It’s Friday and I’ll shortly be heading to school to help out. Reading with one otherwise-disruptive lad for half-an-hour, then a 45-minute session with six Year 4 and then another with six Year 5/6 children.
With the groups of six I’ll be doing some blogging-related work. I haven’t yet decided whether it’ll be writing new posts, commenting on each others’ posts or visiting Dare Elementary’s blogs, a US school who we Skyped with, and leaving comments there.
A couple of days ago I read a post by Josette LeBlanc in which she mentioned something she’s been doing for the last year – daily listing five things she’s grateful for, and sharing it with a friend, as a means of not getting bogged down in everyday worries. See Connections and Influences – Josette, iTDi.Pro.
What would my little bloggers make of that? I feel grateful that …? I feel grateful for …? It would be interesting to see what thoughts they come up with. It might be a fun challenge.
But then it strikes me – “fun for whom?” What would they learn from it? What would I learn? What’s the purpose of this activity? Some will surely struggle – is it worth the fight if they get nothing out of it? ”Fun” on its own is not enough.
I’m doing all this blogging and Skyping, using Voki and so on, and they’re learning to use the technology and to connect, but it all seems back-to-front. Shouldn’t what we do be driven by what we want to achieve? Or do the tools open our eyes to what can be achieved, enticing us to use them and to explore? Should I be particularly concerned that it’s all a bit whim-led at the moment? Today I’ll probably just let the children choose.
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On a separate note, I plan to turn up at school early and spend lunchtime out on the field, chatting with anyone who wanders up. For me this is a real delight – one of the best things about what I do.
…for want of a better title.
I wrote back in January (January!) that I’d decided to postpone my return to Asia by six months to find and buy a house. Since then, life has been manic!
I’ll cut to the chase – everyone knows how time-consuming and stress-inducing this process is and we all have our own personal tales – but I’ve found a place, had my offer accepted, and in a week it should become mine!
It needs a lot of work. Nothing structural, but lots of repairs, modernising and decorating. It needs a completely new heating system. It needs much, if not total, rewiring. And the carpets, decorations and furnishings are all out of the 1950′s – they’ve got to go. But I like the place, it’s got a homely feel; it’s obviously been loved.
It’s nothing fancy – just a very solid, plain-looking, mid-terraced, ex-council house. It has three bedrooms, all a reasonable size, so potentially three lodgers. It’s in a decent location and looks out onto a big green at the front. The bathroom is titchy so that’ll be a bit tricky, but there’s a downstairs toilet albeit without a hand basin (hmm!). There’s a separate small sitting room which I can make mine. The kitchen is small too but it’s off a good-sized lounge – so there’s potential for making a lounge-diner-kitchen area. It’s got a larder! I love larders! It all needs ripping out and re-fitting, of course, but it could be good. The garden is a manageable size and I understand there’s a 15yo lad next-door who might just be looking for some pocket-money for grass-cutting and tidying-up duties. There’s a greenhouse with all the panes intact, and two brick stores – perfect for bicycles, a tumble drier and chest freezer. There are lots of problems but they all have solutions.
I spent a couple of hours there the other day, without the estate-agents or owner hovering over me. I explored the nooks and crannies and got to know it better. Till then I’d had half a mind to pull out but I left feeling a lot happier that it was the right thing to do.
A beautiful song performed beautifully by Zee Avi (KokoKaina)
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
Though there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fears and sorrows
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile
The Moon Represents My Heart – Zee Avi and her dad
UPDATE 2013/04/03: Please ignore this request – a class in Brazil has stepped forward with Skyping sessions for my unemployed Granny!
A UK granny would like to Skype with non-native English speakers to help them practise pronunciation…
Background Some of you might know that for the last six months I’ve been working with the “Granny Cloud”, the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra and Dr Suneeta Kulkarni. I provide a bit of administrative and technical support to this great project (more: BBC article, SOLES and SOMES wiki, The Granny Cloud blog). Essentially this is English-speaking “Grannies” Skyping with disadvantaged children in India and Colombia. When I say “grannies”, I use the term VERY loosely! It includes, grandpas, uncles, aunties, mums, dads… just about anyone who can spare the time to chat regularly with the kids. I’m sure that you can see that this would be a two-way street with many benefits on both sides.
The situation fluctuates but, right now, we really have more grannies than we do classes to Skype with. Trouble is, it takes quite a lot of effort on the ground to get these centres going and recent publicity has brought even more willing grannies out of the woodwork. I had the feeling that some were becoming a little frustrated so I thought I’d ask our registered grannies if anyone would be interested in occasionally Skyping into a regular UK primary school – reading stories with the school I work at. I found there was enough interest to run a few trial sessions over the last couple of months. It was always a bit of an experiment but we’ve now decided to drop them. The kids enjoyed the sessions but lessons at the school are constrained by a hectic curriculum and it was difficult to get a good fit. Some flexibility is also needed in the schedule to accommodate lessons that underrun or overrun while a Skype call is, by necessity, a relatively fixed appointment. It didn’t work for us but it might work better for you, especially if part of the purpose is language learning and culture exchange.
One Granny in particular is seeking to connect with a school and set up a regular Skype session. She is a retired teacher herself, very friendly, and loves the feeling of being back in the classroom. She is a young-at-heart 78 year-old, competent with computers (email, Skype, blogging etc) and comes from a village in Bedfordshire, towards the south of England. She has varied interests: animals, saving the planet, music and many others. She says she “firmly believes the young hold the future of our world but need guidance”.
