Easter coding fun

Its been such a long time since I’ve been able to run a coding club for children and thankfully during the Easter break I was given that opportunity thanks to funding from Digital Xtra I was along with my colleague Sean able to run a 3 day club for Renfrewshire children at our games lab in the Paisley campus.

The club was run to introduce children in the Renfrewshire area between Primary 5 and S2 to some gaming and coding in a fun environment. On day 1 we made games with Scratch, there were varying levels of knowledge given the range of ages however all the children got a game made by the end of the session. We were lucky enough to have been given funding to provide lunches each day for the participants which yes we know can be a barrier for sure for children attending.

Day 2 saw us do some storytelling with Twine this was by far the most popular day the children loved creating a chose your own adventure story in twine. We wrote out the basics first and then they used Twinery online. The children were then given a chance to create something else in Twine or make a short joke animation in Scratch which you can watch here and one or two continued to make their morning Twine story more elaborate. You can read and enjoy their stories by following this link

On the last day we made music with Microbit and made some Makey Makey game controllers. Another good session with the microbits and the children created music for the Microbit one or two of the older children created their own tunes as they played piano. The Makey Makey session they were put in to groups and got to test out various material/objects to see what would control the keyboard for the game.

To end the club the parents were invited along for the last 30 minutes to get an idea of what their children had been doing and this was relatively successful with most children having a parent or family member show up so they could show off things they had made.

For me this was such a good way to finally get back into running a club for children and I can’t wait to get more done for sure seeing how this group worked together and helped each other made it worthwhile and seeing some children totally flourish was for me the best. Though I’ll leave you with this best bit of feedback from one of the kids which made me realise yes I’ve done the right thing and they will remember this for sure.

Thank you DigitalXtra for this opportunity.

We all dream about making changes

So a couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about my good friend Brian and how it was inspired by some poetry my darling Melanie wrote.  Brians dream was Scottish Games week and man did he work hard to make it happen it did and was a roaring success. I saw the similarity I guess with someone having a vision and making it come true and yes before anyone says they are 2 different scales of things but I’m not comparing impact merely that if you have a dream you follow it and make it happen.

I only found these poems a couple of weeks ago I’ve been slowly taking my time but had a wee search on her laptop and found them – still feel I’m invading her privacy and its just so hard to break that but harder knowing she’ll not give me into trouble for looking either.

Melanies poems are about Jim Cronin MBE who set up Monkey World in Dorset in 1987 along with Jeremy Keeling. Melanie admired they work they did when she got to know about them around 2011 and we then became big fans of the show Monkey Life. In 2012 she won a competition which was a pass to the park (Dorset’s not really round the corner now) However in 2013 I made the trip with my girls and we had the best time getting to be there seeing all those amazing primates that had been rescued in one way or another either home or abroad.  It really made her mind up in wanting to work with animals in one way or another when she left school as well as Jim his wonderful wife Alison was a big inspiration to Melanie and she also totally adored Jeremy just for his quiet get the work done and care for the primates never mind anything else attitude. This got her to study Science at college and then move to Zoology at Uni sadly she passed away through her 3rd year at Glasgow Uni and never got to realise her own dream of one day going to work at Monkey World.

I have sent these to Alison and Jeremy just to share my daughters thoughts of their best friend and hope they love it as much as I’ve done reading.

Monkey World do amazing things to support these awesome primates but as with everything could always do with some help https://monkeyworld.org/ they are well worth supporting for sure I use my Amazon Smile to support the Jim Cronin Foundation and its not much but every little helps for them.

For me my change and dream will be in what I do through games education and thats why I’ve started up the Scottish Games Education Network as we all have to start somewhere. I’m passionate about my work and want us to get to a stage where we all can work together for the good of our students.

Thanks Brain

So I’ve finally found a bit of strength and got to looking at some of my Melanies files on her laptop and found a beautiful poem she wrote about Jim Cronin from Monkey World which I’ll make another special post for. However the opening line of “there once was a dream” made me think about something I’ve been involved in for the past 6 months namely Scottish Games Week which kicks off on Monday.

Why is this even relevant you ask well SGW is the brainchild of the one and only Brian Baglow (or the brian child of Brain Baglow who knows). Brian’s a friend and his dream of making our amazing Scottish games industry stand up and be noticed as the amazing creative industry it is by the world is getting there. SGW is his way of showcasing what we have to offer and he roped in his friends to help him make it happen. His passion and energy and hard work to make this happen (with a few nudges and telling offs from his merry band Friday lunches wont be the same without our group Zoom calls) are what’s going to make next week so amazing. Although Monday/Tuesdays events are sold out there are still a few tickets for the industry conference on Thursday/Friday left and if you use this link you can get a special discount on them.


