Star Wars – From Mother to Daughters (no spoilers!)

Growing up in the 80’s as a nerdy girl was ok. Mainly because we didn’t actually know any better. My 2 hours between 3pm & 5pm after school (because that’s all of the kids TV we had back then….) consisted of the following:

He-Man (and later She-Ra):

Like seriously, a guy with a dodgy hair cut (even for the 80s) in fur pants (briefs) and his sister in a dress so short she really ought to be wearing some Bridget Jones sized knickers under there to preserve some dignity. And cleavage in a kids show! Actually, scrap that – the cleavage is quite good. But she generally got herself into trouble and He Man with his massive sword had to save her. Off you go Freud – have a field day.

Dungeons & Dragons

Ok, this one was vaguely better (although I was pretty much always more interested in the DM as he was a pain in the arse and much funnier than the whiny kids – but again, with the girls in totally tiny skirts and the boobage… these are middle school kids. ew. Longer skirts, or some damned trousers and more irritating balding DM, he’s cool.

Always be the DM.

There were plenty of others… Knightmare being another most excellent one, although Knightmare was extra nerdy and I’m not even sure the contestants knew that there was a difference between genders…

And my kids are growing up to be in the same group of nerdy, game playing weirdos who ultimately grow up and make use of all of those hours playing puzzle games to be the smart adult with a job that involves the part of their body that benefits most from being wrinkly (their brain people). I love the fact that they are embracing the stuff that makes them excited rather than being drawn by the girly girl cliques that they are surrounded by. In actual fact, sometimes they do want to be pink and girls – for instance, TinyPants chose for her Darth Vader costume today: a Vader mask, black leggings, my black chiffon headscarf from Egypt, & a pair of flowery boots, over which went her Paddington Bear duffle coat. She was the most kick arse Vader in the room.

BeanPole on the other hand, decided to go a bit more obscure and dressed as R2D2. She loved what she chose and has decided that ‘next time I’m going as a wookie’.

It occurred to me, that just like with previous films, Star Wars pretty much doesn’t give a crap about gender roles and girls are just as double hard as boys. It’s a truly gender neutral franchise. No-one cared that my girls wanted to dress up as an evil telepathic dictator, or in fact a robot that swears so much that all of his lines are bleeped 😉

This particular film, did gender neutrality proud. Now, get out there and enjoy it with your sons, daughters, husbands, wives, whatever – it’s at the top of my favourite films ever. In fact, it’s the first time in years that I’ve ended a film in a cinema where a British audience openly applauded at the end.

No spoilers.

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Gadget Girls @TheGadgetShow

I’ve been meaning to write something about taking the girls up to The Gadget Show Live in London all week, but it’s taken me a week to gather my thoughts (and photos).

As the blog name suggests, I am a paradox in technology terms. Whilst I delight in technology and all things geeky, I find urban life traumatic. If I can’t get to the middle of nowhere within a 10 minute drive, I’m uncomfortable. Maybe not so much of a paradox then. Its not the tech that freaks me out, it’s people!

With this in mind it’s not surprising that London holds very little charm for me with it’s millions of people, bus fumes and general grime. A city chick I am not.

Even less so after experiencing the underground with two small children. We queued like normal reasonable people, waiting for the correct train before moving towards the door. LSH and beanpole squeezed on and promptly dissapeared into the crowds somewhere along the train. I tried to follow with TinyPants. A 7 year old child who’s slight build still has her in age 5 clothing. We held each other’s hand tightly as I allowed her through the train door first to watch her be promptly elbowed in the head by a woman barging on and for me to be pushed out of the way of other people jamming themselves into the train. At this point the doors began to close with me still on the platform, and I had the choice of letting go of my small child or dragging her back to me through a closing train door. I chose the latter. It was against everything I know about train safety, but it was that or lose her on a train. Think of the therapy. I can’t think about the ‘or worse’ scenarios.

