Learning with dirty hands…

So this weekend just gone I sat down with my daughter (who turns five next week) and spent the best part of the morning swapping out the front forks of my mountain bike. This was something I had never done before, and something I was a little nervous about, but as I was keen to get back on the bike after quite a hiatus, I waded in.

We started, Miss K and I, sitting in front of YouTube clicking on a number of various videos on the topic until we found one that seemed to have someone credible explaining the process, and began to listen. Thankfully the office is only two steps from the garage, so over the course of the next few hours we listened and learned and applied, and listened and learned and applied, and so on. I undid this, wrenched that, smacked the round thingy with a hammer, greased this, tightened that and in the end successfully swapped out the old broken forks for the exciting new functional forks. Then I jumped on, rode out onto the street and proceeded to enjoy that feeling of riding a full-suspension mountain bike in places where bikes are generally not supposed to go.

It was a great morning that started with a very clear end goal which I had no idea how to achieve. I researched, analysed and filtered information at hand to direct my own learning and then immediately applied it. I got dirty. I made mistakes. I repeated a number of steps a number of times. I became frustrated. And at the end of the day I rode my bike off a two foot high ledge and lived to tell the tale!

And all the while my daughter was watching me, handing me tools, bringing me cold drinks and telling me stories. She clapped when I jumped on and rode the bike.

I hope when my daughter goes to school that her learning will be self-directed, engaging, relevant, challenging and rewarding. From day one. Every day. If not, I’ll be telling her teachers a little story about the day I swapped out the front forks of my mountain bike…


Reaching Out!

“Data Driven” is the term that is driving me at the moment! I am working at pulling together all the separate data repositories we have at the school into one database, to then be able to run some analytics to inform the decision making at the school. The vision of the end result is a compelling one – having a data dashboard at ones fingertips that will allow a quick and easy way of accessing data on all aspects of the school. The reality of having one’s head stuck in spreadsheets, databases and VBA is not quite as inspiring!

And so it was that I reached a point with a certain spreadsheet where I could do no more. The nearly eighteen thousand rows of data needed to be moved so that some of the rows joined other rows to give in the end, one row per student per subject and there was no way I was going to do that manually! So I began to learn.

I tried to write some formulas to move the data. IF this, THEN do this and this and this. Didn’t work. OFFSET this by this much and then move up and down and OFFSET it again and again and again. A big mess! Use a MACRO to record some steps and then run the MACRO. Disaster. Write a script to do all the moves, and use the Excel coding language VBA to do it. Here I was on to something.

I found a couple of forums with people asking for help with something almost the same. I downloaded a Powerpoint presentation titled “VBA Basics” (obviously designed for someone who knew C++, Python, Java and Klingon) and was thoroughly bamboozled. I almost offered up a project to a crowdsourcing website but was shunted off onto a siding with the idea of posting to a forum to see if anyone could help.

So that’s what I did. Sample spreadsheet uploaded, conundrum sufficiently explained, smilies inserted, I hit submit and bookmarked the page. Maybe someone would read it.

Twenty minutes later, a forum-person (of gender undeterminable by their forum monicker) had posted what could have been the transcript of Spock’s first words to his parents, but what I was reliably informed was VBA, with instructions on how to add it to the Excel spreadsheet and how to make it do its thing. Sixty seconds later I was sitting amazed. Nearly eighteen-thousand rows of data, reduced to one-thousand in under twenty minutes.

So what did I learn today?

In order to accomplish something that you don’t know how to do, you need to do some research to learn as much as you can about what it is you don’t know. When you know exactly what it is you don’t know, and know that there is no way you will know what it is you need to know within the given time constraints, reach out. There is already someone out there who knows, and if you know how to find the person who knows, then maybe they will help you.

In my role as Tech Director of the school I call that a “Massive Win”. But if I was a student in one of the classes in my school, his/her teacher would probably call that a “Massive Cheat”.

I’ll save that conversation for later!



You have probably seen it.

I sat glued to the television for nearly 45 minutes along with another 8 million enthralled viewers and YouTube numbers are clicking over into the hundreds of thousands as I type. A man. Jumping out of a hot air balloon. From a long, long, long way up in the air, so far in fact, that he had left the air behind!

It has been a long time since I truly “marveled” at something. Various dictionaries refer to “wonder” and “astonishment” in their definitions and at once I completely agree. I was full of wonder. I was astonished. This was something I had never seen before – that no-one had ever seen before. I vividly remember the first time I watched the footage of the August 16, 1960 moment when Joe Kittinger climbed over the edge of his balloon gondola and dropped from 31 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and remember finding it equally as marvelous, wonderful and astonishing. I could talk about nothing else for days.

And this morning as I rode with my cycling buddies on our regular morning ride what were we all talking about? Yep, Mr Baumgartner!

What if he had drifted too far into the stratosphere and had simply floated, suspended in zero gravity after stepping from the safety of his capsule? What if he had run out of oxygen? What if he had passed out during the free fall? We were alive with 23.5km of comments and questions and what ifs and almost didn’t notice the 34˚C enveloping us as we pedaled.

And now as I sit, recovering from the 23.5km with a delightfully cool bottle of water in my hands, I am pondering why “marvelous” has only now decided to pay a visit. Why has “marvelous” been out on the road, visiting others and leaving the coat hook in my entrance hall empty. What is it about my day to day meanderings that has caused our paths to cross so infrequently? And more to the point, what can I serve up on a Friday night that will entice “marvelous” to visit more often?

I’m not sure I know the answer, but maybe just the acknowledgement that I need to have the welcome mat out more often, to have my eyes open in expectation and to have a ready seat at the table will be enough to find “marvelous” ringing the door bell.

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