So thank you Mr B for being you and pushing on championing Scottish Games. Next week is going to be EPIC thanks to you and your vision. I can’t wait to start planning next years after you’ve had a wee break. You inspire me to want to ensure that I make the education network for games the best it can be so we can make everything games in Scotland pure dead brilliant.

Follow the rules

All the news recently about partygate has really got me angered. Various events being attended by certain politicians while the rest of us do our bit and follow the rules.  

I lost my daughter Melanie on January 21st, 2021, and even the day before my contact was limited until we knew that there was a very really possibility that this was our final time together because we followed the rules.  

She was admitted to A& E early on the 20th while I waited, and I got to briefly see her before she was whisked away for scans etc and had to head home to wait for a call because they were following the rules. 

I was told that she would be moved hospital that day as they had no non covid beds left for her. I was told that when she would get moved, I would get a facetime call with her because they were following the rules.  

I was allowed to visit her while still following the rules.  

I was allowed immediate family to say goodbye because we followed the rules.  

I was able to have my parents with me when we said the final goodbye again, we followed the rules. 

In the days that followed her death we followed the rules.  

No stream of family coming through my house because we followed the rules.  

No interactions with colleagues and friends because we followed the rules.  

Organising a funeral through covid was hard when you follow the rules. 

I had to give a list of 19 other people who would attend – why because we followed the rules.  

The day of the funeral I had to only have a few people in my house before we left because we followed the rules.  

People had to line the street we stayed in and had to stand outside the building at the crematorium again we followed the rules.  

People were counted as they went into the building because we were following the rules.  

I had to stream my daughter’s funeral to those who were not allowed to be inside with me because we followed the rules.  

No one was allowed to carry her coffin because we followed the rules.  

No hugging anyone because we followed the rules.  

No wake or going back to my house with everyone because we followed the rules.  

My daughter did not get a proper funeral because we followed the rules.  

Why did we bother following the rules when it caused so much pain and still does to this day when the Prime Minister and his like couldn’t be bothered to follow the rules themselves what was the point of them then?  

Why did they get special treatment when we had to follow the rules and get hurt in the process while they had fun?  

I know I am only one person and there were many more affected in similar situations by following the rules over that period of time and we all wonder why did we have to go through that?  

Careers Advice?

I’m not the best person probably to give advice but I’ll share anyway.  I recently stumbled on something 14-year-old me said that well they wanted to be a nursery teacher yup I said that out loud for the world on Radio – well West of Scotland to hear at one point (if you know you know, if you don’t, ask and I may share).

Point is I wanted to be a nursery teacher and then got told at some point in school nah you should aim higher as you are too brainy for that sort of job.  I went into 5th year not knowing then what I should do and well grasped at straws during 6th year, then when UCAS time came around (yes kids UCAS was around then and at that time cost £15) I was thrown into well what are you applying for and why aren’t you going to Uni open days so I clung to the only thing I enjoyed – Maths and applied to universities for that. It was short lived, and I ended up dropping out of uni and going to do voluntary work with Stepping Stones for Families (did a few months with awesome folk working with kids). Life moved on and well children and a job later then I moved back to study.  I chose Computing as that’s what caught me during my work life. Small matter of earnings which I thought was important at that time – kind of was as when computing guy left work it was me who got asked questions and yeah, I was nowhere near the scale this guy was getting paid.  Computing/gaming has always been an interest of mine from when I was a kid (we were the first family in the street to have a Spectrum despite being in a very less affluent area).  This moved through computer games and my younger brother getting consoles to finally me studying at school about it.  So anyway, back to uni I went and lo and behold landed a job – degree then PhD studies – 8 years ago lecturing (3 years into the PhD). I’d like to give the Disney story of happy ever after but yeah got the first job which was only a few hours a week which soon mounted to 2 jobs and more hours. Granted not being full time suited as by this point, I was a single parent to 3 school aged children. At one point I was working 4 different jobs teaching however while this sounds awful gave me experience and one that’s probably a bit rarer as I was able to work in college and university concurrently and so saw the path my college students chose. In one case I ended up teaching students at uni that I had taught at college. While this may sound odd it was a great insight for me and I was able to share that with colleagues from both institutions to help inform progression which I still try to share to this date.