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So, it wasn’t a great start. I had previously been ambivalent about London, but that experience cemented all that I dislike about people living there. When it becomes acceptable to put a child at risk to make your journey few minutes shorter, something has gone wrong. I was ready to go home at that point.

Thankfully we didn’t.

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What we did instead was to iniate our girls into the world of geeky stuff.

We were greeted by a diver showing off just how waterproof the latest Sony phones are (felt totally wrong, but he was able to take photos of people from inside tank!!)

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After that we discovered the toy zone. We could’ve spent ages there but it was age restricted, so thank goodness for children!! LSH and TinyPants were rather enamoured with the AppPen (guess what Santa has on his list!).

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BeanPole went for the girly option of trying out the Nerf bows. She’s been after one for a while and this confirmed the decision. (I won’t mention the fits of giggles when the boy next to her promptly shot a random child in the head from a good 40ft away)

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Never to be out done, TinyPants headed for the biggest Nerf gun in the room (seriously, this thing was the same size as her) only to have it whisked away from in front of her and handed to a boy. *cue feminist rant from mummy as the girls had already been told by a stsff member that the Nerfs were for boys*

Instead, she took pot shots at the target (and said member of staff) with a smaller version.

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Then onwards to proper robotics where LSH and the girls got to have a game of Robot Wars.  Nerdtastic!

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Next was Playstation. I’m a PC gamer. It’s in my dna, but this guy almost convinced me to get one. He had the girls entranced (the dinosaurs helped). That man should get one hell of a bonus for making every single child feel like he was there just to show them the game. Kudos young man.

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Of course, there was the obligatory Minecraft photos.

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And an interesting discovery of the GameStick. Probably not the first generation, but when we replace the Wii for the kids, that it way way up there on my go to list.

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Microsoft was a total winner with us. LSH got chatting to the techies about having got one exam away from his MCSE and the various pathways that could lead from this whilst dribbling over tge Surface 2 Pros. The girls got creative with paintbrushes and touch screens running Windows 8 paint. Seriously, nearly 45 minutes of peace was gotten from those brushes. And no mess!!

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They even got to email their artwork home.

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Meanwhile, I sat and watched a man use the Surface 2 to paint a picture of Alan Turing and promptly shocked him by guessing who it was. I explained it wasn’t that impressive as I’m a computer science teacher and really ought to know who it is! He congratulated me on being a teacher of computing, then doubley so because I’m a woman.  Errr… a little sexist no? I think it was meant as a compliment. 

We finished off the day watching a demo of bmx and skateboarding with wearable cameras, after which the girls got to have a go on the boards. In a half pipe. Oh yeah.

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Thankfully the train back was nowhere near as traumatic and we got home tired, but with many ideas of cool stuff we want to try.

Even so, I’m much happier being back on the chalk. London is not for me. Will we go again? Probably. Next time we’ll get the bus.

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)

Computer Science…. Just for fun.

I set my year 1 GCSE computing classes a little riddle to keep them going from now until after half term. It doesn’t count towards their course, it’s just a brain teaser to keep them interested. I’m slowly weaning them onto mathematical jokes.

We are just delving into the realms of Denery, binary, hexadecimal and Octal….

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A Trip to the Hobbit Shop

As now coined by TinyPants. Technically called Games Workshop, but Hobbit Shop is just way better.

In an attempt to grab their imagination in a non-computer type way, we’re introducing the kids to gaming. D&D seems a bit complex for them at age 7 & 8, so Warhammer it is. LSH played 40’000 as a kid (read before we met) & looked like a pig in proverbial when we walked in and the girls went crackers over the Hobbit style game (hence the shop name), so we compromised and went with the fantasy version. Elves and ratsBloody hell, that got expensive. But the reason for a short post tonight? I’m off to dab primer onto my army of rat people!

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The Internet meme – just for lolz? Or something else entirely?

I apologise profusely to anyone I offended with the appalling grammar of the title of this post. I was using the colloquialisms of the biggest village in the world – the Internet.

