Monday, May 21, 2007

An interesting quote...

“There is an inverse relationship between control and trust.”
--David Weinberger
This is from a buzzmachine post. It continues saying:
The more you hand over control, the more trust you earn. True of
media, business, government. He also said that trust is not a goal but an
enabler: if you have trust, you can do more.
Spotted on

"May your perfidy ramify through your life..."

By change, I found an interesting blog yesterday. The Rate Your Students blog is a site where (mainly) college and university professors write the letters they wish they could send to their students.

Anyone who has ever said, "Teaching university must be great - the students actually want to be there" should check out this blog.

Things I Wish I Could Do at School

Seven things that I wish I could do at school that would make my life easier. I don't feel they're out of line... Honest.
  • Use secure logins. The server is set to deny all secure web pages (any https://) making the use of sites such as impossible. We used to be able to login to these sites, but now we can't, making our maths wiki ( nearly pointless. (And as far as even accessing wikispaces or blogger, forget it.) Repeated requests to our head of ICT have been ignored.
  • Access flickr. Several months ago we had an ICTAC (ICT Across the Curriculum) inset. There, the main ICT guy from the Borough asked us how we used ICT in our other lessons. I explained how I was using some of my own photographs on flickr to illustrate real-life examples of maths. As an extra bonus, I mentioned flickr maps as a way to tie geography into the whole thing. The very next day, flickr was blocked. Repeated requests for unblocking (including written lesson plans showing how I planned to use it) have been ignored.
  • Access Google images. Tasked with creating exciting learning experiences (ugh...see earlier post below) for use on the electronic whiteboard, finding images (copyright-free images, of course) would be much easier if I had access to an image search engine. When I questioned this with my head of ICT, I was told that "people might look up pictures of 'oral sex'."
  • Use a USB flash drive. Creating lesson material at home and transporting it to school would be much easier if I was allowed to use a USB flash drive (rather than emailing the huge files or burning them to CD). And the reason for not being able to use one isn't for any virus or security issue. No, the answer I was given by our computer technician was that "the computer needs a driver and they don't make that driver." (Although at an INSET at a different school, my USB flash drive worked perfectly on their computers - same computers, same version of Windows.) When I asked our head of ICT about using one, his answer was, "What would you want to use one of those for?"
  • Back up my files from the school server to a DVD. We have some new computers, each equipped with DVD burners. After a server crash earlier this year (resulting in a lengthy visit to the data recovery people), I figured it would be good to backup my data and, since I have quite a few large PowerPoint files and photographs, a DVD is a more sensible answer than a handful of CDs. Unfortunately, Nero keeps asking me to request certain network privileges before it can continue. This was met with a rather blank look from our computer technician.
  • Open a MS Office document without having to install the program every time. Yes, any time we want to open a document (Word, PowerPoint or Excel), the program must first install itself, every time. (And I'm talking about the same computer I just logged out of the lesson before.) And, to create a new file in Word, PowerPoint or Excel the user must first click on an existing document (which fails to open but prompts the computer to install the program). This is happening to all the users and we have been reporting it since January.
  • Print. Yes, I know. Seems silly, really, doesn't it? I mean, why would I want to actually print something from the computer? After all, it wouldn't open without installing the program first, it wouldn't be anything I created at home, and it wouldn't have any catchy images.

As an educational professional, I am always looking for ways to bring new ideas into my teaching. The buzz nowadays seems to be about using ICT resources across the curriculum. Unfortunately, however, the above seven items share just a few of my frustrations.

Instead of "use ICT resources across the curriculum," what they actually mean (in many cases) is "use only the ICT resources that I understand." Why do the people in charge of ICT not seem to understand the things going on in ICT?

Last week, we had a young up-and-coming pop singer visit our school. At one point, her manager asked the kids if any of then used myspace. Hands went up across the hall, from kids as young as year 5 (ten years old).

Every one of the seven things listed above is something that would help me use existing (and free) technology to help make maths more interesting and personally relevant to the kids I teach. They use myspace. They download music onto iPods. Their mobile phones have more computing power than my first computer. Trust me, if they can figure out those things, they can use Word or PowerPoint.

What we need to do is give them a reason to want to.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bite-Sized Books

Like your literature in small chunks? is offering books sliced into five-minute chunks and delivered to your inbox. Free.

