Cherishing the cliché

Happy Mother’s day.

I’ve long viewed this day as a cliché and the commercialisation of it irks me. Still, my family  celebrates it every year and it’s a lovely family day for us. Here’s the thing, as years pass…as I get older, I’m learning to cherish this day when motherhood is celebrated.

After all, what a privilege! I have 2 lovely daughters, 2 lovely human beings. I learn so much from them and they challenge me to be a better person. It’s a tough gig  but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

mothersday2015

I’ve been lucky, too, to have a mother who I’m sure was born a generation too early! I’ve learned heaps from her directly and vicariously…and that includes the love of learning and reading and crafting and volunteering and giving and mother-ing and so on.

What’s more, my social media is full of well wishes to the many mothers I know. This has made me realise that not only do I have wonderful kids, I’m also surrounded by amazing women who have raised wonderful kids as well as many friends raised by wonderful women. Now, there’s a happy thought!

None of us will be here without a mother.

So cliché or not….

 

I cherish this day then, not just for the wonder and privilege of being a mother but for all the mothers, including my own, as well as would’ve been, would-be, can’t be and don’t-wanna-be mothers.

More and more, I view mother’s day as a celebration of women.

Is there a ‘happy women day’? Maybe there should be.

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Mindfulness

I’ve been wondering about how I could incorporate more well-being stuff into my classroom. A chance conversation (as seems to be the norm on Twitter) yesterday with an esteemed tweep, @lasic, was the catalyst to trying mindfulness in the classroom. Tomaz suggested smilingmind as a resource. (Yes, check it out).

I signed up and tried the first edu session for 16-22 year olds with my 10 IST class today (last period)  – a bunch of really lovely girls who are used to me saying, ‘let’s try something new’….aside, it’s really wonderful to have a class like that!

This was also a good opportunity to get started with using discussion forums, a feature available in our Sharepoint-based virtual classrooms. Another aside…Whatever else people may say how outdated forums are, the reality is that it is used in universities. I figured, my students should at least be exposed to it and see how it compares to other forms of asynchronous conversations.

Straight after the 5-min activity, they were given another 5 minutes to reply on the forum. I asked them whether or not it was worthwhile to have mindfulness activities in the classroom and why. Here are some of the responses:

Yes. So that I can be motivated to do it because I want to keep my mind happy.

[Yes]…because it relaxes the mind and in turn, the person, which makes it easier for the person to complete meaningful work and also to complete it more diligently.

Yes…because I feel that a student is more likely to concentrate with full focus in class once they have centred their thoughts and relaxed from thinking about all the problems they may be going through…

I think it depends on the subject as some subjects are not relevant to this

Maybe we should at times to rest our mind from other things we do at school.

[Yes]…to enable us to clear our thoughts…and concentrate more in class

This is a good class of happy and engaged students. Today, they were all ‘happy’, relaxed, inquiring, more daring, less afraid to ‘fail’. Being on my 2nd year with this class, trust me when I say there was a different and even more positive vibe in the classroom.

It’s too early to tell whether or not it is worthwhile to do mindfulness activities in the classroom. Previous readings on the topic and my gut feel from today is that yes, it will be. It certainly helped me focus, which on a busy and full teaching day, is quite amazing and pleasantly surprising.

As with anything, if this is to happen at all, it’s got to be given time and space. I think I can afford to give it 5 minutes in an 80 minute lesson. No? If this has a consistent effect, I think the 5 minutes is time well invested not just in well-being but in learning. We did it at the start of the lesson. I may experiment with timing and try midway or even towards the end. *watch this space*

Have you tried mindfulness activities in the classroom?

How did you do it?

Would you recommend it and why?

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Have wings, will fly

the beginnings

Ever since I saw the Lilypad Arduino at a CS4HS workshop at UNSW, I was quite taken by the possibilities for making wearable technology – blending my 2 current teaching foci of computing and textiles. We got our own kits as well as primers at the CS4HS workshop and I was buzzing with excitement about it at school. My TAS boss was just as thrilled, seeing more STEM opportunities particularly for HSC  D&T MDPs and set me off on a mini-shopping spree at Sparkfun electronics.  I showed some of these goodies to the 2 HSC DT classes and even though many were excited about the idea, only 1 actually considered creating wearable technology. Still, there’s 1!!!

