ClassDojo, helping schooling into the 21st century

One of the most frustrating things about communicating with our kids school is the haphazard way they use email. More often than not, we get email that simply says please see the attached letter (which is in PDF format). PDFs are not the best for reading on a mobile phone and invariably these always end up being sent at the wrong time of day for either of us to be anywhere near a computer. Talking to friends, we are far and away not alone in this, so I’m not singling out our kids school- honest!

It is also difficult to contact the teachers directly with any particular issue either- through no fault of theirs I should stress- as every morning there is a queue to see form teachers and they’re often busy after school and home by the time either of us finishes work.

it’s funny that in the work place we adopt lots of collaborative systems like Slack or Microsoft Teams to make our communication and workflow better but in other areas of life still have to rely on an email with a PDF attachment, or even in the case of the doctors, a letter that’s dictated and sent overseas for transcription.

Fortunately if you have a school that’s either onboard with the 21st century or open to suggestion, it doesn’t have to be this way because clever people out there have noticed that downloading and squinting at PDFs or leaving work early to have a five minute chat with a teacher isn’t really the most sensible thing to do and you know what? They’re right.

Enter ClassDojo, already used by a good 40% of primary school teachers in around 85% of primary schools, if your school hasn’t jumped on board, it’s time to ask them if they intend to. If it turns out your school actually does use ClassDojo and you just didn’t realise it, there are plenty of benefits to using it.

ClassDojo connects teachers with families so they can become a “teaching team.” Teachers can instantly share pictures, videos and messages with families about what’s happening throughout the school day.If, like me, you’re greeted with a “Not anything” when you ask how the day has gone or seem to spend half of your ten minutes at parents evening asking what you can specifically do to support your kid at home, this sounds like a godsend. I can still remember the day I asked our lad what happened at school (he was in reception at the time) and he said “nuffin” but the following week we saw a photo of him on the school website sitting in a big yellow digger.

ClassDojo is also an app that your kids can use, which helps to get them involved and develop both responsibility and accountability.

Kids can even use it to update you as parents to what they’re up to in the classroom. I know for a fact all our kids are brimming with pride when it comes to parent evening, how much more exciting would it be to let them share via ClassDojo as and when they do something cool, obviously once agreed by the teacher!

ClassDojo is available in primary schools so what are you waiting for? Check it out and if you like what you see, be sure to mention it to your school!

This post is advertorial content for ClassDojo

Rudimental (DJ Set) to headline 21st edition of Nozstock The Hidden Valley

Nozstock The Hidden Valley is back for its 21st season this summer. Following on from last year’s spectacular sell-out 20th anniversary, the independent festival now reveals its main wave of artists.


Joining Nozstock so far are Rudimental (DJ set), Soul II Soul, The Skatalites, David Rodigan, Hollie Cook, Elvana: Elvis fronted Nirvana, Oh My God! It’s The Church, Henge, Jam Baxter, DJ Zinc + SP:MC, Turno, Notion, A Skills, Randall, Hospitality Takeover and loads more!

Last years Nozstock was pretty special, I absolutely LOVED Grandmaster Flash and a load of the other acts but Rudimental is a particular favourite in our household so it’s bound to be really exciting.

Nozstock is one of the UK’s longest running festivals. Set on a beautiful working farm, it is family-run, home-made and proudly independent. It’s a gloriously eccentric and decadently off-kilter brain-shift with incredible detail at every turn. A small festival with a big heart which continues to chart its own path, far away from commercialism and following the flock. Nozstock transcends the classic festival experience, creating its own sense of community and escapism for a few precious days. The Nosworthy family curate one of the UK’s finest portfolios of music and arts, with a huge focus on keeping families entertained in the Little Wonderland Kids’ Area.

Payment by instalments available, and you can find all the details below. I recommend watching some of the videos to get a good idea of how cool it all is!

www.nozstock.com / @Nozstock  / facebook.com/nozstockthehiddenvalley
youtube.com/nozstockfestival   /   instagram.com/nozstock

The internet content filtering dilema

Don’t try anything on my WiFi network

I think the general consensus among parents I talk to is that their kids should be spoken to and rationally convinced that they shouldn’t look at naughty stuff on the internet. It’s the modern, involved, right on option to take. The problem is, any kid is only a couple of clicks away hot anal action or instructions on how to make homemade explosives either by accident or intent. And lets face it, we don’t want our kids either looking at that sort of stuff or conflating the two to come up with hot anal explosions do we?

