Missing the workplace

Virtual coffee meetings just not the same

10 weeks of being at home sounds like heaven right. I see the usual posts every summer oh teachers are sooooo lucky to get such a long holiday (as a college lecturer my holidays fall in with the schools bit different if you work in Higher Education though and was loads of fun when I was part time in both ha! I work hard during the academic year holidays are needed and yes I have used that holiday time before to learn new skills as well (and finish up the PhD in years gone by). Oh don’t get me wrong I love my daughters to bits and we are all still talking to each other (have our own spaces to retreat to when needed lol) but theres only so much Netflix you can do. Chatted to my poor postman last week for ages as he was the first person outside of my home I’d spoken to in person – socially distant – for ages.

One of my girls is still at school (well completing work at home and again apologies to her pastoral care teacher if I waffle on the phone poor person) and the other 2 at uni but due to being 1st and 2nd years they didn’t have to do exams and have been in a week longer than me and my youngest. We go out walks most days around the area just to get out of the house. I used to go out for a walk every lunch at work so trying to keep up the daily walk it really does make a difference for sure. Difference with a holiday is though you know when you are going back to work. The sudden stoppage and then uncertainty of when we will eventually go back to work was for me heart-breaking, genuinely heart-breaking. I love my job with all my heart and to me this is my calling. I’ve done other work before met nice folk but I guarantee this blog would be so different if I was there now during lockdown. Even had a spell or two of unemployment before finally getting back to university as a mature student at the grand ol age of 28. But I had the best pals at uni Christine aye OK we had our moment I guess but wowsers so proud of you and all you have achieved. Heather who I felt like another kiddo of mine (but oh in a good way you were just awful young – hehe team meetings and you getting Id’d in Walkabout lol but such a great friend), Tony ha the one who actually became a teacher from Junes module and David too. I still class myself as her biggest failure in the sense that it made me not want to teach at all – passed that class with flying colours for sure and it also gave me a lifelong friend in Craig who came to talk to us as he’d done the module the year before at his uni. The irony guys is I actually teach NPA for S5& 6 now go figure eh) and finally my good friend Donald we were the auld duffers of the class eh well you are older than me by far haha but we were the parents in that group(metaphorically lol). And yes I do use all that to tell my current students they are never too old to go do stuff and follow their dreams.  Probably my best story is the backup one and I always tell my students to “BACKUP LIKE THERES NO TOMORROW”       you know why during 3rd year I was in charge of the project files and something happened to my copy. Donald made me sweat it out (and cry yeah I did mate) for a while before he told me he took a backup. Ladies and gents that’s why this guy rocks and is such an amazing developer.

 On my last day in the building at work after saying goodbye to a colleague in the car park I went to my car and sat and cried for a while before heading home knowing that it was the last time I’d be here for goodness knows how long.

Why am I sounding so dramatic? Well work believe or not was the place that gave me routine, gave me somewhere to be every weekday. As someone who is blessed to have anxiety and depression, work then gave a balance to me. I know I said going to work was scary and yeah it was but on getting there in at my desk, that melted away knowing I was safe and knowing if I did feel at all bad at any given moment I had my wee support group I could call on at ANY time. Having that meant the world to me.  Feeling bad for those who’ve not been anxious just feels like you are overwhelmed and can’t focus. Anxiety attacks never last long though only a short time and there are many ways of dealing with them (breathing exercises are a must but also walking and listening to music). I was getting better things were starting to look more positive and then lockdown threw all that out the window. When I first spoke of my anxiety in Aug 2019 to the few folk at work it really helped me and I thought at that point OK I’m back at work and I’ve spoken about it this is going to be easy right?  I was reminded by one of them that yes it’s great you feel better after talking but that’s just the start it’s a long road to recovery and I hate to admit they were so right. But having that support throughout was helping and the understanding of my situation really did help which is why I miss being in the workplace so much. Yes I’m still working but it is not the same working from home. I still talk to my colleagues and students and we get the work done which I am glad I can at least do but its not the same as being there in person and that I can’t wait for again.

