The Fan Who Found Me

I am not surprised the spawnlings abandoned me for the NERF exhibit at Sydney Supanova last weekend. To be perfectly honest, I would have been disappointed if they hadn’t.

Supnova Sydney 2017 NERF

But it was at that precise moment, without spawnling or security blanket, I was found at my most vulnerable…

While I watched all three of them bound into the play area, with NERF guns as big as them, a man dressed in black tapped me on the shoulder.

“Look up there, and you’ll see yourself on the television.”

Sure enough, I looked up and spotted an advertisement for Zedtown, the NERF Zombie War RPG event. I had reviewed the media day Zedtown for GeekMom (TL;dr – it was awesome. But now you must go to GeekMom and check out the photos).

Zedtown Preview EG Zombies

I laughed. He laughed. I said well done for recognising clean-face me at Supanova under all the zombie makeup at Zedtown. He said, “Hey, can I guess the school your kids go to?”

Nothing makes your stomach drop like hearing a stranger refer to your spawnlings personal details.

“…, uhhhhh… sure… what makes you think…”

“Oh, don’t worry! My girlfriend is a teacher at their school and recognised you in the tv ad. She squealed with laughter seeing you in the ad! She had no idea you were even interested in NERF Zombie wars, let alone a writer to review it!”

Minions: You have no idea of the relief that washed over my body.

Turns out, he is one of the organisers behind Zedtown (I think) and said girlfriend is one of the few teachers who has known the spawnlings since Sinister’s first day at school. And she figured I wasn’t quite like the other parents at school… She just didn’t realise how different.

It’s a fairly conservative, straight-laced kind of area. Perfect for corruption to my way of thinking, one family at a time. 😉 As a collective, they will claim to only know a few shows or books… but individually they are as much a fan of David Tennant in Broadchurch as they are of his performance in Fright Night.

So, once again, we laughed. We talked about Zedtown. We watched the spawnlings gang up on their father. Good time had by all.

And then I spent the next 12 hours, scouring every post I have ever made to ensure there is nothing about our school name in any post about the spawnlings.

Oh yeah, and I’m pretty sure that teacher has now been updated on exactly how awesome we are at NERF wars.

*throws down the glove*

 

Sydney Writer’s Festival

Sinister’s school class had an excursion yesterday. All the way over to the Sydney Writer’s Festival.

His teacher was rather considerate and even gave us a list of writers appearing on the day, including Liz Pichon.

For those minions who do not have pre-teen spawnlings reading and doodling all over the notebooks, Liz Pichon is the author of the infamous Tom Gates series.


Tom Gates is your average year-5 spawnling, just surviving every day by regularly escaping through his daydreams and doodles. According to Sinister, it’s pretty spot on with the inner dialogue, and the presentation within the book is unique and refreshing. 

He’s not the only one who thinks so – Liz Pichon was very popular at the Festival; boys and girls alike.

The Sydney Writers Festival is an awesome opportunity for writers to share their insights, and for readers to support the greater literary community.
For kids, they learn about some basic creativity skills – and get a day out of school grounds too. 

It was good thing the teachers gave us a heads-up about attending guests; gave me extra time to ensure Sinister had his book ready to be signed.


Of course, now he has devoured that book again, we need to work our way through the current family stack again.


I don’t think we’ll be obtaining any more autographs just it… Unless Mr Riordan is up for some travel?
The Sydney Writers Festival ends this Sunday with a huge kid-friendly event: Glowtopia. It’s held at the Bangarra end of the Rocks, filling up the entire length of Pier 4/5 with artists, music, authors, storytelling and roaming book characters to find (Hello, Waldo…) 

Fun starts around 10am. Liz Pichon will be there around 1.30pm, along with many others. Check the website for more. 


Coding Kids are Computer Gods

You’ve heard the saying. In fact, you may have even said it yourself:

“We live in a technological age.”

Well, you’re wrong. So unbelievably wrong.

We don’t live in a technological age – sure there is plenty of technological stuff happening around here, but the level of resistance amongst general minions is overwhelming.

In fact, most minions don’t like technology. Most don’t even like science. Heathens.

However, if there is money in it – oh yeah, we’re all for that. Pay someone else to create the convenience for us.

Unfortunately, it is starting to reflect in our school systems as well. A recent study by the Australian National Assessment Program (NAP) compared computer skills of students from 2010 to students from 2014. They discovered the average computer technology literacy of students in both year levels had dropped. Significantly.

