  • preparation for citizenship, parenthood and retirement;
  • preparation for work;
  • selection for jobs.

Even in the higher, informal and professional sectors of education, complexity of education is matched by complexity of learning outcomes which may include:

  • skills development;
  • knowledge acquisition;
  • improvement in strategic, analytic and creative capacities;
  • attainment of competence;
  • establishment of attitudes and values.

Each of these societal purposes and these learning outcomes demand different approaches and understandings for the theorist and may develop at varying rates or found to be diverse in relation to context, location and culture.”

Thanks to all the Twitterati that responded so positively when I shared an earlier draft at the HEA TeachMeet: @mike_blamires  @stephenharlow  @lenatp  @LizaField  @fleapalmer  @laurapasquini @JuneinHE @ProfDcotton @RebeccaRadics @catherinecronin @oliverquinlan @STEMPedR @IaninSheffield @louisedrumm @valerielopes @marloft @ethinking @HEAEducation @suzibewell @DebbieHolley1 @cgirvan @suebecks

Reflection on Reflection™

No this is not a treatise on reflective practice, it is reflective practice.

Today I took friend @benjeddi ‘s advice and decided to RiskIT (for only seven minutes rather than two weeks). A key RiskIT element is to be ‘Not afraid of failure, but learn from it’ – an attitude I have nearly always benefited from, despite some pain.

I was presenting at TeachMeet Essex, in front of an unusually strong gathering including many head teachers. The meeting exceeded my expectations of this novel form of CPD with excellent food (thanks KEGS’ chef and kitchen), excellent organisation (thanks @aknill and @ICTMagic) and clear evidence of the power of a good head’s sanction, thanks @headguruteacher!

My risks were:

  • to demonstrate from an iPhone via Reflection on my laptop;
  • to present my ideas using VideoScribe;
  • to test a proposal for developing modern apps based on lost ideas.

It all went wrong, as it often does when you use technology in a presentation for the first time, but since I am going to do it all again at #tmbolton on Friday, I fruitfully learnt from the experience.  For all those let down by a slightly duff speech, here is the video from Videoscribe I would have like to shown:

Incidentally, I created the video by using Reflection to record the video as it was played by VideoScribe on the phone. A subsequent re-compress using Quicktime Player 7 to half size and H264 yielded a video only 3.3Mb in size.

Heaven

On Friday, I left my meeting in London and set off from Liverpool Street Station to Essex (the only way is Essex, I live in Brentwood).

“It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense as it had been in the winking of an eye; perhaps all of these and other things happened together for all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.”

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I didn’t get out at my usual stop, but instead the train continued towards Southend and I disembarked (thanks Sasha) at Southend Airport.

Had I fallen asleep on the journey? Was I in a dream?

I got on a plane to Dublin and found myself inveigled into a secret-service plot to surprise my friend Boyd for his birthday. A black limousine met me at the airport with good friend, colleague and Boyd’s partner Eileen and Tom ‘No. 1 son’, who whisked me to a pub to mark time with Eileen’s old friends (and a Guinness). Then we collected Zac ‘Besty’ (George Best? Animal? or simply the best?) and finally we hid in Findlater in Howth to await the birthday boy. Hosted by Sabine, we enjoyed a fantastic sea-food skillet and laughed and lived our love of family. Aoife offers me a bed for the night and she and I have a cracking conversation long past my bed time.

A very good dream indeed.

Saturday, like in all my best dreams, was spent at a stimulating Association of Teachers’ / Education Centres’ numeracy conference, re-connecting with Eileen Two and meeting the vibrant Dolores Corcoran (where were you Elizabeth?). I guess I should have been suspicious of the conference title – ‘Does it All Add Up?’

Later the birthday party continued with Boyd and Eileen’s neighbours and friends – more cracking conversation and such warm, good people.

Boyd's birthday

Boyd blows out the candles watched by Eileen, Tom and Chantal

Food from Joan (now known as Jo-an-issima) was spot-on, with the shiniest cutlery and glasses. Sing-songs and good company. Shared a brilliant falling star with Aoife and I had to be taken home by the delightful Nessa. It’s not usual to sleep in dreams and I didn’t sleep much before Sunday morning. On waking to a dawn over Dublin Bay, I am off in another limo, to the airport, to fly to London Gatwick.

