Marvellous Meadows

Yesterday, 1 July 2017, was National Meadows day here in the UK. Our favourite local conservation charity, Denmark Farm, were hosting an event to celebrate, and Mr Snail and I had volunteered to go along and help out. After a cold and rainy week, we were delighted to wake up to sunshine and the prospect of a lovely afternoon.

There were local artists and artisans there, as well as experts on bumblebees, gardening and plants. Once we were set up, it looked lovely:

And, despite being in competition with other similar events in the area, lots of visitors came along… many for the first (but we hope not the last) time.

I led a walk and talked about the different grasslands at Denmark Farm, whilst Mr Snail was on car park and welcoming duty. However, maybe my biggest success was teaching a whole lot of small children how to crochet…

df crochet

making crochet flowers © Mara Morris, Denmark Farm

And the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed two little bees on my table – one kindly given to us for our craftivism exhibition in Manchester by Helen, Maker of Beasties and one made by me from her pattern. These two felt bees are now going to live at Denmark Farm to help to teach people about the importance of conserving pollinators.

bees

little buzzy bees and a bee house! © Mara Morris, Denmark Farm

The good bits

Whilst marking is the worst part of teaching, there are some good bits. Today, on our Habitat Creation and Restoration course, we spent most of our time at Cwmsymlog, an old metal mine. The sun shone, we saw rare species of fern and discussed natural habitat development and dealing with contaminated land. Every time I run a course I am inspired by my learners and I gain new perspectives on my subject, plus I get to spend happy days in the field.

And what course would be complete without cake?

Blackberry and white chocolate muffins for the last day

Blackberry and white chocolate muffins ready for tomorrow (by request!)

Up to the mark?

Lots of marking... and that's not really my crochet in the top left... honest!

Lots of marking… and that’s not really my crochet in the top left… honest!

My least favourite thing about teaching is… marking. I’m supposed to be doing some now, but I keep finding other things to occupy me. In fact, I’m only managing to do any by rewarding myself with some other activities after every two of three scripts. I love interacting with learners on courses, but the impersonal act of judging their written work is quite unappealing to me.

Unfortunately, public funding for the sort of courses for adults that I teach generally relies on written assessment, as this is considered to provide proof of learning. When setting assessments, I always choose “formative” rather than “summative” ones, i.e, activities during which my learners will learn more as a result of doing them, rather than ones where they just regurgitate facts or demonstrate skills already acquired. Even so, I still end up with piles of marking… and it all has to be looked at.

I do teach a few courses that are not publicly funded, and in these there is no assessment… just the opportunity for learners to explore the subject as we go along and for them to find out whether they understand. In my teaching, there is no ban on asking questions, so once we’ve explored any given subject, everyone will have had the chance to find out everything they want to know about it… even me!

A soon as the marking was out of the tray, Max was in there... this may be a sign of things to come.

A soon as the marking was out of the tray, Max was in there… this may be a sign of things to come.

My days of marking, however, may be numbered. Not because our government has had decided it’s no longer necessary (quite the reverse is, in fact, the case), but because I am considering my future as a teacher within the university system. An unsatisfactory re-grading and a change to the calculation of travelling expenses has resulted in me not signing a new contract… yet. And on a sunny day like today, I’m thinking that working in the garden might provide me a with a better return; editing certainly would… and with much less stress.

I still love teaching… indeed, that’s what I will be doing for the next three days… but a cost-benefit analysis seems to be revealing more negatives than positives… we’ll see.

Wellies, yarn and shampoo…

Looby’s blog

I’m rather spoiled for choice about what to post today, but since it has just appeared, I’m going to direct you to a guest post that I wrote a few weeks ago for another blog. It’s entitled Wellies, yarn and shampoo – my diploma journey with Looby and it’s about my experiences of studying for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. Although much of what I have written about here as The Snail of Happiness has been inspired by my diploma, I haven’t gone into details of the process and so if you are interested, follow the link and you’ll get a taste of what I’ve been up to over the past two and a half years.

Looby was my tutor and when I finished my diploma we agreed that we would each write a guest post for the other’s blog. You’ll have to wait until the new year to hear from Looby here, but if you are interested in permaculture, you should enjoy browsing her blog.

Receiving my award

Receiving my diploma from Looby in September

Anything but…

And the finished job... not too bad and it should last a while longer

One of the jobs I really don’t like

There are a few things in life that I really don’t like doing… phoning call centres, ironing shirts, darning, mending ripped clothes, replacing zips and pressure washing the greenhouse. It is amazing how much vacuuming I can find to do when there is a shirt to be ironed or a problem with a credit card to be sorted out.