Curious to know the skills they tested? Year 6 students were asked to search for information on a website, format a document, crop an image, and create a slideshow.

Year 10 students designed an online survey, used software to add new levels to an online game, and created an animated video.

Now, of course, there are pockets of computing genius all around the world, so you need to remember this report shows the average. Some schools are pretty awesome – encouraging their students to use tablets and computers wherever possible. Every now and then you find a teacher who has included web development as part of the Year 4 HSIE assessment (remember: it does not have to be separate from the usual class topics; computer skills should be part of the bigger picture).

But you would also be justified in wondering why the hell computer skills are so dependent on the interest of the teacher and not the damn curriculum?!?

For example, Hour of Code is coming up (check out my contribution over at GeekMom for some details). Of course, I asked our school if they were participating – thinking, ‘Hey, it’s end of year and reports are already done. It’s not like it would be interrupting anything, besides teachers moving rooms.’

Apparently yes, it would be interrupting (what exactly, was never clarified for me) and no, they are not interested in a free and readily available resource to introduce coding to our spawnlings. It is not part of the set curriculum so it depends on whether the teacher is interested or not.

So what’s a poor geeky family to do amongst all this digitized doom and gloom?

Climb up on the backs of those lowly minions and rise above them all!

From what I can gather, you have two options. Choose wisely, young minion.

  1. Outsource it

No, you do not have to send your little spawnling to some off-site call centre (no matter how enticing that may sound…)

There are many organisations, both private run and non-profit, offering after school coding workshops.

I recently talked with Nicola O’Brien, owner of Code Rangers (Sydney-based). The reason I singled her out is because one of Sinister’s school mates goes to Code Rangers after school and raves about it. He thinks it is awesome to be coding his own games in Scratch, talking about Robotics, and even looking at a bit of App design.

Code Ranger 01

Photo courtesy of Code Rangers

Code Rangers is fairly new in the scheme of things – started in late 2014, but is now running classes across the city of Sydney. Apparently, many potential EG parents are aware of the discrepancy in computer skills in the schools. Instead of fighting the schools, they opt for workshops like Code Rangers to fill the gaps. And business is good.

Here’s the good stuff – The ratio boy:girl is about 60:40, and there is no “special focus” for girls or ‘pretty pink keyboards’ and the like. The workshops are very matter-of-fact about presenting computer skills as they are to everybody. In fact, they recently had a team of four (4) girls make it through to the finals in the Australian Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero comp.

 

Code Ranger 02

Photo courtesy of Code Rangers

Oh frack, that sounds so kitschy. But it was a really good program teaching the girls the many steps it takes to build an app (and not just coding). Next year, they are looking at more programs for all the spawnlings: like the Australian National STEM Video Game Challenge. But more on that another day.

The thing I like about Code Rangers is their workshop style, rather than basic tutorial style. They use programs like Scratch and Python, with a bit of HTML CSS and Javascript when the need arises. Yes, when it arises – because they run their workshops with the initiative of the kids. They look at what the kids want to work on as part of their projects and run with the inspiration from there. Less ‘working’; More ‘supervising’. A sandbox style of learning.

Code Ranger 05

Photo courtesy of Code Rangers

If you want to have a taste of Code Rangers, check out their Open Workshops in Chatswood as part of Hour of Code. Not in Sydney? Check out the Hour of Code registrations list on their website. It will show you any of the schools and private organisations participating in Hour of Code anywhere in the world.

  1. Teach the kids yourself

Don’t have anyone in your area. Then DIY, minion!!

If you have totally rad computer skills, go for it.

If you have rudimentary computer skills, you can probably still get away with some basics. Start with Hour of Code, and some Scratch. Learn with your spawnling. Show them self-directed learning and they will be ahead of you in no time. Hour of Code has both Star Wars and Minecraft tutorials this year. Check them both.

 

HOC_Student_Progress_Screen_Shot_coding_level_Solution_11-09-15

Image courtesy of Disney Interactive

I recently spoke to one minion who homeschools her kids, and includes a lot of computer based learning. Nicci’s two kids started to learn code and animation this year and love it. They started with Scratch, adding Hopscotch and Mindstorms as they progressed. The kids are 7 and 11, but already they are showing strong interest in robotics and game development. They’re not too bad with the videos either.

