#BETT2018 – Three billboards, Two #teachmeets, One fellowship and No Stormtroopers

The annual BETT Ed Tech conference is about much much more than Tech or even education. It’s like an annual pilgrimage (too noisy to qualify as a retreat) with friends – the distances walked in the ExCel Centre and in the city qualify it for Camino status.

Three Billboards – this time last week I finished the 2018 BETT weekend with Richard Millwood and Adrienne Webb at the Westfield Cineplex watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. I went in so totally biased (love McDormand, love McDonagh) that I was fearful it wouldn’t measure up. Verdict – no problem, was absorbed, loved it, have to go again very soon.

Two TeachMeets – thanks to the backroom machinations of Drew Buddie, there was a new addition to the BETT calendar this year – an International TeachMeet on the Thursday night, sponsored by TES. It was attended by teachers from all over Europe – even Ireland, we made a sizeable dent in the floor and on the podium – and was meticulously curated and MC’d by eTwinning rock stars Bart Verswijvel and Arjana Blazic. It made for a lovely TeachMeet-style start to the BETT weekend, and judging by the atmosphere and reaction, it will become a fixture of future BETT conferences.


The traditional Friday night TeachMeet, running since BETT2008, was curated by Drew aided by Alan O’Donohue, and MC’d by a Dawn Hallybone / Ian Usher double act with a relaxing light touch. The move to the smaller venue with the ExCel was an inspired one – the ARENA was proving too vast for comfort in recent years – and engendered a real Friday night TeachMeet atmosphere. The evening started with a tribute to our late friend Tim Rylands, warmly and lovingly delivered by Dughall McCormick on behalf of us all; and made so very special by the ever gracious presence of Tim’s beloved Sarah Neild. The whole evening went swimmingly – the old random name picker is still working, Russel – and we were treated to a lot of thought provoking ideas to take away and try out or ponder – Joanna’s provocative presentation about parity of esteem, or not, in education and life in general, Matt’s inspiring photography club, Jodies’s moving use of Kandinsky art therapy with her young students have all exercised my thoughts this week, and will continue to do so. All that is good about TeachMeet was here this weekend. [And of course there was the TeachEat chats afterwards – a chance to catch up with each other and put the international world to rights].

One Fellowship – This is what the late Bianca Ní Ghrógáin named her ragtag band of ed tech friends at the 2013 Scratch conference in Barcelona, and it has sort of stuck since, covering any of the Irish CESI / ICTEDU / MakerMeet / TeachMeet / Scratch / EdchatIE tribe who meet up at an event, even those who qualify under the Granny, Emigrant, or Imported rules. Travelling and eating together gives us time to chat and mash up ideas, catch up with each other’s plans and dreams. These are people who see the unconference part of the trip as being equal to the conference part, and will travel together to other places of pilgrimage – this year it was the Babbage and the maths gallery at the Science Museum, the fashion rooms and tea rooms at the V&A, and the Winter Light show at Canary wharf. Thank you Adrienne, Pamela O’Brien, Hassan Dabbagh, John Hegarty, Richard, Tony Riley, Jake Byrne, Lorraine Underwood, Joanna Norton, and Neilus Young for your delightful company. ‘Til next time…

No Stormtroopers – this became the motto of this year’s BETT for me. It was a fun Pi-Top challenge, born of Graham Brown Martin’s recent Papert-inspired theorising, which reminded me of a Rebel Alliance conversation with him and Dawn Hallybone last BETT, and a constructionism blog post he wrote between last BETT and this. It was good to see a lot of creative coding around this year, mostly centred in the maker driven ‘constructionism’ corner, full of Pi and Micro:bit DIY ideas and people, including the beautiful 1000 micro:bit ‘swan’ display, behind which I had a geeky peek:

And so I wandered round BETT for an afternoon with the No Stormtroopers sticker in my hand, and everywhere I wanted to stick it would have possibly certainly got me arrested; in the end I went for some forced perspective (and some forced participation, thanks Hass and John, and pleased to meet you, Jesse) and came up with this masterpiece:

And yes, I won an Oscar – a PiTop – for this masterpiece of dodgy forced perspective, probably awarded for cheekily bossing the boss about – and look forward to using it.

And so, the Oyster card and the spare sterling change is away in the drawer for the next pilgrimage retreat camino trip to BETT 2019.

So is Scratch *real* programming, you ask, or have been asked?

The next time someone raises a dismissive or patronising eyebrow when you say you are using Scratch (or Snap! or such like) with students, or announces wearily ‘oh we’ve done Scratch’ as if that was the end of that, here’s a three minute video featuring an explanation software developer Bernat Romagosa that may give you some serious ammunition for your side of the discussion. It was made at the Scratch conference in July 2017, and I have quoted from it many times since. It should have been transcribed and uploaded before this, but today it can be a timely Fáilte for the new Leaving Certificate Computer Science professional development being launched in Ireland tomorrow. Good luck to all involved.

