A moving graphic of The Great Wave
November 9th, 2017 by Suze

It’s a love, hate relationship. I veer from the thought of studying filling me with dread, to actually doing the studying and loving every minute.

As I come to the end of each unit I have got into the habit of looking ahead. Initially this was to motivate me but now I am halfway through the course I feel a little bit like I am treading water. I am always excited by what’s coming up next, but my impatience means that by the time I have browsed through the study outcomes I am starting to feel the pressure of learning all these new skills looming over me.

Sorry, when?

I am now studying Unit 18 of Level 3 Web Design and Development. Just four more to go after this. It’s a long way to have come in a relatively short space of time. I only started the course in March. It’s a dry unit. I can’t say I am much inspired by learning about networking topologies or the benefits of shielded twisted pair cabling. Learn Direct emailed me the other day to say I had missed an assignment deadline. I had to reply and point out that my next deadline will in fact by October 31, 2018, not 2017. I get it. They probably don’t have students using frantic mummy energy to log in and learn during every spare (and sometimes not so spare) moment they have.

Waving not drowning

I feel like I am riding a wave much of the time. I start out just floating happily along, taking notes. The physicality of a folder full of writing reassures me I am learning something. The water rises as I reach the assignment and I realise I must now prove that I have actually taken something in between the cups of tea, nappy changes and late dinners.

As I wade through the various questions there are certainly points at which I feel like I am bobbing around in the water. Gasping for air. Trying to reassure myself that I am waving not drowning.

Owing to my need to see what’s coming next, I start to read through the next unit before the previous assignment is complete – and so the process begins again. Initially this fuelled my adrenaline. It gave me the energy I needed to keep going.

The need for sleeping

But recently the thought of taking on the next wave is starting to whip up a storm in my mind. I am getting more and more exhausted. Not helped by the 90 minute bursts of sleep I exist on between night feeds. I learnt this week that someone getting between 4 and 5 hours sleep a night, operates at the same level as someone with 0.1% blood alcohol. Where does that leave me? In a state not dissimilar to a daily piss up in a brewery it would seem.

The need for studying

And how do I deal with this state of virtual inebriation? I study. I once again dive in and start making the next set of notes. Somehow I find myself in calm waters once again.

I was never a very strong swimmer but I knew which stroke would see me finish the race first. Maybe that’s the skill. Finding the right stroke and riding each wave. Or perhaps I should just try and ride one wave at a time instead of tackling each one with a different stroke… now there’s a thought ūüėČ

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*Please note that as an Amazon Affiliate I benefit from any sales made through the use of these links. This relates to any purchases made after clicking through from this link – it doesn’t have to be the item shown here.

Posted in Learn Direct, Remote Learning, Studying Tagged with: , , ,

Points Facebook photo
October 20th, 2017 by Suze

What does going to school have in common with Leysdown seafront? The idea that points win prizes it would seem. I say this as the mum of a child with 1130 house points accumulated in just five weeks. No, I am not proud. I am angry.

mum with quote about house points being like seaside tokensLet me take you back to the 80s when I attended primary school. There were four houses; York, Balmoral, Richmond and Gloucester. I was in York. I was proud to be in York. I might get one house point every couple of weeks. Maybe I had opened a door for a teacher without being asked or had really excelled in a piece of work. There were extra opportunities for earning house points on occasions such as sports day or by being a teacher’s helper at lunchtime. Getting a house point felt like owning a piece of gold and I would colour in the square on the sheet in the classroom with pride as I watched my house points accumulate alongside others.

At the end of the term the house with the most points throughout the school was awarded four points, the third, three, the second, two and those in last place, one house point. These were added to the main chart in the hall for all to see. At the end of the year the house with the most points won the house point trophy and the house captain went up to receive it in assembly on behalf of their house. I am hoping this sounds familiar to some of you.

21st Century house points

Scoot back to 2017 and now it’s all about how many house points you need in exchange for a building set, cinema ticket or afternoon tea with the head teacher. And we are talking big numbers. Hundreds and hundreds of house points needed. But that’s ok, because just doing your homework will earn you 20 points. Putting your hand up in class, five points.

It makes me wonder where the time is to teach the children if the teachers are dishing out house points every time a pupil breathes in or out successfully.