Do what scares you once ….

Advice from my mentor at the time before I gave my very first lecture in front of my 1st year Games Design Class. Which you would think given I’d been teaching for a couple of years at college by that point that a lecture would be no problems. Nope a lecture you have to be at the front the whole time talking (or droning on I am sorry students but even I got fed up of my voice after 20 minutes so for you to sit and stay with me for over an hour you guys rock – yeah we do look at the audience for sleepers lol my biggest fear but thankfully you were all too kind) and that’s it totally scary stuff in front of 100 students not just your class of 20. Once the first one was over though it did get a bit easier but those words stuck with me. I was reminded of this on my Facebook memories this week with this post about me finding the presentation I’d made for my first ever talk in front of folk at uni and guess who was my lecturer yes that very person who then mentored me how lucky can you get.

Julie is an amazing person and gave me the confidence to deliver that first presentation as a scared mature student back in 2006 (mature being I was 10 years older than most of my class but we had a great group) and then when I came back to GCU as a member of staff she was then a mentor to me and again showed utter faith in my abilities which led to me lecturing and not just leading tutorials/labs eek. Her faith paid off though and OK maybe seems daft to folk but when you are not the most confident (I guess anxiety has always been with me) you need reassurance and having that from someone I admire as a lecturer really gave me that push I needed. Also, she is very much a positive role model for women in computing. I do try applying the kindness that she showed me to my own students as I think its important. I struggled through those 4 years for various reasons BUT always had the back up of the staff who were nothing but patient, understanding and sympathetic to what was going on in my life outside of studying.

This past academic year anxiety has been that scary thing I’ve done EVERY day its hard to get up out of bed for work but when the anxiety kicks in you realise its easier to go to work than have to explain why you can’t go to work. Sounds stupid right? Work is the place though that has helped with that and once I was there in the building that feeling of eurgh went away. I absolutely love my job and lets face it I work with some of the most amazing folk. However I had to get up out of bed and get to work first to make that happen. But thanks to the love and support I am still here fighting every day yeah for sure it’s a million times harder during lockdown BUT I still have the support which is priceless.

While it may be mental health week – great for raising awareness but in reality we really should all be more aware of our own mental health all the time and when it is suffering. We all have good and bad days and this lockdown for sure is testing everyone. Its something we need to talk about more and openly not be ashamed about it. I was to start one of those I didn’t want folk to know about my issues and for at least 7 months while family and friends new only 4 folk at work knew and those were the trusted few that helped me through the most difficult time. Naturally I realise now I would have had much more support had I been a bit more open but there is a stigma about mental health issues I guess and I had to shake that off before I could open up fully to others and I am glad I have done. It has been a relief not to worry about it as such now and I know that the help and support network is amazing.  Its important you don’t struggle alone – I would not have gotten through work had I kept this fully to myself for sure. My anxiety manifests in the fear of I’m not good enough or I’m always second guessing myself at work. It leads to endless thinking and overthinking until it hurts my head. It can also lead to anxiety attacks which can at times render me unable to talk and I have to just go fora walk to shake it off. Its all about rationalising things so a simple task for you will be a mountain for me until I have sorted it out in my head and realised yeah actually that is OK.

Look after each other you never know who needs that kind word – there’s been a few times recently where I’ve had a lovely wee check in message either text or DM on social media and for those who have done it it makes a world of difference. You don’t have to understand, just being there and asking is everything and makes things better.

Have you seen my motivation?

So if any of you find my motivation out there can you post it back to me!  

Tried to take a small break from my pc, it was the Easter break after all however it latest a little longer than planned  – well aside from getting back to work at home naturally.  

