Coding during Lockdown part the first

Well. You begin to understand why “May you live in interesting times” is a curse! We’re living right now through something that will be taught in school history classes in years or decades to come, assuming the human race survives and the Martians don’t seize the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. Perhaps this virus is the Martians testing out a weapon they know they’re immune to. Perhaps I’ve been listening to War of the Worlds a little too much.

Anyway. For those who don’t know, my day job is as an ICT teacher. We, the geeks, are now in the forefront. We’ve been saying you can do all this stuff remotely for a long time and now, finally, we get to prove it.

This is going to be part 1 in a series, don’t know how many parts there will be, it will depend on how long this goes on, where I’ll point to some resources on the internet that will let you continue to learn how to program a computer whether you’re in Key Stage 2, 3, 4, or 5 here in the UK.

Key Stage 2-3 – Hour of Code

A huge range of coding challenges here. Some are harder than others, some are obviously Scratch with the serial numbers filed off and a hasty paint job slapped on – Star Wars, Minecraft, etc. I’m looking at you here. My favourites on Hour of Code are LightBot, Code Combat, and the HTML stuff on there from Khan Academy. The first two are nice, fun activities that teach some really complicated coding concepts in a great step-by-step way, the third is a fantastic introduction to HTML, the language used to build web pages. What better way to spend your lockdown than creating your own in-house website?

Key Stage 2-3 – Scratch

You can’t possibly have escaped Primary School without encountering Scratch. If you can think of a game, you can make it. Mind you, the same can be said for Little Big Planet on the PS4, Kodu on the X-Box, and a few other platforms. You assemble code like Lego blocks, gradually building up more and more complex games as you go. What I love about Scratch is how instant it is. A couple of clicks and you’re moving a character around a screen, chasing something that’s trying to run away from it.

Key Stage 4-5 – Codecademy

Now this is where things get real. Codecademy has online courses for an absolute ton of programming languages and associated concepts. It will keep you occupied for days. Weeks! And what better time to learn a new language than now when you’re stuck inside with only the internet to keep you company.

Bonus challenge. Flexbox Zombies (and other games to learn new stuff)

Every now and then They (the capital T is important) introduce new features into a language you’ve been writing for years and you need to learn it fast. In HTML, They introduced the FlexBox. And then they created Flexbox Zombies to teach you how the whole thing works while killing zombies at the same time. Or training a frog to reach it’s lily pad, or getting aliens to abduct cows for whatever it is aliens abduct cows for. They’re all just a quick search away.

Many, many, more resources are there on the Internet for you. I’ll take a deep dive into those on the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s website for those of you wanting more out of Scratch… Until next time, keep coding. It’ll keep you sane. Or it’ll drive you mad in entirely new and different ways.

All I learned at school was how to bend, not break, the rules

Being an irregular column in the life of an ICT teacher.

So. New term, new school, new kids, new colleagues. Just under a month in post and I had my first complaint.  Well, second.  The first was about the tone of my emails. “Could I not send emails like that to the IT helpdesk?”

You know the conversations. A member of SLT pops into your classroom for “a little chat”. Anyone who’s been involved with management in any shape or form will know the shit sandwich. Praise / problem / praise. And this was a finely crafted example – ensuring I was settling in well, assuring me that good things were being said. But there was just one thing that had been raised.

A fellow staff member (with whom I have presumably interacted in some way) has taken offence at my choice of neckwear. Another man in school has actually gone to the headmistress and put in a formal complaint about my choice of ties. (don’t shoot the messenger!)  I’m not setting the right example.  It’s not smart.

Y’see, for the last 5 years or do I’ve taken great pleasure in wearing an increasingly diverse and fun range of bootlace ties, collecting the neck pieces at steampunk festivals and making them into ties myself. They’re a talking point! A way to spark conversations with students, to begin building those all-important relationships.

But, according to the complainant, it’s not a tie.  And despite what the Wikipedia article on neck ties says, what the OED says, and what the staff uniform policy says (it’s vague to the point where I am clearly and definitely obeying it), it isn’t a tie.  So could I wear a “real” tie.

Now.  Take a look around the staffroom the next time there’s an all-staff meeting.  You’ll see a wide variety of “ties” tied with a wide variety of competence.  You’ll see the tie with a fat knot to conceal the fact that the collar isn’t fastened.  You’ll see what I can only describe as the “letter of the law” or “it’ll do” that, if worn that way by a pupil would cause uniform concerns to be raised.  And you’ll see some very smart, very tidy, ties.  But they will almost certainly be the same knot.  The knot they learned when they were at school.  One that takes seconds to tie and does the job.  If someone’s been to a fancy school, you might catch sight of a Windsor knot.  But that just scrapes the surface of what’s out there…  So I set myself a little challenge.

Every school day I would wear a different knot.  The more outrageous and flamboyant, the better.  “Wear a tie”, you said.  So I am.  The uniform  policy says wear a tie.  It does not say how to tie it.  It also does not say whether it should be tasteful or not…  Game on.

Since that day I’ve done over 50 knots.  I’ve done full Windsors, helix, shuttle, vampire, prince, Edison, aperture…  For the full list, look me up on Twitter – @dogbombs is the username, #TiesForTeacher the hashtag I’ve been using.  I’ve used two YouTube channels primarily for this as their instruction videos are brilliant – Linwood at @WhoSeesThis mirrors his videos to make them easier to follow, Patrick Novotny doesn’t but if you swap “youtube” for “mirrorthevideo” in the url it does it automagically.  And I’m going to continue to do it.  There are more knots out there for me to try, more ties for me to try them on.  My only problem is, as a taller gentleman, I need extra-long ties to be able to tie these things and look good, and for some of them I’d need extra-extra-long ties, which I just can’t find.  So 2020 might just be the year I learn how to make a necktie myself.

