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.

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Blasts from the past

Over the summer I had a crisis of confidence. I’d just agreed to take over as head of computer science and when the exam results hit, one particular set knocked me sideways.

There’s a lot recently about teaching kids to be resilient and stand up to failure, pick themselves up and carry on. Sometimes the teachers could do with those pep talks too. For a good few weeks there I felt awful. What had I done wrong? I’d put my heart and soul into that course & I’d failed. Or rather they hadn’t got the results that we had hoped for, but that became one and the same. I mused for a while about whether I was actually the teacher I thought I was. Should I walk away? I think I owed it to my students to think really hard about this. If I wasn’t up to it, then I shouldn’t be doing this. But, after a good mental arse kicking I picked my self pitying arse back up off the floor and started on an action plan to get things back on track. School started back and the more I’ve been back in the classroom, the more positive I’ve felt.

So resilience is hugely important. It’s accepting that I didn’t get it right, but I can’t take the exam for them. I’m just the one leading them to water. I will continue to work twenty times harder than they do on their exam preparation, stalk the corridors demanding coursework when they “forget” it, email & tweet them things that they might find interesting (ok, I’m living in denial there) and make such awful jokes in the classroom that they cringe for me. I will find a way to make this work.

Then I received a message from a past student… from a particular class that it broke my heart to leave them when I moved on. Timing there wasn’t great – just one more year would’ve seen them through (but would’ve probably finished me off). That class probably taught me more about teaching than I taught them about computing. Never before, or since have I had a denary – hexadecimal conversion showdown.

That message restored my faith in what I do. It reminded me that this isn’t about that one day in August where a piece of paper determines their fate. It’s about making a difference to an actual person, not a grade. It’s about knowing that this isn’t just a job – these are kids, and actually it’s ok to think they’re amazing (generally, because they are). It’s not a bad thing to feel like a parent seeing their child ride a bike for the first time when you see them get that lightbulb moment. Investing emotionally is ok. It means you care. It also means that when things don’t go so well, you grieve alongside them.

The difference is that I’m the grown up. So whilst I’m all swan at the top, the legs are furiously paddling under the surface.

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Day 1 – Let The Madness Commence!

First day of term. I went to bed with end of holiday butterflies in my tummy and woke every 30 minutes in a don’t miss the alarm panic. Why? Today The Children came back…

5.50am Alarm goes off. Arm flies out of bed. Hit snooze.

5.55am Alarm goes off. Urgh. No. Snooze.

6am Alarm goes off. You’re not going away are you? Get up.

Some blur between 6am and 7.15am inhale coffee. Lay out newly labelled uniform for the girls and attempt conversation over “breakfast” (a yogurt and more coffee). Conversation fail. I can’t discuss the finer points of who chewing loudest. I just can’t. Plait girls hair. Realise I haven’t actually brushed mine yet. Shit shit shit.

7.30am run out the door in new shoes and posh work clothes. Run isn’t quite the right word. Walking a bit like Tina Turner as I’ve been in flip flops for 6 weeks. Can’t actually remember how to walk in heels. Arse.

To work!

Emails emails… Hall duty & greeting all the kids (are they getting taller or am I shrinking?). Collect kids planners and register. Feeling organised. We can do this!

Tutor time. Feeling a bit sad that I’m missing seeing my girls going into school. Cheered up massively by happy & genuine greetings from my form. Seriously, proper “Morning Miss!” type stuff from year 10s! These teenagers don’t conform to the stereotype. I love them.

The next 5 hours is a blur of welcome back lessons in which we hit the ground running rather than ease them in. I’m back in The Zone. There was a sandwich in there somewhere.

3.30pm It’s all gone quiet. Suddenly realise that my feet REALLY hurt (bad new shoes) & my throat is sore. Standard stuff.

Update the links on my scheme of work to the new folders, answer a few more emails & talk to some colleagues who have inherited my classes. Print out the resources for tomorrow’s lessons… Last minute parent email pops up. Better to leave without it hanging.

Time check. 5.30pm… Kids home on 30 minutes… Drive home 30 minutes… Shit shit…

7pm order pizza.

7.30pm Answer homework question emails. Bless them. If they’re keen, I’m not going to ignore them. Update blog with a post reflecting on day. Actually, after all that stressing over exam results and planning in August, today was a remarkably good day. Mainly because the children came back.

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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Ada, that’s ADA Lovelace

It’s International Ada Lovelace day today, and as a fully fledged computer science teacher (and a bit of a feminist on the side) my classes today were filled with projects on investigating and creating something for the findingada.com website.

Cue fun lessons and me getting totally overexcited about why the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine were so important. They created some stunning stuff.

….. It’s all fun and games until someone Googles her name without the Ada bit….

“Miss, is this her?!”
“No. DO NOT click that!!!”

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Women! Know Your Limits!

I know I should’ve probably been offended, but I’m now used to the ‘but you’re a girl’ line with people when it comes to me being a woman in a technical field. Here’s today’s scenario for your amusement (because I found it funny. There is nothing like breaking a stereotype for a giggle!)

Salesman in Maplins to LSH : “don’t worry, I won’t keep you she probably wants to get on” (indicating to me)
LSH *winces*
Me: “Actually the Makey Makey is for me. I’m a Computer Science Teacher, so yes, I would be interested in the gadgets.”
Salesman in Maplins: “oh! Oh! ” cue furious back peddling and apologising.

#feministwin

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