 I tried to stay away from all things work during that 2 week break though did some of that colouring stuff which actually turned out to be quite relaxing, make a lego loveheart for my window, spent time tidying the garden, made a couple of daft videos. I say daft more just I like to try different things so one of them was really just a montage of pictures I’d taken from near enough the same spot in Kelvingrove park – The Snow Bridge looking out at Glasgow University. Me and one of my daughters would go every Saturday morning for a Pokemon walk and I got into the habit of taking pictures as well (mostly of Squirrels but I loved the view from the bridge too.

The other video was well out of my comfort zone but my wee cousin was supposed to get married just before Easter and naturally that never happened so I got some family involved and made a mime along video for her to one of her favourite Westlife songs (personally it’ll be too soon if I hear it again sorry Kelly but almost 7 hours of You raise me up just to get the video right!) still it was worth the end result and put a smile on her face. 

Why am I doing these things well they keep me focused. My anxiety has been quite bad recently and I am hating shopping with a passion now to the point it is literally fear inducing thankfully only go once a week now to the supermarket. My routine isn’t great and it has affected me not being able to head off to work each day – yes I work at home and do get to talk to my colleagues/students but it is not the same as being able to get in the car and head off to another building for the day. Writing has also been good though but see that motivation I was talking about yip it has been slowly going and its been difficult to get back into thing again. I’d had a bit of CBT before the lockdown and part of that was all about ensuring I did something enjoyable each week if not more (small things).  So doing the little things like that help me get a bit of me time and time to try not “think” or overthink.  

I’ve now started  to meditate using the Calm App. Had did this before but kind of lost my way with it before Christmas so giving it another go. Only been a few days though. I still get out to walk every day with my daughters and listen to music while we do so (we probably look very unsociable walking in pairs with headphones on but it gets us out the house). I also discovered from a friend Susan Calmans awesome Mrs Brightside podcast which you’d think listening to someone talk about anxiety and depression would be weird but actually I have found it very interesting and somehow makes what I have feel a bit more normal. Its definitely good to talk about these things and I have hid it for too long but by opening up it has lifted a weight.   

Anxious but looking forward

Decided since I’m going to be at home more to start blogging again. The past 2 weeks have been awful uncertain and difficult to say the least for everyone and leaving my workplace today for an indefinite amount of time was overwhelming to say the least. As someone though who suffers from Anxiety and Depression this has set me back a fair bit. I was diagnosed in August 2019 and through close support from my GP, family and friends and a few fab colleagues at work (there are lots of fab folk I work with I should add I just chose to tell those who needed to know) I had started to get things back on track. Xmas was hard being away from the routine for a couple of weeks but now the uncertainty of how long I’m going to be away from work has this week really dawned on me I have struggled with that as my physical workplace was out of the house and interacting with my colleagues as well as teaching my students.

I am now going to have to adapt (as are we all) and I’m going to try make this a positive experience rather than let it overtake me  and I’d just like to take this time to remind us all that we need to look after each other. Outside of our immediate family life, we naturally will be worrying about those we teach, but we also need to look out for our colleagues and ensure we keep in touch with each other as well.  The support I have had has been crucial in keeping me going especially in the workplace.

I understand my mental health a lot better now and have strategies in place granted that went out the window this week. But I will get back to it. I have been loathed until now to share my issues with a wider community but feel that its important that we start talking about it and ensuring that we look after our mental health as best we can, I know more than ever I am going to need the support to see me through.  

I am going to be doing what I can to keep me and my 3 awesome daughters going (2 uni students and 1 in 4th year of school) and also supporting my students online as well as anyone else who will be needing it. Happy to help any of my colleagues with advice on online working and various collaborative methods. As well as offering online help in my local community for those who need it (probably via my @CoderRoyston twitter).

#bekind should not just be for a day or when something big happens we need to #bekindalways you never know what the person next to you is going through and you may just be that one to help with a kind action or words.

#SurfaceGo Event – Microsoft Edinburgh

Catching up with things and thought I’d get blogging again. Last Wednesday I was able to attend the Surface Go event at Microsoft in Edinburgh. It was a great chance to see the new Surface and meet up with some new and familiar faces.