Beyond the points, there seem to be countless other motivational incentives. In a world where we can’t have winners or losers at sports day, it is beyond me why we can dish out pupil of the week, top table, stars in their eyes, spelling star and a prize for the kid at the top of maths mountain. Don’t even get me started on 100% attendance (No don’t, I tried to include that here…it has taken on a life of its own for another post!).

Scream time

Then there’s carrots on sticks. And this is where the materialistic nature of these incentives has taken an astounding turn. Currently, my son informs me, if he gets all his spellings right this term, he will be put into a prize draw with other children from local schools to win…. a digital reading device akin to a Kindle. That’s right people. A couple of hundred pounds worth of tech that to be quite honest I would rather my son didn’t own. This is wrong for several reasons…

  1. The odds of Mini Cooper 1 winning are slim considering how many kids will be in the ballot.
  2. He doesn’t understand this.
  3. He believes he will win.
  4. When he doesn’t win ‚Äď he still wants a tablet.
  5. We aren’t going to buy him one.

Meme asking the question 'what happens if parents decline high-tech prize' from school incentive schemeIf he has a tablet at the tender age of 7, the four year old is going to start on about when does he get one and slowly but surely the screen-free buffer zone becomes less. I may as well buy 10 month old Mini Cooper 3 her own iPhone now.

Pointless

While I am on the subject of screens, these house points have to be banked. Not by picking up the nearest half decent yellow felt tipped pen as in my day, oh no. This is the era of online reward points. There is a website dedicated to storing the house points.

The kids log in, they tap in the 16 digit code on the house point voucher that has been screwed up in their pocket all day and it adds the points to their total. They are supposed to put in the reason why they were given the points. Mini Cooper 1 can never remember (so clearly there’s an incentive working right there yeah?!) They can check how many they have against their classmates. There are class leaderboards, year leaderboards, school leaderboards (no gold medals at sports day remember). It’s a joke.

My son sits for 20 minutes trying to remember his password, then I sit for 20 minutes reading out digits on slips of paper for points he doesn’t even remember why he was given. Meanwhile Mini Cooper 2 could do with some help with his reading book (an actual book) and Mini Cooper 3 has given up learning to clap and gone to sleep

Flawed rewards

I will admit I have been of the parenting camp against reward charts. I did not want the children to do something just because they would get a reward. I will also admit that when it came to trying to get a decent night’s sleep, we relented and created our own sleep charts complete with stickers chosen by the boys. I will also say, they worked… for a while. I say that, because after a few nights of getting stickers for staying in bed Mini Cooper 1 decided he would fill the chart with stickers for just about any reason he could think of. Suffice to say, the reward/response link didn’t really work for him there.

So, who are all these incentives really for? Let’s face it the schools are going to a lot of effort to put these systems in place, build them up and sustain them. When we boil it down it’s all about educational targets. Getting the children to achieve so the school isn’t seen to be failing by the all-seeing eye of Ofsted. The children don’t care about Ofsted. The children care about which little toy they might get if their name is called for top table on Friday. The children care about why they weren’t Star of the Week when they tried so hard with their reading. The children care about what they will be given in return for doing something. Our target-driven educational system is promoting the 21st Century materialistic lifestyle. It isn’t promoting the idea that you might want to learn something purely for the love of learning.

Good enough?

memeAnd while these incentive schemes are building up schools and Ofsted, are they actually building up our little ones? If this is all being done to please The Powers That Be, where are our children learning to please themselves? How do they work out their own threshold for having done well? We live in a world of people who don’t feel ‘good enough’. It’s something to do with expectations and the bar we set for ourselves. Should the system really be motivating children to reach blanket-all targets or would realistic individualised goals be more beneficial? Rewarding achievements that mean something to that one child. Shouldn’t we be focussing on the rewards of self awareness, self motivation, self confidence and self esteem? The effect of any one of which on a young person is certain to last far beyond the plastic stationery set my son can get in exchange for 600 points.

