Author: holly

Holly is the founder of TeachAllAboutIt and a Computer Science Master Teacher. With over 10 years classroom experience, and 1000+ hours of highligh rated tuition, her mission is to inspire others to love Computer Science as much as she does. As a fully qualified teacher, examiner, and author of her own books and for the BBC, her subject knowledge is secure and constantly moving forward. She developed the website to create an online collaboration between tutors to provide high quality education to a range of students with differing needs, whilst also supporting independent tutors.

Why We’re Still Playing DnD Despite TSR

Over the past week, the TTRPG community was initially delighted at the return of TSR, the original creators of Dungeons & Dragons (DnD), and was left reeling at their subsequent comments regarding inclusion within the game. This is neither the platform to share those comments, nor do I want them here. And yet, we will continue to play.

As a long term player, I was introduced to the game many years ago by inclusive DMs* (who happened to also be my fellow computer science students… yes, that long ago!) who held no quarter with any form of discrimination and regularly discussed boundaries within storylines with their players. This enabled us to explore relationships and adventures in an environment where we knew without a shadow of doubt that we would never need to feel uncomfortable. After all, it’s just a game.

But it’s a game where you develop a strong bond with your character, particularly after many hours of developing their backstory and bonding with other players (and sometimes long running non player characters). It’s very similar to the bond an author forms when writing a novel over many months.

Gaelle Dark Dice
Gaelle of Vogelberg from Dark Dice (voiced by Holly Billinghurst)

Having played since the 1990s and more recently voice acted in several DnD podcasts as a regular player character, I made the decision to combine my enjoyment of playing DnD with teaching and start a regular teen DnD club at our tuition centre. This is such a natural combination as the aspects of creative writing & maths are automatically built into every game and the sessions have become a regular social activity for a number of local teens.

So of course, when the comments from TSR came out this week my first reaction was to feel incredibly protective of the fantastic group that we’ve created and ensure that both parents and kids are aware that our table will continue to be fully inclusive. If you want to create a gender fluid tiefling that uses their appearance to increase their charisma, then roll for initiative! Because of all places, a game where a druid could become a fire breathing squirrel is no place to deny someone gender expression. **

A similar argument came about when wheelchair “battlechair” mounts were introduced to DnD in an attempt to make the game more inclusive to players with disabilities. The same response is just as appropriate now as it was then: making your table inclusive to others by allowing them representation doesn’t just benefit individuals.

So for now, our DnD table isn’t going anywhere because the players are what make our games amazing, not the creators who have been AWOL for decades.

If you’d like to join Holly at her weekly DnD group in West Sussex, or one of their online sessions you can book your space here.

*DM = Dungeon Master. The person guiding the story.

** within age & context appropriate boundaries

Why I Chose To Home Educate As A Teacher

Why I Chose To Home Educate As A Teacher

But you’re a teacher? A qualified one, yes. So why did I choose to home educate as a teacher having worked in the system for so long?

Before our youngest child asked us if we would consider home education, I had taught for a decade in schools as a secondary & sixth form teacher of Computer Science, already been tutoring full time for several years, and had recently opened our tuition centre in West Sussex. During the second school lockdown in the UK they approached me with a detailed list of pros and cons to argue why they should remain at home when everybody else returned to school despite being in the first year of their GCSEs. So no biggie really

Bean Home Education
Reading is enjoyable when you’re comfy

My youngest had always struggled with the rules and regulations in school and although they had never really been in trouble and worked incredibly hard, their anxiety had peaked on joining key stage 4 and unlike many children their mental health had actually improved during the first lockdown when they had the independence to study in a way that suited them. Without any distractions of whether their school uniform was perfect, or whether they were sitting in the right way and looking attentive, their grades sailed through the roof. We had a sensible looking child who went from averaging predicted grades of 3s and 4s to one with bright green hair but averaging actual grade 6s, 7s and 8s.

How do I argue with a child who has managed to independently improve their grades so much?

I had been reluctant to home educate as I had worked within the home education community for some time and the majority of parents talked about unschooling which was something that made me personally uncomfortable (although I am aware that this works very well for other families). My background as a teacher and our preference as a family for structured education seemed at odds with many of the things that other parents were saying. As we investigated the possibility of them staying at home to study, I discovered a full community of home educators like myself who follow a structured form for their children and access small online classes to support their own curriculums.

Prior to any of this conversation I had been running an IGCSE in computer science aimed specifically at home educated students for two years and whilst the numbers were low, those who completed the course had 100% pass rate. Gaining are better understanding of home education through being there myself personally, has allowed me to extend this to several groups including a full key stage three curriculum for computing which is something that I have taught for many years but have now adapted into a more flexible home education course.

