Scratch Conference 2017 in Bordeaux

Millions around the world use Scratch as their first coding experience. To learn from the best Scratch educators, to get some new inspirations, and to share my own experiences with this fantastic coding platform, I went to the international Scratch 2017 conference in Bordeaux, aka Scratch2017Bdx, this July, and I was not disappointed! Here are just some of my take-aways… many of them will make their way into my classes with cccSkerries (in real life, here in Skerries, Co. Dublin, Ireland) and (online) with thecccCo.

10 things I brought back from Scratch2017Bdx…

  1. Use Scratch more for story telling – imaginary stories or stories based on real life (for instance, tales from a family’s history, or projects based on what is happening in the world – check out the Syrian Refugees stories created by students in a Chicago high school).
  2. Get a taste of Augmented Reality – easy with Scratch! We’ll use the camera and pick-colour / when touching colour function to make a ping pong game that uses real (drawn) paddles, as shown by Scratcher Xefi during one of the many fantastic workshops. (This is one for the intermediate camp, I think!)
  3. Do even more with the Scratch graphics editor! … a fantastic tutorial I’ll use (again in the intermediate camp / groups) was created by a 17-year-old girl from South Africa, known on Scratch as Bubble103, who was at the conference.
  4. Have a closer look at Scratch 3.0 in its current pre-pre-alpha version…
    The next version of Scratch will run on tablets and smartphones, so more places to show off our work, yay!
  5. …. and do the Scratch 3.0 team a favour by running several Scratch 2.0 projects in the current Scratch 3.0 version to check if they’re working
  6. Keep an eye out for projects by Scratchers I met during the conference, and add more of their projects to my Scratch Studio (a collection of Scratch projects) “#Scratch2017Bdx”.
  7. Try Inkspace for creating graphics that are too complex for the Scratch graphics editors, and then import them into Scratch projects. (Thank you, Mathieu, for the tip!)
  8. Try out some of the many other things, such as Cloqq, where children can try out a number of creative technologies including Scratch; micro:bit for connecting Scratch to the real world via the (somewhat experimental) ScratchX site *but oh no, what do I see, it’s for Mac only at the moment! Can’t wait for it to be extended to Windows computers, too*
  9. Spread my love for vector graphics wherever I can, in my groups, online in the community, and through my projects with thecccco and cccSkerries!
    Why vector graphics? Scratchers enjoy creating their own graphics (and it’s easier than you might think). Animations are way easier with Vector Graphics than with Bitmap. It’s a good introduction to computer graphics in general. And Scratchers can do fantastic things with their own graphics, such as explain things visually, tell a story with or without lip synching, create a music video, create a logo for their account…. Creativity rules! 😀
  10. And then there is Sonic Pi, a live coding music synth. Watch it in action at the conference party here – Sam Aaron live-coding music at the conference after-party!

Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to attend the 2018 conference in MIT – if its NOT the one beginning Mon July 23, 2018, I’ll be there! (date will be settled soon, Mitch Resnick of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT – the people who make Scratch – told me in Bordeaux)

Dublin Tech Summit 2017

A Skerries Perspective

This article was published in the 24 February 2017 edition of Skerries News.

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What will all the developments in technology mean for our daily lives, here in this seaside town in North County Dublin? What is in store, technologically, for the next generation – what will life be like for our son, who is now 16, when he is our age? Indeed what will life be like for us all in one, two decades? That’s what I found myself wondering after attending the two-day 1st Dublin Tech Summit in Dublin on February 15 and 16.

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Let’s Go Digital: Getting Your Daily Paper on Your Screen

So what’s that now, paperless newspapers?

Indeed. Subscribe to any of the Irish daily newspapers online, and you can read it without ever having to fold a paper again. Good for the environment, good for your purse.

How so?

For the environment? Have you ever looked at the pile of old newspapers building up in the corner?

No, I get that. For my purse!