Today, however, I had another job to do that I don’t like. In fact, it’s been looming over me for months (since July), but because the deadline wasn’t until next January, I didn’t actually have to get it sorted out. However, I build up a reserve of guilt that eventually forces me into action. So, today was the day – I had no editing to do (well, none arrived until lunch time) and I was starting to feel stressed that this particular job still needed doing. So, bribing myself with chocolate covered coffee beans (thank you Mr Snail) and the promise of a glass or two of wine this evening, I embarked on my marking.

I love teaching adults, but much of my work is for the local university and this means that I have to set my learners assignments which subsequently need marking. The courses are funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and they insist on seeing evidence of learning… which means written assessed work. For me, evidence of learning is the look on my students’ faces when they realise that they understand a particular concept, or hearing them applying principles we have discussed to a situation that’s relevant to their life, or listening whilst they explain a concept to another learner, or seeing information applied in a new context. But that’s not quantifiable, so is not good enough for HEFCW.

A different sort of worksheet

A different sort of worksheet

And so, today I marked. Some of the work took the form of essays, but that was in the minority… I try to be a bit more creative about the assignments that I set and so my marking included looking at graphs, diagrams, worksheets and mindmaps. I have been particularly pleased with a mindmapping exercise which comprises a colourful basic mindmap that learners add their ideas to in any format they want. I know that this sort of assessment is a long way from traditional approaches, but I also know that it suits many learners much better than asking them to construct a linear discussion. Apart from anything else, I like formative assessments – activities that add to the learning process rather than summative assessments – which are just memory tests, asking learners to regurgitate what they have been told.

Unfortunately, however creative I am with the assignments that I set, they still have to be marked and I still don’t enjoy they process. Ah well, it’s done for the time being and so I can now reward myself with a glass of Chardonnay and some Bavarian crochet.

Where is Tasmania?

This blog post has nothing to do with gardening, cooking, craft or sustainability but, because I have so many readers in Australia, I thought you might like this little memory.

When I was a child we were kept amused by a range of activities. One of our favourite pastimes was jigsaw puzzles. The really big ones were constructed on pieces of painted hardboard that my father salvaged when he replaced the boxing below the banisters with fancy wrought iron scrolls. These boards were slid under the sofa when we were not working on them (an ideal way to mislay pieces) or sometimes placed on the dining table and covered with a cloth so that we ate our dinner off them. I don’t really remember many specific puzzles except for the Jig-maps: jigsaw puzzles in the shape of countries/continents, so no straight edges, with pictures representing iconic scenes or objects from the different regions.

Australia... Tasmania has clearly gone on its travels!

Australia… Tasmania has clearly gone on its travels!

I don’t know how many of these we had, I only remember the British Isles, New Zealand and Australia. The two former countries held less interest for me than the latter for some reason. I was fascinated by Australia, particularly the pictures of the windmill, the koalas, some big train, a boomerang and the Sydney Harbour Bridge; but more than anything by Tasmania. You see, in the version we had, Tasmania was a tiny jigsaw in its own right – not attached to the main continent. I loved making up the representation of this apparently wee island and placing it wherever I liked around the coast of Australia. My favoured spot for it was off the northern tip of Queensland, but I was happy for it to move around on a whim.

And so, all these years later, despite now knowing exactly where Tasmania belongs, to me it will always be a magical, untethered island, free to circumnavigate Australia. I find it hard to believe reports from Narf of cold winters as, surely, it should just migrate north to warmer climes; and when it’s too wet – why not go somewhere drier?

More recent versions of the jig-map appear to have Tasmania fixed in one spot… it’s just not the same!

Moving on creatively

My diploma portfolio and the masterpiece

My diploma portfolio and the masterpiece

Yesterday I finally packaged up my permaculture diploma portfolio and sent it off to be assessed. It’s taken me 2¼ years (much less time than most people take) and I cannot express how pleased I am to have got it out of my hair for the time being. It had started to feel like it was always lurking in the corner of the room – glaring at me and accusing me of neglect. Not true, of course – I put a great deal of work into producing the 10 designs therein but, as with everything, I always feel I could have done more. Anyway, It’s gone now and I can stop fretting. All being well, I will make my presentation about it at the biennial permaculture convergence in London in September – I have a slot booked and a couple of volunteers to sit on my peer review panel (I need a few more, but I’m not going to tempt fate by making too many arrangements too far in advance).