Of course, there’s a wide gap between possibilities and reality and I soon had to face up to creating a prototype. At which point, busyness, end-of-year exhaustion and so on got in the way of inspiration. I had none!

project 1

Fortunately, an opportunity – need, even – came up with a fairy party (for an 18 year old, no less) and the birthday girl (a daughter’s friend) was keen to have some electronics on her costume.  This was the simplest of circuits using only a battery pack and a string of LED lights. We didn’t use all 10m of it so I’ve got a bit left over which can be used when I can get the right resistor for it. Really basic stuff but the lights blink so it looked cool.

project 2

Getting a little bit more confident about playing with e-textiles, I decided to make fairy wings for my daughter who’s attending the party as well. I made the wings based on this tutorial. This shows that I’m really an electronics n00b because I wasn’t really thinking about the wires used which really made designing/sewing the circuitry more complicated than necessary, i.e. I had to avoid the wires (conductive, yes?). Anyway….

Another thing that made it a bit harder for this n00b was that I wanted a row of lights to light up. All the beginner tutorials I looked at only had 1 light. You know the feeling when you don’t know enough to even ask Google? Yes, that. Anyway, I finally stumbled on a basic explanation of parallel and series circuits and I was on my way (btw, this circuit tutorial from Sparkfun is even better; I wish I saw it earlier).  Basically, I wanted a couple of parallel circuits (+ to +, – to -) for a symmetrical design.

The materials I used were all Lilypad stuff from SparkFun: SimpleSnap, SimpleSnap protoboard, 2 rainbow LED strips and conductive thread. I also used the FTDI from my original ProtoSnap kit to program the system; it doesn’t come with the SimpleSnap.

I had trouble positioning the protoboard on the wings as I wanted to make it ‘easy’ to access the negative (-) pin on both sides. I also wanted to eventually add sensors using the analog input pins. I had so many questions on how to assemble my circuits and in the end, decided for a prototyping approach. That is, I sew one circuit on, program and test. Sew another circuit on, program and test. etc. This worked and got me going. There’s a lesson right there!

When stitching, I avoided the wires on the wings by positioning them at the back and “crossing” them at the front (the intervening textile layer is enough). There are other ways, I was told, but this worked enough for me. I also learned that I don’t have to stitch all the way to the (-) pin except for the first one, i.e. The (-) circuit is one “circle” in and of itself. One of the tutorials suggested to sketch the stitching or circuits first, i.e. plan. In hindsight, I really should have. There’s a lesson right there, too!

Stitching the circuit was an exercise in balancing form and function. Stitches had to work to operate the lights as well as look good. To work, I had to ensure there’s enough contact with the right pins as well as avoid crossing over existing circuits and the wireframe of the wings. I also had to tidy up lose ends which could accidentally touch another circuit.

I kept the programming simple as the party was looming and I had no time to learn enough C to make it more fancy. I wanted a finished product!

Attaching the wings to the costume and covering the main board proved challenging as well. I guess, I really didn’t think through the details of the final design from the beginning. There’s a lesson right there yet again!

However, it all came together in the end and the wings worked…and it was an amazing fairy party. I also have a working prototype to show students as well as play with. What was a mere possibility months ago is now an evolving reality. 

I’ve learned so much. I have wings. I will fly:-)

click photos to enlarge – you’ll have a closer look of the pins used…and my sewing

wings2 wings1 faery faeries


Download

(video of wings – mov)

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What did they learn?

This post is about my 9 IST 2014  Game On project originally premised on the notion of making the world more humane (see links for related posts). This was essentially a project-based learning approach (PBL) and it had the 8 essential elements of PBL according to the Buck Institute of Education (BIE), a PBL leader.  It’s tempting to see how I’ve done against that checklist and I dare say it was a good PBL but what I really want to do here is ask the harder question of whether or not this project has achieved what I set out to do.

That is, has the project somehow made the world more humane?

Have the process and product of answering the driving question – “Can developing games help develop resilience?” – somehow created a more humane world, on top of achieving curricular outcomes?

The previous Game On event post has partially answered this … and it is a YES. Connecting with others. Making time for play and enjoying it. Celebrating achievements. Laughing out frustrations. Giving feedback. All good stuff and all told from my perspective.