It’s a lot cheaper. €4 per week for the Irish Times ePaper; €14.99 per month for the Herald, €19.99 for the Irish Independent. And they all offer the first month for just one Euro.

Yeah no. I tried it before and it just didn’t do it for me.

Same here. However, I’ve resubscribed to the Irish Times online, and it’s so much better now! Continue reading

Instagram and Skerries

instagram-and-skerries-in-skerries-news-nov-2016Q: So what is this now, Instagram???? Can’t people just share their pictures on Facebook?

A: Well, you go to Instagram to see good, interesting, fascinating, beautiful, handsome, intriguing, happiness-inducing images – mainly shot with a smart phone, and practically always square. You share them – normally not with anybody in particular, but with anybody who is looking. Whereas on Facebook you share pictures with family and friends mainly.
Or, as Instagram puts it: “Instagram is a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures. Snap a photo with your mobile phone, then choose a filter to transform the image into a memory to keep around forever.”

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Coding for All – Really?

For a numberSkerries News September 2016 of years, “coding” has been touted as the next big thing, the skill that our children will need in order to be part of the “smart economy” of the future; the skill that will make our youngsters rich and their parents proud, once they have created that million-dollar app. Coding clubs, so-called CoderDojos, for kids have sprung up all over the world; a number of countries have introduced programming into their curriculum, and in June of this year, the Minster for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, has asked the Irish National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to consider approaches to introducing the teaching of coding in primary schools. But is that really necessary? Is it even desirable?

As a former primary teacher (between 2010 and 2013, I worked in a number of North Dublin primary schools, both as resource and class teacher) and current “digital educator” (a term I may have made up myself, I’m not entirely sure), I can see both advantages and disadvantages of introducing every single child to programming. Continue reading

You are Here

Google Maps All the Way to your Holiday

july 2016 shot

Published as monthly Techie Column in Skerries News, 01 July 2016

It’s the time of year when holidays are on everybody’s mind. Whether you’re dreaming of going somewhere, or deciding which place to book; in the middle of planning the nitty-gritty of your trip, or getting ready to leave; when you’re actually there – and when you’re back home afterwards, Google Maps can add a lot to your vacation.

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cccSkerries – The First Three Years of my Creative Computer Classes

The door to the cccSkerries room first opened in July 2013.

It’s hard to believe that I’m about to begin the fourth year of summer camps in what used to be our guest bedroom and what I now call “the cccSkerries training room.”

In the summer of 2012, I decided to become a self-employed digital educator, and – after four years as a primary teacher – to focus on what I enjoyed most in teaching: Helping kids to express their creativity through digital means, to enable them to achieve their aims through technology, and to have fun in the process.

Looking back, I can say that this was the best move ever!

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Start taking the tablet!

Techie Column Header June 2016

A slightly shorter version of this post appeared in the June 3, 2016 edition of Skerries News

If you (or someone you know) belong(s) to those who don’t use the internet much (yet), because computers with their big screens and keyboards don’t suit, and smartphones are just too fiddly, then you might want to consider going the middle way- tablets!

Tablets are great because they can be taken practically anywhere, and yet their screens are big enough to actually see what’s happening.

Two experiences over the last year

About a year ago, a lady came to me for individual lessons. She had been given a smartphone for her 70th birthday – and returned it a couple of days later. She really didn’t like the tiny screen, and the way she never seemed to be able to tap on the correct link or icon. We tried a laptop, but she found it quite frustrating to use mouse and keyboard. But then she got herself a tablet – and never looked back since! The larger touchscreen was ideal for her. After two more sessions, she was able to do what she most wanted to – send and receive emails, take pictures and share them with friends and family, and stay in touch via Facebook and Messenger. I regularly see her updates from Skerries and from Spain, and they always cheer me up.