After Tina Jones had welcomed everyone – always great to finally put a person to the twitter handle !! Kevin Sait gave us a demonstration of the Surface Go. I loved the size and even though my Surface Pro 4 is portable this is definitely next level. I can see the benefits of having one of them for myself it would be a bonus for meetings and just general day to day work as it is a lot easier to hold for writing on as you would do at a meeting. I still use my surface at meetings but this seems like it would be a lot easier to handle for tasks like that.

After Kevin the amazing Sarah Clark spoke about how she uses tech in her classroom and I have to say I love her passion for what she does. She does not have much tech to use (her surface and lots of cables it seems coming from everywhere) but its how she uses it with her classes that’s the important part from being able to add notes to pictures of their experiments there and then to sharing demos with the entire class at once. I remember seeing a tweet ages ago about Sarah giving a demonstration to her class (bear in mind its biology so some things can messy  or not for those who want to stand right at the front of a dissection) so she sets up her surface so that she can capture what she is doing and it can be projected onto the screen given everyone in the class a good chance to see the demonstration. I’d never thought of using it that way before but do now when I’m demoing things like attaching crocodile clips to the Micro:bit or setting up a raspberry pi touchscreen. It really is a great example of how you can make the most of what you actually have in class and shows that you don’t need to have lots of tech to be making a difference.

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Callum Paine was the last speaker and he gave us a demonstration of the learning tools that were available. For me the biggest surprise was Edge and the tools it now has such as Reading View which when you use it takes away all the unnecessary bits on a web page and puts it into a nice page view that’s easy to read. Fonts and page colours can also be changed very helpful for learners if needed.  Things that I am going to have to look at a bit more now to see how I can use them to benefit my own students.

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It was a great evening and really good to catch up with folk I’ve not seen for a while in person especially Sarah & Ian who kindly posed for pictures with my students 3D model thanks to the wonderful mixed reality viewer which is great for showing off their creations, though Kevin did a good job of photobombing as well,  thanks Microsoft for a great evening. .

Computing without Computers

As many will know I’ve been running an after-school computing club (@CoderRoyston) in Royston Primary now since April 2013 and we’ve been a CoderDojo site since October 2014). Each club lasts a school term and I’m now in my 22nd term of club. Mostly with one club per week but during 13/14 & 14/15 sometimes two or three clubs per week with between 8-12 kids per club. Some kids will stay for just a term, others dip in and out of terms and some stay. In 2016 3 of the longest attending kids were presented with raspberry pi’s from CoderDojo Scotland for their dedicated attendance over 3 years and sadly only left as they were moving onto secondary school.

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2 of our 3 longest attenders getting their Pi

Over that time the kids have entered competitions, had visits from Maureen McKenna director of Education for Glasgow, Elizabeth from HMI who wrote up a cool good practise report on our wee club & a party of educators from Denmark!! They’ve also been out presenting to primary teachers interested in computing and to the local housing association showing what they’ve been getting up to during their time at the club, as well as getting to the Scottish KoduKup finals twice.

Keeping busy

Overall, I’m proud to be involved with this wee school that I call my second home and proud to be part of the Royston family – bear in mind my youngest child left the school 2 years ago now. But once part of the family then that’s it, my kids were at the school from 2004 until 2016 and I’ve been involved in a lot of things parent wise and volunteer wise. Since 2010 I’ve been doing computing of various sorts related to my research and finally started the computing clubs in April 2013 and haven’t looked back. I haven’t given them up because even though I’ve no kids there now I know all the kids there and feel like well while I can give back I should.

Just some of the things we’ve done at club

So why am I writing this post, well this term has seen a Big change to the club. The school is being refurbished and now don’t have an ICT room which technically should have meant the end of computing club BUT no I couldn’t see that happen. Sooo thinking hats on and well pretty easy we have done some unplugged activities – doing pixel art, learning some magic tricks that teach computing concepts and planning a Minecraft build. We are lucky enough to have Raspberry Pi’s though and that’s the route we are going to be taking with the club. Our next session will be hooking up a multiplayer Minecraft session and working in pairs to create the ideal school that was planned out at a previous session.  Yes it’s disappointing to lose the room but time to think outside that ICT room box and ensure the kids still get to enjoy club for many more terms to come.