There are a couple of options available to parents: all internet access is done in the communal living space and fully supervised. Who’s got time for that? Or you can use some sort of filter. Some routers now have basic filtering settings to weed out problem sites. There are also subscription services like Disney’s Circle that do device by device filtering. I’ve tried a few of these and they’re…. okay. If you’re a bit more technically minded you can even switch your DNS servers to OpenDNS and put site/category specific filters in, though this isn’t for the faint hearted.

The best solution I came up with in the end was a new Synology router, the RT2600AC Wi-Fi AC 2600.

Synology made their name in network storage but their router carries the user friendly interface across and it comes with some great apps, including the rather useful Safe Access. This allows you to assign devices to individuals, give the individual time limits, a curfew and filter the content to remove anything you don’t want them to see. The best part is you can customise the block screen that comes up when someone searches for something they shouldn’t…

Tinkering with the sublime

Before MTV even considered Pimp My Ride there was an obvious market for after market modifications to cars, be it the silly spoilers lads put on the back of their XR2is or right at the other end, RUF building you a custom car that looks like a Porsche 911 on steroids. I mean, have you seen the insane Nurbergring Yellowbird video?

Anyway, I digress. I’ve always said that my first port of call on a lottery win would be a sports car to tide the gap until I could get something a bit more unique. The way car financing works today, anything right up until to get to McLarens aren’t particularly exotic on the road any more. I drive around our middle of the road surban estate (not one of the more expensive areas in St Albans I hasten to add) and I see various high end Jags, an Audi R8, a Ferrari and several different Porsche 911s (a Turbo, a Carrera 4 GTS, and a plain old Carrera amongst others). Someone over the other side of town has a Lamborghini Huracan with a rather garish wrap job that makes it swirly and mirrored (think the old TVR chameleon paint and you wouldn’t be a million miles off). Lambo always used to have the reputation of being the supercar that fat Italian businessmen drove up the village to visit their mistresses in but things have changed mightily since ’98 when VW bought the company and put it under the control of Audi. German reliability and Italian flair? What could go wrong?

Of course there are a lot of aftermarket kits and modifications you can make to your car, even if it’s a Huracan. Some are cosmetic, some actually affect the performance of your car. It’s fascinating to see what’s involved in this sort of thing too- a lot of performance boosting now days just involves remapping the engine management to improve throttle response and to be honest, can be a bit boring to read through. I’ve been reading the Scuderia Car Parts blog which shows a Huracan up on the ramps with some serious tinkering occuring.

A new exhaust system and a carbon fibre spoiler is certainly a great way to personalise your Lambo!

And that’s what it’s really about I suppose. When I learnt to drive in the early 90’s it was a treat to see something as “exotic” as a 4th generation Supra. Even now, I was genuinely more excited to see an Alpine A110 in the metal than a lot of cars more than two or three times the price- I even drove a McLaren last year on a track day for goodness sake- which just goes to show it’s the niche element rather than the price sticker that makes a lot of these performance cars desirable. If you can spend around £50K on something that does 0-60mph in under 5 seconds, spending £150K on something straight out of the factory isn’t really an option any more.

Because England is the home to a lot of motorsport companies, the whole tuning and modding scene is very well developed here, and there are equally a large number of well established wholesalers that sell performance parts. Such a company is Scuderia Car Parts, with whom this post is a paid partnership. And yes, as the name suggests, they also do parts for Ferrari (and other) manufacturers too!

Nozstock: the most family friendly festival becomes EVEN more family friendly!

We’ve been to the Nozstock festival in Herefordshire for a few years now and we all love it. It’s small enough that the kids don’t feel overwhelmed but big enough that they don’t get bored. Last year was a particular highlight as Ned accidentally learnt the words to the Dub Pistols Mucky Weekend (fortunately he doesn’t understand a word of it. If you want to pick up on our review of it, you can read it here.

  • Expanding and improving family camping to accommodate more tents and more space
  • Increasing the number of toilets on site by 25% and introducing child-friendly toilets in family camping
  • Supplies available for family campers including loo roll, wet wipes, sanitiser, sun cream, plasters, toothpaste and site maps. Whilst stocks last!
  • ‘Save your space’ scheme. Booked to use family camping but want to make sure you have enough space to camp together? A limited amount of 5m2 pitches are available to hire to save your space
  • Little Wonderful Kids Area expanded to include more activities aimed at older children and a dedicated breastfeeding space

As you can see from my review of this years festival, Nozstock is already really family friendly, so any improvement is going to be the icing on the cake.

So if you’re looking for a last minute Christmas pressie, you can buy tickets for the 2019 festival here.

A useful instructional for the parents of boys

I don’t often publish instructionals and this one is even more out there as it’s from the BBC’s comedy show The Daily Mash (itself spun out of the satirical website of the same name).

