Rewarding

This is a longish post – please bear with it 🙂

Picture of Chirk aquaductHow many of us ever know what becomes of our students once we’ve finished teaching them? How many of us ever care?

I still see many of my ex-catering students on Facebook: they ‘friended’ me years after I finished teaching them, which was years before Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were ever thought of. They are all getting on with their lives, working, bringing up families and doing all the normal stuff I probably did myself when younger.

But not all of my ex-learners are able to function quite like that.

I’ve known Larry since he was born; his father and I went to school together.

I’ve known Larry professionally since he was 16 when his class came into college on a Friday morning for a 2-hour cookery class. Larry has some minor disabilities and a moderate learning difficulty, but these didn’t prevent him from taking part in the class – in fact his SLDD school classmates were often unable to take part at all without someone to one help them one to one. Larry was more able.

When he left the SLDD school at 19 he came into the college ‘foundation studies’ department and eventually, when that particular funding stream ceased, he came to me in Catering:  We had created an NVQ level 1 catering course especially for learners similar to Larry. The cookery part of the qualification wasn’t beyond them; the ‘realistic working environment (RWE)’ wasn’t impossible and we could go to town with the life-skills aspects – something my team believed in passionately.  We squeezed two years out of that funding stream and taught them basic maths, basic English, work skills and IT – all of these were coordinated and where a learner was weak in one subject, but strong in another, we paired them up and they helped each other. It was a brilliant course which I was happy to hand over to the talented, tenacious, energetic and inspired Sarah Mowet when we created a level 2 course for them to roll onto.

Snow up Golcar 2013

We knew that the learners would not be quite as successful at this higher level because the cookery requirements were just too complex, but we could still help them to improve their life chances by continuing the basic skills tuition and food service skills until funding once more (finally) kicked them out. For level 2 we needed them to have work placement experience and it was Sarah who found Larry his position at the local Pizza Hut. She fought for him to get the placement and Larry fought to keep it – twelve years on he’s still there. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Larry.

Larry has kept his job at Pizza Hut – two days a week – despite the ever changing managers and other Pizza Hut personnel. He has kept it by sheer force of personality, hard work and the ability to adapt (even if slowly, over time) to changing job roles. He has never worked front of house and has always had to carry out some of the more mundane tasks in the kitchen: making up the pizza boxes, washing up etc. But he has never ceased to learn.

Through all of this time, Larry has lived with his parents. He’s in his mid-30s now and last week he moved into his own ‘pad’. It’s not quite sheltered housing, but there is someone on site (a complex with around twenty other similar pads) in case there’s any real difficulty. Larry’s pad has a shower/wet room, a bedroom, a living room and a small kitchen; all of which he will look after on his own. He is responsible for his own cooking and cleaning; he even has a washing machine.

He’s been greatly excited as his new home, which he will share with others in similar positions to him, was being made ready. Because of his slight visual impairment, he has a large T.V. and when we moved him in, we made sure that this would function as a monitor for his laptop – it did, wonderfully. He had a remote keyboard and mouse and can control his computer from the settee, along with his music. We also fixed up his Wii – so he can continue to exercise.

Prior to him moving, mum and dad had been working with Larry to consider what he would eat, when and how best to prepare it. The majority would be frozen meals that he’d either bought or that he or parents had cooked ready for him to use. They agreed between them, a five-week menu that meant Larry had a varied diet and which would help him to plan what he would take out of the freezer before going off about his daily business.

And here’s the crux of my post.

More snow up GolcarI spoke to Larry after his first week there and he said it had been ok (in his Yorkshire bred, understated way) and then I went walking with his dad on Saturday.

Dad told me that they’d been wondering how he was going on (and I think they’d been missing him too) and popped around for a cup of tea on Wednesday. They found him sat on the settee; he’d re-connected the laptop to the T.V. and was working on a document (it could have been either Excel or Word – I don’t know) that looked really complex. When asked, he said it was an inventory of his freezer’s contents. The table contained all of the food types to be found in his freezer and the two end columns were titled: Yes – No.

Dad asked him what it was for he said he’d made it himself so that when he went out shopping he could see from his stocktaking which things he would need to buy to replace things in the No column.

I loved that story – which is why I’ve written so much background (because without context it might not mean much). Larry was always good with IT and could always follow careful instructions but creating an inventory and then stocktaking are two things we’ve never taught him. He’s taught himself that.

