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

Pierogi / Pyrohy / Piroshki or hand pies to that effect

Back at the Warwick Folk Festival again – fantastic music (Man the Lifeboats, Trials of Cato, Banter, Glory Strokes) and amazingly good food. As per my blog post from last year, some of the stand-out food of the weekend came from The Old Granary Pierogi. Just the most wonderful yeasted-pastry pies/pasty things you can imagine. Wonderful fillings, tasty to the end. So this year, getting home, I figured I’d try to make them myself.

Don’t put them too close together!

Turns out that most every country in the Russia/Ukraine/Poland type region has a variation on this dish. Not only that, but it bears a striking resemblance to Chinese steamed dumplings. So pretty much every culture in the world has developed a Cornish pasty-type thing of some kind. Fillings vary, obviously.

Essentially, though, they boil down to 2 things. The dough and the filling. My culinary adviser and Google-fu expert found me half a dozen different dough recipes, I found a few more, and we distilled them down to this, which makes roughly 20 pierogi:

The Dough

  • 2 tsp dried yeast
  • 60ml warm water
  • 2tsp sugar

Put into the bowl of your Kenwood mixer (other stand mixers are available, we’ve got a K to do the heavy kneading work here). Give it a quick stir and leave it for 5 minutes. Then, in another bowl, mix together…

  • 360ml warm milk
  • 50g melted butter
  • 1tsp salt

Add that to the yeast mixture you first thought of, along with

  • 450g / 1lb strong white flour.

First time through I thought I only had plain flour, so used that, and needed another 150g or thereabouts to get the dough to the right consistency.

Stick the bread hook on the Kenwood, turn it on medium, go away and have a cup of tea. Give it at least 10 minutes. It should be pulling away from the sides of the mixer and forming a nice ball. Add more flour if too sticky, more warm water if too dry. It’s a very soft dough you end up with but it’s lovely to work.

Cover the bowl with a cloth, leave it to double in size – about an hour. Plenty of time to make your filling. Always make more filling that you think you’ll need. Easy to store and use later, harder to stop everything and make up another batch!

The Filling

I went for a classic pork/chorizo/pepper pie filling we’ve made before, knowing that the kids will eat it whether this works or not, and that I can always knock up a batch of rough puff pastry and make a real pie should everything go pear-shaped. You’ll need:

  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper, finely chopped
  • Some cloves of garlic (more than 2, less than 10, you know how much garlic you like), finely chopped.
  • 1 chorizo sausage (~250g), finely cubed (there’s a pattern here)
  • Pork loin, 3-4 steaks, finely cubed
  • Oil, salt, pepper, chilli flakes
  • Fresh parsley

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil over a medium/low heat and fry the onions slowly for about 10 minutes. Low and slow is the key here. Sprinkle of salt, grate of pepper. While you’re frying the onions, prep the peppers and garlic.

Add the peppers and garlic, mix it all up, give it another 15 minutes. And while this is all frying, prep the pork and chorizo

Add the pork, the chorizo, the chilli flakes (as much or as little as you want heat-wise) and give it about 5 minutes, enough to colour the pork. Take your filling off the heat.

Ah, this stuff smells fantastic. Simple and gorgeous.

Pierogi, Assemble!

And this is where the story really starts…

Roll the dough out into a long sausage, about 5cm diameter. Divide it up into 20 equal pieces. Grab the first one and a rolling pin, roll it out into a disc about 5mm thick, maybe a bit thinner. Whack a tablespoon of the filling into the middle and close it, pinching and twisting like a Cornish pasty. Put in onto a baking try, grab the next one. Roll, fill, place, repeat. Don’t place them too close together, they’re going to rise…

Basic pinch and twist to seal them. And, FYI, these are set way too close together

Let them stand for about half an hour, heat your oven to 180C, bake them for about half an hour.

The challenge then is to let them cool before eating them.

And a final word of advice. Whatever I’ve written for quantities up there? Double them. You’ll thank me.