Badge of honour

So, while I am giving these rewards a hard time, I realise there is a place for them in learning. As a student myself I am guilty of chasing the reward (Read more here: ‚ÄúGetting the Bit of Paper“). When I first logged on to the dashboard of the web design course I am currently studying with LearnDirect, I was met with an achievement pie chart and a league table. Further investigation revealed various digital award badges for different achievements; number of days you consecutively log in, number of hours you have studied, number of assignments in on time. Logging in three times in a row before 7am gets you the cutest little early bird icon on your profile, while logging in after 11pm three days on a row wins you the night owl (squeeee!).

Who needs those?

Dashboard screenshotAfter scoffing to DH ‘who do they think they’re kidding, we are adults, I don’t need these silly little games,’ I of course got totally and utterly sucked in and had to earn as many of these digital badges as I possibly could. I currently sit top of the leaderboard (although there’s no explanation as to what I am the leader of; students in the region, country, on my course, the last five people to log in….who knows). That’s not the point, the point is the motivational rewards here have helped me to scoot through the course at the pace I have wanted and, I will admit, have given me little confidence boosts along the way.

So what am I moaning about then? Well, the difference is, I am an adult. I know I am being persuaded and manipulated to get my work done. I understand what incentives are and I already had the self-motivation and the self-confidence needed to learn. My fear is that a child knows none of this and they are being lulled into a short-lived land of bribery and materialism that merely promotes a ‘what are going to give me for that then?’ attitude. It’s education not a seaside sideshow.

Right, I am off to check Mini Cooper 1’s pockets before popping his uniform in the wash. It is no longer the paper hankie that I fear. It is the house point. Those tatty slips of paper turn to reward confetti in the twinkle of an eye. I wonder how many I would need to get a new washing machine or tumble drier?

 

*Thanks to the mums I have quoted along the way here. Read more about what mums think about primary school reward schemes here.

Further reading?

LINKS

Believe me there’s a heap of stuff out there. Here is just a selection of the stuff I have read this week while preparing this blog post…

https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/fryer/files/092011_incentives_fryer_allen_paper2.pdf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/6833871/School-reward-culture-is-harming-education.html

http://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/small-nudges-can-push-students-in-the.html

 

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Posted in Mini Coopers, Studying, Thoughts Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Photo of a slow cooker with pens and Javascript book inside
October 13th, 2017 by Suze

Since I have been back at the books I have tried to create pockets of time for study. While Mini Cooper 3 was in the teeny newborn stage, there seemed to be several opportunities for this. Studying while feeding, studying while she naps, studying as she sits in the bouncy chair. Now she is 9 months old and that’s a game changer…

While she hasn’t quite cracked crawling, she is shuffling her way around in that lightning quick way that they do. I put her in one place and a second later she is somehow across the room. This has changed my study spots somewhat for no sooner have I popped her down with her toys and grabbed the laptop, she is pulling at the fireguard or pulling herself up to stand by the sofa, needing me to come and ‘Reset’ her.

Time for change

Photo of my sofa study spaceSo study times have changed. As I knew they would. It means a change in expectations from me as I struggle to complete the next course unit. It seems that along with less time to study, motivation is also on a dip (read more here: This is the Wall). Not a great combination when I was trying to stick to such a tight schedule and complete this course by January.

I am now trying to create some extra time (wouldn’t we all like to do that!). By that I mean I am using Mummy Multi-Tasking to give me those precious extra moments. Suddenly by creating them, it seems only right I use them as they were intended, so they have a double use as they are helping to focus me on the task in hand.

Bye bye bland

Enter, my secret weapon, my slow-cooker. I have had the slow-cooker for about five years. Every Autumn I blow the dust off it and pop it on the side. I might make two or three lack-lustre dinners in it and then back in the cupboard it goes. Not this year. This year it needs to earn its place on the kitchen side.

Over the last few weeks I have tried to inject some flavour into the meals and last week I cracked it. Now this is going on the menu once a week giving me an extra hour of study time between the school run landing and dinner time. Now that is gold. The recipe is below.

Slowly does it

Graphic showing the length of time meals take to cook in the slow cookerWhile I am at it I have put together this quick cheat sheet. Every time I bung ingredients in the slow cooker I find myself scouring the internet (and ultimately texting my slow cooker guru sister) to ask how long to cook it for. This time when I found the info I decided I would not lose it again . So here that is too (and it’s Pin-able! Follow me on Pinterest and¬†¬†I’m on Instagram too)

 

  • Is the slow cooker your friend? If you want to share any slow-cooker secrets or recipes then please do so in the comments.