And that’s rewarding for everyone concerned.

Larry isn’t his real name.

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Jigsaws

Picture of jigsaw. Old fashioned train and bus passing milk churnsUntil this New Year, I’d not completed a Jigsaw puzzle for about a million years.

Last year I had played with a few iPad Jigsaw puzzles, but although I enjoyed doing them, I found the process difficult and frustrating, due to the limited space.

Early in the New Year, when we stayed in a Staffordshire cottage with Karen and Dave, Karen and I had a go at one she’d been given for Christmas (or which she found in the cottage – who knows!) Now, I enjoyed that and found it quite relaxing.

Another friend, Carol, who does Jigsaws all the time, insists that they help to maintain our memory function as we grow older, I do hope so! They certainly help with concentration. Carol gave me a puzzle to get started with – and off I went. The first, Jigsaw-1, was hard … I liked the subject but the colours were quite dark and it took most of January to complete.

I bought another one in late January whilst I was up in Kendal. I’d arrived early for my meeting at the college (I was their LSIS LiT Grant Project ‘critical friend’), so I had lunch in the town and wandered around the charity shops. This one was Jigsaw-2, it cost me £2 and took an age to build. I did have help though – Karen and Dave popped over for a weekend and she filled in some of the blue-sky bits; Carol and John are always popping in so Carol couldn’t resist doing some of the white bits.

When I published the picture of Jigsaw-2 to Flickr, Claire responded from Ibiza – saying that the view was of Santorini, in Greece. And so it was – just search for Santorini on Google and compare those images to the Jigsaw.  The colours were vibrant and it was sad to be finished with it. However, I now had the bug, so I bought another in Slaithwaite’s own charity shop for 50p. (50 pence!!!) which became Jigsaw-3.

Now, this one had lots of blue sky and it took a while to complete but even so, it was very very relaxing. When you’re faced with a sky full of blue, the technique is to look at the shape of the piece and compare the slight changes in shading – as I say, this improves concentration. Still not sure about memory though.

Anyway, I’m going to try and do one a month this year. Watch this space 😉 (or Flickr).
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BT Home Hub

BT are my broadband provider. There’s little point looking around for a new provider as they would have to use the BT line anyway and I know for sure that despite all the noise around ‘Infinity’ and super-fast broadband speeds, all that I can expect from my local exchange is around 4mb/s.

I’m happy enough with that, there’s no point wishing for something I can’t have.

screenshot of my broadband speed

I have a fairly old but serviceable BT Home Hub and (touch wood) have only ever experienced intermittent problems – the most recent of which was dealt with by making a short call to BT’s help desk in India. My hub allows any of my visitors (with the password) to connect. No worries.

However, that’s not the experience two of my friends have with their BT Home Hubs. These two hubs, one as old as mine and another one of the 3rd generation hubs, just do not work properly! A thousand calls to India will not (have not) make them work and they are just frustrating wastes of space.

Gill bought a new MacBook Pro last week. The Apple chaps made sure that everything worked for her before leaving the shop – so she was doubly disappointed when her new laptop wouldn’t pick up her BT Home Hub. Or rather, it did pick up the hub, it just WOULD NOT connect to it. Another (she made more than one) 40 minute call to India did eventually find a roundabout way of connecting but it’s hardly satisfactory and, as the weekend has shown, not very long lasting.

Gill’s old Windows laptop (XP) did connect to the hub but her husband’s Windows 7 laptop never could. Whenever Sharon and I visit, none of our ‘i’ or other devices EVER connected to Gill’s home hub. It has always been faulty but just try getting BT to understand that.

The MacBook Pro is working fine (it worked ok in the shop, it also detected and connected to my MiFi without a problem) and the Home Hub is receiving Internet from BT as the MacBook Pro connects easily when using the Ethernet cable – but it simply won’t connect to the Home Hub via WiFi (as AirPort is now called).

Karen’s third generation Hub simply won’t allow anyone except Karen to connect to it either, and from time to time it won’t even let her use it.

So what’s the answer? Who do my friends contact to tell their story, without going through the Indian merry-go-round again and again?

Why don’t BT recognise the signs that suggest the ‘caller’/paying customer has faulty apparatus?

How can they make their Internet Hubs more accessible for themselves and their visitors?

150 Friends

How many friends do I have?

The question caused me to stop and think following a recent Facebook comment from Col Hawksworth as the answer appears to be 150!

