What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

An Apple for the teacher. Please.

I’m a little uncomfortable about what I’m going to advocate here, as it feels a bit like brand endorsement. I am not a fan of branding, especially around kids. No, not branding as in cattle marking; although that is also a very bad idea around kids. I just don’t like children being viewed as a marketing opportunity, they’re not cynical enough.

However: I think all schools should use Apple.  There, I said it.  Now I’d better explain it.

Schools are essentially slow moving things, and technology is a fast moving thing.  This often means that schools lag behind current developments a ridiculous amount. I mean, there are teachers out there who still think that “doing a powerpoint” is the cutting edge, whereas most private companies are encouraging people to move away from powerpoint and really engage with their audience, something that teachers already do brilliantly. But we were blindsided by the arrival of interactive whiteboards and whizzy slides and forgot that these tools cannot replace a charismatic, knowledgeable expert at the helm.

The relationship between primary schools and technology is always an uneasy one. Anyone remember the NOF training? Money spent trying to update teachers’ IT knowledge, and oh how we all hated its misguided efforts.  Then came Computers for Schools vouchers and as a result millions of digital microscopes serve as bookends in stock cupboards up and down the country.

ICT lessons themselves are too often about teaching processes, learning how to use equipment. I used to spend at least 10min of each precious half hour lesson reminding children how to save work; a route so convoluted that it was like talking them through defusing a bomb. And there was still always That Child who cut the red wire.

And don’t get me started on RM Window Boxes (http://www.rm.com/generic.asp?cref=GP1225202). A “child friendly” interface aimed at simplifying things for primary aged children. Children don’t generally need their IT simplified, so who’s that for? Never mind “Number Magic”, just let them use Excel and stop messing about.

It sometimes feels like schools just aren’t getting it.

Which is where Apple comes in. They have always been about the interface, or more importantly the removal of the interface. This is the aim of good technology, that there is no barrier to its use. Perfectly intuitive technology is the Holy Grail of work psychologists and Apple is its Champion.

Recently I was coveting an iPad in the phone shop, and when I turned round dd1 was cheerfully using one to play the piano... “Mummy, I REALLY want an iPad”. She can dream on, but it does sum up what IT should do in primary schools. It should enable children, give them options, support them. With no-interface technology we can get on with teaching children to become rigorous and analytical appliers of technology, not just competent users of Windows.

It's not all schools, some get it perfectly. Want to see what an iPod Touch can do? Look at @ebd35’s blog (http://ebd35.wordpress.com/). A boy with no special love of writing created this:

Isn’t it brilliant? This is what happens when we let technology support the learning, not the other way round.

Please may I have an iPhone now?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Welcome to the jungle...

Now, just you hold your music snobbery horses there, cowboy. Yes, this is about Guns N Roses. I gave them a capital N, look.

Sometimes when you’re online you can’t help but notice a certain musical bias: I don’t use the word facism lightly. I’m not a fan of musical snobbery; food snobbery I like, it’s funny, but music is about your soul and therefore I think demands a little tolerance.

Take Axl Rose. [insert “please” gag here]. Is he a bit of a prat? Yes. Should Guns N Roses grow up and turn up on time? Yes. Should Axl stop throwing all his toys all over the place & stamping his artiste’s feet? Of course. Will I love Guns N Roses forever? Yes, I’m afraid so, because they are The Band. We all have a band who introduce us to the music we end up loving. Guns N Roses are my band. And Paradise City is my song.

I can remember where I was, who I was with and what we were doing the very first time I heard it. It was the 80s, and this was the moment when I first realised there was more to life than Wham. I was 11.  I had just finished a starring role in the school production of “Bugsy Malone” (This is a lie. I was a first year and therefore an extra, although the Sixth former who played Bugsy did brush my arm thereby fuelling an almighty crush). We were having the after show party in the exclusive venue of the Sixth Form common room and someone put on Paradise City.  Suddenly I stopped being a petrified First Year and I was in the crowd of big boys and girls, dancing. I made my friends come too, including the one who was quite cross with me because I’d made her tie into a “peanut”. They weren’t that fussed, but I was in full on epiphany mode and taking no prisoners.

Since then, Guns N Roses have been a soundtrack to my (ongoing) growing up process.

When I was 16 and visiting my older cousin at Uni, I was able to join in the Axl chat, which made me pretty damn cool, oh yes.