So what does Nicci think about all of this? She loves how the kids think they are just playing games, like Minecraft, and yet they are developing some amazing basic coding skills. Skills that open up whole new levels of communication in our digital world.  How’s that for EG Parenting?

So where does this leave us? Well, to be honest, you need to go away and do some research. Yes, YOU. I’m not doing everything for you, remember you’re the minion. I’m just sowing the seed of curiosity in your mind – a very evil thing to do, but what did you think this was? The Rainbows and Unicorns Fan Club?

 

Batman unicorn

Image by Rosewine / Available for purchase on Etsy

Seriously though, you need to decide to what extent your spawnlings are interested. And let’s face it – they need to know some basic computer skills. Be honest about your own capabilities, and then source out some fantastic support programs online. Check out Scratch, Minecraft, and Hour of Code.

Over the next couple of weeks, I am going to post more stuff about resources available for kids to learn coding in their own time. I’m also going to outline all the elements of coding and program development – you do realise that it is not just coding a shoot-em-up game, right? There are a whole heap of different styles and elements to consider when asking if your spawnling is interested in computer technology. It might be art. It might be fashion. It might be comparative mythology. That’s why we need to focus more on STEAM and not just STEM.

We do not live in a technological age – we have a small minority focused on the progress of technology. But the majority are still too busy shifting off the responsibility to others; be it through laziness or fear of the unknown. If we, as a society, want to rely on the convenience of technology we cannot continue to rely on others to design and develop it for us.

As evil genius parents, we need to encourage our spawnlings to take us out of the Commercial Age of Convenience and in to the Technological Age of which we all dream. One day, robots are going to rise up and take over the world from the piddly little minions. And when that happens, it will be the spawnlings who can design and build the technology who will be Leaders. Gods.

They will be Evil Genius.

One Trolling School Principal At A Time

images

Mrs Trunchbull, from Roald Dahl’s Matilda

Our school Administrator is trolling me. I’m absolutely certain of it.

This year – I promised EG Dad and Sinister to be on my best behaviour and NOT antagonise the Troll. No stomping over her bridge, so to speak. And then it all started at the beginning of the year with the School Holiday Policy – Basically, you are not allowed to take your spawnlings on holidays outside of school holidays.

In the UK, you can be given a penalty of £60, rising to £120 if paid after 21 days but within 28 days. If you don’t pay the fine you may be prosecuted. Seriously. I don’t know much about other jurisdictions, like US or Canada, but I do know of a few minions who have been caught up in the scandal of the fines. In Australia, it varies from State to State. Even then there is no consistency between school.

Our public school announced the policy early this year. You must not take your child out of school during school term without first submitting an Application for Exemption and obtaining a Certificate of Exemption from your school administration. Exemptions are available for Sport Activities, Medical, working in the Entertainment Industry or Special and Unique Circumstances. If the spawnlings were representing their country in the Hammer Throw, this wouldn’t be a problem. But alas – it is just a mere family holiday.

zFNEeDwvDSXo

The announcement was made the day after I had paid for our tickets for an overseas holiday later in the year. Given our previous family holiday was partially in the school term as well (we normally travel for 3wks, with 1wk during term), I considered what the penalty could be. And whether my favourite school administrator would grant us an exemption. To apply, I had to have an ‘interview’ with her.

This 30min interview started with “Oh, since you bought the tickets before my announcement, I will have to grant you Exemption”, followed quickly with a long lecture about how kids can only receive education from a qualified professional in the structured setting of a classroom. To all the homeschoolers out there, this is not my view. Administrator Troll remember?

Now – everything from this point was always delivered with the utmost respect and diplomacy. Remember: I promised my best behaviour. And damn – it was HARD!

  • Our holidays are not spent lazing by the pool, twiddling our thumbs. I even offered a copy of the itinerary showing our plans to teach the kids cave navigation, dam busting, environmental science, and wildlife conservation. Not interested.
  • I offered to pick up any information kits and even look into school kits to correspond with each child’s classroom curriculum – for example, Nefarious is studying Mini-Beasts and is particularly excited about visiting a glow-worm cave. NO: no kits are to be shared with the class as it would interfere with the set-up provided by the teacher.
  • Even if it was just 1 day during the term, all days must be applied for – as per the State policy. When I asked why working in the Entertainment Industry was an automatic exemption, but learning about environmental science and wildlife conservation was not, I was told to consider the logic behind what I had just asked. Clearly the Entertainment Industry had financial responsibilities. Environmental science was obviously for hobbyists.