150? Really, so many?

Well so Robin Dunbar has been suggesting since 1992. It’s a flexible number where Dunbar has set the more likely norm at 148, having extrapolated research into primates onto humans. Dunbar argued that …

…150 would be the mean group size only for communities with a very high incentive to remain together. For a group of this size to remain cohesive, Dunbar speculated that as much as 42% of the group’s time would have to be devoted to social grooming. From: http://bit.ly/vVKEqe

MMmmm. Now that I’ve read some of Dunbar’s work, maybe I do have 150 friends, especially online and in my wider field of work. Dunbar insists that his theories hold good even with burgeoning social networks like Facebook and Twitter – because 150 is the maximum number we can have some personal history with:

…there is a general relationship between the size of the brain and the size of the social group. We fit in a pattern. There are social circles beyond it and layers within – but there is a natural grouping of 150.

This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation – there’s some personal history, not just names and faces. From: http://bit.ly/rrbyO4

To celebrate my birthday earlier this month, I invited some friends around to my home for pie and peas and as much to drink as they liked. I had to limit the numbers because the house would have been too full, but over twenty people attended and I could easily have invited another twenty – if there had been room. So that’s a third of all the people Dunbar suggests I could happily call friends. Around another thirty or so sent their best wishes via Facebook or Twitter and many others sent cards and/or texts. So I can go with the 150 (ish) number, now I’ve thought about it.

But the key is ‘personal history’. Only those with whom we have had personal history can be called friends. One friend (a true friend, even by his own statement) once said to me “you can never have more than a couple of friends Sugg! Everyone else is an acquaintance” and I ‘sort of’ went with that. His idea of a friend was someone who would drop everything to help if needed, someone you could/would confide in and someone you could rely on totally. I am lucky enough to have several friends like that and most of them came to my birthday party.

On the wider periphery of friendship, social network friendship especially, we have similar interactions don’t we?

When someone needs the answer to a question, or help with a cause we try to help in some way and if we can’t we re-tweet or ask other friends if they can help. Don’t we? Each of those social interactions deepens the trust and adds to the personal history Dunbar refers to.

Online, I have a number of ‘friends’ I’ve never met and in those cases, ‘friend’ is perhaps an ill chosen term – ‘acquaintance’ might be better. Nevertheless, some of those non-met friends have helped me online and I have helped them (not necessarily the same person tit-for-tat you understand) and they thus begin to form the outer edges of Dunbar’s Number.

Thanks Col 😉

Also see:

http://www.commonsenseadvice.com/human_cortex_dunbar.html

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/04/136723316/dont-believe-facebook-you-only-have-150-friends

http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/books/how_many_friends.html

A quiet month

April never promised to be the busiest month in this year’s calendar and work-wise, that has been particularly true because of the way in which Easter has fallen this year. However, on a social, family and learning front – it has been non-stop rock and roll. See http://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com for more about the social side of April (and especially, Easter).

I started the month by finishing off some City and Guilds Functional Skills ICT marking; all done and dusted by 7th. Earlier, on the 4th, I went into Leeds to meet Lilian Soon, James Clay, John Whalley and Ron Mitchell for a meal and a chat – a fabulous F2F! We talked about all sorts and as always, it’s great to meet these creative friends.

On the 6th, I met Lilian and Ron again (along with many other fun and ‘e’ type chums) at a special Techdis (no longer TechDis) meeting for Accredited Trainers. Then on the 7th, I went over to the Salford TEN centre to join the RM team at a day-long LEGO training session. This session concerned a grown up version of LEGO, not the WeDo version I’ve been playing with in-between everything else this last few weeks.

On the 9th, we realised that the good weather which had started earlier in the week, just wasn’t going to go away – which was good because Sharon and I had to drive up to Glasgow to retrieve her mum Pat. Pat lives in Dothan, Alabama and had been staying up near Plockton, Kyle of Lockalsh visiting her terminally ill sister (Sharon’s aunt). Sadly, her sister had passed away and her nephew David agreed to bring her down to Glasgow for the ‘exchange’. It was a beautiful day and the journey was an absolute delight.

w/c 11th was spent playing with LEGO and carrying out some preparation for work I have coming up in June and July. I have a small piece of work to carry out for RM on their learning platform on the 28th and that’s that for April. Remember to look at http://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com for more ‘Easter’ blogging.

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