I’m Unlikely to Be Making Anyone a Sammich

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following a story relating to the continued threats made to Anita Sarkeesian. These have ranged from the standard troll comments to detailed death and rape threats, and now to a threat against a university if they allowed her to speak. (Link here)

This woman must be about to unleash some awfully sensitive or dangerous information… oh. Hold on. No. She made a series of videos and blogs about feminism in gaming.

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I don’t particularly agree with some of the things she says. Having played games on various devices since I was tiny, I don’t think the games industry is trying to put women off. Those games that have become more and more misogynistic… I don’t buy them. Nor would I buy them for my kids.

I am a massive advocate for parents actually clueing themselves up on what a PEGI rating is and why buying an 18 rated game for a 10 year old is basically damaging.

I’ve gone off on a tangent…

My point is that I spend a large percentage of my life trying to show young people that anyone can enjoy tech, that being a geek is awesome (just try telling my kids that cryptography is boring – they have been getting encrypted messages from Dr X all week :p ), that girls can code just as well as boys, and developer creative hissy fits are a well recognised phenomenon.

Then I read the news.

Then I dwell on the dark corners of the world I’m encouraging these kids into.

With every living breath I try to pass on the absolute love I feel for Computer Science. But there’s that nagging doubt that it’s going to be tough for the outspoken.

What do I do? I keep going of course. If a pair of breasts close to a keyboard is such a threat, then that is not the fault of the breast-owner. That suggests some deep Freudian insecurity on the parts of these keyboard warriors.

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet to be a vast network of shared thoughts and ideas. By trying to silence one woman, they made her message go global in the national news. It seems the internet bit them back.

My Teaching Just Got Agile and I Love It!

For the last week I’ve been running a bit of an experiment in my classroom. Not in a scientific way (I think human subjects are generally frowned upon anyway), but in a take a risk in the classroom type way.

So, year 12 have been coding now for 5 weeks. The majority of them have never coded before and have been on one of the steepest learning curves they’ve ever known. It’s amazing to watch (and on occasions heartbreaking when you remember that awful feeling of ‘what was I thinking signing up for this?’), but they’ve moved on so far.

Part of the course is not just to teach them to code, but also introduce them to standard development models. The standard model that is used in academia is the Waterfall Method. This lends itself to an academic project so well as each stage is visited in a clearly defined block. For students, this also brings the benefits of being able to write the style of documentation that is required by the exam board. There are a number of reasons why it is wholly forgiveable for schools and colleges to teach this method as an introduction to the SDLC (I stand by this having instilled this in my year 13s who are creating a massive project under huge time restrictions!).

However, year 12s need to understand a variety of different methods and have a need to practice what they have learnt so far – mainly because at the end of this year they have a practical exam where they are expected to be able to produce working and tested code to a set algorithm within 2 hours, under pressure. So why not try Agile rather than just read about it in the book?

Monday:  Sprint Development Meeting

I introduced the concept of Agile to both classes and asked them to self-organise themselves into groups of six or seven people. Within the teams, they would need to allocate a Scrum Master. I would be acting as the Product Owner and as such would have no influence over their decision of team or Scrum Master (in fact, I would be watching from a distance and evaluating how they organised themselves & silently telling myself not to interfere!).

As a Product Owner, I gave the teams the following goals (for a week… this was aiming high!)

  • Create a game similar to the 1980s Simon Game
  • The game should show a random pattern of 4 colours
  • The colours should show on the screen for 0.5 seconds
  • The screen should clear between colours
  • The game starts with a pattern length of 1 & increases by 1 colour each round
  • The user should be able to enter in the pattern they saw using the keys R,G,Y & B
  • The game should repeat only if the user input is correct

After this, I gave them some stretch goals (because if I was going to be a client, I wanted the world on a stick):

  • The game could output to the user how long it took them to respond
  • The game could allocate a score based upon time
  • The game could write the high score to a text or CSV file (5 weeks… they’ve been programming for 5 weeks.)
  • The game gets faster after each round
  • The code is made efficient with procedures

The world on a stick. And they had a week.

Every day for the past week, each team has met either in a classroom or via Skype (or Xbox Live!) for a 15 minute Scrum Meeting where they worked out how their team was doing and what they needed to do to achieve their goals. This wasn’t organised by me, but by the teams themselves. I was suitably impressed.

During the course of the week, I was asked for help by a number of the teams, either from individuals or from groups. In the most part, this was to help them move above their current understanding and to help them implement something that they had found online (one example of this was to help them create two parallel dynamic arrays – impressive stuff for a class who I haven’t actually taught arrays to yet!).