Dublin Bay

Dublin Bay and Howth at dawn

I then enter another level of dream – ‘in transit’ – like the novel by Brigid Brophy, that I marvelled at as teenager. Vana arrives and we work on categorising future trends in TEL before a flight to Turin, Italy.

We meet Katherine, who drives us to Pollenzo in Bra, to L’Agenzia di Pollenzo ‘si fa in quattro’ the international headquarters of ‘slow food’. The ‘quattro’ are our hotel Albergo dell’Agenzia also housing Guido Ristorante Pollenzo, the Banco Vino (wine bank) and best of all, the University degli  Studi Scienze Gastronomische (University of Gastronomic Sciences) – “the first academic institution to offer an interdisciplinary approach to food studies”. The whole campus is built on part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of King Carlo Alberto’s 1835  Savoy Estate, which in turn is built on the Roman town of Pollentia.

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

I sit down to dinner with Vana and Katherine:

antipasto – Sformato di verdure con crema di Roccaverano

primo – Tajarin al sugo di salsicca di Bra

secondo – Brasato al Barolo con patate al forno

dolce – Panna Cotta

with a powerful Barbaresco from close by, and we speak all night of creativity.

wine and panna cotta

Barbaresco wine from the local region and Panna Cotta

In this heavenly dream, I wonder how did I deserve or manage such a dreamy, surreally wicked dream weekend, at such times in higher education…

“…with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures” ?

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I began to realise, unlike the narrator in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, who doesn’t know he is in hell, that I must be in heaven and that I passed in my sleep on the train from Liverpool Street.

 

Brentwood Community Print

I have been volunteering with Brentwood Community Print, working to advise Paul, their web developer, as he created a first web-site for them. First and foremost the company is a print shop serving the Brentwood area – they are quick, friendly and competitive – I ordered and got 250 business cards inside an hour. I recommend them without reservation.

Secondly, they offer a place for people recovering from mental illness, providing a challenging, supportive and happy context to build confidence and meaningful work to develop skills. I have really enjoyed my time helping Paul and getting to this point has been Paul’s success. It was particularly rewarding today watching him complete ‘job 1’ – a published web-site. Everyone pitched in with proof-reading, critical feedback and ideas for improvement, some of which will provide tasks for ‘job 2’, the next stage in what is an unending series of revisions to keep the web-site dynamic and increase its quality.

Well done Paul and all the team!

 

How does technology enhance learning?

Ever since 1979, I have been curious about the instinctive reaction (and evidence in front of my eyes) that computers might support learning. That first computer program, intended for me to discover how to program, was Snooker. It simulated (on a Research Machines 380Z) the snooker table with a single ball. By specifying a force and a direction (as a bearing) you could hit the ball and see if it went in the pocket. When I showed my mathematics pupils, they were full of it – running to the cupboard to find protractors so they could more accurately estimate the angle.

In 2002 (call me slow) I had the opportunity to make my own analysis of how technology could enhance learning in the context of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority project, Investigation Into Pupils’ Creativity Across The Curriculum, for which I was a consultant.

In 2012 (call me an octogenarian snail) I have tidied up that work into a a rather text-full poster which summarises what I had learnt, mapped on to the model of learning which I use in my practice – expression and evaluation – that poster is coming next!

UPDATE 14th August 2012: I have recreated Snooker using QuiteBasic!

Could Brentwood schools be more like Cambridge University?

Downing College, Cambridge

I have just read Derek Wenmoth’s blog ‘The Wrong Drivers‘ in which he comments on Michael Fullan’s concerns that we are pursuing ineffective school improvement strategies.

Much as though I find it easy to support Michael Fullan’s ideas for the right drivers, Derek Wenmoth’s commentary and Darren Sudlow’s comment, I am not so clear how to overcome the contradictions between a society’s call for accountability and the huge value of open and transparent data as a means of directing improvement in education.

