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.

Finding out more about careers in games.

On Friday 26th I organised a morning of talks for our games students (NC/HNC & HND Games)  from those who work in the industry. I think it’s important that students are aware of the many varied career paths within games possibly ones that they’d never even thought about and get an idea of what they should be doing to progress further in their chosen field.

To start us off James Hodgart from Axis Animation discussed his career and what he does as a 3D artist. James is also a former student/lecturer of West College Scotland as well so it was great to have him back to inspire our students. James talked about being a lead on projects which means he has to designate and find the best person for the job in hand. Some wise words as well about getting started with your 3D work start small and make the small things good before moving on to bigger projects keep practising.  After showing an amazing video of the things he has worked,  on he then went on to discuss the differing jobs available in Animation.

George Corner is an Events manager for QD events and he spoke to the students about his varied career before his current position. It was particularly interesting to hear from George as most of us have attended at one point or another a games event/expo which got students thinking a bit more that there are lots of paths career wise that they might not have even considered.

Next we had a couple of Skype calls once the technology worked! First up was Steven Sim a Lead Artist for TriCAT GmbH Steven is based in South Germany and spoke to the students about moving abroad for work and showing them how he started off his animation work with one of his projects to where he is now.

Mazen Suker a game designer for Bohemia Interactive was our second Skype call though was upstaged by his cats. Mazen discussed how he got to where he is today (based in Czech Republic) but has been well traveled for work. Key point from his talk was all about keeping your mental health well and finding your own style of working.

Our last speaker was Thomas Welsh a Narrative designer for Cloudpunk. Who spoke to the students about writing for games and getting started (just write !!) Lots of useful advice though from him on the subject and it was great to hear about his work.

Overall the morning went well and it was great to hear from the different speakers on their varied careers and I hope that its given our students a little more inspiration and determination to work to ensure they are successful in their chosen field.  Thank you to James, George, Steven, Mazen and Thomas for giving up their time to come and speak.

Also thanks to our HND Games student Scott Davidson for kindly taking photos on the morning.

#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. .

Thank you Royston Primary

So it finally happened and I got the letter to say I’d been awarded my PhD. Time for celebration after all this time am looking forward to graduating in the summer.

One special group of people who have been involved in my research are the staff and pupils at Royston Primary.  They are my second family – not only have they taught all my children they also supported me from when I first started uni many moons ago now right through even letting me conduct my research in school and helping build my network of other schools to work with.  As well as the research I’ve been running the computing club in there for 5 years now and hope to be back again after the summer. However they invited me to their whole school Friday morning assembly to share my good news with the pupils and well I only though that I was going down just to join in their normal assembly and that but nope whole assembly was for me (I hate fuss and they know it ). Each class made something special for me and their messages were so heartwarming but also made me realise that what I’ve been doing is important.

My beautiful thoughtful gifts from each class.

To me it’s natural now if I’ve time I’d rather be running a club than sitting at home doing nothing the kids really do get so much out of it as do I. I feel like I’m giving back to my community and also deep down hope that I’ll inspire at least one or two to go further in computing or games or even just to genuinely think about their future and know that they can do absolutely anything they set their minds to.  Took me long enough but I’ve finally got that PhD.

To all the staff and children whom I’ve worked with over the past 14 years thank you heres to many more volunteering hours ahead.

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.

 

Last week

Been a while since I have posted and trying to get back into it again so thought I’d start by sharing a Sway of what I got up to in work last week it definitely wasn’t an average week thats for sure.

As well as the kids I got the chance to show some more things to teachers at a CPD session held at West College Scotland last week which you can read more about here http://www.westcollegescotland.ac.uk/news/2017/february/23-renfrewshire-school-teachers-develop-their-technology-skills-at-wcs/ where I had them making music and using jelly babies to make sounds with the Microbits.

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Overall it was a great week and I’m seeing the potential of using the Mircobits. The kids loved being able to not only have a program run on screen but also then be able to transfer it to a physical object and have that do something. I’m now looking at making more music (found a cool tutorial that showed me how to do Star Wars – see video below) and seeing what else can be done with them.

The tutorial for Star Wars came from MicroMonsters Youtube page thanks for a great tutorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y32FhgOVZnM

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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