Monday (7 days later): Sprint Review Meeting

So today was our first Sprint Review Meeting. Each of the four teams did a live demo of their code so far and I was blown away, The effort they had put into this was astounding – they OWNED their code. (one team even linked theirs to a Makey Makey to give it extra playability!).

After each of the Sprint Review Meetings, we had a reflective session where every member of the team used an A4 piece of lined paper for a five minute silent write. In this, they could vent their feelings about how they worked as a team member, what went well, what they would improve and anything else that they felt that they needed to say in confidence. I then took these in with the promise that I wouldn’t share them with anyone (not even the internet – don’t ask!). What was most interesting was that those who felt that they could have improved had the clearest picture about how their team functioned as a whole.

So Agile for students has had a few unexpected benefits so far: The group dynamic has improved in both classrooms with students actively wanting to help others and share their knowledge in most cases (and where this didn’t happen, students have identified how to move forward), and more unexpectedly, almost every student without exception has worked autonomously to progress their knowledge without me guiding their understanding. They have shown Grit, they have shown resilience (of course they have, coding never goes right the first time!). I am prouder than a parent at a Nativity play right now.

So that was Sprint #1 – It may be a fluke. Even so, I can’t wait to see the product of Sprint #2.

Could this be the start of something new? Agile Dev meets Teaching : Agile Teaching?

My Daughter is a Raptor

I think most parents with an aspie child have days when they look at their child and think “yeah, I’d probably do that too”, it’s just today I envied beanpole’s way of dealing with things being up in the air. Tonight that has taken the form of her being a raptor & it’s making her happy. (School project has allowed her to immerse herself in her favourite subject since the age of 2. Dinosaur knowledge is way beyond stuff I know). I have chest pain…. She’s being a raptor. Frankly, I reckon she’s coping much better!

It’s been a weird old week. Beanpole went off to a school residential camp, I’ve had a course outsude of school alongside long evenings with open days for new students & our usual weekend routine got turned upside down.

By Friday I was coming apart at the seams. My personal limit was found when I eventually found where beanpole was staying (5 minutes further than I had anticipated), found a dodgy parking spot and was promptly told to move. There was nowhere else to park. I tried to reason, but instead had to do a 12 point turn and drive back up the single track road until I found a bush soft enough to park the car in so I wasn’t blocking the road. This wasn’t the plan. Now I was late. I’m a professional adult who has been reduced to tears because I didn’t know where to park my car. In fact I hadn’t quite pulled myself together by the time I joined the other parents. A few excuses about work being full on….

At least it’s the weekend. We have a routine. But not this weekend,  because seeing as I’ve been ill for two weeks and have barely stopped we’re going to cram extra stuff into the weekend on top of the 10 hours of prep/marking that I’m attempting to get done. Our standard family dinner where we discuss the week went out the window, so now I’m already unprepared for Monday. The less organized I feel, the tighter my throat feels and the more I feel like running away and hiding under a blanket.  Or more realistically,  stamping my feet publicly and shouting at everyone to do what they are meant to be doing & stop changing things (translated in my head as why are you acting like arseholes? Can’t you see this is driving me mad? )

This is all sounding very familiar.

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I think this suggests I’m back to being anxiety girl (with the superpower of blowing things out of proportion! )… and I secretly know where beanpole gets it from.

I’d much rather be a raptor than me right now.

Why My Husband Is Not Allowed To Die Before Me

Obviously, this is a bit of a weird & morbid thought, but I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to think this. We’ve been together for over a decade now and he’s put up with some crap in that time. But this evening I had a weird thought…

… I’d just got out of the bath & was feeling a bit achey & sorry for myself so asked him to help me dry my hair. As we sat in my wardrobe, he brushed my hair as it dried into just the style that I like it. I watched him in the mirror & thought “when I’m old and go a bit doolally, I wonder if him still doing this will be what makes me remember us and smile”.

Now I appear to be making the assumption that I’ll be the one to go dotty. But working on previous experience, it’s more likely.

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Note: This isn’t him btw… It’s a Fuggler version of him. It’s the hum teeth embodiment of him though.

But in the words of Pooh Bear. If you live to be 100 years old, I hope I live to 99 years & 364 days so I never have to live without you.

There’s Something About Sunday… It’s the Yorkshire puddings.

There really is something about Sunday that makes it realistically essential to my sanity. This stems from a mixture of time to sort out my life & food.

I got up late this morning after LSH let me lay in until 9.30 (bliss!) as I’d been up half the night coughing like a plague victim. I needed sleep. I needed my body to just get on and heal itself.

So at 9.30 I dragged myself downstairs to drink the final cup of coffee from the machine and commence on the standard Sunday morning homework marathon (them doing it, me marking it!). I find this quite relaxing now as they know Sunday is homework day – there’s no arguments, just get on with it. And now beanpole likes her teacher, she’s throwing herself into her tasks!

