The one about the fancy glasses…

Attended a workshop on technology used to enhance learning at my workplace last week. I was very impressed by BMW’s usage of AR. Yes i know that this is not the future anymore but the present. But FYI…

It got me thinking how we can use it in our climbing lessons. As with all tech posts, i realise that we are eons or even ages away from doing something like that, but it’s always good to keep good ideas like that in mind until one day when it comes  up and we can implement them.

I guess as a former outdoor educator, there was always this notion that what we do in the outdoors should always be bare bones, back to nature, minimalist kind of concepts. We never really considered using much of technology. I worked at an educational institution that had a really impressive technological network but we never really explored the possibilities of embedding technology with our outdoor lessons because…well i guess it was just not done like that. I remember scratching diagrams in the dirt with sticks or using stones and pebbles to represent things as I taught. It was just part of being in the outdoors. Instructors had to learn to innovate out there to draw out the learning. And to be frank, nature provides. So I got through those patches pretty alright.

Now with technology coming up almost daily, perhaps we can start to consider adopting some good practices into our teachings. Already i use a tablet when i teach so that i can show diagrams, pictures or videos on demand when my participants want to know something. (It’s a bonus if the gym has wifi!)  With AR coming up now, who knows what other ideas we can come up with. If we just use it to play Pokemon…then i think we have really lost out on a brilliant opportunity to push the boundaries of tech and education. How do we embrace tech in our instruction?

The one about 22 Powerful Closure Activities…

Closure ends a lesson and creates a lasting impression, so make it fun. Students will better retain information reinforced with music, movement, art, or play.

Source: 22 Powerful Closure Activities


Sharing this article on closing activities that I found on Edutopia. A good closure for the day is important but how do we come up with meaningful engaging activities for our participants after a day of learning how to belay and climb? I guess the site’s material might be more suited for a primary school but it doesn’t mean that we can’t modify it for adults. Here are some ideas off my head.


1. Snowstorm
Everyone writes down one thing new that they learned today on the piece of paper.  When you pick up a piece, read it out and explain in a few words about it or your thoughts on it.

2. High-Five Hustle
Instructor needs to prepare a few questions (same no. of pax?). Every time they pair up, i will ask the question and they will discuss. Questions have got to be open ended (eg. no YES/NO kind of answers) Eg. I can let go of the brake line since I am using a Gri Gri. Why yes/not?

15. Find a First-Grade Student
Have participants pair up and describe to their partners how to do belaying like he/she is a Primary 1 student. This should bring up some laughs…

20. Simile Me
Eg.  “Lead Belaying is like _______ because _______.”

These are just some possibilities i saw in the article. A good closure will bring a nice ending to the day and make the course even more memorable for the participants. At the same time, it consolidates the day’s learnings and will aid in memory retention after this. Much better than the “Thank you for coming” speeches we use to give. Something to consider perhaps?

The one about the Why…

I was reminded today of this TED talk by Simon Sinek. Although he was using this segment to talk about Leadership and Trust (i highly recommend his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t), i thought it could also be modified to look at how we teach something. In it he emphasises on the Why rather than the How or the What. Let me try and illustrate that. Have a look at the video first.

So i was trying to teach a topic of Fall Factors to a group of Level 2 trainees. Usually, most instructors start off with something that they are very familiar with, something concrete, something factual that they can base the whole session on. I used to do that. Write the formula out on the board and work from there. So a typical lesson on Fall Factor would go like that:

“Ok so today we are gonna learn about Fall Factors. Fall Factor = Length of Fall / Length of Rope Paid Out. So using this formula we will be able to derive a number that allows us to know how much force is being generated that can harm my body or harm my equipment.”

Do you feel like learning more about fall factor? Did you understand what it was for beyond the formula i just introduced?

Modifying Simon Sinek’s work, i would probably have done it the other way round. Start off with the Why. But the problem lies that many instructors are still not familiar with Why we do somethings or teach somethings. A recent conversation with another instructor revealed that she was not really sure why we needed to teach fall factor beyond the fact that it was “not safe” if you took too big a fall. So what would happen if we work the other way in? If we start to understand our craft from the Why? Would it go something like that?

“Ok so what happens if we take a big fall? Our bodies will feel the pain from the force of the fall, our equipment might get damaged . (Why?) So how do we give every fall a rating? We can use the Fall Factor formula which i am going to write out on the board now and explain it to you. (How?) So now you can use Fall Factor to estimate how bad that last fall was or whether you want to climb on this shaky route with few protection points. (What?)

Do you feel like you are more likely to be interested in the second one? After knowing that it will affect my personal well being, most people will then perk up and listen.

Simon Sinek made some more pretty valid points about leadership. And again i feel that it can be modified for our pedagogy. Listen to it. I thought it would be good if instructors can learn to understand the Why and start to teach from the Why? Only then will we encourage the learner to pick it up and internalise it.

WII.FM (What’s in it for me?) For almost all of them.

So if you are interested, here’s the full length lecture. Worth a listen if you have the time.

The one about less and more…

So i was conducting yet another Level 1 course over the wkend. Nothing spectacular, just the usual. Except this time i tried consciously to keep the theory session short, trying to convince myself that “less is more”. This was something a kayaking instructor – C, was sharing with us on  my kayak coaching course, “Less is more, More is less”. It didn’t make any sense to me previously but i put it in the corner of my mind, to be retrieved when i needed it. I think i finally understood it.

