Deepwire's Blog

What do I feel most comfortable doing?

by on Dec.11, 2013, under Electronics, Programming, Random, Technology, Work

That is a very difficult question!

When I first went to write this post, I envisioned another long, drawn out, ramble.  But then I found I didn’t have time to write one.  So I started, but couldn’t get past the first line.

From my PGCE experience so far, I have very quickly found that teaching probably is not the right career for me.  I found that as the term went on, and I was teaching more lessons (still only about 30% of what a regular teacher does), I was feeling less and less comfortable in the classroom.  A lot of the feedback I was getting was saying things like I need to “show my personality more” or “relax in the classroom”, and that if I can “show enthusiasm for what I’m teaching, the pupils will want to be there”.

But I was never able to do any of that.  Granted, I was always going to find showing enthusiasm difficult, because although I am on a Computer Science PGCE course, I am placed in a school that only offers ICT.  So it’s difficult to be enthusiastic about teaching PowerPoint, or graphical Logo design, when these are not things I am particularly interested in.  I was able to get a small bit of programming into the PowerPoint lessons, using Visual Basic for Applications, but it was only minor.

The rest of the time though, I was so concerned with teaching the material correctly, making sure pupils knew what they were doing and were not misbehaving, that I couldn’t begin to think about ‘relaxing’ or ‘showing my personality’.  I felt that as the weeks went by, I was feeling less comfortable, not more.  If I was in a lesson observing, and effectively being a Teaching Assistant, I was fine.  I could relax, talk to the pupils about their work, and felt fine.  But put me in front of a class as the Teacher, and I was on edge, worried, stressed, and could only focus on the teaching.

Any day when I had to teach a class, I was constantly on edge, and found for the first time in my life how stress can make you ill.  I was feeling so nauseous I did not want to risk eating lunch for fear it would make me more ill and unable to teach the lesson.  In talking to my mentor at the school about this, where he was saying I need to be doing something I am comfortable with, he happened to ask “What do I feel the most comfortable doing?”.

I found I couldn’t answer.  I mean, of course I’m comfortable at home, be that playing video games or working on my computer.  But that’s not something that earns money.  In many ways I was comfortable at my previous job.  I could go in, sit behind my desk and get on with things, quite easily, as there was no major challenge there.  I never felt stressed to the point of feeling ill.  But I was not comfortable there for other reasons – it felt like I was trapped, and certainly from experience trying to get another job, it seemed like the experience I was getting there served only to keep me there.

I know I’m comfortable, and enjoy, working with electronics and embedded systems.  But this is more something I do as a hobby.  I do not have enough experience to take this and get a job doing it.  I enjoy programming, and writing software, but again, I do not have enough experience to get a job doing this.  I enjoy my involvement with Scouting, running out of school activities  for young people, but this is volunteer work and does not pay.  After months of job hunting and rejections, I saw teaching as a viable option.  It required a degree, which I had, and combined things that I enjoy, programming and working with young people.

But I seem to be finding that the whole is less than the sum of it’s parts.  I have not felt comfortable doing it, and do not know if I will feel comfortable if I stick with it.  The second school I will be placed at briefly in January does teach Computer Science.  I may get on better there, as it will be in the right subject area.  Even the mentor there agrees ICT and Computer Science are different subjects, and understands my frustrations with my first placement.  But I still know I have to go back to the first school, and I’m not sure I can face that.  Plus I don’t think a different subject will affect how I feel about teaching itself.  I think a lot of how I feel comes from the general role and work as a teacher, and is not specific to the subject.

What I do going forward is something I still do not know.

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Right decision. Wrong bloody time.

by on Oct.20, 2013, under Programming, Random, Technology, Work

I have held off so far on blogging about anything to do with my Computer Science PGCE, because I wanted to have time to settle in.  I didn’t want to comment after the first week, or my first day in a placement school, without knowing how I really felt about it.

But then something happened this week that really got to me, which I will come to later.

I admit that when I was first considering the Computer Science PGCE, while working in a job I did not enjoy, the £20k Scholarship offered by the British Computer Society was what tempted me to apply.  To do the course, I would be leaving a paid job, and so the possibility of the scholarship was enough to make me seriously consider the course.  I applied for both the Computer Science PGCE and for the BCS Scholarship at the same time.  I knew my chances of getting the Scholarship were slim, but it gave me the extra nudge I needed.