 

 

Recipe

Slow Cooker Beef and Onion Stew

500g diced beef

3 small onions (red or white or a mix)

1 medium carrot

1 medium parsnip

Charlotte potatoes

1tbsp of tomato puree

2pints Bouillon

Bouquet Garnis

A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley and fresh coriander

 

METHOD

  1. Brown the meat (optional)
  2. Chop all vegetables (potatoes may need cutting in half to ensure they cook through – use as many as will fit!)
  3. Add tomato puree
  4. Add vegetable stock and bouquet garnis
  5. Stir to mix
  6. Pop on low for 8 hours
  7. Serve with fresh herbs to taste
  8. Enjoy with fresh crusty bread

 

*Made using a 3.5L slow cooker like this one…

(Please note I am now signed up to the Amazon Affiliates scheme which means I may benefit from anything you buy through this link)

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Posted in Learn Direct, Mini Coopers, Studying Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

The wall meme
September 21st, 2017 by Suze

I fear I have hit The Wall.

(Which is a shame as it is trying to be a nice friendly wall, look, it’s even saying hello)

I don’t want to study. I don’t want to do it (cue child-like tantrum). I want it completed and gone. I have to do it. But I don’t want to do it. I am in that love it but hate it space.

Every time I sit at the computer I find 200 other things to do rather than log in to my course. I think I am on study burn out. Half of me wants to log in, plough through and get it done. The other half says it’s sunny outside, the house is a mess, leave it all behind and go and walk through the trees.

This is it. This is the wall.

I have been here before, several times. GCSEs, A-Levels, degree 1 (I actually have no idea how I got through that) and definitely degree 2 (I thought I never wanted to see a book, pen or laptop ever again).

The trouble is I have studied every day since I signed up for this web design course. I have logged on Every.Single.Day. and done something. Reading, assignment question, watch a video. I reaped the benefits in the early days and sped through the course. Now it feels like if ¬†don’t log in every day I won’t get it done. I want to keep uptake momentum but I am running out of steam.

Getting ahead of myself

Learndirect called me the other day. Voicemail: “We can see you are on unit 16. That is due in one the err… on the… 1st of September (pause) 2018…. we would like you to email us to confirm you will make this deadline.”

Well, yes, I am pretty sure that with 345 days to go I am going to make it – thanks.

Or am I. This is the wall.

One of the motivational tools used on the Learndirect dashboard is badge system. For every so many hours of study, you get a badge on your profile. For every early morning study, a badge on your profile. For consecutive day of study… a badge on your profile.

I have the badge for 150 days straight. Here it is…Badge for 150 days consecutive study

 

A (digital) Bit of Paper I had to have. And now I have it. I don’t think there is one for total, loony, crazy lady who is continuing to log on every day and work even though she needs a break. (If there is though – can I have it?)

I want to batter it. I want to code those functions. I want my Javascript form to send data to an email address and I want to create real working things out of numbers and letters and typing and for magic to happen on my screen. But if it’s all so clever why can’t I just download it to my brain?

If only.

This is the wall. I better start climbing it before it crushes me.

 

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Posted in Learn Direct, Remote Learning, Studying Tagged with: , , , , ,

Javascript in multi-coloured fridge magnets
September 1st, 2017 by Suze

This week I have learnt the following…

  • – Being 37 feels like being 36, but closer to 40
  • – Being realistic about how long something will take will probably make life less stressful
  • – There is something worse than a baby that wakes every hour and a half… a baby that wakes every hour.

I have also learnt how to enlarge an image when you hover your mouse cursor over it. This is JavaScript and this is what I am studying at the moment.

But how did I get here? Back in November 2016 I was pregnant with Mini Cooper 3 and DH was looking for new opportunities so he could make his escape from Never-Ending Working. He wondered if a coding course would be the right thing for him and suggested I take a look at the website. So I did.

The 12-week immersive course looked amazing and it started me thinking. Why hadn’t I ever considered learning about web design? I have always had a knack for technological problems (thanks to my dad who was a lover of all things gadget and a computer wizard). Growing up in our house was a constant stream of new technology. It was also a constant stream of swear words in frustration at the new technology which invariably wouldn’t do as it was told. My dad was passionate about his tech!

