Working 9 to 5… and 6, and 7

Teaching is less of a job than a calling. It’s in our bones. We just can’t help ourselves.

This year I made the momentous decision to join the other 50’000 UK teachers who left in 2015 in stepping down as a full time secondary school teacher. Over the past two years, I’ve done that job on wheels and through a lot of painkillers, but in the end it wasn’t my crappy health that sealed the deal. 

I’m not actually leaving teaching. Instead, I’m moving to pastures new where the only grazers are sixth form students, retaining a very part time role in my current place, and offering online private tuition. It may seem bizarre to leave one full time sensible job to combine part time roles, but hear me out:

  • My sixth form teaching is the highlight of my day. But my subject is niche & in its infancy at my new college so whilst I build my little empire of nerds, hours are reduced. A Level Computer Science students challenge me mentally and I love seeing them fan the first flickers of a flame that grows to so many of them ending up in the industry, or at Uni studying the subject I love.
  • Leaving my current school is bittersweet. Here, I have friends, comrades, family. There are many things that try my patience to the bitter end, but parting was such sweet sorrow that I couldn’t leave completely. 
  • Private tuition brings a whole new dynamic to my teaching skills. In some respects it’s much easier than classroom teaching as there’s no rushing around dividing your time, or dealing with behaviour issues, and you get to develop a strong working relationship with tutees that is difficult in large classes. On the other hand, it’s much harder as you are giving constant input – there’s no quiet purposeful practice when “on the clock”, and many students who come to you as a tutor are there because they’re not keeping up for one reason or another. The stakes are high, but the rewards are enormous.

So that leaves me in a bit of a pickle for now. I’m winding down my full time role, whilst also not winding down at all as there’s still 7 weeks left to go, I’m preparing for my new role in September, and I’m already knee deep in online tutees in the evenings and weekends so I can hit the ground running (or wheeling) in September.

I’m exhausted. But therun up to the big jump to a new Lilly pad is an awful lot of fun.

So, for now you can find me here: www.TeachAllAboutIT.uk doing my thing & quite literally teaching Computer Science to the world!

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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.

Sucking at Something is The First Step To Becoming Sorta Good At Something

Excellent quote from my favourite cartoon dog.

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As the term really gets into swing, one of the things I seem to be repeating in every class is that I don’t mind if they hand me a piece of coding that doesn’t work. What I want to see is that they’ve created it, rewritten it, shouted at it, looked on the Internet and tried everything then handed it to me with wild hair as they mutter about how much they hate the program. Because you know what? That’s what programmers do. We get hold of a problem and roll it around in our heads like a insanity ball that eats away at our souls until BINGO! We get it. Then the joy can commence.

Getting stuff wrong isn’t bad. Repeatedly sucking isn’t the goal. The idea is to suck a little bit less each time until you’re basically bloody awesome. But that takes practice.

I’ve met a few students who got the bug early and made it their mission to practice at every given opportunity. I love the lunchtimes when they bounce into the classroom to show me their latest ‘thing’, all sorts of weirdness from nods to Pokemon to 8 bit music programs, to card games. Every one of these came from them taking it on themselves to bend their heads around the code. All I did was show them the yellow brick road – they followed it. I’m stupidly proud of them.

The same applies to how I see my teaching ability. The more I do this, the less I suck. I’m not scared of trying some new stuff this year, because if I suck at something to start off with, it’s just the first step to being sorta good at it. And so far we’ve been in the zone.

What time is it? Adventure Time!!

Thanks Jake.

The only way I shall acknowledge Christmas before December

So, I have three topics to cover with three different year groups.

Year 9s – intro to python programming
Year 12s – finite state machines
Year 13s – Mealy & Moore machines

And a set of raspberry pis. Enter overexcited teacher.

So as a gentle introduction, welcome to the Christmas Computing Display board idea…

Print out a reindeer picture on card and get out a raspberry pi and the GCSE electronics kit (from Maplins.  Very cool).
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Connect a 200 resistor to the shorter wire on a red LED.
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Then make two wires and twist them onto the end of each side of the LED . I could use jumper wires, bit have you seen how much they cost??!

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To save the pins on the raspberry pis, I’m using a GPIO lead which turns the male pins into female ones wjivh ypu can push the wires into.

These go into pin 25 for the resistor side, and pin 7 for the other.
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Connect up the pi and set up a python program to set the led to high then low each second (the code comrs from http://www.ocr.org.uk).

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Next, open a terminal session and type in

sudo python rudolph.py

Get stupidly overexcited when it actually works!
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Push LED through a small hole in the card for Rudolph’s nose and tape the wire to the back of the card.

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So, the plan is to duplicate the process with a number of year 9s to create a flashing wall display for the end of term.

Use wall display with year 12s to demonstrate FSMs and give year 13s free range to create their own versions which allow input to create mealy machines.