In becoming a home educator myself, I have begun to understand some of the struggles that a number of parents go through in understanding a complex curriculum, made even harder by a lack of information and clarity from local authorities who simply walk away aside from an annual letter. I remain in a privileged position that I understand far more about the exam system as I work regularly with exam boards, and I have begun to use this to assist other parents with understanding the expectations from colleges and universities who often have very little understanding of home education.

Isn’t Home Education Expensive?

Bean Photography
Creative courses are both easier and harder to access in Home Education

One of my major considerations when we opted to home educate was the cost. Although on a daily basis there is certainly a lower cost as there is no uniform, no leather school shoes that raise a shine, no suitable hairstyles… this is subsequently outweighed by taking on full responsibility for all resources and exam fees which start at around £150 for each exam.

We added to this financial load by identifying practical groups for photography and several subjects where they would see a tutor on a regular basis to support the work that we were undertaking at home. This was in part to assure me that we were following the correct path and making sufficient progress, but also because of the boost in confidence that these weekly lessons give them. It’s certainly not the most cost efficient option, but I am booking their “gold service” of individual time and the results are quite evident. At school, education wasn’t free (I distinctly remember being paid to teach!) – and tutors are paid an equivalent rate; it’s just directly.

So why did we opt to home educate if we are going to follow a structured form of education anyway?

We are raising an independent child who has taken responsibility for their own learning and has removed the ceiling placed on them by standardised tests and progress tracking. This is not to say that the standard school system is not perfectly appropriate for the vast majority of students, but in experiencing an alternative to the norm, my long-held belief that education should be individualised to support the person and not the institution, has grown much stronger. I’ve taken Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem & proved his point. Whoops?

Should Teachers & Tutors Wear Masks?

Should Teachers & Tutors Wear Masks?

And with that one question I opened up Pandora’s can of worms! However, asking “should teachers & tutors wear masks” is an important question that many education professionals are asking themselves, and often the question is based around whether they are putting the health before a child’s accessibility in the classroom which is a difficult question to answer sometimes. Whilst I cannot claim to have the definitive answer for everybody, I can certainly talk about the types of things that I have done vast offering in person education.

Although our tuition was 100% online for a great deal of the past 18 months, having been mandated to close longer than schools, as we begin to open up more,I see more students in our tuition centre my thoughts have been turning to how we can wear masks in our classes more effectively whilst making communication effective.

In Person Tutor

Cloth masks have always been my preference from an environmental perspective, and I spent a large amount of time last summer with the sewing machine attempting to make a set for both myself and my children. I ended up quite good at it but they never managed to be quite as comfortable as the ones we bought. My attempts at making see through masks were a disaster!

Although we are reaching the potential point of masks no longer being mandatory, I’m not sure that I will banish them entirely from our teaching rooms – if only because this is the first year where I have not had a winter cold or flu which has been rather marvellous! I love my students, but during the winter they really are germ bags (although don’t tell them I said that).

Cradle Masks

As we move towards another academic year and in our case summer school with more relaxed social distancing, I have been investigating a number of different options for cloth masks, one of which being the Cradle Self Sterilising Face Mask which appeals to me as it looks like any other cloth mask but has the added benefit of a higher filtration rate and is antiviral for up to two hours of continuous wear. when teaching us all day, this requires 3 to 4 mask changes each day and unlike the additional protection of knowing that what I have been breathing into for the past two hours is not sitting in my wash bag duplicating viruses (although these do go directly into the washing machine when we get home).

smart facemask

As a Computer Science tutor (and honestly, a bit of a nerd) I’ve also been rather taken with some of the smart masks that are finding their way onto the market like the Airpop Active+ masks. I love that these come with the addition of an app to indicate when to change them, but the price tag was a bit of an eye opener! After looking into these in a bit more depth, they reminded me of why we bought a laser printer – the initial cost was higher, but they worked out cheaper long term (yes, I always get a bit of computing in every post!). As you only need to change the filters which can last up to 40 hours you can wear these for the whole day rather than needing multiple masks.

What will we be wearing next term? We don’t know yet, we’re looking forward to what happens with smart masks next!

Tools For Online Teaching & Tutoring (Webinar)

Tools For Online Teaching & Tutoring (Webinar)

Thank you so much to everyone who joined me for the live webinar on using tools to run classes and 1-2-1 tuition online. It’s so great to see people working together to make things work in a difficult situation.

I have uploaded the recording of the webinar here which is free and open to watch – if you have any questions, or would like me to add anything else into upcoming sessions please do comment below.

Important Update (26th March 2020): Since recording this webinar Bitpaper have announced that they will be charging for the use of their platform from 1st April.

You can sign up for future webinars here.

Using Online Whiteboards

Following the webinar above, lots of you have been asking me about which online whiteboard to use for tuition, especially when you want to collaborate with your students live. As a quick introduction and to answer some of these questions, I’ve recorded a quick comparison of the tools I’m looking at right now.

Have you found these webinars useful? If you’d like me to run online training for your company for up to 75 participants, please get in touch.