Category Archives: Uncategorized

2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


The Student Who Wasn’t A Lump of Wood – A Fairy Tale


Once upon a time, in a school far far away there was a lump of wood. He knew he was a lump of wood because all the teachers told him so. And they could prove it. They gave him work he couldn’t do, and so they told him he was a lump of wood. They would tell him things he wasn’t interested in, and when he couldn’t remember what he wasn’t interested in, they would tell him he was a lump of wood. After a while he believed the teachers, and when I first met him he told that he was a lump of wood.

The lump of wood grew up and left school. He didn’t go to university. Nevertheless, he managed to get the sort of job that lumps of wood get, and he managed to do the type of work that lumps of wood do. He enjoyed the work – working with other lumps of wood – and he found out that he was good at it. But it didn’t mean anything because it couldn’t be very good work or worthwhile work or meaningful work if it could be done by a lump of wood.


After many years of working he was asked by the kindly forester if he’d ever thought of doing something else. ‘How could I?’ he replied. ‘I am a lump of wood.’ But the kind forester thought differently and pushed the lump of wood into the light. ‘Let’s see what you can do’, he said.

So the lump of wood took the long walk up to the numbers castle where he would meet the numbers man. The numbers man looked like one of the teachers and the lump of wood was scared and unhappy. The numbers man gave the lump of wood some numbers to play with. And the lump of wood did the number man’s test, and he got all the answers wrong. The lump of wood knew that he would fail and he did. He’d been told he was a failure and he was. He was told he was a lump of wood and now he too could prove it. ‘I am a lump of wood’ he told the numbers man.


When the good forester heard the news he was very sad. Maybe he will always be a lump of wood after all, he thought. Maybe if I spoke to the numbers man something could be done about it.  So he spoke to the numbers man. Now the numbers man was very puzzled. The numbers man had seen lumps of wood before but he had never heard one talk. He had heard the dogs bark, and the had heard he birds sing in the branches of the trees, but he’d never heard a lump of wood talk. ‘Only people could talk’, he thought to himself. When the good forester spoke to the numbers man this is what he told him. A thing that can speak can’t be a lump of wood’, he said. ‘It must be a person. Lumps of wood are not allowed at the college but people are’. The numbers man stamped the paperwork and allowed the lump of wood on to the course.

Waves of wood

And came the day when the progress of the lump of wood was to be reviewed. ‘You have lied to me’ said the numbers man, pretending to be cross.

‘I have not!’ said the lump of wood, ‘how have I lied to you?’

‘You told me that you were a lump of wood, but here is the review of your progess and it gives you seven A grades out of seven! How can you be a lump of wood? It simply cannot be true’.

‘That’s magic’ said the student who used to be a lump of wood, and he beamed.

‘No it isn’t’, said the numbers man.


This is not a happy ending: this is a happy beginning

This post was written as a response to The Daily Prompt from WordPress. It is a true story.


Woods, by Thomas, taken on 15 January 2014, Flickr,, accessed 25th January 2015, CC-BY-ND 2.0

OTF_Chopped_Wood_13, by Brent Leimenstoll, taken on 17 June 2013, Flickr,, accessed 25th January 2015, CC-BY-SA 2.0

Wood, by tomdz, taken on 21 February 2009, Flickr,, accessed 25th January 2015, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Waves of Wood, by Betsle Nel, taken on 22 February 2014, Flickr,, accessed 25th January 2015, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Wood, by Jonas Merlan, taken on 4 November 2010, Flickr,, accessed 25th January 2015, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

Finding fault with fault-finding


I was talking with a trainee this week about his progress towards becoming an electrician, and I asked him about his recent on-site work.  He replied,

I haven’t being doing anything major, just some fault finding and some small installations

It’s something that I’ve heard before…that ” just“. The OED defines one of the many subtle meanings of ‘just’ as a means of placing focus on a particular word. In a weakened sense it means ‘merely’: it’s not descriptive, it’s derogatory.

As I put this post together I began to uncover so many different possible ways of comprehending what had been said to me, and about how skills are discussed in a community of practice,  that it became too dense for a single post.   So, for now, I’m just going to focus on one particular interpretation.

In the current Assessment Specification for the Electrical Installation the “practical” Performance Objectives require the Competence Base to cover fault diagnosis over a range of common faults with the Evidence Source being that ‘faults are diagnosed correctly’, (pp.81-82). That seems perfectly reasonable – one expects an electrician to correctly find faults.

In their Guide to Student-Centred Learning, Brandes and Ginnis identify the valuing of process as an attribute of a progressive learning environment, (pp.10-11). With this in mind I tried to unpack the skills involved in diagnosing faults with this trainee. This was the first time that I’d challenged this way of talking about skills, and the list we came up with can be summarised as

  • Enquiry skills
  • Analytical and Deductive skills (Logic skills)
  • Reporting skills

He was quite impressed with himself.

Since our conversation I’ve been puzzling over how an adult trainee can get to near the end of his three-year training scheme, and not realise the qualities he has? I don’t think that this can simply be attributed to individual character: it happens too often .

As I said, there’s a whole host of possible things going on here but I’m minded to suggest that if the training is such that its focus is solely upon the goal then there is a failure in the training. Back in 2007 the Scottish Government published Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy. In the ministerial forward Fiona Hyslop wrote,

We need successful learners, confident individuals…We need a skilled population..We need employers that demand value, and make best use of their workforce’s skills.

but how can the trainee be confident in his skills if he doesn’t even know he has them, let alone know he’s using them?


“just, adv.”. OED Online. December 2013. Oxford University Press. 5 March 2014 <;.
Fault, by Toastybob, Flickr, taken on 19 September 2013,, accessed 08 March 2014, CC-BY-SA 2.0
Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy (September 2007) The Scottish Government,, accessed 04 March 2014