At the start of the Scratch Conference in Bordeaux, July 2018, video producer Jeannette gave me the task of finding someone to interview who would make sense, to a non-professional, of why Scratch is such a powerful tool. At the very end of a very busy conference, Catalan programmer Bernat Romagosa (Snap!4Arduino, Beetleblocks) provided us with a clear, simple, comprehensive answer. (Zoot, the cameraman, can be heard approving of the answers, so they must have been making sense.)


Mags – What is your explanation of what good Scratch is – why is it different to what people think computer programmers do – what good is it – how wonderful is it?
Bernat – Basically I think there are two parts to this…the first part is the visual part of the equation, which is what many people only see in Scratch…the blocks based interface, the cartoonish IDE and the 2D microworld where sprites interact with each other; but the actual interesting part to me is the fact that the system is live, you can modify programs while they are running, you can click on any piece of script, even a single block at any given time, and get back a result or have it perform an action, so you can test things live…and you have parallel vision…so eight year old kids are doing parallel programming…whereas I left university without doing that as it was too difficult. Basically I think that’s what there is.

Mags – And I need two questions answered now – you’re a computer programer, you’re qualified – what is an IDE and what is parallel programming?
Bernat – an IDE* is basically a programming environment, but in Scratch the lines get blurred…because the programming environment, the language, and the result of the language are all in the same interface…that’s in part inherited from live languages like Smalltalk

Mags – So you mean the screen we see when we open Scratch – these different panes – you don’t normally have all those open together?
Bernat –  No – so usually in – I hate the word – traditional programming languages or mainstream programming languages – you use a program to add in the code and the result of what you’re doing appears somewhere else, and in many cases you cannot see in real time the result of what you’re doing; you have to run to a complicated process – more or less complicated depending on the language – which translates that into an output. It is usually linear, which means you can only do one thing at a time. What parallel programming means is you can have the program do more than one thing. This is usually a very complicated thing to do in other languages, but Scratch makes it really easy with scripts that can be run at the same time by clicking on them or having them be triggered on Space Key press or Green Flag press or on receiving a message.

Mags – So now I understand for the first time, as a non-professional programmer, why I find Scratch easy to use. Whoa! You’ve done something for us here – thank you Bernat.

*IDE integrated development environment

I loved Star Wars The Last Jedi, which I saw recently in the cinema with my granddaughter, who is now a fan. The Porgs were a hit with her, and for me it was a real thrill to see the stone structures of Skellig Michael, one of my favourite places ever to have stood, given centre stage.

The down side of the visit was the trailer and commercial sequence that preceded the film. All but one human featured was a male. There was soccer games featuring males, car racing by males for males, shampoo for men’s heads and men’s shoulders, Spidermen, Coco, Maze Runners – all with male heroes or consumers only in view. It all took about 20 minutes, and the only girl hero was Alita. Polar opposites in the “you are/are not of value” messages to the young girls and young boys in the auditorium.

Luckily, the women sheroes portrayed in Star Wars eclipsed all that negative bias, and to top off the delight we won an exit door prize of two tickets. Guess who’ll be going back to see Alita?

Megadojo-a-go-go at Maynooth


It was great to have Megadojo “on the double” this year. It has been hosted in Limerick IT for a few years now, so we at Coderdojo Ireland were delighted when the Computer Department of Maynooth University offered to host a second event in the east of the country, with support from the Higher Education Authority, Bank of Ireland and Coderdojo Foundation. There were lots of volunteers from east coast dojos and from the university, and this goodwill was very very welcome and put to good use. The volunteer army was sorted for action by Coderdojo Coolest Projects veterans Ken Whelan and Ben Chapman, and the day went very smoothly for the families who turned up for the workshops and demonstrations on offer which spanned Scratch, html web design, app inventor, Micro:Bit, Raspberry Pi, and a variety of robots. We were lucky to have the added value of Coderdojo alumna Vanessa Greene attending with her mojo recording equipment – we look forward to seeing the multimedia reports of the day.

President of Maynooth University, Philip Nolan, visited to thank the volunteers and tutors, and get a flavour of what a dojo involves. We experienced Seymour Papert’s ‘hard fun’ in the micro:bit workshops led by Lorraine Underwood, in which we designed and programmed flashing decorations for our tiny tree, which we *think* impressed President Nolan!



Kudos to absolutely everyone involved, and roll on Megadojo 2018 – perhaps it might grow to take place across three venues?


The Quiet Unconference that is CongRegation

IMG_20171127_120113CongRegation is the unconference whose entry is via a blog post. This year the theme was innovation. It is the calmest conference in the world. Attendees meet in small groups around the village of Cong, each joining with a different group in four ‘huddles’; coffee and lunch breaks are long in the best unconference tradition. Eoin Kennedy, the most genial and humble organiser I’ve ever met, allowed me a free pass on the beforehand blog post in return for being a chair for the day. Here’s my “apres Cong” post! I was presiding in the art gallery at Ryan’s hotel, which was empty for the winter, or as the witty huddlers surmised, it was showing the exhibition John Cage might have offered. Some visitors put the Wonderbar beer mats to good use:

Over the day, four groups joined me round the table, huddled, and moved on. Each group was a different kettle of fish, and the four conversations that ensued were wonderful. In each huddle, three volunteers outlined their idea of innovation, and the rest of us joined in, asked questions, offered advice. My notes for the huddles, in skeletal form:

