It being a lovely evening this evening, I convinced Ewan McAndrew, our Wikimedian, to walk to the station with me, taking a circuitous route to snap some photos for the Wiki Loves Monuments competition. Last we checked, we were getting properly humped by our UK cousins in the image upload stakes. Given that we are rubbish at football, rugby, weather, and healthy eating we need to have some sort of win for our national pride. Also we live in a city with UNESCO World Heritage status, so there must be the odd good shot or two out there.
Typically as soon as we stepped out of our office building the sun slid behind the clouds and then slowly sank down below the rooflines. Curses. Nevertheless, we persevered.
In our short 40 minutes we discovered many treats: a beautiful mosaic over the door of an otherwise unremarkable bank; an art deco style telephone exchange; St Cuthbert’s Cooperative Society; and our final destination – Gardner’s Cresent – a late Georgian Street, cast adrift from the rest of the New Town and now sandwiched in on all sides by a ram-jam mix of other architecture.
Gardner’s Crescent was built in 1822, on land feued by William Gardner, to a design by architects R & R Dickson. The crescent is an “unbroken arc of fifty-two bays” with a pretty little communal garden seperating it from Rosebank Cottages on the other side of the street. The gardens were refurbished and re-planted as a community space after a local campaign to return them to their pre-WW2 state (the railings were removed for smelting in WW2). J.K. Rowling apparently rented a small flat here for a short time and found it depressing.
Prior to William Gardner’s ownership, the land was owned from 1722 by the Society and Fraternity of Gardeners and a large building called Gardener’s Hall stood on the land. The Free Gardeners were a form of mutual aid and insurance society, quite strongly influence by Freemasonry. The first lodge was formed in 1676 in Haddington and the last lodge in Dunfermline closed in the mid 1980s.
A rare treat this evening to take a slow meandering route to the station and look a little more closely at this fine city.
In reading a little more about Universal Design I have learned that there are 7 Principals (first drafted in 1997):
Principle 1: Equitable Use
Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
Principle 4: Perceptible Information
Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Each principal is broken down into 4 or 5 key points and one in particular leapt out at me.
5d. Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.
At the same time as reading about this I have been reading Tijmen Schep’s lovely book “Design my Privacy”. He has 8 principals in his book including:
2. Think like a hacker. Many pitfalls can be avoided by better anticipating and concepting options for abuse.
Many of the big-data gathering social network platforms have had significant investment to make them as usual as possible by as many people as possible. These platforms are explicitly designed to encourage unconscious action when vigilance is actually just what is needed.
Working with teenagers is the most wonderful, inspiring, challenging and life-affirming privilege.
Having done it for over twenty years, I am absolutely delighted that in the last three, I have discovered research and literature that backs up my rather intuitive feeling that we need to look very carefully the way we teach and interact with teenagers.
There are five key messages that inform my practice as a secondary school leader;
1. Teenagers are not just big children or young adults. They are a valid entity in their own right. Adolescence is not something to be survived or tolerated. It is an exciting phase of development where we need to nurture and facilitate.
2. Everyone who works with or parents teenagers needs to look at latest research.
3. Schools need to accept that educating teenagers is not easy within a system where one adult who represents authority has to manage the energies, personalities and potential of approximately 30 adolescents in a confined space for around an hour at a time. But difficult is not impossible. Allowing spaces for creativity and risk-taking with safe boundaries is essential.
4. Becoming more sensitive to what your peers think and less concerned about what adults think is an essential part of attaching to the people who you will make your future with. To tell a teenager to ignore peer pressure is to underestimate the importance of peer to peer connection.
5. We adults need to remember that when teenagers rebel, it is never personal. You can hate me for now but my continued love for you is what will help you. You can push against my boundaries but I will continue to hold them so that you better understand the world.
For the last two years, I have taught a module on the teenage brain to fourth year pupils at school.
This year I am also running a workshop for parents and carers.
The work starts with discussion of words and thoughts that spring to mind when pupils hear the word “teenager”.
