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Playtime in the fisherman’s boat

Now there are two, but there was only we could play in at our backdoor when we stayed here as children. A second was upturned and full of nettles. There is film of a five, six, seven, eight and nine year old sitting in this boat: cousins.

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Searching for treasure on the rocks at Beadnell

Fig.1 The pebbles on the rock beach, Beadnell, Northumberland

Head down to watch you step on slippery rocks gives you the chance to hunt for treasure. As a boy I returned home with interesting stones and fossils. Forty years on I see what could be a piece of ripening fruit, an ammonite and a stone covered in tiny balls of frozen water which won’t last ten minutes in the late December son.

The perils of the Beadnell Rocks

Fig.1 The sea racing in along rock fissures on the easterly facing pebble and rock beaches of Beadnell

This fingers of seaweed covered rock are a short walk from the cottage where we stayed every Easter and Summer from as early as I can remember. Age seven or eight I was usually off on my own or with friends to hunt through the rock pools at low tide or to fish. I lost a rod around here and had to make a snap decision: enter the weed to try and retrieve it, or accept the lost. I accepted the loss. A boy growing up around here has considerable respect for the evil of the sea, its depth and desire to cling you in.

More to remember about Beadnell …

Fig.1 Dunstanburgh Castle from Beadnell Bay at dusk this morning

Fig.2 The tide coming in across The Point, Beadnell at sun up.

Fig.3 Something I never knew about The Point where I played as a child. 

Fig.4 The sea pushing in through fissures between the rocks and pools

Fig.5. The low cliffs, fingers of rock and pools where I scrambled.

Fig.6 A drain that intrigued me age 5, or 6 or 7. In a storm the waves came up through it. 

This was my playground until the age of 11 or 12. Easter, Summer and even half-term and weekends were spent here. Just two walks forty years later and the smell of wet sand in the dunes takes me back to being a boy – easy to scrambled around the dunes when you are seven. The rocks, the different textures under foot, the mesmerising waves that approached closer along the rocks as the tide came in, the birds and occasional seal, the Longstone Lighthouse always flashing its presence in the distance.

The foghorn lulled me to sleep. The noise of waves constantly crashing on the rocks changes from the loud chatting of people before the curtain goes up, to a jet coming into land … it rumbles gently, or angrily according to its mood (and yours).

Yesterday I had the briefest of conversations with someone who had a deep Northumbrian accent that sounds like Norweigian spoken with an English accent.

Somehow had left two unfinished cups of coffee and a big of a burger on the stonewall above the rocks. I carried it for 15 minutes until I found a bin. The flotsam is different to forty years ago: red bull and a body board.

French tongue twisters are doubly troubling for the English tongue

From E-Learning V

 Fig.1. Un chasseur sachant : a tongue-twister in French

I just stumbledupon this fun, fun, fun way to pick up some fresh French vocabulary AND with some exceedingly difficult tongue twisters to take your mouth to the gym – very necessary if you are to pronounce much correctly in French. After three minutes of these you’ll feel as if you’ve been chewing the entire packet of ten sticks of Wrigleys’ Spearmint Gum simultaneously.

How to take notes for effective studying and assessment

Fig.1. The muddy sides of the River Ouse, Piddinghoe. At low tide.

We are very good at forgetting: it’s vital.

We see, feel, sense far too much in our daily lives (which includes when asleep). Come to think of it what on earth was I doing on a student exchange to North America last night where I am twenty years older than my hosts … (probably sums up how I feel about the workplace).

See. Some memories are made for us, or by us whether or not we want them.

Learning though requires us to gather, create and retain stuff. Some of this stuff is forgettable; it doesn’t resonate, or is poorly taught or expressed. Or we simply don’t get it the way it is expressed, or the first time around.

Fig.2 Neuroscience of dummies

Make it a memory

At an OU Residential School the session on revision was packed. The tips made us laugh: sucking a choice of Polo Fruit sweets by subject theme – when you come to the exam repeat and each sweet will link you to that period of revision. Odd. But it worked often enough for me to convince me of its value.

Fig.4. Ebbinghaus and his ‘Forgetting Curve’

The science from the likes of Hermann Ebbinghaus and his ‘Forgetting Curve’ simply indicates how something fades, unless you go back to it a few times over several days over which period you make it stick. It doesn’t say anything about the ‘stickiness’ of the memory in the first place. Sometimes this stickiness is made for you. There is drama, there is an explosion. Most likely, by chance, the learning is anchored by some unrelated event like the fire alarm going off – that won’t work for 50 different things though.

Fig. 5 Multiple ways of making ‘it’ stick: read (book and e-book), highlight, tag and take notes.

If the module, or your tutor isn’t doing it for you then the next step is to dig around for a book, video or image that does it for you.

Most likely, and of far greater value, is for you to turn that lesson into a memory of your own creation. There is always value in taking notes, so never listen to the presenter who says ‘no need to take notes I’ll give you the slides afterwards’. Never trust the quality of the slides. What the person said will be of more value then the slides. You, and your handwriting, and your doodles are how it starts to become a memory. Then when you write up or rewrite those notes you do it again. You make it into something.

Fig.6 The River Ouse at low tide.

I’m fixating on the horror of drowning in a shell-hole in the First World War.

Ever since I was a boy those images of cowboys and Arabian princes sinking into quicksand has horrified me. What must it have been like? Walking the dog by the River Ouse at low tide just as it turned the gurgling of water backing up and filtering into the muddy bank gave me the shivers. That sound was ominous. It made a memory of the walk and the thought. It’s also what is sustaining me as I work at a short story.