Being 8 months pregnant with our third child I realised that popping into London every day for 12 weeks was not going to be on my to-do list anytime soon. But my learning flame had been ignited and I needed to know more. So I did what any self-respecting wannabe web designer would do and Googled it. Within minutes I was signed up to Code Academy and learning about HTML and CSS and I loved it.

Thinking Beyond The Babies

Zoom forward a few months and Mini Cooper 3 was six weeks old. I vividly remember saying to DH ‚Äúthis is the first time I have had a newborn and not been studying for something ‚Äď how liberating‚ÄĚ. Two weeks after saying that I had signed up to the¬†Level 3 Web Design and Development (RQF) course with Learn Direct. It took weeks of online searching, and soul searching, to decide on the right course and ensure I was in the right place to get back to learning. This time I would be learning ¬†with purpose. I would be re-training. I would start to peek at that unknown land Beyond The Babies. But the mum guilt set in almost immediately. I had a newborn. What was I doing?

Well, actually I was stopping myself falling foul of the FaceBook black hole. Don’t get me wrong I can FaceBook as well as the rest of you. It is a daily, hourly obsession to check up and see what my sister had for dinner but when you are breastfeeding your baby 12 times a day around the clock, the draw of FaceBook wears a little thin.

If I was going to be stuck to the sofa with my phone in my hand, I may as well be reading something that added to my life.

I may as well be studying.

Having signed up and logged in I was faced with 22 unit headings containing several sections, each with an assignment to complete. The timetable suggested spending a month on each unit with a view to completing the course in two years. By now future plans in the Cooper house were taking shape and DH was on the brink of leaving Never-Ending Working behind. I needed to get this done within two years. In fact I needed it done in one year.

So I set to work. The units are broken down into sections; each one focussing on one topic at a time. This makes it relatively easy to dip in and out of. So far I have covered internet security, databases, web development and testing along with some HTML and CSS. While studying around the children adds an extra challenge, the way this course is laid out helps in many ways and generally I follow this loose plan…

  • – Read a few sections at a time (usually while feeding Mini Cooper 3)
  • – Before I have read too much – go back and make notes of the main points (this requires both hands but can be done while over-seeing Lego building).
  • – Go into the assignment to complete just one question. This may mean research outside the text as well as referring to my notes. (This requires both hands and my brain and is often done in those precious moments when all three are in bed)

Because I am working around the children I don’t really ever have time to do all of these things in one sitting. To be honest I don’t think my brain works that way, and for me breaking it down like this makes it easier to cope with. While I have already advocated The Use of the Odd 15 Minutes, I am by no means saying it can all be done just by doing 15 minutes each day. I try to find pockets of time when the children are at school or off doing something.

JavaScript

I began the course in March. It is now September and I am working on Unit 14. Some units have taken me longer than others. In some cases I have managed a unit per week. But what happens when a mum of three collides with JavaScript and the summer holidays? Four weeks to complete a unit is what happens! However, I can not complain too much. I am currently 249 days ahead of my next deadline.

It’s a good feeling for someone who often struggled to get her homework in on time while at school.

But I will admit I have hit a wall. This unit is hard. It is a practical unit, full of coding. There’s no hiding from it. It either works or it doesn’t. I can get it to work but it takes time and I am impatient (wonder where I get that from?). Meanwhile, school trousers need taking up. Washing Mountain needs folding and putting away. These are the last days before Mini Cooper 2 starts school and I haven’t got my head round that yet. I am starting to think my plan of putting 24 months of study into 12 is actually not realistic. I may have to Change The Plan.

So I return to my JavaScript. I am now creating custom JavaScript objects as well as methods and functions to manipulate them (what?!) All between trips to granny’s, opticians appointments, nappy changes and cups of tea (thank you DH).

Now if only I could code a teething baby to sleep for longer than an hour…

 

* What exactly is a Level 3? I didn’t know either. It appears a Level 3 is somewhere between an A-Level and a degree. It is entirely vocational and Learn Direct encourage you to take their employability course alongside your learning.

 

 

 


 

Posted in Learn Direct, Studying, Web Design Tagged with: , , , , ,