LSH took the girls over to his mum & dads at around 11, leaving me at home due to the evil germs that I really don’t want to share around. So, I carried on with various prep & marking bits until 2 then put away some laundry until they got home.

Our afternoon was spent with TinyPants drawing, making dens and playing strange computer games whilst Beanpole and I made a start on her take home task (like homework, but long term) which she’s chosen to do on dinosaurs (huge surprise)… The task is to chose a time and place in history that you would like to travel back to & make a scrapbook about what went on there. She’s throwing herself into this one!

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The best bit about Sundays is that we have time to cook. Traditionally, it’s a roast, and today we’ve got roast chicken with all the bits. Especially Yorkshire puddings.

These are my domain & today’s are sage & onions yorkshires.

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They start off looking a bit weird, but then I sit in front of the oven threatening to maim anyone who dares to open the oven as they start to rise….

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Wow, my oven needs cleaning… Well that’s on the list!

After this stage, it’s basically witchcraft to get them to this stage….

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Cue one big family dinner, bath time all round and ready for another week at school :)

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The Evening Before Scotland Potentially Bares Their Bums At Us

I suppose I ought to pass comment as this is realistically an issue that will affect us all the way down here in the softy South. But unlike all the slightly unhinged facebook & twitter posts I keep seeing from those local to me, I’m not going to demand a vote, or tell them what to do.

Why?

Well, because it’s a union. A bit like a marriage. We work as partners (ok, there’s 4 of us, so it’s a bit polyamorous, but just bear with this metaphor). And now one of us is considering leaving.

We’re in that crucial stage of any relationship breakdown where one partner needs to make up their mind (in this case, vote). We are the one left behind, and just like a marriage going badly, we don’t get to say to the other partner “this isn’t over until I say it is”. Why? Because frankly that’s just creepy. It’s not up to us.

Scotland will make up it’s own autonomous mind & we need to respect that. If we can prove to them that we are still the country that they wanted to join with until referendum us do part, then we need to get ourselves to the political gym and start paying enough attention to them, because let’s be honest, we’ve been a neglectful partner. Perhaps get Cameron to wear the occasional skimpy nightie (oh ew ew ew no, too far..). But if they decide that they want to leave, we should have the good grace to wish them well & let them go without turning up drunk, crying and snotty at Hadrians Wall begging to just hold them. We have more dignity than that & that sort of behaviour will just make them delete our phone number.

So Scotland, this is us, just a country standing in front of you another country, asking you to love us.

And if not, you know how to whistle don’t you? You just put your lips together & blow.

The September Germfest

When kids go home for the summer, I’m convinced that they become little distilleries for mega germs which they store away for September to launch at unsuspecting teachers the minute we return and set them homework.

My personal downfall this year was looking at past social media statements I had made over the past few years about how awful ‘freshers flu’ is and the general germiness of the Autumn. As I read these, I chuckled to myself at how terrible my immune system must have been last year and how I’d escaped scot free because I’m soooo much healthier now. We all know where this is going….

I left school at 5.30pm tonight feeling a bit scratchy, but clutching my box of marking. By the time I got to the kids’ trampolining lesson, I felt sort of heavy, but I’d had a full day with no break (hall & lunch duties made sure that I ate on my feet and just about got a loo break). No biggie. Probably just need to sit down.

Trampolining is a full hour, so out came the marking and I ploughed in with my notaredpen, got the stuff done and actually quite enjoyed the task (mainly because this first programming task was to write a program that tells a joke – wow, they know some REALLY nerdy jokes!). As I got up to collect the kids I sneezed. Oh crap. It’s not hayfever season… Dust? Yes. Dust. Please let it be dust….

7pm, we drive to the station to collect the other adult who’s been in London all day and is on the train back home to us. He’s tired and hungry, but in a good mood and texts me updates on the station as he goes. I sit in the car listening to the kids singing really flipping loudly & wonder why my eyeballs are throbbing.

8pm, kids are in bed. The other adult has been sent out on a mission to fill the car up with fuel & locate soup based food. I change out of the new super smart teacher clothes into slouchy pjs and sit on the bed with the iPad to check emails (nervous parents with homework questions – I have no issue answering them) & put together a bit of a blog post. Then it hits me. Oooh soft bed. Hello bed. Throat sore, head fuzzy, nose itchy. Oh bugger. They got me with their germ warfare.

What they didn’t bank on is me having my own ammunition… I have a bag of pain killers, throat sweets and tissues. I will survive, but will they after I’ve sneezed on their homework?