Huddle 1
Claude spoke on his father’s work with the ancient LaJolla tribe in California – ain’t no innovation without stressors; Barre continued this theme on a fabulous slime mold analogy, and and added an aside about his uncle’s experience in the French Resistance during WW2; Kelsey on being a “mobile millenial”; round the table were Hassan, Cronan, Pearse, Neil, Thomas and me. [Our general chat was on the changing nature of life from centralised control to more local democratic control; the new ‘roving bard’ spreading cultural ideas; the Trump phenomenon in small town America – it was bound to come up at some stage]
Huddle 2
Paddy kicked off by describing the changing face of a reformed financial advisor’s world; Alex described how automating certain repetitive tasks can make life easier; Jane on encouraging her students to tell it like it is, without the sugar coating or “hero” effect; Morgan, Joan, Jacinta, Gavin, David, Sinead, Conn, and Robyn each chimed in – this was the “busiest” huddle of my day. [There was much discussion on customer journey maps, advice & device, context, communication, and hyperpersonalisation as both a positive and a negative force.]
Huddle 3
Richie began on the saving power of sea swimming and on learning Mandarin Chinese; Anna outlined her purposive mindful digital detox strategies; John spoke of his role in enabling entrepreneurs in Mayo; there was a lively round table with Sabine, Alastair, Denis, Tom, David, Dermot, and me.  [Anna’s ideas connected back to Barrie’s new ‘non-smart’ watch in huddle 1; our collective chat included us comparing advantages and and disadvantages of analog v digital news; we all learned two words of Cantonese: thcoo = go, ren = person; and we ideated a new workshop called Pimp My Pitch]
Huddle 4
By this time of the day, we just had one left to tell his tale – Barney sought advice on creating a culture of learning and appreciating Irish music in his town; he was in the right place as Helena, Karen, Pamela, Lee, Karl, Michelle and me were all free with our ideas. [We had a relaxed and happy general chat – foreshortened by an early finish to go get our ‘family photograph’ taken – on all we had learned and seen over the day.]

A brief word on the “social huddles” – lots of fun and chats and music and food was shared over the weekend – thanks to Lydons Lodge our party had two really gorgeous Trip-Advisor-comment-worthy meals. It is rumoured that some folk had a very late night after the opening lectures in Ashford Castle. The craic in Danaghers pub on Saturday night was only “mighty” as they say in Mayo – how to unconference an unconference? – organise a lesson in blues harmonica playing and let a few dozen loons loose together at it. It is also rumoured that a group of hardy bucks went climbing a hill on Sunday morning.

My own thanks for their life affirming company to my cottage sharing friends John Davitt, Richard Millwood, Pamela O’Brien and Hassan Dabbagh. Legends all.

Lots of the stories can be followed by checking the #cong17 on twitter. All submissions can be read at the website, and in time Eoin Kennedy will publish them as an e-book.

Roll on #cong18 on Nov 23th-25th – the final rumour is that some folk are booked into their accommodation already. Good move.


ps – we still have to figure out a meaning for Regation…







It’s a micro wha’? Come to #MegadojoIE in Maynooth and meet the Micro:bit !

We at Coderdojo Ireland HQ were beyond thrilled when Lorraine Underwood said she’d be home to Ireland for Megadojo weekend, and could run us two workshops with BBC Micro:bit and a fun twinkly lights seasonal theme. Lorraine is a teacher in the UK, whose projects with the Micro:bit are very creative and can be followed via her twitter feed @LMcUnderwood

For those who don’t know the Micro:bit – you’re in for a treat. Our own Microsoft evangelist in Ireland, Stephen Howell, has been introducing it to educators, and it is very very popular with all who meet it. It is a plug ‘n program experience, quite intuitive –  anyone familiar with block based programming can be up and running in a few minutes.

If you want to join a micro:bit workshop with Lorraine in the Maynooth University Megadojo on Saturday Dec 2nd, either at 10.30 am or 3.30pm, you are welcome – but you MUST register at Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/megadojo-2017-maynooth-tickets-40018813348

Eugene McDonough of Codedojo Ireland had a brainwave a few years ago – why not get 1024 kids coding together, and call it Megadojo? So he did, and it has become an annual event in Limerick Institute of Technology. Never one to stop and rest, Eugene’s new brainwave is to have Coderdojo Ireland host TWO instances of Megadojo running at the same time, one on either side of the country.  Why not? So, on Saturday December 2nd, there will be one Megadojo in LIT, and another Megadojo in Maynooth University. Do the sums – that will be 2048 kids coding at the same time in Ireland.

Everyone is welcome to attend and partake, entry is free, but it is necessary to register and choose workshops in advance. Volunteers are needed, visit the website and add your details:

The support of sponsors are always welcome – if your business can help out with support, check it out here.

Coderdojo Ireland thanks Maynooth University, Limerick Institute of Technology, and Bank of Ireland for the invaluable support they have given to this venture.

Many thanks to the volunteers, mentors, organisers, and all helpers who are busy preparing to making Megadojo happen – on the double – on December 2nd.

Follow the fun at @megadojoIE on Twitter.

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