(Just to give you an idea, I've chosen Don Quixote. It's 448 chunks. I'm receiving the chunks each day, so it will only take me 64 weeks to read. That's only 16 months...)

I'm intrigued but at the same time, desperately trying to to roll my eyes. (The site's probably not for the several-book-a-week crowd.)

But then again, War and Peace is 675 chunks. At one chunk each weekday, that's 135 weeks or more than two-and-a-half years. So, about the same time as reading the actual book, then.

What's wrong with education today?

Recently, there has been a kerfuffle when people learned that a new secondary school (ages 11-16) here in England was to be built without a playground. And it's not just any school, either. It's an academy, one of the new state schools that is seen by some as being the end-all and be-all in education.

(For those not in England, it's not like an elementary school playground with swings and slides. It's more of a large, open area for kids to run around in. More of a kick-the-ball and hang out with friends. Though many middle and high schools in the States don't have any break times during the school day, it's a major feature in England. There's generally a mid-morning break and then lunch time when kids eat and run around before returning to class.)

The Head of the new school said,
"Pupils will be able to hydrate during the learning experience."
That's my problem. (Not necessarily the lack of a playground.)
First, why not just say, "pupils will be allowed water bottles in class"?
Second, why call it "the learning experience"?
  • Evidently, we're no longer supposed to prepare people to cope in the real world...we're supposed to provide a good experience. (As long as it's fun, who cares if they're learning?)
  • Evidently, we're no longer supposed to expect children to be responsible citizens...we're supposed to provide a good experience. (As long as they're enjoying it, who cares if they're learning?)
  • Evidently, we're no longer supposed to have children think for themselves...we're supposed to provide a good experience. (As long as it's bright and flashy, who cares if they're learning?
(An interesting side note... Here's a tip for teachers. If you have an electronic white board in your room, be sure it's always on and showing something bright and colorful. It doesn't matter if you use it or how you use it. As long as it's on when your boss walks through, you're seen as providing a good learning experience. Honestly. They never ask you to justify using the electronic white board. Of course, they'll always ask you to justify not using it. Which proves that providing an experience is more important to the people in charge than providing an education.)
Okay, I'm not totally cynical. There need to be ways to of combining learning with "experiences". It's just that, from all I've seen, there's always more emphasis on the experience and not enough on the learning. (See interesting side note above.)

There's an interesting concept called experience economy - "an advanced service economy which has begun to sell "mass customization" services that are similar to theatre, using underlying goods and services as props."

I have some things to think about before I write more...

The original article.
Click to google the phrase to see what a lot of bloggers have to say about it.
Here's one Head's reaction to the article.

Some links about experiences vs. services or products.
Selling Experiences
Experience Packages
Why selling services is not enough.

More on experience economy.

Today's Mathematics Quote

In mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them.

--Johann von Neumann,
US (Hungarian-born)
computer scientist, mathematician
(1903 - 1957)
I wonder what they'll make of that at the next staff meeting?



Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

Seen yesterday along the Thames.

The light at the end of the tunnel...

The light at the end of the tunnel...
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames. really just more of Windsor.

A Convenient Sign

A Convenient Sign
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

I saw this sign yesterday in a private park in London. I really think we need a similar one at school!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Do I get to be a spy now?

Eye Spy Magazine Cover
Originally uploaded by

I was browsing WH Smith today (a book and magazine shop) and saw one I hadn't seen before.

Eye Spy Magazine

The top line (the tiny print) says " Read By the Worldwide Intelligence Community"

The next line (just above the title) says "The Covert World of Espionage"

Well, it's nice to know that even super-covert spies have their own professional journal.

Marching Orders?

Today's Daily Telegraph reported that the British Army is so understaffed that they have put their military bands on standby to replace soldiers in Cyprus. Understandably, some of the bandsmen are concerned, due in no small part to the fact that, evidently, once they finish their basic training, they don't keep up their soldiering training.

So I'm sure it was only a coincidence that Army officials were quoted as such:
Whitehall officials indicated that deploying the bandsmen to Cyprus "remained a possibility" but added that the Army "had to be flexible during a period of high operational tempo".

Original story here.

A Very Useful Website

Today I stumbled across It's a great resource for people visiting and travelling around the UK. One feature I particularly like is the Ideas section. Spare time? Not sure what to do? Click on Ideas and the Events for a month-by-month list of suggestions.