Has this improved my teaching ability?  No.  Has it improved my relationships with the kids?  Actually, yes.  Especially in the 6th form.  They spotted that I wasn’t wearing a bootlace the very next lesson and asked why.  So, I told them the story in full.  And the very next day, one of them had a Trinity knot, one was trying the Merovingian…  They’re learning new skills and, in the words of Madness, they’re learning how to bend, not break, the rules.

And, perhaps even more amazingly, I only got 2 ties for Christmas.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out what knot I’m wearing for day 1 back at school tomorrow.  I’m thinking the V-trix

Bread, two ways

It has been a while since I posted here, so have a couple of quick and simple bread recipes that I used at the school wellbeing day…

Yeah. Wellbeing day. A whole day off-timetable, no kids, spend the time getting to know your fellow teachers and partaking of some fun activities. First up, laughter yoga. Keep an open mind, the email said, giving nothing away. Now, don’t know about you but I’m old enough and cynical enough that when someone says “Keep an open mind”, my mental blast doors slam closed faster than Han Solo can say “Close the blast doors” and, yeah. Anyway. Moving on.

Next up was my leading a dozen other teachers through making a couple of different breads. The recipes below, in fact. Showed them that making bread is nothing to be scared of, that there’s not a lot of actual hands-on time, and that the whole thing, start to finish, can be done easily in a couple of hours.

Big shared lunch (see cheesecake recipes elsewhere on here for my contribution, 3 of them), and then an afternoon walking around Ferry Meadows in Peterborough. Cold, windy, flat-ish.

Bread, take 1 – Soda Bread

Ingredients…

  • 500g flour – 250g plain white flour, 125g plain wholemeal, 125g of sometbing more interesting – Khorasan, Spelt, Rye, Buckwheat. I find Khorasan works really well.
  • 1tsp salt – I use sea or rock salt here, it ends up migrating into the crust. Gorgeous. If you’ve got smoked or chilli salt, even better.
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda. Clue is in the name.
  • 420ml buttermilk. Or thereabouts. I’ve never got the stuff in the house so, I cheat…
  1. Make the buttermilk. Take 200ml full-fat milk, add roughly 20ml lemon juice (a tablespoon and a bit). Mix. Leave it for 10-15 minutes. Hey presto, buttermilk.
  2. Weigh out your flours, put them in a bowl. Add the salt and soda.
  3. Mix everything together into a wet dough. And it will be a sticky one. So add a bit more plain wholemeal flour and mix a little more. You don’t knead this bread, you don’t want to rile the gluten.
  4. Lightly flour a baking tray and turn your dough out onto it. Shape into a ball.
  5. Grab a dough cutter if you’ve got one and cut your ball into 4 quarters, lightly flouring the cuts. If you’ve not got a cutter, a butterknife should do the job.
  6. Leave the dough to rise a little, 10-15 minutes again (enough time to mark some homework!) and then put your oven on to 200°C.
  7. Bake for ~35 minutes
  8. When the time’s up, test the bread – turn the loaf over and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow and drum-like, you’re golden. Put it on a rack to cool and wait as long as you can be patient before cutting a slice off and slathering it with butter.

Total hands-on time, about 5 minutes. Total time, end-to-end, about an hour.

On wellbeing day, 4 bakers out of the dozen chose to make soda bread, each using a different one of the alternative grains. And we got 4 superb loaves, some of which even made it to the bring-and-share lunch!

Bread, take 2 – Single-rise white loaf

A lot of people think bread is complicated and time-consuming. This recipe proves otherwise. Quality white bread in about an hour and a half.

Ingredients…

  • 500g strong white flour. Best for bread making
  • 1 sachet instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 300ml warm water

We’re going to give this bread every opportunity, every chance, to rise and do well. So, without further ado…

  1. Mix together the warm water, yeast, honey, and oil. Much like the buttermilk-making, if you leave this for 10-15 minutes the yeast will activate, the mixture will froth up, and everything will be ready to rock and roll when you start mixing.
  2. Give the flour 30 seconds in the microwave, heat it up, so the yeast isn’t given a cold shock when it meets the flour.
  3. Now mix everything together and knead it in the bowl until it pulls away from the side. The more you knead, the nicer your bread will be. A good 5 minutes at least. Of course, if you’ve a Kenwood with a dough hook, whack it in there and ignore it for those minutes.
  4. Take your dough and split it roughly 2/3-1/3. We’re going to make a cob. Shape both parts into balls, place the smaller atop the larger, oil two fingers and deeply finger your balls (sorry, Bake Off and Pottery Throwdown both contain these single-entendres).
  5. Leave to rise for about half an hour. Oven to 200°C.
  6. Bake for, again, about 35 minutes and test in a similar way.
  7. This time, you’ll need jam or marmalade, I reckon.

This, too, was successful. None of the bakers wanted to share!

So there you go. Bread. Quick, straightforward, plenty of time to do other things while fresh bread is rising, or cooking and filling the house with a mouth-watering smell of things delicious. If you’ve got faster ways to bake fresh bread from scratch, I want to know.