In the UK we are being driven to the mistaken belief that a market should exist for education at every level.  If so, in order for this market to operate properly, the consumer needs to know who is selling the best value product. Unfortunately we don’t fully understand how educational quality is defined, in a way that can allow effective comparison, nor are we clear what price it is to the community (unless we buy private education). The consumer is persuaded to make judgements based on a muddled and (old) fashion-conscious set of beliefs, with narrow and misleading data sets.

This position has encouraged the development of ‘free schools’ (charter schools) based on parental demand rather than community need, but paid for by the community. Recently, one such secondary school is being proposed on the site of the closing Sawyers Hall College, a comprehensive secondary school which is closing this August and of which I am a governor here in Brentwood.

Over the last decade I have witnessed at first-hand the long and detailed deliberation about what our community in Brentwood needs and the extensive efforts to find sponsors for the kind of learning provision identified. One outcome was the realisation that there were too many schools for a declining demographic and so after consultation an agreed, supportive and professional school closure has been carried out over three years with an emotionally moving focus on safeguarding children’s well-being. The new free school proposal takes no notice of this in any way.

In fact the new free school is not needed by the community as a whole, has the wrong mix of values and educational provision and will cause another school closure if successful –  or its own if not – causing further expense and disruption to the community. My concern about this has lead to the formation with four others of the Educating Brentwood group, who are trying to hold educational developments in Brentwood to account (and highlight good practice). For further reading, my response to its unprofessional and poorly reported consultation is appended to this post. I believe the parents who are behind this new school are persuaded that schools in Brentwood are inadequate, and that the only way to improve their children’s life chances is to demand a new school. The basis for this is false evidence of  failure in current schools in Brentwood (the closing school recently received outstanding judgements from OFSTED), naivety and a deep selfishness – ironic when the school is proposed as a church school.

Darren’s call in his comment on Derek’s blog to “make the learning visible to the community” will only help if the institution is seen and trusted as an important partner in whole community development, as Keri Facer suggests, rather than a service to that community.

I suggest that institutional leaders must move from building their organisation as a coherent community in its ivory tower, to becoming more incoherent but embedded locally and in solid partnership with all other institutions in the neighborhood, committed to raising mutual quality hand-in-hand. Parents may then believe that their child’s future is solidly safe in the school most convenient to reach, because all schools in the neighborhood are working together to facilitate the transformation of that most precious of society’s assets – the child.

This call for incoherence and embeddedness challenges the orthodoxy of competitive institutions, walled-in shiny buildings, safeguarding policies, militaristic uniform, faux community engagement (seen as a kind of missionary work), technological firewalls and many other outward signs of institutional power, but not at the expense, one hopes, of the value of the family that school offers and the focus on knowledge sharing & acquisition as an end in itself.

What if there was only one educational institution in Brentwood for all learners and trainees of any age and say like Cambridge University, you attended and ‘lived’ in a college that was modest in size, local to you, but part of that larger institution with its comprehensive opportunities?

Perhaps we can learn from the best university in the world – I think the benefits are obvious.

 

APPENDIX

My Response to Becket Keys, Brentwood Consultation
20th April, 2012Dear Sir/Madam

I am respondng as an individual, I am a governor at Sawyers Hall College and the parent of three children.
I am also a Reader in the Institute for Educational Cybernetics (sustainable education systems) at the University of Bolton and a Director of a nonprofit education consultancy based in Brentwood.
My postcode is CM15 9BZ.

QUESTION 1: Should Becket Keys enter in a Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State?
NO

QUESTION 2: Please give reasons
The Secretary of State should not enter into a Funding Agreement with The Russell Education Trust because the impact on other local schools has not been fully evaluated nor publicly shared with the parents whose demand is the basis of the proposal.

As a governor of the closing school in Brentwood, I fully appreciate the detailed care and attention that must be paid to the children and their parents due to the disruption of closing – a process that has carried on over three years. It is vital not to recreate the situation in Brentwood that causes there to be another closure in a few years – it would be ignoring the lessons of recent history and the real need for vocational education that has been established by extensive analysis and consultation over the last ten years.

The Secretary of State should recognise that the proposers of the free school have deliberately misled the public and parents about this, by publishing incorrect information about admissions, overstating the likely continuing admissions at Sawyers Hall College if it were to remain open. In addition they have incorrectly speculated in their publicity to parents on the numbers of children likely to take up places in selective, independent or other maintained schools, contrary to the evidence.