As predicted, I was not successful in obtaining the Scholarship, but I did get a place on the Computer Science PGCE course.  Fortunately, I knew that PGCE students training to teach in certain subject areas with either a 2:1 or 1st Class degree were eligible for Training Bursaries from the Government.  In subjects such as Maths or Languages, the Bursary for a 1st is £20k, but for Computer Science it is only £9k.

While significantly less, it is still useful to help cover costs over the year, and slightly counter the loss of income from leaving a full time job.  I was also able to apply once again for Student Loans, to provide financial support through the year, and help with the costs of tuition fees.  It would be a struggle, but I’d just about be able to manage.

Since starting the course however, I have had this growing feeling I should have waited a year.

While applying to the course and going for interviews, I visited a couple of secondary schools that were both teaching Computer Science.  I was told at the end of the summer term where my placement school would be, and had the chance to visit before the summer holiday.  They too were teaching computer science.  But when I started the course I was informed I was no longer being placed at that school.  I then found out that not all schools the university works with are teaching Computer Science.  We spend a significant amount of time in placement schools, learning from existing teachers.  For my first placement, the longer of the two, I found I had been placed in a state school that only teaches ICT (Information and Communication Technology).

The draft of the new National Curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will come into effect in September 2014, includes Computing, the core of which is Computer Science, to replace ICT.  This will mean that all state schools, with the subjects they teach bound by the National Curriculum, will have to teach Computing from September 2014.  This greatly increases the chances that the schools the university works, with when placing PGCE students, will teach Computing.  There are still Academies, which are not bound by the National Curriculum, and are free to choose the subjects they teach.  So there may still be schools that teach ICT.  But in many cases, these Academies are the schools already teaching Computing or Computer Science.

This on it’s own, although disappointing, has not been enough for me to change my mind and leave the course.  While I would prefer to be in a school where I am getting experience of Computer Science being taught, as this is the subject area I chose, I am still learning about how to teach in general and how to teach a computer based subject.  A PGCE is as much about learning to teach, the pedagogy, the theory and the practices of teaching, as it is learning to teach a specific subject.  But in other subjects, for example Science or P.E., those students would naturally expect to be placed their chosen subject area.

Back to this week, and something that compounded the nagging feeling I am 1 year to early.

This week, before even receiving the first payment of that £9k bursary, Schools Minister David Laws has announced some rather significant changes which make this year seem very much like the wrong time to be doing a Computer Science PGCE.  Now, instead of students with a 1st receiving £9k and those with a 2:1 receiving £4k when doing a Computer Science PGCE, both will automatically receive £20k.

Without having to do anything else, if I was in this same position next year of having a place on the Computer Science PGCE course, I would automatically receive more than double the amount of bursary.  I would not have had the added pressure of applying for any scholarship, or being told by the BCS that I am not good enough to receive their £20k of funding.  Instead, on the grounds of my degree classification alone, I would be good enough for £20k of funding.  The Scholarship available from the BCS has increased to £25k, but now the difference between the two is less significant.  I could still have chosen to apply to the BCS Scholarship, although with the difference between the two reduced, there is less incentive or pressure to do this.

It would mean straight away I would not have applied for any Student Loan.  As it stands now, with the Maintenance Loan too support my living expenses during the year, and the Tuition Fee Loan, I am adding an extra £12k to the Student Loans I already need to pay back from my Undergraduate Degree.  The Bursary does not need to be paid back, and would have meant I could have paid my own Tuition Fee, and had a enough left for expenses across the year.

It is definitely not all about money.  But it would have been nice to have not had to increase my student loan debt by £12k this year.  It would also have been nice not to have been told you I was not a good enough candidate for £20k of funding this year, based on a tough interview process, only to find next year I would have automatically been good enough based on my existing degree alone.  That feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth.  The increased chance of being placed in a school teaching Computer Science would have been a plus too!

Now that I am already on the course, I am going to stick with it.  It would be impossible to drop out now and reapply next year.  That would look ridiculous, and I know there is no way that any university would offer me a place again if I gave up the one I had this year.  But I will never be able to lose the feeling it would have been better to do it next year.  Yes people often say ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.  But in this case, it actually is.

