Monthly Archives: October 2017

More Samhain than Hallowe’en these days in Cavan.
[possible alternative title – a tale of two Dohertys].

Samhain is the Irish for Halloween. It is a very old and scary festival. Turnips carved into voodoo shrunken head shapes, ducking for apples, doing stuff to scare the bejeezes out of the neighbours. Anything to take the sting out of the impending winter doom. We just had a good Samhain weekend here in Cavan. There happened to be a Doherty brother involved at every occasion.
First up – the Cavan Conker Championships. Thanks to David Cullivan for this idea. He gathered and season conkers, strung them on old shoelaces, and called for businesses in the town to send their champion to Farnham Street on Friday, and send their donations to local charities. The tourney took place under the giant chestnut trees outside the library, beside the greening statue of Lord Farnham. David reminded participants and onlookers of the rules that so many had forgotten, and the games began. The competition was fierce – it was a hoot to watch some of my mildest gentlest friends turn into medieval jousting mode. [I’m glad they were armed with only chestnuts, and not swinging maces.] It was a knockout tournament, and the one who emerged as absolute champion was the ruthless Neil Doherty, literally smashing all about him in every round. Hopefully this will be expanded next year, so gather ye chestnut while ye may in preparation.

Next up – the Festival of the Dead 2017 action at the Town Hall theatre, with two shows – Frankenstein and Prometheus Bound. The Doherty at the centre of this one is Philip. He is founder, writer, choreographer and producer of the Gonzo Theatre. This is the third year of the Festival of the Dead in Cavan and it is already a ‘not be be missed’ calendar mark from many.

The Frankenstein show devised by Philip and musician-genius Robbie Perry ran on Friday and Saturday night, starting outside the Town Hall, then the mobile audience followed the action inside, round the various stages in the hall and back outside again, and followed round the block to the old abbey  for the finalé. It was a happy-sad musical telling of the story of Frankenstein, with a few manic prog-rock-hillbilly-burlesque-modern-media twists woven through it. The script, the score, the acting, the choreography, the musicians, the casting, the costumes, the lighting, the use of technology and pyrotechnics, the use of the settings – each was deadly. The large cast (mostly amateurs, locals – it is all very democratic, if you want to be involved, you’re in) and the purposefully small audience meant an almost 1:1 player:audience ratio, a feature of the three Hallowe’en ‘extravanganzas’ to date (the previous two being sited in the See House at Kilmore). This makes for a surreal atmosphere for both players and watchers who can be literally eye to eye at times, making it was a delight to take partake.

The other Gonzo-Perry devised show of the Festival, more compact but no less mindbending, took us into a post-apocalytic imagining of the mythology of Prometheus. It was shorter, which suited the standing audience (dunno how the actors didn’t freeze, specially the scantily clad!). The continual drum beat was gorgeous, the chorus and musicians were irreverant and lovely, the principal actors/singers were brilliant. The audience – many families (the Frankie shows had been an adults ) of every age seemed to enjoy. The use of the car wrecks and siding panels in the set was genius. It was Cirque du Soleil meets Mad Max the whole way.


As well as both Gonzo shows, there was the 72 Hour Wake presenting all sort of art over the weekend, and a fabulous steampunk’d makeover of the interior of the Town Hall. Thanks is due to everyone who makes this happen, on a shoestring budget, with a lot of trust and fingers crossed and goodwill from the community. I hope that Cavan authorities, the ones with the fingers on the budget and grant allocations, are taking note of the priceless valuable stuff going on in their Town Hall.
Up with this sort of thing.


Nice work, Ireland.


I was very happy to send out this message at the weekend (the third weekend of the week that was really two weeks). Over the five years since Julie Cullen lead us into Code Week EU as our first ambassador, volunteers have organised over 1200 events for citizens in Ireland. Teachers, mentors, librarians, club leaders have held code flavoured events in schools, libraries, dojos, businesses, community halls, and even in Dail Éireann. I have had a terrific time visiting events, and organising some myself. This year I’ve been joined by Eugene McDonagh, who will now take over the role of the chief “visible from space” orange t-shirt wearer, as I join Julie on the supporters bench.