Fig. 7 A family memory of a wedding in California. Will it stick?

We’ve talked about ‘memory making’ in the family.

It is the event, and the sharing of the event. My late mother-in-law was horrified that her daughter couldn’t remember a road-trip they did across the US when she was 13. I concluded that she hadn’t remembered much, or couldn’t remember much when it was mentioned out of the blue, as the trip was never shared. Conversations are and were always about current and future events. This is why it helps to get the old photo albums out from time to time. But there’s a loss. Do we make them anymore? Visiting a mislabelled album online is never the same.

Fig. 8. My late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM with the author Lyn Macdonald at the spot north of Poelcappelle, Belgium where he buried two of his mates – 75 years after the event. He recalled it ‘like yesterday’.

Recalling the First World War

Some veterans would talk, others remained silent. Those who did not want to remember could and did forget. My late grandfather was a talker; it drove my mother mad. I came to love his recollections. Clearly, there were events that would have burned themselves into the memories of these men, but unless they talked about it, in a veteran’s association or with family and friends it was not going to stick. No wonder veterans would seek each other out over the decades. Nudged by histories and movies their memories could be changed though; sometimes they came to say what was expected of them ‘the rats were huge, the generals useless, the German bunkers impenetrable, the mud up to your waist, the sound of the individual shells … ‘

In conclusion

Whatever activities and devices are built into your module, you are responsible and can only be responsible for making something of it. Take the hint. Engagement takes time so make the time for it. These days it is made easier through the Internet. You can keep a blog to share or as a learning journal; you can talk it over with fellow students either asynchronously in a forum (or blog), or synchronously in a webinar. You can ‘mash it up’ with images, grabs, doodles and annotations. You can make it your own. It’ll stick if you want it to but superglue requires effort. Someone else ‘sticks it’ for you and it won’t happen.

We are what the chemical processes in our brains say we are

From E-Learning V

Increasingly, and coming from different angles, the science is showing by how much who we are is dictated by the chemistry going on in our heads. Actually, we are our chemistry; that’s how the brain works, but what I mean is that perhaps far more of this is determined by a combination of genetics – or chemical responsiveness, and what we eat – the chemicals we put into the system (just think what coffee, alcohol and drugs do to the brain, what we think, remember and how we behave), our behaviour (the chemical released say at moments of stress or excitement) and illness – so another environment factor.

I’d looked up dopamine. The wikipedia entry is so detailed it reads like an academic paper written by a committee of post-doctorate students. Fascinating.

All kinds of drugs mess or play or ‘fix’ such chemical reactions alter behaviour; as these become increasingly ore sophisticated the opportunity to intervene becomes greater. Then what?

I’ve just woken from two movie like dreams: stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. There was no message and I’ve already forgotten every detail. I could have made an effort to hook back into the last dream but chose not to. I have yet another mission: 2500 words, a synopsis and a scene breakdown for a novel. At the end of September I’m away for a week on a Writer’s Retreat. I’d love to be on the OU Creative Writing Course but that’ll have to wait another year, by which time I may have saved up the course fees, or had a hint of getting published (doubtful), or of course, neither. On this front I’m doing the OU Creative Writing Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with Future Learn that starts in October. See you there?

Facebook Positivity Challenge

Fig.1. United Kingdom and Ireland

Prompted by nieces and my sister I have now joined the Facebook ‘Positivity’ challenge.

You post three positive things a day for five days then nominate three others to do the same. I have written 15 ‘Positivities’ already and will adjust and prioritize each day. My wife, Great Britain and learning something everyday (with a plug for the Open University) got a mention today. When I was eleven or twelve I pencilled in all the counties of England, Scotland and Wales where I had visited – parents divorced and living in Cumbria and Northumberland got that one started, with cousins in County Durham and North Yorkshire, and then trips to Scotland and Lincolnshire, London and Oxfordshire. The rule was I had to spend a night in the county. Before I’d taken a look at the above map (and not taking into consideration boundary changes) I guessed that bar a few counties I had stayed in all: largely as work producing training and information videos has had me on overnights all over the shop (nuclear power industry, manufactures, retailers, Post Office, pharmaceuticals …), and Northern Ireland courtesy of a girlfriend of 18 months. Looking again I think I could add that I’ve never stayed in Essex, nor many of the Welsh Counties (or valleys), a couple still in Northern Ireland and probably a couple in North Eastern Scotland even if I have driven through. I started the same kind of thing on the 98 departements of France and guess that I’ve ‘done’ a good fifty, once again, thanks as much to TV work repeatedly travelling to far-flung, non-touristy destinations for a TV news agency I worked for. I miss travelling.

A few years ago I took up the challenge of posting a photo a day in Blipfoto; I took this one step further and determined, with the need for some criteria for editing a day’s pictures, to posting something ‘to feel good about’ – this task is similar, though potentially more abstract if the idea, rather than the image comes first.

We remember thanks to repetition

From E-Learning III

Repetition or re-visiting is vital. We cannot help but change our perspective as we gain more experience, insights and knowledge. We need repetition in order to get ‘stuff’ into the deeper recesses of our brains where wonders are worked. Therefore, far better to exposure to brilliance often, rather than giving them something less than brilliant simply because it is new, or an alternative. If nothing else Web 2.0 ought to be giving students the chance to find and limit themselves to the best.

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