Ok so I have digressed a little (well a lot) why is any of this important. Honestly, I don’t know until you read that statement of “you are too brainy for that type of job” I have my sister-in-law (and her sister) who would strongly disagree on that and I would now as well. Like why would I be too brainy?  How is that even a thing? Sorry, but shaping the future must be THE most important job? I’ve seen what nursery teachers do, it’s not just play, play, play. There’s so much more thought behind what that play is and preparing them for what comes next. It’s not just leave them to it but so much thought and care goes into nurturing your child and well every child in that room.  That goes for all teachers I’m not saying other stage teachers are less important as everyone plays their part in shaping education however nursery teachers are our children’s first interactions with any form of education. I know only too well how important all my girls nursery education was to them – granted they all had varying experience my oldest went when she was 3, middle 2 and youngest 16 months. But it was so important to them all.

 I have only really appreciated how wrong that statement was in the past few years as I have become responsible for students coming through our courses. I would never dream of telling a student that their choice is based on their intellect (how can you fully even judge anyway – every student is unique and has their own interests, so we all don’t get the same version of that student). Some students open up only when they are fully invested in a particular area that really captures them and if its not something you teach then that’s fine you are still part of their journey and still need to ensure they do their best. As an example, I teach 3D modelling to HND Games students and it’s a bit of a marmite thing. For those who love it they are invested and may apply to uni to study 3D work. For those who hate it – they have gained a whole new appreciation of the 3D artists out there and see the bigger picture of how the games development process works. There’s a certain frustration in 3D work that sends students either way. But that doesn’t mean anyone gives up far from it. Those who don’t like it don’t just give up they try their hardest and work on their project but get a sense of relief when it’s handed in and over and done with. However, it at least shapes the understanding of the whole process that all parts (design, art & programming) are needed to create that game – as well as planning and getting things documented. For me what I’m trying to say is no matter what your student wants to study never discourage them. Even if you, yourself have no confidence or knowledge in the subject area your student want’s to pursue then find out more don’t just dismiss it. Did you know even from a young age girls are put off subjects like maths due to teacher confidence in the subject. So yeah ask your local college/university even ask the question on Twitter but don’t just dismiss what your student wants to study as something they can’t do as they are to intelligent for or just because you don’t know. Heck when I was a kid being a games lecturer wasn’t a thing to be fair we did at least have a computer in the P7 class (classic BBC Micro)!!

Mental health matters all day everyday

So today is world mental health day and I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

I’ve been on a bit of a journey the past 2 years now dealing with fixing? making better? working on I don’t really know the best way to describe it but essentially getting my mental health back to a better state as I was suffering from anxiety and depression.

I thought that it would be a quick fix and didn’t quite realise the journey I was about to embark on to get things back on a bit more of an even keel. Oddly enough I was told by a colleague that these things don’t fix themselves overnight and to give myself time to recover. Which I was a bit yeah OK am sure everyone says that, but it can’t really be that way can it and well yes, they were right.

After about 6 months I was making progress and finding different ways to help me cope with my situation. Then boom lockdown happened. This basically inspired me to start blogging about my journey. I’d heard so many folks say oh I’ll go crazy at home etc and for me it was OK, but you maybe don’t understand how having bad mental health can be for you. Its not something you want to have to deal with. However, being at home was a struggle for a lot of us and I shared my own journey to let people know it’s OK to not be OK all the time. I guess part of me before that really didn’t want people outside of my family, close friends and only the people at work who had to know like about 2 or 3 folk), knowing that I was suffering and dealing with this. By telling my story it felt better and made me realise that I was worried about what people would think of me since there can be still a stigma to having problems with your mental health which I needn’t have worried about as I got so much support from those around me it made me realise that it is something that you shouldn’t be ashamed of, and you should talk to people. Lockdown and working from home was difficult for sure, not having that proper routine of being out amongst people and being in front of a class for so long was tough. In a way I at least went into lockdown with strategies in place already to help me whereas I’d say that for those who were affected by it maybe had a more difficult time as it was a lot harder to get help.  Through a mix of everything though I made sure I kept up with the strategies – my favourite being a mindfulness meditation that my super amazing colleague did via teams she was a literal godsend and also using the senses technique where if you are feeling panicked/anxious then you use your senses to find things around you to help ground you. This is useful if you are out and about anywhere and need to try bring yourself round from a panic attack.

Continue reading “Mental health matters all day everyday”

CPR for everyone

Since those awful events from Saturdays football match have been widely discussed over the weekend and so many have been sharing this image ( sorry don’t know where it originated from just seen it a lot on Facebook and can’t find a reference for it). However anyway its triggered a lot for me and I thought I share my views with you.  (Trigger Warning this post may cause upset with the content).