Furthermore they have propagated the popular myth that an academic approach to teaching and learning is in the interests of every child, when it is clear from the research evidence that there is a diversity of learning styles that require a diversity of teaching approaches. The schools in Brentwood already offer clear pathways to academic children, all of them above average in their results. But there is room for improvement, and this is particularly in the area of learning-by-doing. This does not necessarily sacrifice the opportunity to follow academic pathways as the learner matures and gains confidence. There is also a need to improve the mix of vocational education offered in Brentwood as recognised by more than one extensive, professionally run consultation over the last decade. Our country must improve its position as a manufacturing force in the world, but we seem prepared to ignore those children who would be delighted to put their practical intellectual capability into use in learning, and thus develop the high level skills through this route that the country needs.

The company who are promoting this free school, not the instigators and parents who I believe have acted in good faith, have followed a marketing path to make money, with a reckless disregard for Brentwood and indeed the country’s needs. Their credentials to successfully run the school are unclear and are not revealed when asked. The Secretary of State would be ill-advised to risk our taxpayer’s money on such a funding agreement and should recommend to the company involved that they form an independent school and seek private investment, where their record and experience will be examined very carefully by investors before taking such a step.

As a resident of Brentwood, a parent, a taxpayer and a voter – hence an investor of sorts – on the basis of my own due diligence enquiries and their failure to establish any confidence in the proposing company, I can see no merit in the proposal.

Ultimately, I believe they have established an inflated parental demand on false information – a practice that no reputable business in Brentwood High Street would get away with for long.

QUESTION 3: Should Becket Keys adopt the proposed 2013 Admissions Policy without any further changes?
NO
QUESTION 4: Please give reasons
The admissions policy is over-complicated, will confuse and ultimately obscure the basis for admissions. The schools chosen are not all the closest to the site and it is a significant omission to ignore the demands of parents at St Mary’s Shenfield.

QUESTION 5: I would like to suggest the following change(s) to the proposed 2013 Admissions Policy.
The Admissions policy and its catchment area must be rejected and rethought.

Richard Millwood

Collabor8 4 Change – Conceptual framework for Computing

Following up my presentations in 2007 at Naace in Feltham  ‘The Importance of Computing as a Specialist Subject in Schools‘ and in 2010 at Computing@School in Birmingham ‘Computing at School‘, I am hosting a table at Collabor8 4 Change at BETT 2012 this year .

Titled ‘Conceptual framework for computing‘ it is planned to be a discussion of how we can be clearer about the nature of the computing subject at primary and secondary level and in particular how we can know better the continuity and progression for learners.

My challenge, in the context of computing and ICT  is:

  1. I believe we need to find out what knowledge children can attain at which age
  2. I suggest we could do mass practitioner research to answer that question
  3. What’s wrong with this proposition?

Here are the few slides to kick off the discussion – I shall add an update to this post when we have had it!

UPDATE 13/1/2012 after attending:

The two sessions went well, with interesting feedback. For most participants, there were more important issues at the level of teacher competence, school organisation and the government’s upheaval of ICT and Computing, which deserved more debate time. On the other hand few felt that I was wrong!

I enjoyed Kathryn Day’s session, ‘ ICT vs Computer Programming curriculum ‘ which usefully contrasted the many documents that inform (or confuse) the practitioner when planning.

I also attended Chris Ratcliffe’s session ‘ How much should pupils be, or feel, in charge of their work? ‘ which clarified some of the barriers to further responsibility being transferred to pupils, whilst agreeing it as a good thing.

Finally I joined Steve Philip for his session ‘Curating the past is more important than creating the future’ in which he proposed the term ‘curativity’ – the act of curating the avalanche of creative work made possible in schools with digital tools through selection, deletion, categorisation and preservation/presentation for an audience. Highly relevant to the National Archive of Educational Computing!

Well done to all the presenters & participants and to  the organisers: Penny Patterson, Dave Smith and Terry Freedman and to compère Russel Prue – the round tables format has a lot to recommend it, with more time for exchange in contrast to the more theatrical Teachmeet.