However given the press recently on all sorts of shenanigans on the internet from kids not believing that Madeleine McCann was actually a real person, to what’s known as “redpilling“, it’s probably more relevant now than ever that we keep an eye on what our kids are up to online. Let’s face it, you don’t want to get down the line and long for the nostalgic days when all you had to worry about was your kid googling for “boobies” on the internet. Whether it’s right wing/racist/fascist stuff on YouTube, or endless conspiracy theories that younger people find hard to differentiate from the truth from poppycock, the important thing is to talk to your kids about it.

Which brings us on to the whole “incel” subculture in the video. I was terrible with girls at school but that was due to shyness, I didn’t feel the need to construct an entire narrative or reality around the way human interaction works to justify my crapness, I just knew I was shy. The whole incel movement, “involuntarily celibate” boys who go to rather extreme lengths to convince themselves that the world is ganging up on them reminds me rather of an old episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer does the “worm do” joke from the 1,001 chat up lines book he has, and Lister tries to point out to him that women aren’t an unknown different species who have to be tricked into liking you.

That’s what I like about Rachel Parrish’s monologue above; although she rightly ridicules the whole movement, she doesn’t dismiss it and actually ends up with some (tongue in cheek) pointers to potential incels to stop them going down that crazy path.

Last night I got told off by my mum- I’m 43!

I’m used to be told off, it’s a part of life but it has been a number of years since my mum actually told me off. I’m well into my forties now and had thought that I’d passed that stage of my life. It appears that I haven’t.

I tend to have a weekly chat with my parents on the phone while I’m walking home from work. Although they’re only based 18 miles away, with three kids and lots of activities at the weekend, we only see them once every couple of months, so it’s good to keep in touch.

While I was chatting to mum yesterday, I mentioned that it’s great to be able to see what the boy has had for lunch- he’s newly started at secondary school and his school dinner money is done via biometrics- in this instance a thumb print. We can log on to an app and see what he’s spent and what he’s spent it on. Mum was impressed, I could tell. Mind you, a lot of technology impresses her generation, but even so, she said it was a shame that they didn’t have that sort of system when I was at school.

I was a creature of habit in my school days. Packed lunch containing:

  • two slices of Sainsbury wholemeal bread made into a Marmite sandwich (cut diagonally)
  • a bag of crisps (Ringos, Farmer Browns, Hula Hoops, Chipsticks)
  • a biscuit (orange/mint/fruit Club or a KitKat)
  • an apple
  • a carton of drink (5 Alive, Umbongo or something similar)

Blithely, I mentioned to mum I didn’t actually eat my packed lunch very often, instead I sold it to Mark Giltrow. Mark was on school dinners but didn’t like them and preferred a packed lunch, so I sold him mine for the equivalent of a school dinner, pocketing the money to fund my obsession with comics and computer games. Along with my 55p bus fare home I didn’t spend, choosing to walk instead, this added a huge £8.75 a week to my income. That was enough to buy a Megadrive game once a month!

There was silence on the other end of the phone. The silence extended and became awkward. Them mum replied, “You naughty boy, no wonder you were hungry when you got home, honestly Alex, I’m cross with you.”

I had to point out that we were talking about something that happened 30 years ago, and as a 43 year old parent of three I wasn’t about to take a telling off for something that happened so long ago but there was little I could say that would mollify her. I was in trouble!

Hoarding like a pro

It’s not getting any better. Whenever we have a big tidy up it seems like we’re just moving stuff about and relocating things rather than getting rid of stuff. Our house must weigh about twice as much as our neighbours because we’ve got so much darn stuff in it.

The kids don’t help the accumulation of detritus- attempt to get them to part with any old or broken toy they haven’t touched for years and they’ll wail and play with it incessantly until you leave the room and then revert to the scrumming wrestling game that is their preferred pastime. 

Still I’m no better, I keep on finding stuff in the house that I bought years ago and in some instances haven’t actually opened. Take this for example:

Dreamcast VMU

The Dreamcast was Sega’s last (and ill-fated) console. It was released in 1999 and discontinued in 2001. This is a sealed box VMU (memory card) for a Dreamcast that’s sat in a box in our loft for many many years.

Still, I did manage somewhat of a breakthrough. I took 17 boxes down from the loft that contained old video consoles, games and various cables and power supplies. I only returned 7 boxes, which I count as a win, but I’m still a little nervous about some of the PSUs I threw away.

I mean, just because I haven’t used them in the last 15 years, doesn’t mean they’re not vital. Right? Right???

Nozstock the Hidden Valley 2018 Review

This year Nozstock celebrated it’s 20th birthday, no mean feat given how the festival market has burgeoned in recent years. The secret to their success is threefold- Nozstock has refused to grow to the size of a mega festival, it has great music, and it’s just incredibly friendly.