Here's May's list.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Something I Learned Today

I was reading Focus magazine (a BBC science weekly) and learned that the author Beatrix Potter was one of the first people to discover the scientific concept of symbiosis - the cooperative relationships between two or more organisms.

It seems that nobody took her idea seriously so she wrote books about small animals instead. It's a shame she couldn't have been allowed to do both.

(A google search can bring up several sources of information about Beatrix Potter and symbiosis.)

A Quote for the Day

Good judgement comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgement.

--Jim Horning

Of course, this assumes that the "bad-judger" actually learns the bad judgement...

From "Quotes of the Day" that I get on my iGoogle page (they just recently named the customized page "iGoogle" rather than "your customized page"...ugh).


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Wonders of Wikipedia

Wikipedia. It's addictive, I tell you. You look up one thing...something else catches your click...find something else... (It's the same thing as with a regular encyclopedia only this way you don't have to keep going back to the shelf for a different volume.)

Among the interesting things I learned today (either directly from Wikipedia or by clicking on a link):

The UK has 19,000 officially allotted phone numbers to be used for fictional purposes (TV, radio, etc.)

The US, by comparison, has the well-known 555 prefix. Officially, though, "only 555-0100 through 555-0199 are now specifically reserved for fictional use." (That's in each area code, though.)

Several countries have issued banknotes made from polymers, including Bulgaria (actually, it's a paper/polymer note) with a plastic window. (They actually have see-through holes in them! I thought they felt weird...)

The UK built an underground city-sized bunker in Wiltshire. It covered hundreds of acres and had miles of roads. Plus a pub (it IS England, you know!).

In ancient Mayan culture, the tail feathers of the quetzal bird were used as currency. The current monetary unit of Guatemala is still known as the quetzal.

A crucial tool for education writing.

Do you long to visualize mastery-focused critical thinking? Could you cultivate compelling enrichment for your pupils? You could even triangulate classroom-based solutions.

All you need it this link:

With one click on this link, you too can use disintermediate visionary business partnerships...I mean...write near-meaningless educational phrases. Think of the fun at the next meeting!

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Travel is broadening...

Zurich - iced tea with Swiss cannabis
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

That's what my mother tells me.

And she's right. Until I changed planes in Zurich, I never knew you could buy "Ice Tea with Swiss Cannabis" from a drink machine at the airport.

Royal Windsor Horse Show

Windsor - Horse Show sign
Originally uploaded by

This weekend I went to the Royal Windsor Horse Show, held on the private grounds of Windsor Castle. I know almost nothing about horses (usually large, four legs, long face) but thought it would be interesting.

I tramped through the mud, saw the Royal Signals White Helmets motorcycle display team, some kids on tiny ponies, people on large horses, and some nice food and drink stalls. Plus lots of Land Rovers (including some that used to belong to the Queen).

Oh yes, and the Queen was there. (But not in the Land Rovers.)

More photos here:

The Royal Windsor Horse Show:

The White Helmets:

Windsor Castle - Round Tower

Windsor Castle - Round Tower
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

I got a new phone in March and it's come in quite handy. I took this picture at Windsor Castle on a lovely day in March.

Maths in real life?

Harrod's - incorrect label
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

This was spotted in Harrod's in London just before Easter. They have conveniently included the percents of each major ingredient. I guess it's just full of 120% goodness!

Friday, May 11, 2007

A funny maths quote

"Of course, we all know there are really 10 types of people: those who understand binary, and those who don't!"

--seen on

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Millennium Dome - London

The Millennium Dome - London
Originally uploaded by

A wonderful view from the DLR station on Monday as I returned from London City Airport.

You can see the Millennium Dome, now called 'The O2'.

On knowing geography...

On knowing geography...
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames

My hotel in Luxembourg offered this handy phone-dialing-and-charge list. I was interested to note that evidently Alaska and Hawaii are no longer part of the 50 United States (although you'd be charged the same for a phone call to those places as to any of the other 48).

(According to Babelfish, the phrase "plage réduite" means "reduced beach" though I'm not sure how that relates to phone calls to North America.)

Idiot Proof Instructions?

Idiot Proof Instructions?
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

A café in Windsor has this set of instructions on the milk dispenser. Over here, the word "lever" is pronounced to rhyme with "beaver".