 

A week of birthdays (of sorts)

This week marks 2 important events for me Mini Game Jam & my Coding Club are celebrating 5 & 4 years of being around.

5 years ago when finishing research I came up with the idea and here I am still having events across Glasgow – theres more detail about the jams in this post here with a hope to expand the event across other authorities next year – happy to consult with others if folk are interested.

4 years ago this Friday my weekly Computing Club started in Royston Primary School. What a journey that has been, I’ve delivered 150 hours of coding since I started the clubs with an average attendance of 10 kids per club. It has been amazing the kids have done so much Scratch, Minecraft, Python, GPIO, Raspberry Pi’s, Unplugged work, Magic tricks, Microbits, Kodu, Touchdevelop and Makey makey. They’ve also had fab opportunities – getting to the KoduKup final twice, having visitors from Denmark come and see what we do, going and presenting to our local housing association and groups of teachers to as well as visits from the Director of Education Maureen McKenna & a wee visit from HMI as well. I’m so proud to be involved with the school and this club really is special to me from the kids who are regulars to those who couldn’t wait until they were old enough until they got to go to club as they’d heard so much about it and those who come just to try something different.

I hope through both these things that I get children not only really enjoying computing & game making but also to make them realise that they could have a future working in either. 

Jams all over Glasgow

Just loving my Mini Game Jam seeing the impact its having in some schools and seeing not just the children enthused about coding in the class but their teachers too. Hard to believe I started this “crazy idea” 4 years ago with just 2 classes of P7’s (50 kids) and now it’s 9 events across Glasgow & a final event. Yes OK maybe I exaggerate but to me it was supposed to be a one off event until someone said to me are you doing this again next year then? I replied you must be kidding me on it was tiring and stressfull (in a good way though) but after thinking carefully when well why not then!! The rest is history.

To date I’ve now done 7 out of the 9 events this year with 331 children from 18 schools having taken part so far. Next weeks one is a special event as its the learning community thats supported my idea all it took was the and seen the potential it has for not only gamemaking/coding but also transition between primary & secondary school too. it will see Royston Primary taking part for the 4th year in a row and Smithycroft learning community for the 3rd year running. Thanks to Simon Kelly the head teacher at the time at Royston supporting my idea then letting everyone else in his learning community know that he saw the benefits of it for his school and others, this event has just gotten bigger and better.  It’s not only the learning community though thats been of support organisations like IGDA Scotland and Computing at School Scotland have been awesome (Luke Dicken & Kate Farrell you guys did an amazing job helping me out) Can’t forget John Lawson too – still want that Italian Jam Mr Lawson?

I’ve made a Sway https://sway.com/Pc1x1eJVGbEHOxS8 to showcase all the pictures from the events this year so far and will keep updating until they’ve all been down. Once all the local events are complete I will upload all the games to the Scratch site however in the true style of a game jam I’m trying to keep the theme secret from all locations until the last event has been undertaken.

 

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Teamwork

Scotlands first Redefining Learning Event

 

Thought I’d share my thoughts on the first Redefining Learning event to be held in Scotland at West College Scotland. It was an absolutely fantastic event and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