A normal Adrian Level 1 Class goes like that:

1000hrs Admin/Intro, Sports vs Rock, Types of Climbing
1100hrs Equipment – Ropes, Carabiners, Belay Devices, Shoes, Chalkbag
1200hrs Break
1215hrs Equipment (condt) – Harness, How to wear.
1230hrs Knots
1300hrs Belay Sch, Practice
1345hrs Lunch
1445hrs Climbing Practice
1700hrs End

It was a chore teaching the first part because it was always difficult holding their attention, but yet every bone, every fibre, every cell in my body was reluctant to let go of the information to be passed down.

“What if they need it in Level 2?”
“It’s a fact they might need…”
“Nevermind lah it won’t take long to explain it…”

Today i forced myself to change. “Less is more” i told myself. I have to believe it. So i tried. I spoke only about the essentials, i let questions come from the class. And this was how it turned out.

1000hrs Ppl Late….
1015hrs Admin/Intro, Sports vs Rock, Types of Climbing
1045hrs Equipment – Ropes, Carabiners, Belay Devices, Shoes, Chalkbag
1115hrs Break
1125hrs Equipment (condt) – Harness, How to wear.
1135hrs Knots
1200hrs Belay Sch, Practice
1245hrs Lunch
1345hrs Climbing Practice
1500hrs Auto Belay
1600hrs Last Climb, Summary Activity, Closing
1630hrs End

OMG! I actually ended early! This seldom happens! And the participants were so much more relaxed. They were not rushed, they were able to practice and to ask questions all afternoon. At one point i could just get out of the way and sit back and watch over them as they climbed. I learnt an important point to day. C was right… “Less is More, More is Less”.

The less you teach, the more they can absorb and learn.The more you try to teach, the less they will absorb. It also goes to how you teach. When you demonstrate a skill, you simplify  the action (Less) but you exaggerate the action (more). Something for us to learn from our kayaking counterparts i guess. I learned something new today, i guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

The one about virtual reality…

Saw this video on FB today and i was pretty blown away by what Oculus and VR can do. Apart from catching Pokemons (which technically is AR…), just imagine the possibilities it can do in the classroom. I know, i know we are very far away from that now but i was just imagining the possibilities of VR or AR when it becomes mainstream.

Just imagine i might not even need a climbing wall in front of me as I explain. I can just call up an image of a climbing wall or even a natural wall. Need a video on how to place nuts? Just call it up and all the students can see and maybe even interact with it. My most common complain as an instructor is when that we can never show students the consequences of our actions like what happens if you let go of your brake hand for just one second or if your hair really gets stuck in the ATC as you are belaying. Now we can show them and even let them experience it with a virtual victim. Imagine i can draw out items in the virtual world and let them interact with the items. The part where he draws a sword and uses it was pretty cool. Imagine just drawing a carabiner and asking the pax to show where he would attach it in the anchor system? That would be cool!

Looks like VR will be the next technological evolution. Rather than using it to catch make virtual pocket monsters, can we think of ways to harness it for more purposeful education?

The one about the unprepared lecture…

One idea that i have been toying around with for awhile but i never had the courage to try yet.

'I got a good buy on it from army surplus, and it should solve my traffic problems.'

I had a very interesting lecture once given by a Battallion Commander during one of my army courses. The Colonel was supposed to come in and give us a 2hr lecture on a particular armour topic.

We were expecting yet another boring, stuffy, “sage on the stage” kind of lecture by a stuffy old Colonel again. But the first sign that things were different was that a young, energetic “scholar” Colonel stood at the front of the room introducing himself as the guest speaker for the day. He then proceeded to ask us point blank,

“So i have been asked to share with you guys about Armour Advance tactics. So what do you want to know about Advance tactics?”

We were dumbfounded. I was preparing to snooze…. Nobody responded.

“Come on gentlemen. We are here to learn about Advance, so i rather we talk about something that YOU want to know then me talk about something that does not interest you at all. You want the textbook syllabus, ownself go home and read the manual. I want to make sure this 2hrs is well spent this afternoon for you to pick my brain.”

The young Colonel proceeded to pick up a marker and scribbled on the flipchart board all the topics thrown up by us.

“Sir, how do we ensure communication is maintained between our sister units on our flanks?”
“Sir, do you have any examples to share about real Ops where the advance failed and what did the unit do?”
“Sir, how do we marry speed with maximum firepower during an advance?”

The Colonel listed all our questions down on a flipchart. One final call around the room for any last questions and he spent the next 2 hrs going through point by point checking off each question that he answered.

That was one of the most engaging lectures i had in the army although i half suspect he didn’t prepare for the lecture actually. But it showed me how a learner-centric lesson can capture the learner’s attention and keep him interested when you make something relevant for him. It was a very key lesson that would affect how i do my teaching until today. To try and get buy in from my learners.

Nope this isn’t some radio station but it stands for “What’s In It For Me?”. What’s in it for every individual learner? How can we make our lessons more relevant to them to create more buy in for them and make them want to remember, want to internalise, want to learn? Think about our boring “theory” lessons in Level 1 classes? Some instructors have gone to the extent of removing or shortening their theory sessions because they are often struggling to keep the participants engaged. Some simply doze off… But when we remove something, are we short-changing the participants? Do we create a problem downstream when the participants come for Level 2 or 3 and do not know what’s the difference between a dynamic and a static rope for example? Can we, make the theory more engaging for the participants?

Anyone wants to give this a try or have any suggestions how to make this work?