When MrBird and I were in the early stages of going out, we had a holiday in the Lake District and we played Appetite for Destruction while he taught me to riffle shuffle (#notaeuphemism). I perfected my card sharp moves to the sound of Axl wailing, which made me just about the coolest person ever.

Much later, I was blessed with two daughters, neither of whom enjoyed the going to sleep thing. Sweet Child of Mine was one of the songs I used to sing to get them to sleep or at least be quiet in the car. “The Wheels on the Bus” can kiss my rock n roll arse. It helped keep me sane, which was cool.

So. I love Axl, I love Guns N Roses, I love them despite the fact that they are 40somethings who need to stop behaving like teenagers. I love them because of it. One day I might finish growing up and not need them any more, but until then I am theirs.

I wonder if either of the girls would like to walk down the aisle to November Rain….?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The trouble with twinkles.

Lesson 1: when you're talking to girls, what do you call it? You know, it. Well, maybe you don’t know, but I bet if you’re a parent of girls you know exactly what I mean.  You’ve probably worried about it, asked a few friends, maybe even looked on a Mums’ Forum.

I am referring to the semantic difficulties posed by the whole genital area often just known as “downstairs” [nods meaningfully in relevant direction with pursed Les Dawson lips]. What do you call it? What do you tell your toddling daughter? What names do you give your little girl to call her body?

If you’ve never had this internal (ahem) debate, you may not see the immediate problems. And if you’re a laid back and cool-type parent, just roll your eyes and feel smug. Let me elaborate; whilst trying not to feel resentful towards all those parents who’ve only ever had to say, “It’s your willy, dear, now leave it alone please.”

As a Sex Ed professional, I believe children deserve better than euphemisms and that very English secrecy around sex. If we’re not honest from the very beginning we create all manner of peculiar hang-ups later on. And personally, I believe that words are powerful. How can we own and understand something we cannot name?

At school I blithely led a staff meeting telling my fellow teachers that we must be honest and accurate in discussing children’s bodies with them. We must use the correct vocabulary. We must stand confidently at the front of the class and say penis, vagina and testicles without deviation, hesitation, or repetition. Some teachers balked at having to say to KS1 boys, “Please don’t play with your penis in lessons”, preferring the traditional, “Get your hands out of your trousers RIGHT NOW! And wash them please.” However, I was insistent that this was the way forward, our responsibility to the children.

So, as a mum, I took a deep breath and taught my daughters that they had vaginas. Where babies come out. It’s not your bottom, it’s girl bits and right inside is your vagina. I taught them it’s ok to touch, just not in public. Please.  Unfortunately, vagina is a lovely word: unusual and fascinating to say over and over again. Which is no doubt why, to my utter horror, dd2 (age 4) made up this little song:

“Your girl bits, your girl bits, that’s your bagina.”

Top marks for learning I suppose, but I ignored it in the most fervent of hopes that she forgets all about it and never, ever sings it in Polite Company. It was a nice introduction to lesson number 2: Please don’t go on about this at school, it’s not up to you to teach your friends these very grown-up words.

It could be worse though.

A friend decided she was just going to go with “fanny”. It’s no worse than willy, she thought. Until one day on holiday when her 4 year old son shouted across the beach,

“Mummy! Fiona’s putting pebbles up her fanny!”

She was mortified.  It sounds horrible when a child says fanny. It just does.

So where does that leave you? Oh, the suggestions I’ve heard. Frou-frou. I mean, honestly? You could look your child in the face and say, “That’s your frou-frou”? I know I couldn’t. How can you teach your daughter to be proud of her body when you use shameful words?

There are plenty of words in the adult world, and if you can think of a single one that sounds great coming from a small child, I’d love to know.  Maybe I should be reclaiming the words for my daughters.  As an adult I have no problem with any of them. I would even use the “c-word” here, but you probably wouldn’t be expecting it from me, and I’d hate for you to spit your tea on the screen. It worries me that there are no accepted, everyday, casual words for girls’ genitals; women’s yes, but not girls. Perhaps it worries us to think of little girls as having the potential for womanhood, perhaps all the words are so sexual that we can’t bring ourselves to apply them to girls, perhaps it’s just another Victorian left-over that we need to get over.

Maybe I should just brazen it out, name without shame. I won’t though. Call me cowardly, but I just can’t be That Mum whose kids go round talking about their fannies. It’s bad enough being the Mum whose kid goes round singing a song about her bagina. Sigh.