I caught one of the cats napping earlier and rather than thinking ‘aww how cute’, my Internet ravaged brain just thought ‘shooting lasers pew pew pew’. http://www.cheezburger.com has a lot to answer for (and owes me several hours days of my life back)

And this is what was created:

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So, just what makes a meme? A picture may say a thousand words, but these pictures contain a thousand jokes. Short, to the point and often part of an ‘in’ joke. For instance, the bad grammar and reference to shooting lasers (pew pew pew) in the one above is a reference to several ‘in’ jokes which are now really quite old and engrained in Internet humour from lolcats. Cats are apparently the soul of the Internet (that and porn, but I’m sticking with cats here). Funny cat pictures with bad grammar spelling and weird references to fast food and lasers are highly popular.

So what about other memes?

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Ragestache is another site containing user generated content based around an ‘in’ joke. For anyone familiar with the site, my kids have just become Derp derping around with le best friend. (Get the old person knowing the lingo!)

Essentially, anyone, or anything has the potential to become a meme; it just has to catch people’s sense of humour which online, often favours the oddball. Hence lolcats, possessive girlfriend, success baby, chemistry cat. Where these images were once passed around closed forums, they are now popping up all over the place. They are not always crass or offensive, in fact the vast majority rely on the reader being reasonably clued up academically.

For instance:

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Firstly, you’re going to need to know what Argon is. And some basic understanding of the periodic table.

And it’s not just science geeks (note, not nerds – nerds collect cool stuff, geeks create cool stuff). Ohh no! The literary geeks are at it too…

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And as for using bad grammar outside of a meme while online…..

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These jokes make intelligence cool. We have spent so long celebrating the pretty morons, that it became uncool to be clever, or have a passion for learning. Those who wanted to learn became ‘nerds’ or ‘boffins’. But meme by meme, the geeks are reclaiming cool. We’re creating a world where intelligence is required to be funny. Its ok to be clever. And boobs are still awesome.

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This endeth the lesson.

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Yes! My Banana Works! Adventures with the Makey Makey

I started the first lesson of today by taking a bit of a risk. Can I hand over a set of seriously fun toys and actually relate this to something linked to the syllabus? The answer is yes.

I needed to find a way of getting my year 12s to want to understand and write a technical and a user manual. I could give them a scenario to work with OR we could make something wacky with a Makey Makey and write the documentation for that.

There were two things that proved to me that this was a success. Firstly, I’m teaching technical manuals to a group of teenagers at 8.30am when I’m teetering between walking dead and exhaustion-induced homicidal tendencies and we spent the whole hour flitting around the classroom making “oooh!” and “cool!” sounds. And then someone shouted the immortal line “yes! My banana is working!”

I guess by now you either agree with me, or you are totally lost and need to know what the hell I’m talking about. Let me present to you the Makey Makey:

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From the geniuses at MIT, comes a circuit board which allows you to turn any mildly conductive material into a keyboard / mouse click through the clever use of jump leads and crocodile clips.

So what did my year 12s create? Something with computer chips? Using their maths compass for something productive aside from stabbing each other in the ankles? Oh no. The minds of my students are wonderful places. Scary, very geeky, but ultimately the most fertile ground imaginable.

I present the coin-controller (Mario game pad created using coins as the various buttons)

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Second is minecraft high fives (the mind boggles sometimes) – essentially the humans were buttons…

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Then there was Mario-Cart, the banana edition (don’t ask what happens when you click them too hard. Suffice to say, you need a damp cloth on hand.)

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And finally, a flight simulator, entirely controlled by a cup of water. (Seriously, this worked!)
Sadly, they wanted to call it the “joy cup” and this meant that I had to keep a straight face. I deserve a medal for that.

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I’ve tried these with year 9s, 10s and now sixth form just this week and I haven’t seen such productive and creative sessions in ages. They engaged, they created and now they’re really up for creating technical and user manuals for the weird creations they made.

It’s sessions like that that tilt the balance away from homicidal back towards walking dead. But at least the walking dead appreciate BRAINS!