CodeWeekEU2017This year’s Code Week had events in every county in Ireland. Age range involved was from infants to ‘life-long’ learner age – reflecting the aim of Code Week EU to be for everyone. Some events involved young coders teaching adults – up with this sort of thing! The whole list can be seen at our Code Week EU event page. And I am really happy to see we maintained out Top 10 placing!

I’m giving a shout out here to the two events in which I was a student. Our local library here in Cavan invited Stephen Howell of Microsoft Ireland’s Education Engagement team to lead an evening called <Cavan Can Code>. We had a terrific workshop programming the BBC micro:bit together. Thanks to Carmel Cusack Smith for hosting this, and acting as catalyst for what will become a local community of practice. Thanks to all who turned up, it is fair to say that whatever about the rest of the Irish counties, Cavan Can Code for sure.

The second workshop in which I was a student was a Turtlestitch atelier hosted by Richard Millwood in Trinity College Dublin. We spent the day wrangling with code, fabric and thread, and feasting on ‘millionaires squares’ brought along by Mary Jo Bell. I had an idea I wanted to work with but was totally stuck with setting up the variables I’d need to make it work. Thanks to the other participants, I was sorted out and learned a huge amount. As Richard has written in a blog post here, we set out to design and stitch onto t-shirts and felt, but in the process we talked a lot of code and did a lot of computational thinking together. Thanks to everyone who turned up and helped each other out. As a crafter, I was pleased by the way that the embedded knowledge of Mary Jo and myself were now transferring to the programming world of our colleagues. To me this is a perfect example of the intersection of creative and computational inspiration that is being sought by Creative Ireland. As an educator, I am also thrilled that the simple introductory informations cards we used were written by a student, Jennifer Lin. I repeat, up with this sort of thing!

There are still some Code Week EU activities to take place across the country, and of course, coding is not just for Code Week, it is for whenever the chance arises.

It has been a great 5th Birthday celebration across Europe – here is to the next 5 years.

Logo(s), LEDs, leaders, and locks.
Had to do some serious dictionary checking for the first two there. I think I’m in the clear.

CESI, Code Week EU, and TeachMeet have all combined to make the last three weeks a bit of a whirlwind of adventures. (But in a good way, as it involved meeting and working with some of the best people on the planet.)

Adventure #1: When Ian Stuart sent out the call about a TeachMeet at the 2017 Scottish Learning Festival, I put my name in the hat almost immediately. SLF ’08 was where it began for me, and I was curious to go back, and talk to whoever would turn up this time. (Say what you like about RyanAir, it makes these kinds of adventures possible).  Turns out, as it did back then, that it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was sorry John Johnson couldn’ae be there; but to meet up with David Noble again was a treat. Ian and Drew Burrett ran a cracker of a TeachMeet, engaging us equally with the presenters and the other attendees. I’d volunteered for a nano 2 minutes (slides here), and within those two minutes I got what I was seeking – a chance to point to the research I’d done to date, and to informally seek ‘permission to proceed’ from the tribe. I felt I’d been granted that there and then by the positivity in audience reaction, and later when reading the loveliest online comment from the very John Connell whose critical online commentary way back when was very influential in my decision to forge ahead with a PhD on TeachMeet. (Seldom been so gutted as I was that evening to find out he’d been in the room as I rushed off in a  Cinderella dash to my return plane. Hold on to the glass slipper, John, I’ll be back for it.)