2016-05-08 21.30.50And last month, I once more saw how good a tablet can be in certain circumstances.  My mother, who is 79, was knocked off her bike and fractured her shoulder. She had to have surgery and spent ten days in hospital.  She has been using computers for a good while, and one of the first things she asked me to do when I went over to Germany following the accident was to check her email. She doesn’t have a smartphone (too small, too fiddly), and with an injured shoulder, the laptop wouldn’t have been very useful. A tablet once again was just right. I got a decent, not-too-expensive Lenovo, set it up for her, and brought it into hospital. After a short while (and with some assistance at first), she took to it and was now able to stay in touch from the hospital bed. She could find contact details for insurances and lawyers, she was able to google facts on her injury, and she could also send and receive emails.

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Five Thoughts on Email & Seven Quick Pointers for Setting It Up

Techie Column Header April 2016

This column appeared in the 8 April 2016 edition of Skerries News.

First thought: By now, it’s for everyone. These days, it seems to be expected of everybody to be on the internet and to have, at the very minimum, an email address. No computer? The library has some you can use for free!

Second: It’s simple. Using email has become pretty straightforward. If you’re new to it, don’t be shy to ask a friend or family member to walk you through it – after a couple of times, you’ll be able to do it all by yourself.

Third: Beware of spammers and tricksters! “This is Apple Corporation. Your account has been suspended. Please click here.” Don’t! “You have been selected for a tax refund.” No you haven’t! Most of these would end up in your spam folder. Delete and ignore.

Fourth: Don’t send too many Emails yourself, for instance by responding using “reply to all” to a group email, one that goes to many. Make sure that you only reply to the original sender – unless everybody needs to see it.

Fifth: Manage your inbox! A few minutes at a time make it easy to keep on top of it. Don’t let the messages build up… you don’t have to open every single one. Selecting and deleting them unread is often a good option. The subject line will give you a good idea.

Five quick pointers for setting up your email:

1. Choose your email name wisely. If at all possible, I would go with your actual name, with a dot between first name and last name. It’s easiest to read. Of course, if you’re John Smith, then john.smith@gmail.com will be gone long ago, so adding something like e.g. your location might be useful: john.smith.skerries@gmail.com is probably still available! Many use their year of birth – fine, if you’re happy to give it to everyone…. Me, I’d prefer my location.

2. Your password should be something you will always, always remember. Many places require them to be secure, so 1234 or password won’t work. Short Irish sentences do, however, especially when combined with punctuation marks and a number, such as anbhfuiltuanseo!2016 (no, I don’t use that as my actual password for anything, it’s just an example!)

3. Who to go with? Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail all are favourites. Personally, I use Gmail a lot. (More about Gmail in a future column.)

4. It’s probably a good idea to have keep work email and private email separate. For instance, if you are away from the office for a while, you don’t want to have to log on to your office email just to find that check-in information for the flight back.

5. Subscribe to email newsletters – if you are genuinely interested in receiving them! For instance, there is the near-daily Skerries Newsflash (see below) sent out by Skerries Community Association (SCA). This one I definitely do want.

6. Unsubscribe from newsletters regularly. You might have given your email address to a number of organisations, and now they send you emails. Again and again and again. And these clutter up your inbox. Don’t let them! Nearly all of them have an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom. Make use of it. Take some time to go through your inbox and unsubscribe from all the updates that are not useful or amusing to you.

7. And finally: Check your spam folder regularly. About 5% of emails that I receive and that Gmail moves there are not spam at all, and some of those would have been quite important NOT to miss.

Insider Tip: Skerries Newsflash

Every day, Dee Langton, one of the Directors of Skerries Community Association, takes the emails sent to newsflash@skerriesca.com and copies their text into the Newsflash, which then is sent out automatically early in the morning – community news, “small ads” type notices… if you get this, you’re certainly better informed about what’s happening in Skerries. (You can subscribe by sending an email with the subject line “Please add me to the Newsflash” to newsflash@skerriesca.com). Anyone can submit an item, though it is at the discretion of the SCA what goes in.

SCA Newsflash Promo Nov 2014