Continue reading “CPR for everyone”

A song for everything

Decided to save this post until after mental health week because our mental health is important 24/7.  I get it raises awareness and we are still trying to overcome that stigma COME ON people its 2021 we all have mental health just some folk have better mental health than others and I think that’s where the thinking needs to change.  Mental health is not just being depressed/anxious etc but I guess that’s what we associate it with all the negative things and in reality we need to be looking after it in order to help ourselves.

I’ve been blogging on and off for just around a year now on my own mental health and the issues I’ve faced over the past 18 months. Its been an epic journey and one I could not have done on my own for sure. One thing that spurred me to write this post though was a wee delivery I had last week.

Yup that’s vinyl (old school music for the young un’s) but I bought it because it’s a song that was on my playlist that I used when it was lunchtime at work and I went for my walk. Although still working  from home when I was physically at work I used to go out for walks every lunch time just to clear my head – it helped me when I was most anxious as well just to go for a walk and put my music on.  

I do love my music, though do have a very varied taste and there very much is a song for every occasion yes there is!

However this wee playlist was songs that just chilled me and made me feel better some worked really well with the whole breathing technique for calming down from an anxiety attack (TFC Fallin worked in sync almost with the app on my watch!)

I know how powerful music can be loved being part of the Playlist for Life project where I got to work with schools to help prototype an app for dementia patients.  The pupils did some research into user interfaces and how best to categorise music/songs for patients. It was great though to get the pupils thinking about just how much music can be a big part of life and how little things can evoke certain memories (we all have a song or two that does that for sure).

Have also been learning more about audio in games probably something I’ve taken for granted previously hoping to get our games students working with the music students at college (COVID so far has put a stop to that but we are still hopeful one day to connect our students) given after all we are both creative industries. So its been fab to connect with Wee Studios who yes (Keith Morrision look away now and don’t read – but I’m unashamedly bit of a fan since they produced one of my fave Scottish bands music yup the P & D – Peat and Diesel yes I’m a Peatlemaniac). OK Keith’s way more than P & D,  and hoping to connect him with our students next year as well to look at games audio.

To show or not to show – the dilemma of cameras.

Having just seen Sarahs tweet about thoughts on Glow now enabling cameras for students heres my insight as I’ve now had 6 weeks of teaching this way this academic year to schools pupils as part of our college program. I started with a tweet reply then realised that won’t work so might as well do what I do and write about it.

I have divided opinion on the whole should students be made to use their cameras for remote teaching more so if they have the ability which students in Glow have now been given. Mainly as I have been teaching fully remotely so far this year. On one had it’s great to put faces to the names (I teach an NPA class which comprises S5/6 pupils & so I have found it difficult to build that initial rapport with them like you would normally do at the start of the year (totally different if you know the students from last year but with brand new starts its hard). Plus no one wants to talk on mic either (or maybe they don’t have the facility to do so I cannot assume that they won’t). A compromise is having a picture – if not of themselves then something that represents what they like. Sadly the schools class I had were from an authority that didn’t allow pupils to change their profile pictures so until they got student accounts I was left teaching to a class of initials for 3 or 4 weeks. Granted they were happy to at least contribute in the chat window. I know from experience last term that a lot of my students were really happy to chat online but not show themselves and fair enough that’s their decision I am not sure its one we can make for them. Theres also the issue of things like do they actually have a camera  – granted phones will but you cannot assume then theres enough internet as using video takes up a lot more bandwith than just even voice chatting. Your students comfort should I believe be first and foremost and if they don’t want to video chat I don’t think we should push the issue as this in turn may put them off even attending virtually. I know for a fact my 15 year old would not want to be on camera to her teachers and she gets on really well with them – I have great respect for them too so it’s nothing against them at all. Its just a thing where I think many folk feel different about being in front of a camera than they do in person. I know I do and I have to teach. Don’t get me wrong it would be great to see them for sure but I think that needs to be a decision the students make and not us. Even then I think there has to be some guidance as to acceptable practise (eg maybe using blurred background or something).  I am happy if my students are communicating with me and yes things would be different if we were face to face in a class but we aren’t and do have to make the best of situations.