- Children ages 12+ but younger might be considered too
- Less-privileged children who want to learn
- Aim is to Skype to practise conversational English/cultural exchange
- Available weekdays, 09:00 to 17:00 UK time.
- Ideally one or two regular 30 to 45-minute sessions a week
If you can see an opportunity at your school, please email me: email@example.com with some details of your class and its situation, and I’ll pass them along to my “Granny”.
Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
Today, on Twitter, I mentioned that I work at a nuclear fusion research centre and wondered if a Skype session with an expert would be of interest to anyone. This was on the monthly #globalclassroom chat, the focus of which was “How can we transform Science education through the integration of ICT and real world connections?”
I am proud to say that I work on the Joint European Torus project at Culham, near Oxford. The site is managed by CCFE (Culham Centre for Fusion Energy) and, to explain the research, I’ll quote their website: “Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the Sun, can play a big part in our carbon-free energy future. Culham is one of the world’s leading fusion research laboratories. Our scientists and engineers are working with partners around the globe to develop fusion as a new source of clean energy for tomorrow’s power stations.”
I don’t think that I’m overstating the fact when I say that the research here is of absolute global significance. I am a general electronics design engineer but we have many brilliant minds exploring science and expanding human knowledge in this very worthwhile endeavour. I know that many of these scientists would be keen to share their knowledge, to explain their work and so encourage future generations of engineers, scientists, physicists, designers, planners and more.
CCFE has a Pubic Information department which welcomes visits from secondary schools, colleges, universities and the pubic – anyone with an interest in what we do. It also has a very active outreach program for primary school ages upwards. However, the department is small and, as it is a working research centre with a very busy experimental programme, it is not always possible or convenient to have visitor groups being shown around. It strikes me that there is a low-cost, readily accessible opportunity here to connect interested learners to willing experts through the medium of Skype.
The focus of a Skype chat could perhaps be (but not limited to) science in general, women in science, technology, energy or the environment. I haven’t yet discussed this with the PI department (there seemed little point if there was no demand) but if you have some students who might be interested in “Skyping an Expert” then please contact me and I’ll do my best to convince them and get a rewarding connection set up.
I stumbled across a site which presents your political and social leanings on a graph. See http://www.politicalcompass.org/test. Out of curiosity, I thought I’d give it a shot. Six pages of questions later, this is where I stand:
I’m a communist anarchist, it would seem. There’s every chance that I didn’t understand the questions or the implications of my answers but I feel I’m certainly somewhere in that quadrant. With Mandela and Gandhi for company, I’m not going to complain!
I’ve been helping at a local Primary School, introducing some of the kids to blogging. I have two groups – six children in each. Year 4 are all boys, and have The Mathematicians blog, and Yr5/6 are three of each, with their Millie’s Secret blog. We had some problems at first with using the kidblog platform on our netbooks – they couldn’t reply to comments, but the support company came in and fixed something and we’re probably now in business again.
The kids love it. Part of their enthusiasm is perhaps due to them being treated as something special – they can escape the regular classwork and do something fun with an old guy who doesn’t shout at them too much!
We started by making avatars of the teachers and then of themselves, which are now part of their blogging identity. We’ve written a few things to get an idea of how blogs work … but now what? I can start giving them blogging challenges but I wonder if I can squeeze them in. You see, by the time they’ve come in and got connected, they only have access to their blogs for, at most, 35 minutes each Friday, and we need to use that time as effectively as we can. The normal thing to do would be to get them to comment on others’ blogs and to refine the skill of commenting, but by the time they’ve written a couple of comments it’s time to go!
I’d welcome any thoughts or suggestions on how to maximise the fun and learning we get out of these short slots.
I needed a visualiser for a presentation I was doing at work. The idea was to give worksheets to the audience and then complete them by hand under the visualiser. This has many advantages compared with IWBs – not least that you work facing the audience and can develop concepts with ease just using traditional pen and paper. You can also place physical models under the camera – try that with a long-in-the-tooth overhead projector! And, a big plus for some, you don’t need to perform the “OHP Shuffle” to avoid blocking the light!
I found an old angle-poise lamp and stripped off the shade and fittings. This left a thread protruding which was a near-enough fit for an old tripod head I had lying around. You can get a new unbranded one off eBay for less than a fiver. I then fitted a Logitech C920 webcam. This is currently a top-of-the-range model and resolves to HD at 30fps. However, when my laptop was connected to the digital projector, the resolution needed to be dropped back to 800×600, so perhaps you could get away with a lesser device. On the other hand, the C920 is very sensitive and you don’t always need an extra light-source. The sound is pretty good too so it works well for its intended original purpose. It has 20 focus settings and will focus right down to ten centimetres – so it would presumably make a good microscope! Shame it doesn’t come with a carrying case to protect it but overall, even at £60, I’m very happy with it.
Once assembled I needed some software to display the view at full screen. I discovered “My Screen Cam” – it’s free and it’s functional, and will work with Windows 7 even though it doesn’t specifically state it does. However, don’t do what I did: install it without realising it boots with Windows at power-up. When I switched my laptop on the next morning and went off to have a shower, I came back to dreadful, house-filling, howling feedback! I could hear the noise from under the shower but thought it was a lorry reversing or some industrial process somewhere! And beware: even when you unplug the webcam it reverts to the internal webcam and microphone so I had a repeat performance the next morning. The configuration button in the program didn’t work so the only way to do it was to run MSCONFIG from the Windows 7 program search box. That did the trick!
OK, overall it’s nothing very innovative but it’s effective and relatively cheap, especially as the webcam has multiple uses so even better value for money!