All I can do is hope there are many positions available in the job market for Computer Science teachers to start for September 2014, when many more schools will need to offer the subject under the National Curriculum.  I already experienced bad timing earlier in my career, when I had to delay graduation due to personal circumstances.  This meant postponing graduate job applications, so when I reapplied the following year many of the companies had reduced their intake due to the recession.  The only job I was then offered I had to take due to financial pressure, despite the nagging feeling it would be a mistake and detrimental to my career.

It turns my subconscious was right back then.  I really hope this time it isn’t.

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Everyone deserves to have a goatee.

by on Aug.12, 2013, under Programming, Technology, Work

For the second time, I find myself in awe of all the amazing hacks that were shown at this years Young Rewired State.  I once again was a Mentor at the centre held in Microsoft in Reading, and was joined by a group of 15 keen young people, all age 18 or under.  Some of these were returning to YRS, either having been at Reading or another centre last year, and others were taking part for the first time.  All of them had some level of coding ability, ranging from new coders just starting out to more advanced already having worked in different programming languages.  What mattered most though, was that all had enthusiasm!

Our group of 15 came up with 4 ideas they wanted to make during the week, and split themselves up into groups to develop them.  At the end of the week, they had to present them at the Festival of Code final in Birmingham in front of a panel of judges.  Unfortunately none of our projects won in any of the judging categories, but all groups did some excellent work during the week, and should be extremely proud of their achievements!

The #Twome hack, developed by ‘Four Men and a Mop’, got a special mention during the Final on Sunday for their hack that turns Tweets into Poems!  If you want to try it out, go to http://twome.co.uk to try it out – be prepared for some funny, and potential #NSFW results.  Remember, it’s using Twitter so the content could be anything!

Our #Inspyro hack, from the SwagSquad team, made it through to the Final for ‘Best Example of Design’ for their hack designed to provide inspiration.  They were struggling so much on Monday to come up with an idea, that that in itself became their idea – something to help people come up with ideas!  Unfortunately they didn’t win, but it was excellent to get through to the final.  If you want to be Inspyred, go and check out http://jshdk.co.uk/inspyro/.

Our other 2 hacks weren’t mentioned in the final, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t as good.  If you want to see what the most popular tweets are for any topic or hashtag, visit Top Tweets at http://dev.dw87.co.uk/toptweets/.  You may think it’s basic, but this one was built by two YRSers who are very much beginners with code, and knew very little HTML at the start of the week.  One of them is only 10, is already doing lots with the Raspberry Pi, and has her own blog as Kid Coder here.  The final hack from Reading was an app to turn location tagged comments on twitter about particular places into reviews when someone looks up details for that place (e.g. restaurants, pubs etc.).  This would be useful as when you get comments such as “Avoid ‘The Queens Head’”, it’s hard to know which ‘The Queens Head’ pub that means.  By taking the location data from the tweet, and mapping it to the nearest actual pub called ‘The Queens Head’, you can build up reviews other people can see when they look up that particular pub.  The team wrote this in Python, rather than as a website, so I can’t link to it here, but the YRS project is here http://hacks.youngrewiredstate.org/events/YRS2013/the-twitter-local-business-analysis-tool.

The week was amazing, and it was great to work with such inspiring young people.  I wouldn’t say my coding is that great, and I always feel I never know enough to help, but the week went well.  I hope they were able to learn stuff from me, and I know I was able to learn some stuff from them.  There were also endless words of wisdom from the YRSers during the week, including ‘Everyone deserves to have a goatee’ from a 12 year old coder who can’t grow his own facial hair yet!

I’ve already said when talking about my choice to return to University and do a PGCE in Computer Science for Secondary Education that Young Rewired State was a huge factor in that decision.  Now I’ve been part of it for a second year, I am even more certain I am making the right choice.  I realise that learning within schools will be very different, with a structure, and exams, but events such as Young Rewired State will definitely still have their place.  School will teach the fundamentals of the subject, some programming, and help them start thinking about things in the right way.  Young Rewired State gives them a chance to use that, and do whatever they want.  No structure.  No exams.  No set projects.  They choose what they want to do, and how they want to do it!

I have no idea how I will feel in a years time, after completing my PGCE year, but I do know that I want to take part in YRS2014.  It is such an uplifting experience and may even be just what I need to boost my spirits after what is probably going to be a very busy, stressful year.

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