When I say “discussion”, I handle this very carefully. Asking teenagers to talk about personal issues in front of their peers when sensitivity to peers is so heightened can be unwise and so I elicit responses in ways that make it easier to elicit honest responses: for example ideas written anonymously on small bits of paper which I read and then destroy.
I ask pupils to suggest teenagers as they are presented in books, films, songs and the news and we reflect on the types or role models that these teenagers are.
If anyone wants a PowerPoint with links to all these resources, I can email one.
There is so much out there and so much to be excited about.
We must #CelebrateTeenSept and I will finish with Yaamin’s words from “Brainstorm”:
You say to me
Your brain is broken.
It’s like an adult’s brain but it doesn’t work properly.
It’s like you’re in a city you’ve never been to and you don’t have a map and you don’t know what you’re doing.
And you keep taking the wrong turns.
Listen to me.
One day you’ll be okay.
Your brain will start working properly.
One day your brain will be just like mine and then you’ll be okay.
But until then:
You’ve got to try and be more…like me.
I say to you
My brain isn’t broken.
I’m in a city I’ve never been to and I see bright lights and new ideas and fear and opportunity and a thousand million roads all lit up and flashing.
I say there are so many places to explore but you’ve forgotten that they exist because every day you walk the same way with your hands in your pockets and your eyes on the floor.
When I’m wild and out of control it’s because I’m finding out who I am.
And if I was a real wild animal
Then I’d of left by now.
My brain isn’t broken
It’s like this for a reason
I’m like this for a reason
I’m becoming who I am
And I’m scared
And you’re scared
Because who I am might not be who you want me to be.
Or who you are.
And I don’t know why but I don’t say
It’s all going to be okay.
There are so many things I stopped saying to you.
I want to say them.
But I can’t.
Brainstorm Copyright @2016 Ned Glasier, Emily Lim and Company Three. Shared with the kind permission of Ned Glasier, who I had the great privilege to know when he was a teenager.
Today I acquired a new role* (along with the names that others already call me, some of which I am sure are unprintable). I am now officially a Data Steward. In my institution this is defined as follows:
The Data Steward is responsible for maintaining the security of their dataset; setting access requirements for the data; documenting the data made available to other services, and establishing processes to ensure the quality of the data. They have a duty to ensure that restricted and confidential data is managed securely and appropriately, that the data is made available only to those people and systems that need access, and that access is provided in keeping with legislation and the University’s internal policies. If the data includes any personal data, they are also responsible for completing a Data Protection Impact Assessment.
Thanks to a lot of hardwork from our Enterprise Architecture team I am now one of a network of Data Stewards across our institution and we also have a catalogue of all of our key data sources.
Yesterday Amy Collier’s article Digital Sanctuary: Protection and Refuge on the Web? was published in EDUCAUSE Review. I would like to think that this hard work on the part of my colleagues to whip us into shape takes us some way towards the principles that Amy lays out.
* This is one of those special roles that we all do as part of our existing jobs. Rewards are the warm fuzzies that come with being responsible with our student and staff data.
This is the message that my pupils are getting in the bulletin on Monday.
A message from Mrs Carter
At lunchtimes, we want to give you freedom to be with your friends, have some less structured time and get a break from strict supervision.
We trust you to behave in a way towards each other that ensures that everyone feels happy and relaxed.
If you cannot do this, there will be very serious consequences, so before you speak to anyone at lunchtime, stop and consider the following:
Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
If you cannot be kind to others in this school community, I will need to supervise you until you learn to be so.
This week Twitter’s creepy-a$$ed algorithms have spotted me tuning into a bit of InfoSec chit-chat on the train, and nerding it up with colleagues who care about student online presence and the like. As a result the algorithmic sewer pipe has spewed out a particularly good selection of scary internet sh1t. For your delectation and enjoyment – here’s a small selection of the ickiest stuff I saw this week:
Well, we all had conniptions about this one. What’s wonderful about is the way it takes surveillance capitalism and pushes it just that one nudge further along. Be spied on! Also work for Amazon for free! Still get a massive pile of University debt at the end! Yay!