So, what’s next? Well, I have the masterpiece to finish. This is going to provide the focus of my presentation in September and I still have a fair bit of work to do on it. I have three more squares to arrive (one each from Lizze, Katy and Lorraine… oh and there’s still room for two more if anyone has an urge to contribute a quick one) and then I can finally stitch them all together and do the edging. And after that…? Well, no more studying for a while. I want to focus on creative activities and I have a whole list planned:

I've already started work on my first pattern

I’ve already started work on my first pattern

  • Making bling bags to sell/barter
  • Stocking and opening my etsy shop (finally)
  • Making my Bavarian crochet afghan
  • Crocheting covers for the big cushions on our sofa (Sam has been eating the zips off the existing ones)
  • Making my felt/leather bag that I bartered the materials for
  • Writing up some of my crochet patterns (yes, Narf, I’ve started the one for that square you like so much)
  • Finishing the hoodie I started when the weather was so much colder
  • Working on a tapestry that Has been sitting around untouched for a couple of years
  • Contributing to the community craft projects at Denmark Farm (more on this soon, including details of how you can join in)

Along with the gardening, blogging and cooking, that should keep me busy at home! Oh, and of course I’d better do some paid work too… lots of editing as always and some teaching (next course is an introduction to permaculture at Karuna). Finally, I am hoping to have a bit more time for visiting friends near and far. You never know, I might turn up on your doorstep one of these days!

 

Beside the sea

Recent storms here in west Wales have exposed all sorts of interesting things along the coast, from tank tracks and evidence of peat cutting in the exposed peat on the beach at Tywyn, to the foundations of the old bath house revealed when part of the promenade collapsed in Aberystwyth.

On Thursday I took the learners attending my ecology course to see another of the features revealed by the storm… the submerged forest at Ynyslas. The stumps of the trees here have been radio-carbon dated and are about 6000 years old. They were drowned when the site they were growing on became wetter and a peat bog formed – preserving the stumps and fallen trees. Subsequently the sea level rose and and the site disappeared under the sandy beach. There are usually a few of the stumps visible poking out from the sand, but at the moment a vast area has been uncovered, providing a rare opportunity to see this amazing preserved ecosystem.

Whenever it is exposed like this it gets a little more eroded, but soon, the sand will cover it again and it will be hidden from view. If you are in west Wales, it really is worth a visit in the next few weeks.

There is a vast stretch of peat on the beach

There is a vast stretch of peat on the beach

Tree stumps emerge from the peat

Tree stumps emerge from the peat

You can see an amazing amount of detail

You can see an amazing amount of detail

Quite fine root systems are visible

Quite fine root systems are visible

Branches and trunks lie where they fell, embedded in peat that is now eroding

Branches and trunks lie where they fell, embedded in peat that is now eroding

Not only is this a fascinating piece of history...

Not only is this a fascinating piece of history…

... it's beautiful too

… it’s beautiful too

 

 

 

 

 

 

Centre for Alternative Technology

I didn’t think that I was going to get the opportunity to write for a few days, but then it dawned at me that being here at the Centre for Alternative Technology was too good an opportunity to miss in terms of blogging. So, yesterday I had a little wander round to take some photos of the site that you just might find inspiring…

A map of the site

A map of the site

There is so much to see, that I can only give you a flavour of things here. There are lots of examples of renewable energy:

An old-fashioned wind turbine

An old-fashioned wind turbine

Solar energy options

Solar energy options

A really large-scale solar array

A really large-scale solar array

Some information about it

Some information about it

There are ideas for small spaces:

Container gardening in a yard

Container gardening in a yard

Information about building:

Choose your insulation

Choose your insulation

Applied in practice in the buildings:

The accommodation was built using sustainable materials

The accommodation was built using sustainable materials

And there are activities and exhibits galore:

Plenty to learn and enjoy

Plenty to learn and enjoy

And I even encountered another mollusc:

That's one big slug!

That’s one big slug!

Plus, my learners have been very busy creating their own display whilst increasing their understanding of ecology:

All these were created on the first day of my Introduction to Ecology course

All these were created on the first day of my Introduction to Ecology course

This afternoon we are off to see the sand dunes at Ynyslas and (hopefully) visit the submerged forest that has been exposed by the recent storms.

If you want to visit CAT, it’s open to the public from Easter and located in the middle of Wales, near Machynlleth. Really, it is well worth a visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching and learning

The Welsh word ‘dysgu’ means both teaching and learning.

I love this fact, because I have learned more as a result of teaching than I ever did when I was a student. Indeed, the longer I am a ‘teacher’ the less I teach and the more I facilitate learners to explore knowledge and construct their own understanding of the world around us. Every time I run I course, I learn something new, I see my subject through new eyes, with new perspectives and my understanding increases.

The results of an exercise in making abstract concepts meaningful to individual learners

The results of an exercise in making abstract concepts meaningful to individual learners

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