Some reflection on #WorldMentalHealthDay

Today is world mental health day so I thought I’d add a post. For the past year now I’ve been dealing with my own issues and getting the help I need to ensure I can still do what I need to do.  I have learned to really appreciate over that time that I need to look after myself a lot better than what I had been doing. I also learned that I have so much support from everyone in sharing this a bit further than the family and friends that knew. Some people may not be comfortable sharing how they are feeling and when I first went back to work after last summer I didn’t want anyone to know bar the few folk I did tell. It was just an automatic reaction – I wanted to just get things back to normal as it were and thought that a few weeks and I’d be fine. Here we are a year later and things are finally falling into place. I learned that I need to be patient things take time and there is nothing more important than healing your mental health. It was to start a nightmare – not wanting to go to work – not sleeping the night before, or having a very bad sleep, panicking on the way to work and then once in work it was fine. It was more the actual thought of the process of going to work that raised my anxiety through the roof. I’d also lost interest in activities that I’d normally do such as reading, watching movies even my new lego kit lay untouched for a good while. Certain activities do that to me as well such as travelling to new places or doing something for the first time.  But I can’t let my anxiety stop me from doing things either – I had the opportunity of a lifetime last year when I was able to go to Abbey Road and participate in the hackathon event last November.

Anxiety inducing wasn’t the word – new folk, new place, travelling, London but I realised I can’t let the anxiety define me. Things like that don’t happen every week/year/lifetime! It was so worth it for sure met so many fabulous people and got to work in Studio 2 as well as be in studio 3 as well overnight for some shut eye. I then had to get up in front of everyone and present the idea that me and my hackathon partner Marjan(super talented artist who really has done some spectacular digital art )  had came up with – an app that glitched your face coined it the Gelfie lol it was a fun thing to do and we had a great time. We were first up so my anxiety didn’t have much time to actually think.  Coming away from that realised I can do things when I put my mind to them but I need to stop letting my anxiety get the better of me. I have been working a lot over the past year on various strategies to help myself then Covid hit and felt back to square one again. Which is when I got into blogging again – I felt it was a good way of telling folk how I was feeling and just discussing mental health. Which I feel really needs brought out more in discussions, there’s always been a stigma about it and there shouldn’t be at the end of the day we all have mental health it’s just sometimes its in good condition and sometimes bad. We need to work on keeping the good but being there to help with the bad. People shouldn’t feel like they have to hide away they have issues as I did at the start.  But with the impending lockdown and hearing so many folk complain of they were going to “go Crazy” I felt I had to speak out a bit to show that some folk were already going into lockdown with a disadvantage. Services that I had access to were stopped and I also lost the whole routine of being in work and talking to those in person who were supporting me.  Blogging was a way of communicating and trying to get my thoughts down at least on what was happening. It showed me that I had a bigger support network than I realised and that maybe I should have spoken up sooner about it. However I suppose things stopped me at the time such as worrying about what everyone would think when really that wasn’t an issue at all. Mental health issues can affect anyone no matter what you do – it doesn’t stop me doing my job at all as I am supported so well but I realise the implications it can have in general if that isn’t in place for folk which is why we really need to be open about talking about it. During lockdown there was a lot of talk from students of lost motivation and I had to be frank with them and let theme know it was happening to a lot of people including us lecturers so we genuinely did understand how they were feeling. I think that helped a lot knowing we were all in the same boat I guess. We are only human after all. It’s not something you can snap out of or just change as I have found you need to work hard every day – some days will be good and you get on with it while others will be absolutely crappy but on those days I have finally realised that tomorrow is a new day and a new start. I cannot and wont let the bad days overtake now. We have to look out for each other and remember that even the tiniest of actions can have a massive effect on someones day – be it a little text or email just to ask how they are doing or call to check up on them even send a letter!

I have made quite a few changes since March to try and help myself again and even took up running (well attempted running) at the end of June. 3 times a week out and about trying to do the couch to 5k routine.

I’ve missed a few weeks during that time but on the whole have stuck to it though still stuck at week 4 – however I also do have to be careful on that front as it seems my medication can have an effect as well along with exercise. So I’ll stick to getting out and doing the little runs for now rather than pushing to get the whole 30 minute run. At least I’m trying 😊 longest I’ve stuck to anything. I’ve also started some mindfulness sessions again with my amazing colleague Sandra whom I’ve written about before she’s a total star.

I’d also like to remind people that while today is about bringing awareness every day is a day with your mental health and it’s not something we can just stop talking about. Keep the conversation going and keep supporting those you know who are struggling, kind words cost nothing. You can get through it and it will get better – not overnight but it will get better that I can safely say now. I still have a while to go on my journey but it’s going in the right direction.