This year the weather gods were kind to us,it was gloriously hot and sunny where it had been rather wet the previous year. The weather does make a big difference at a festival, even one where they deal with the mud really well, and I have to say combined with the lovely local cider and the musical line up, this was probably the best Nozstock yet.

We started off Friday with We Are Scientists, before moving on to the Selector for a bit of ska. Both were ace, but simply a warm up for Chase & Status a bit later in the evening, who did an awesome set. Day time is quite chilled at Nozstock, with a mixture of mellow acoustic, folk, and guitar based pop/rock. Things get really banging in the evenings. The kids did well on the first night, managing to stay up until gone midnight.

On day 2 we were joined by the rest of our posse (the Friday had been year six leavers party, so my wife, the eldest, and one of our friends and their eldest came up first thing Saturday morning). The last sets of the previous night only finished at around 2/3am, so the morning was quite chilled. I’d made the cardinal mistake of not filling up my water bottle so had to start the day with a gin in a tin to wet my whistle – why not start as you mean to carry on eh? 

Although the family camping has always been great at Nozstock (restricted to people with actual families and not groups of teenagers on their own like a few other festivals I could name), this year it really outdid itself with a bespoke adventure playground and some football goals.  This is a really great addition when you have kids that get up at 7am and the festival proper doesn’t open until 10!

Of course the bigger acts were reserved for the (late) evenings but with the likes of Electric Swing Circus on earlier, it really wasn’t the case of having to sit through a lot of rubbish just to make sure you got to see the likes of GrandMaster Flash or Goldfrapp.

The thing that sets Nozstock apart (aside from the music, the food, and well lots of other things really) is the atmosphere though. It is so friendly. We had “merry” lads and lasses coming up and asking the kids who their favourite artists were, complementing us on making the kids wear ear defenders, and just being genuinely nice. There was none of the argy bargy jostling and queue jumping you see at larger festivals, everybody is out to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

Tickets are already available for Nozstock’s 21st Festival, and you can pick them up here at an early bird rate. Don’t forget that kids under 12 go free, so it really is an awesome opportunity to spend a long weekend chilling.

Navigating the maze of electricity use with British Gas and their smart meter maze game

Our house was built in the 1960s and one of the ways we get an insight every day to how different things are in 2018 to 1968 (Happy 50th Birthday house!) is the aggravation we inevitably have when it comes to plugging stuff in. Each room has at most two plug sockets, which in this day and age simply isn’t anywhere near enough. And boy do we have things plugged in- from computers to grills, to smart speakers, everything seems to come with a power brick and a plug today. Ironically, even the 1970s stereo we’ve recently inherited needs two plug sockets, which suggests that power strips were pretty common in the 70s too.

And it is true for us that almost every plug socket has a power strip on it, with various devices and chargers plugged in. Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up in a cold sweat wondering how much electricity half our stuff uses on standby and whether cumulatively it would be enough to put one of our kids through university. Both our bigger tellies (50 and 60 inch respectively) don’t even have a physical on/off button; they’re either in standby or switched off at the wall and since the cables are tucked away from sight, turning them off at the wall every night is a bit of a chore, especially when one of the kids wakes you up at 6am because the TV doesn’t work.

British Gas have developed a game to let you see what uses electricity and how, with the idea that it creates an awareness of the things that use a lot of electricity. Much like a smart meter will let you see what is being used, and make you conscious of what needs turning off or using sparingly to save you money. I have a friend who was shocked to see the electricity usage of his big plasma TV after he got a smart meter fitted. He went away and looked up the actual power consumption and worked out that if he bought a similar size modern LCD TV the saving in electricity between the two would actually pay for his new telly before the warranty on it ran out.

The British Gas Smart Meter Maze game lets you get an idea of how much simple things like turning off lights or game consoles will save you, all wrapped up in a lovely retro pixel art style. I particularly like the way it shows the kids running around and turning everything on ALL THE TIME. It’s very realistic in that respect.

That’s the beauty of a smart meter really. It won’t magically save you energy on its own but there is something about seeing a £££ move that focuses the mind and makes you more energy conscious. I even did the experiment of setting our TV to ECO mode to see what difference it would make. Initially the screen looked a lot dimmer but since we mostly watch TV in the evening with the lights off, we soon adjusted as the saving, although small, was another step towards being more frugal with our energy usage.

And in case you’re wondering, I scored 23,000 on the Smart Meter Maze game. Try and beat that if you can!

 

This post is a promotional feature in association with British Gas® but all thoughts are my own