The afternoon comprised of a few talks before splitting up into various workshops led by Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts.  Andy Nagle from Microsoft discussed redefining learning and how technology is the class isn’t magic on its own however in the hands of the right teacher it can be.  Ian Stuart then talked about the use of Microsoft Products in Education, before showing us some great examples of how Office Mix, Sway and OneNote can be used in the class.  Next up was Marie Renton sharing her experience of using Skype in the class and in particular taking part in Mystery Skype sessions with classes from around the world. She has been using this in her school to teach French to the children in P5-7 in her school and explained how it worked and how schools can get involved. For me the best part though was as well as telling us all about the fab things she explained what difficulties she had to overcome in order to make the whole thing work and that is a lesson in itself if you are determined enough and persevere you can make these things work and her pupils certainly seem to get so much out of it. You can find more information on https://education.microsoft.com/ about Mystery Skype. Natalie Lochead shared her experience of using Skype connect with other schools to learn with them and also talked about how by using Skype in the class children can go on virtual field trips. Finally, David Renton spoke about coding in schools and the importance of coding & IT skills today as there is a skills shortage within Scotland with around 11000 jobs going unfilled. He talked about some of the tools available to teachers for teaching coding and then gave a demonstration of Kodu http://www.kodugamelab.com/ and TouchDevelop https://www.touchdevelop.com/ . Kodu is an environment that is suited best to P5-7 and lets the children create their own games within a 3d world. It’s really easy to program with simple commands that for the basis of while something is happening do something.  TouchDevelop is an online tool that’s more suited for secondary pupils and it lets you create apps and games from your web browser and on any device so you can start creating on the pc and finish what you are doing on your mobile device on the way home. Having used both of these tools I would totally agree and know that the pupils always find them great fun to use and create with.

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After the talks we headed off to our workshops and I’m disappointed I never got to see anyone else’s. Marie & Natalie’s workshop looked at the use of Sway. Samina Hassan’s workshop was about using Office Mix and Nicola Paterson & Ian’s session covered using OneNote. However along with Andrew Minshall I helped out at the Coding session led by David. This was a chance for the teachers to get some hands on experience using Kodu or TouchDevelop and it was really interesting to see so many teachers wanting to try it out. I hope that when they go back to school they will keep on trying.  After the coding session myself and Andrew did a session on how we have used Minecraft in school. Andrew talked about how he has been using Minecraft Edu version in school and has been creating a model of the school (including teachers) with the children. As well as this the children have been using the Minecraft experiences as prompts for writing and they have even been creating spelling walls and peer marking each other’s spelling within their world. His next project is going to be creating a Scottish Landmark for the Build it Scotland project http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p031dzs4  Which leads me on to the work I have been doing with my local primary school and getting them involved in taking part in Build it Scotland http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03cddly  I used Minecraft too but on the Raspberry Pi which is a more limited version than the Minecraft Edu version. However when undertaking the project which lasted around 15 hours over a good few weeks over half of the lessons were spent learning about landmarks and planning out what we would do in Minecraft on paper and we also used some number cubes as well to create models in school before finally moving onto Minecraft and getting the models built in the world.  For me it was to show the teachers that while the may think Minecraft is a game there is a lot they can do to enhance children’s learning and there is a lot they can do without using Minecraft to start with. We did a lot of planning on paper first then used number cubes to visualise our models before finally getting on to Minecraft to build them. By using Minecraft as a motivational tool it encourages the children to want to work more and learn more about their topic and yes it is great fun for them when they get onto Minecraft to build their models. I left the teachers with some words from children I had spoken to before the event and they gave some advice to the teachers as to why they should use Minecraft with reasons including working together, helps us be more creative, learn new things and my favourite it it’s helped them realise and think more about computing as a career choice when they are older.

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Project Raintown App Development

I spent my Thursday morning working with 30 young people from 6 different secondaries across Glasgow creating apps using TouchDevelop for a project they are involved in with the charity Playlist for Life. Project Raintown has a few different strands for the young people and I am leading the app development where they are working towards creating an app to help evoke memories for dementia sufferers when certain songs from special times in their lives are played. It’s been a great project to work on and though we’ve had a few technical hitches the young people have all had a amazing app ideas which we are trying to take forward.

school appsCollectively we worked on an app together which gets people to add in their favourite songs to a playlist and can be found here to try out https://www.touchdevelop.com/jbjhff