When I asked point blank what the consequences were for missing school, there was a lot of blustering until she eventually admitted there are no consequences. We don’t have the penalties like UK so it’s all just “we’ll put a black mark on his school file”, which will also mean absolutely nothing unless I was pulled up in Court for child abuse. At which point, I would think that missing a day of school would be the least of my concerns.

Fast forward a few months, and (as promised) I have submitted my Application for Exemption – even with the Administrator’s pre-approval. And then the school calls me.

facepalm

Apparently, we are only away for 8 days of the school term. That’s not very long, is it? We don’t need the Certificate of Exemptionbut we’ll keep it here just so we know where the kids are.

It gets better.

Yesterday, Administrator Troll approaches me at the school. I had just dropped off Sinister and Nefarious. She cornered me – there was no escape. I prepared for a full-frontal assault. I can take her.

Excuse me, Mrs EG. I just want a word about your upcoming holiday.

*shudder* Now what?

Out of the blue, Administrator Troll starts showing an interest in our itinerary. Even points out the educational value of a couple of places. Even points out the fantastic offer these places have for schools – including teacher resource packs you can buy for the classroom. And while she will not allow the kids to bring back information packs to share with their class, she would strongly suggest the benefits of paying for a few teacher resource packs to bring back and donate to the school. To share around with the other teachers. But not any that coincide with what our spawnlings are learning in the classroo
m. Because that would just be a distraction.

facepalm (1)“Uh, thanks for the suggestion. I’ll keep that in mind on our holiday.”

She is trolling me, right? It’s not just me? I promised to be on my best behaviour for the whole year. But December is just too far away.

Have you ever taken the spawnlings on holidays outside of school? Does your school have a policy about this? Or are you of the School of EG Dad – *HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA*

Evil Genius Parent Award #44

Going a bit ‘old school’ today and pulling this belated award from a parent I corrupted at school drop-off last week. Welcome to our fold, Sandra. Though, the following example of your work is more than fine start.

Almost every spawnling will forget something in the school bag at some stage during the year. Depending on where your Spawnling sits on the independence spectrum, you could take the item up to school during the day or deliver a healthy dose of “Suck it, princess”.

Sandra preferred to see the opportunity to show her kids who’s da boss.

After school had settled in, Sandra snuck into the bag area and placed the offending drink bottle in her son’s bag.

Nutty Professor

While her younger kindy son was convinced it was magic (and Sandra is now “The Most Powerful Wizard of All), the forgetful older year-2 son was not so convinced.

“Mum, I know it was you. But I didn’t see you. No-one did. How did you do it?”

And so came about the elaborate story of a chemical mishap spilling on to dear mum, giving her the ability to turn invisible.

Of course, Sandra expected her son to call BS. Instead there was quiet acceptance and no further discussion.

A week later, Sandra was approached by the year 2 teacher. Apparently, there was a HUGE improvement in his behaviour at school – attentive, engaged, and helping others. He was also showing more interest in the curriculum, asking when they would be moving on to Chemistry.

What makes this even better is that Sandra’s son shared the story with his classmates and they were now asking if they could set-up a science club during lunch breaks.

Normally, the teacher would not encourage ‘elaboration’ (read: LYING) to students, but in this case… Could Sandra please provide some “chemical research” to keep the kids going?explosion

Well done Sandra! You’ve taken parenting to the next level.

Evil Genius Parent Award #42

Sinister is back at school on Wednesday. Nefarious starts next Monday.

And I’ll be left alone with Zaltu. The Goddess of Strife herself.

All 5 months of her.

So of course, I started looking at Mummy-and-Me classes. Let’s see what’s available in our area:

101 Baby Electronics? Nope

Baby Bounce-off-the-Walls? Not yet

Dancetime (BYO Torture Tutus)? Teacher is still on stress leave for another 3 months.

And it appears I’m not the only one having trouble finding the right class. Dani over at Cloudy with a Chance of Wine has hit her quota of crappy kids classes.

She has 10 reasons why Mummy-and-Me classes suck. #6 sings to my dark, dark, soul.

Reminds me of the hell I went through with Sinister and Nefarious.

But honestly, it’s pretty equal on the level of Evil Genius Monologue Torture. Classes, or stay home with Zaltu?

I reckon I can handle the class if we can wear one of these:

Pirate Tutu