In today’s Times Educational Supplement, I’m writing about coding in schools, and arguing that you don’t need to feel intimidated if your pupils know things about the technical side of coding that you don’t.
We think of coding as a science – and in a science lesson, if the pupils knowledge outpaces the teacher’s then it’s a problem.
In reality, however, computer coding isn’t a technical job. it’s a creative one – at least as far as the pupils are concerned. They want to create a game, or create an animation, and they solve the technical problems they need to solve to do that.
And if you’re teaching an art, you’re delighted, not intimidated when your pupils come up with an idea you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. You celebrate it.
What do you think?
Here’s the link to the article
With “Act Normal, And Don’t Tell Anyone About The Present Machine” gearing up for publication, I’m thinking about publicity.
This book is a lot bigger than any of the previous Act Normal titles (five times the length), and, I think, it needs a bigger publicity push. So how to do that?
Well, I’m going to make it available to bookshops as well as through Amazon – which means a whole different approach to printing and distribution. And to go along with that, I’m considering employing a publicist – somebody who knows their way around the press contacts and the reviewers in the publishing world.
It’s a big step, but hopefully, it will allow the whole Act Normal series to reach a wider audience.
So, if you’ve got experience of how book publicists work, drop me a line.
And if you haven’t, but you’re thinking of using one, stay tuned… I’ll let you know how it works as soon as I find out!
There was a call this week from Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills, for children to be taught, in school, how to recognise fake news.
Absolutely bang on!
Working out what’s real and what isn’t is a vital skill, and it always has been, and that’s what school – if it’s about anything – is about.
So the problem isn’t a new one. What is new, is the fact that news is no longer controlled by a small group of individuals with their own agendas. It used to be that children (and adults) could learn to filter their news just by looking at the masthead at the top of a page, and adjust their expectations accordingly – If it says “The Guardian” at the top, you can expect different prejudices than if it says “The Sun”. And, of course, whatever, it says at the top, you can expect that somebody, somewhere is going to sue, or at least complain to a regulator with teeth, if those prejudices get too out of hand.
With social media, that’s all gone now, and you can’t tell instantly where your news comes from, or what level of rigor has been applied to it before its originator hit the “send” button.
You’d think that would make fake news harder to spot. However, the truth is, it’s never been easier to spot lies. Put any news story into Google, and you can, in about a minute, find out whether it’s real, and even trace it back to its original sources.
Showing children how to do this should be pretty easy. In fact, I’m going to come up with a workshop/game to take around schools to help children navigate what’s real and what isn’t.
Any teachers interested in this? drop me a message
Finally back at my desk after a hectic couple of weeks around World Book Day.
I’ve been to Ling Moor school in Lincoln (got stuck there during the storm). I’ve been to Aldro school in Godalming. I’ve Been to Prince’s Mead school near Southampton, Eton End in Datchet, and St Mary’s in Swinton, Manchester.
Quite a couple of weeks, and I’ve still got two more visits this week. I’m feeling a little shell shocked, but it was amazing to meet lots of children and teachers with real excitement about reading and writing, and masses of creativity.
Every school has its own atmosphere and character, and it was especially great to end last week with a visit, on Friday at Market Field – a school for children with learning difficulties near Colchester.
The children there are so lovely, and one particular class had so many great questions for me, it was difficult to leave them at the end. The focus of some of the children on the autistic spectrum really makes you understand how although they have a lot of difficulties, many people with Asperger syndrome manage to achieve things the rest of us struggle with.
“World Book Day” is what they call it, but for children’s writers, and certainly for me, it’s not a day. It’s a month.
Between now, and mid march, I’m visiting 9 schools, from Ling Moor, in Lincoln to Market Field in Colchester, and from Prince’s Mead near Southampton to John Roan in Blackheath. it’s taking quite a lot of organising and means I’ll be spending a lot of time going from one end of the country to the other, sampling the joys of Airbnb all over the country.
It’s always great fun to talk to all the children at these schools, and it always takes my breath away how creative teachers are in getting their pupils interested in reading.