Let me share what my students said. I used one of  Harvard University’s Project Zero Visible Thinking Routines, “I used to think…now, I think” as a student reflection tool. I’ve quoted a few below but if you want to read more, find it here – SDP reflection (PDF).

on Game Design

I used to think… now I think…
Would be pretty easy as there are so many games already made It’s challenging but now I realise how creating a game isn’t so simple and coming up with a new idea is not as easy as you think. However, designing games is a rewarding process and is absolutely fun.
It is easy to come up with an idea and develop a game and it is the programming and algorithm which is the difficult part in the game designing process. That coming up with ideas take up a lot of patience and skill. It is vital to come up with an idea which has a vitally fun and interesting output. It is essential to consider how the gamer or viewer will find the game as well.
That games you could just tell the computer what you wanted without having to use certain blocks and that it would be quite simple once you have an idea, it would do the rest for you. Actually, there are specific instructions you must use to make games. You have to be determined because sometimes things don’t work and you have to try again.

on Software design and programming

That software design and development has to strictly follow the design process of design, produce, evaluate. That evaluation is the most key part of design as it enables communication between the designer and user.
That it was really boring and that there wasn’t really many things you could do with software. Also, that people just made things that already existed and that it wasn’t helpful or fun. Software design and development is very good and useful and there is so much you can do with it that is not already created but you make new things and new ideas.
It really only involved one person and that you always typed in binary. It involves a whole group of people for it to be successful. Now I know there are many other computer languages that you can use.

on being a Software Designer / Developer

That it was a simple and mindless job people did and that it was boring and stressful. It takes a lot of creativity and thinking to be able to design and produce something. Also, that although it may be stressful, it’s a lot of fun and incredibly rewarding when you see your finished product.
That in order to create a good idea, it was only the creator’s mindset or viewpoint on it that shaped how it turned out. That repeatedly seeking advice and information is important to keep you on the right track. Reviewing your work from different perspectives help in taking your creation to a new level.
You didn’t need to know much maths. Never have I been so wrong.
It involved a set of rules to need to follow to do your job. It involves more creativity. Successful games have creative people who made them.

They’re thinking of software as a creative process and tool.

They’re thinking of and “using” others.

They’re thinking of writing games for others to enjoy.

They’re seeing challenges – and perseverance – as a way to learn.

They’ve realised that their thinking has changed.

 

This being the last teaching day in 2014, it is good to reflect that teaching can be good. It’s not always good but good times, like this, make up for when it’s not so good.

Perhaps a relevant recap to where this “journey” started with a quote from John Maeda (Make it more humane) is this new video by @veritasium looking at the on-going search for technology to revolutionise education, and I quote…

The foundation of education is still based on the social interaction between teachers and students. For, as transformative as each new technology seems to be…, what really matters is what happens inside the learner’s head and making a learning think is best achieved in a social environment with other learners and a caring teacher.

 

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Game On 2014

I’m so proud of my year 9s for hosting a fantastic Game On 2014 event – I daresay it was better than Game On 2013!

Some things stayed the same: the platform (arcade or studio on web Scratch), the coders (9IST students, except last year I also got the year 10s to do it so they could experience it), the venue and schedule (lunch towards the end of the school year). I invited again many teachers from other schools to get their students to play. Food. Prizes – still to be won by writing games reviews. The PBL itself was very similar to last year (here’s a link to my intro lesson) including the inspiring TED talk on games by Jane McGonigal. She wished us luck :)

Jane McGonigal tweets us luck

Some things were different: I managed to get  our school ‘s year 2 students who are also learning to code to also play and review games – that’s pretty cool. Many of the my students wrote 2 games so even though there were technically fewer developers, there were just as many games as last year. We also had a different sponsor – Atlassian (Thank you!!!)

Another big difference is that I got my students to do more, i.e. write request for sponsorship, get approval for the event, plan the menu, take photos, solicit game reviews and even write an article for the newsletter.  So apart from being game designers and developers, they’ve had a taste of event management. After all, it was like a product launch :) They felt accountable to Atlassian, to me, to players of their game and ultimately, to themselves. They took ownership of the event and they should be proud (as am I).

Well done 9IST and thank you for making Game On 2014 a fantastic event!

Here are some pics from the event (all half hour of it!):

Slide2 Slide1 slide 3Slide4 Slide5 Slide6 Slide7

 

 

Even with delegation, this is a big event that takes time and effort especially during a busy time of the year. . BUT, it is worth it. Here’s an insightful article written by one of my students, Harini Lakshminarayanan (with permission):

Year 9 IST 2014 – GameOn for the Shuttle

and I quote:

I believe this event was a great opportunity to understand the success behind each IT product. This event has given all the year 9 IST students an insight into how IT works in the real world as it is more about the success among the user and the suitability of the product to users.

Come and play : bit.ly/ABBGO14 – you don’t need a Scratch account to play unless you want to comment or better yet, make your own.

 

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