Adventure #2: The CESI symposium on Leaving Certificate Computer Science was the brainchild of John Hegarty, made real by himself leading the CESI Executive worker bees. We were treated to a bravura performance by our own Elizabeth Oldham on the deja vu ‘intro / outro’ cycle of Computer Science in the Irish curriculum. Anna Walsh (NCCA) and Jake Byrne (Bridge21) ran us through what it entailed and how it might look in the classroom. Richard Millwood introduced our new CESI LC CS Community of Practice development project, which he will lead with the help of some google funding. Pat Seaver as Fear a’ Tí kept us all moving through our discussion and feedback tasks. I was pleased as punch to be a living ‘here’s one I made earlier’ for Turtlestitch code, wearing my brand new hot-off-the-Brother-machine embroidered butterfly aqua sweater. It was a sort of ‘pinch me’ did-it-really-happen day for some of us – this adventure is only beginning, and it it great to be part of it.

Adventure #3: I was lucky to be magician’s assistant at Richard Millwood’s presentation , LED By The Heart, to the AGM of the Art Teachers Association of Ireland in the National Gallery of Ireland. ATAI president, Nadine McCormick, her committee, and 200 art teachers (including CESI’s own Fred Boss) made us most welcome, and engaged in the art-meets-science activity with enthusiasm and grace.

Adventure #4: My colleague and friend Alan McCullagh and I were asked to represent Code Week EU at the Tallinn Digital Summit Expo. What’s a girl to say – no, I won’t go meet all 27 Prime Minters of Europe, I won’t meet thousands of Estonian families, I won’t go to the ball? So, off we went with an arsenal of coding ideas – Pi-tops, Beebots, Lego WeDo, Turtlestitch, Micro:bit, Calliope, Beetleblocks, Sonic Pi (DJ Alan McPi played a stonkin’ algorave on Saturday afternoon) – and a bucket of LEDs, batteries and labels. Alan and I were treated like VIPs from beginning to end by our Liaison Officer Kaidi. Although the two Expo days were physically exhausting, it was very very exciting to stand in a room with the Estonian President Kirtsi addressing the seated PMs of the EU – think school assembly with added media presence. Our humble booth seemed to please the attendees as much as did the hi-tech 3G, Human Brain, 3D printed heart, VR and AR displays.

Adventure #5: It was a treat to attend the first day of the Access21 Impact Conference at Google on Friday last, as many of my Bridge 21 friends have been involved in design and delivery of the teacher CPD and student lessons. To hear the Access21 alumni speak  was a particular treat – having just seen the 27 leaders of the EU in action, it was arresting to hear the leaders of the future speak so eloquently at such a young age – watch out for Megan Atkinson and Carly Bailey, coming to a leadership role near you, very soon.

Adventure #6: Féilte at the RDS celebrates all things teacherly. It gave me a chance to catch up with James Crook and to deliver him the Scratch book from Bordeaux in which he features on the heroes page!  I first enjoyed the TeachMeet in the RDS library – Ciara Reilly and Kathleen Byrne did it again – got lots of new teachers introduced to the format, kept us presenters all in line and on time, with good humour and fun thrown in. I did a nanopresentation (one slide here) to show the idea of BreakouEDU, but to my shame I had to admit to the mortler of having locked one of the keys INSIDE the box, so it is off to get the bolt cutters before anyone can use the kit, shame on me. Then I legged it upstairs to join in the Researchmeet@Rang Bianca – thanks to Carmel, Leonard, and Conor of the Teaching Council for curating this one – where I used my allotted 5 minutes to share my first year’s PhD work on TeachMeet (slides here), and then heard what others of the Irish doctoral cohort are up to. The other plus of Feilte of course, is wandering around meeting friends, having the chats and the catch up, lunch with the astonishing Seomra Ranga, and being captured for an interview by the superheroes of the Youth Media Team.

Adventure #7: An invitation took us next to Twitter Towers to celebrate the birth of a new super-cute Code Week logo emoji! Twitter’s Ronan Costelloe was hosting a Coderdojo for the students of Marian College Sandymount with their teacher Mitch, so Ronan, mentors Isaac and Tim, and Coderdojo Foundation’s Rosa Langhammer all joined in the photo shoot fun.

Finally the best bit of the day – shared both some good Italian food shared and the journey home to Cavan with my friend Catherine Fox.

Now for some hibernation time with family.

Did I mention I have a PhD to research and write? Bye bye for now, adventures…


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