“We demonstrate how a smartphone and portable speaker playing music with embedded, inaudible signals can track multiple individuals’ locations and activities both within a room and through barriers in 2D space. We achieve this by transforming a smartphone into an active sonar system that emits a combination of a sonar pulse and music and listens to the reactions of humans in the environment.”
Read the rest of this paper. Then flush your smartphone down the loo and never let that b1tch Alexa in your house.
“We want to preserve for eternity the memories, ideas, creations and stories of billions of people. Think of it like a library that has people instead of books, or an interactive history of the current and future generations.
An invaluable treasure for humanity.”
Which kind of library is that then? The free-to-use public kind? Yeah. Thought not.
Here’s a piece that I wrote in September last year for a poster about the Mortuary Chapel murals. The photos below are my own, and a bit rubbish. Shortly we hope to have a new set of CC licensed photos.
…a piece of illumination enlarged
Phoebe Anna Traquair painted three significant mural schemes within Edinburgh. The first of these, a decoration for the mortuary chapel of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, remains the least well known and least accessible.
In April of 1885 Traquair was approached by the Edinburgh Social Union and asked if she would decorate a converted coalhouse on the original hospital site at Lauriston Lane, now to be used as a mortuary chapel. The building was small, only 3 metres by 4 metres, but the hospital ladies committee hoped that it could become “a suitable place where the bodies can be left reverently and lovingly for the parents before the burials”. As a mother of three children herself, Traquair was happy to accept the commission.
The decorations were completed in 1886 and strongly reflect themes of motherhood. In a time when as many as 8% of children did not live to see their first birthday, Traquair aimed to offer comfort and support to grieving parents through her decoration scheme. In style she draws on interpretations of mediaeval illuminated manuscripts and Byzantine art, and a review in the Scottish Art Review in 1889 refers to the murals as “A piece of illumination enlarged”.
In 1891 the Sick Children’s hospital moved to a new site at Rillbank in Sciennes and the little chapel was abandoned. Then, thanks to a petition led by Traquair herself, in 1894 some of the murals were successfully transported to a new purpose-built mortuary chapel. Although the old hospital site had been acquired by the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh the murals were at serious risk of slow destruction as the chapel was no longer being used, and it was felt that the risks of moving them were no worse that leaving them in place. There were significant technical and logistical difficulties; indeed some of the panels were moved and installed still attached to the bricks of the old building.
As the new mortuary was larger than the original, panels from the first scheme were repaired, surrounded with fresh plaster, and the spaces filled with an enlarged decoration scheme. Although the two schemes are united by their use of colour, the second scheme deliberately uses a simpler and more childlike manner.
The mortuary chapel remains in use within the Sick Children’s Hospital to this day, and the building now has a Category A heritage listing reflecting its importance. Curtains were first installed in the 1970s so that the murals can be covered when required, as the religious themes reflected in the images are not always appropriate.
“…in some ways I shall never
do better or maybe as well”
In a published 1899 interview Phoebe Traquair considered this to be her ‘finest piece of work’, and the murals are the sole survivor of around 20 commissions instigated by the Edinburgh Social Union. However, this mural scheme painted across two sites in two separate decades again faces an uncertain future. With the relocation of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children to a new building at Little France in 2018, the existing site at Sciennes will be put up for sale as a commercial development opportunity in late 2016.
I read a short excerpt from Katherine Mansfield’s journals today, along with her short story “Bliss”. Pears and pear trees feature in both.
“They were so bright, canary yellow – and small. And the peel was so thin and the pips jet – jet black.”
It’s hard to grow pears outdoors this far north. Our growing season is too short; our winds are too sharp; our nights are too cold. I’ve tried, and only ever managed to produce a single, small, hard, bitter fruit.