Today was a good day 🙂

Free stuff! For free.

It’s going to be one of those days. Earlier I uploaded my newly created Image technology for computing CSI style resources, and now after much faffing about (and general non payment of commission) by Amazon, I’ve uploaded a link to the PDF version of the book here.

If I’m not going to get paid for it, at least it might help someone get into coding. And that’s worth a free (and legitimate) download.

All I ask is that you acknowledge it’s mine and chuck a link to the page, or at the very least keep my name on the book. It is my hard work and a good few months of my life there!

Enjoy 🙂

download from my book page

CSI in the classroom – Teaching Imaging Technology

You know you’ve watched a bit too much CSI when you start planing lessons around it. The start of next half term for my GCSE & AS Computing people will commence with a spreadsheet. Yep, a spreadsheet.

The plan is to introduce some practice of the binary & hexadecmial that they looked at last hald term and combine this with an understanding of bitmap and vector images and the theory behind them. (It’s the zoom in, enhance that image ongoing joke that prompted the whole project) There is a real possibility of this topic being very dry and losing the interest that was sparked in the first half term with programming. When it’s dry, it’s just as boring to teach as it is to be taught. Enter CSI School…

The spreadsheet guides them through a set of tasks where they answer questions and undertake practical activities from picking out hexadecimal colours from a bitmap to find a secret message, to writing a program to calculate maximum file size, to using a drawing list to create a vector.

I’m planning on this taking a good 6 lessons for them to go through all the tasks and create a set of written notes (A Level) to highlight the key terminology.

CSI School Dashboard

It looks like fun. So, here’s a copy of the resources basically because I’m lovely.

CSI School

Note: You’ll also need the BMP file and password for the ‘nope’ sheet. Please drop me a message and I’ll email them to you (wordpress don’t allow bitmap uploads)

All PGCE Courses should include saying the word ‘penis’ in public.

And it’s official. I’ve made it through my first term back in the state sector and ya boo sucks to you Hogwarts, I’ve not only made the last 8 weeks alive, but emotionally in tact! Today’s teaching was sponsored by a litre bottle of Kick (cheap own brand Redbull) which counteracted the minimal sleep and made me a VERY enthusiastic teacher, with only minor chest pains.

I’ve discovered a number of things so far:

I don’t speak teenage girl anymore. The speed at which deliver detailed information about their incestuous friendship groups indicates that their brains must be functioning at breakneck speed. This is usually reflected in their essays which contain volumes upon volumes of words. Words that eventually lead to a point which may or may not be connected to the original question. I may mock here, but I clearly remember being in year 10 & 11 and all the hysterics and heartbreaks that go with it. It’s not a great time for those who feel the need to be very small adults before they’ve learnt to appreciate being outrageous college kids. The TV show The Inbetweeners has unwittingly done a huge favour to a generation that suddenly saw what they could do between child and adult stages. They made a levels attractive in a way no educator or government ever could. And. AND they coined the phrases ‘clunge’ and ‘buswanker’. Pure bottled genius.

I know my shit. You’d hope so really, but there are still times that I wonder if I’m just spouting a load of tosh. Turns out, I can pick up two new programming languages and teach them without a nervous breakdown. Python & Pascal, I salute you for being decent languages which support the syllabus and have a place in industry (if only because Pascal is derived from C++ and as such borrows a fair amount of syntax). Not only do I know my programming, but I am an algorithm goddess (after a glass of wine, or too much redbull). Today’s end of half term brain teaser was an algorithm which included the need for iteration and selection which described how to recharge Mrs B. This involved a process of eating pizza and drinking beer. Once beer percentage was less than 0.1%, Mrs B must be pronounced asleep. A few of them (sixth form! Not school age! Theirs was much more age appropriate!) traced the algorithm and shouted from across the room “Miss, is this your plan tonight? You’re going to eat pizza and drink beer ’til you fall asleep??…. Lad!”. Bless, yes that is my plan (actually, it’s fried chicken and beer), but it also includes knitting and TV. Not quite the lad.

State school isn’t scary! Much to the contrary of the horror stories told at Hogwarts, state school is a NICE place to work. With supportive teams that want to make education enjoyable. It’s not a walk in the park, and there are classes that I walk out of wondering if evolution really is right. But, on the whole as long as you’re ok with standing your ground (without losing your temper) and are not disturbed by the teenage boy sense of humour, then combined with a few years experience and a diary that holds details of everything you need to achieve each day, it’s frankly the best job ever.

A note on teenage boy humour – look in the mirror. Now say penis, willy, porn, boobies and breasts and the top of your voice. Red in the face? You’re doomed. All PGCEs should include a full unit (hehe) on saying and hearing the word penis without reaction. Differentiation could apply here – top achieves could also show no reaction to vajazzle, pussy wagon and shclong alongside descriptions of their latest piercings.

Just a thought.

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