What I have to do between now and Thursday, when my first visit is scheduled, is to work out what I’m going to be working on during the long train journeys. I’ll be tired, I know, and it’s very tempting to just sit back and watch the countryside go by.
However, I can’t let the fact that I’m spending a month traveling the country talking about writing mean that I don’t actually do any writing, so I’m going to have to have a project to work on at the same time.
That’s a bit tricky right now. I’ve just finished the new Act Normal book – Act Normal, And Don’t Tell Anyone About The Present Machine. It’s four or five times the length of a “normal” Act Normal book, so it’s aimed at a slightly more confident group of readers – the sort of boys and girls who would happily tackle a David Walliams, or a Roald Dahl book – and I’m really excited about releasing it.
Right now, I have to create the illustrations, so that’s my job for when I’m at home over the next few weeks. I can’t work on the Professor Challenger series (see previous post) because I’m still waiting to hear back from the publishers, so I’m going to need another fun project to work on in the meantime.
And, of course, I wouldn’t want you to think I’m just sitting on my hands here… at the same time as all this, I’m filming the interviews for my new documentary, in London, Bath, and, potentially, Edinburgh. I’ve also volunteered to write a feature for the Times Educational Supplement over the next couple of weeks, and I’ve just volunteered to join CWISL (http://www.cwisl.org.uk/) the Children’s Writers and Illustrators of South London – If you live or go to school in south London, you’ll probably have come into contact with them. But they’re not an organisation for passengers, so I’m guessing, as soon as I meet up with them, I’ll become involved in something….
Oh, and the council want to build 7 new blocks of flats right next to my back garden, and with planning permission going through, and me on the residents group, it looks like things will be fun for the next few weeks…
Time to dive in.
It’s at a very early stage right now, but I’m developing an idea for a series of books based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s other great heroic character….
If you’ve read the classic, The Lost World or any of Conan Doyle’s other mad, epic journeys into sci-fi and adventure, then you’ll be familiar with the great Professor Challenger.
I want to bring back this abrasive, genius-adventurer-showman. I’ve approached the estate of Conan Doyle already, and they’re interested. I’m now talking to some publishers about a series of young adult novels, featuring woolly mammoths, giant scorpions, time travel, and steam-powered spaceships.
I think the professor is well and truly overdue, in this post-truth world of pseudoscience and fakery, for a return to the stage of popular young adult fiction.
Stay tuned for more info, and please, tell me what you think!
Meanwhile, back to writing the latest Act Normal book!
“When I was your age, there were lots of children at the kindergarten where I went. But there was one child who was really special. This child was really, really smart. This child learned things very quickly and could answer even the hardest questions from the teacher. This child was really, really smart.”
This story was shown to boys and girls of 5 years and above in a study by Dr Andrei Cimpian at the Cognitive Development Lab in New York recently, and the results are all over the media this morning.
Put simply, the story was read to a group of children around 6 years old. The kids were then asked to pick from a selection of photos, which child they thought the story was about.
The study suggested that children of 5, would pretty randomly pick male and female photos as the “clever” subject of the story.
Girls of 6 and 7, however, are apparently more likely to choose a male photo as being a picture of the “clever” child.
As a writer of stories for children of that kind of age group, and particularly stories with a very clever female lead character, my interest was raised.
So the question is, does this really show that girls of 6 and 7 think they’re less clever than their male counterparts?
I would argue that it doesn’t.
It’s very difficult to write a completely gender less story – which doesn’t give any behavioral clues about the lead character leading you to assume their sex (a whole other area), but I think looking at the tale above, the researchers have done pretty well.
So why do I think it’s misleading?
Well, like it or not, there’s a built in assumption in our language towards the choice of “he” rather than “she” where no gender is specified. This appears everywhere, despite the fact that there are a lot of attempts to correct it.
I would suggest that it’s this that the children are reacting to – the choice of “he” where no gender is specified – rather than the cleverness of the individual being described.
I’d be willing to bet that a similar story about someone who was described as “dumb” would also lead the children to pick a male candidate over a female one.
What do you think?