I’ve been thinking again this week about my maternal grandparents. They were young adults in the 1930s and 40s and like all of that generation, their lives were affected by WW2. I remember after my grandfather died in 2002, helping my mother to empty the bureau in the dining room of his house (now in the dining room of my house). Amongst lists and other administrative debris we found letters between my grandparents written during the war. I sat and read a few at the time and they contained deep affection and quite ordinary wishes – to be home, to go dancing together, to simply have each other’s company. Pedestrian on the one hand, but striking on the other in that war puts even the most pedestrian wishes out of reach. I have a vague memory of my grandfather, or maybe it was my mother, telling me about signing up when war broke out. He was a young man working for Barclay’s bank and he and some of his fellow employees were advised by an older colleague that they should sign up quickly. Not a rush of patriotic fervour but a dose of brutal pragmatism left over from the last war; sign up and choose where you go – don’t wait to be conscripted. I believe my grandfather joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, a non fighting arm of the military.
My grandmother died when I was very young and when she was also young (11 and 68). Her third round with cancer. I was very close to her and it’s her I take after most in my family. My siblings are both over 6 foot tall and bean poles, my sister has inherited my mother’s way with numbers. By comparison I am the family oompah-loompah – 5’5″ on a good day – with a decidedly suspicious bent towards the humanities and a slightly evil sense of humour. I was sent for solo holidays to balmy Kent from the age of about 7 and learned to knit, sew, play Canasta and other card games. Most of the card games involving bluffing and my grandmother was superb. When she was dying I was given the choice to see her and spent a week in and out of Guy’s Hospital in London with my mother instead of being at school.
My grandfather died suddenly and peacefully at 82 and I helped my mother organise his wake. Afterwards I started to empty and clean his kitchen cabinets and the wardrobe in the spare room. The memory of war remained strong for many of his generation and I know a number of older members of my family hoarded sugar until the day they died. Many kilos of sugar, kilos of dried fruit, litres of malt vinegar were stashed away. He died in October and the Bramley apple and the pear tree in the garden were both laden with fruit. It was a shame to see all the fruit going to waste, particularly the pears that I can’t grow. I stripped the pear tree and using some of the apples for bulk along with the dried fruit, made jars and jars of pear chutney. The last thing I learned in that house was how to make preserves. The preserving pan came north with me filled with jars of “Funeral chutney”.
30 years ago today I turned 18. I cried for most of the morning. 30 years ago to the day, I also received my A Level results and “only” got 2 As and a B so was not going to be accepted into my chosen university.
The tears were related to the results and not the birthday, which should have been a day of celebration and joy.
Of course, I had done incredibly well. But I felt a failure. The system of exams and university entrance, so divisive and narrow in its definition of “success” and “intelligence”, had led me to equate value with being able to do well in exams.
No matter that I was a good, kind person, a creative and talented singer and actor and a deep but slightly chaotic thinker.
In the end, I got a place by re-applying the following year. But the experience having “failed” on the basis of a few hours sitting in a stuffy hall and spewing out all I could remember about French, German and Politics hit me hard.
Having worked in education for over twenty-five years, I have seen attempts to challenge the system come and go:
The revival of Drama and other creative subjects in the noughties;
The accreditation of work experience;
The inclusion of Key Skills in A and AS levels;
The attempt by organisations like the RSA to promote the value skills-based qualifications.
And in Scotland, where I now work, the creation of a new Curriculum For Excellence qualifications system that allows pupils to be assessed without an exam.
But what are we doing in Scotland? We are talking about re-introducing the exam into our National 4 (lower tier GCSE equivalent) as seemingly people don’t value it without one.
In fact, all that needs to happen is that we need to do the PR better. Pupils, parents and the universities need to be persuaded that exams are only one way of assessing pupils, alongside many other equally valid methods.
Exams are indeed often a memory test. And they are easy to administer and mark.
But let’s not pretend that easy is best for our children or for the future of our country.
When I go in tomorrow for our first day of term and ask my colleagues to analyse our exam results, I will be just as interested in the non-exam results; in the non-examined National 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s.
But I will also be keen to hear the narrative around each child and to reflect on how well we have supported them in their journey to become educated and achieving in the broadest sense; to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can.