Calendar of Curiosities – 2


For the second look at the Oxford Department of Continuing Education Festive Calendar, I’ll highlight three very different sites.  The first is one that has given many children and adults their first experience of computer coding.  Scratch is a website that provides the means for children and anyone interested in learning to code to do so in a simple visual way.  It is produced by one of the departments at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is free. You can create your own account and then using visual blocks of ‘instructions’ you can create interactive animated stories and games.  It says it is for 8 years and above.  There is a simpler version, known as Scratch Junior and my 6 year old grandson loves this.  I think he’ll be ready to move onto the full version sometime next year. 

Coding enables creativity

By using simple visual blocks, it provides an intuitive interface allowing a child or adult with no coding knowledge to add ‘instructions’ to images on the screen. it means that they can create with technology and not just passively absorb its information. Mitch Resnick the director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT has a TED talk explaining just what their ethos for learning is. When people learn to code in Scratch, they learn important strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas.

Chasing Castles

From a resource created by a big institution to what appears to be a lovely idea created by a couple in the UK. Chasing Castles is a blog by a couple from Cheltenham who only visited their first Stately Home three years ago.  From then they decided not just to visit lots of them, but to collect stories too.  The result is a great site where you can read about ‘the real Romeo and Juliet‘  how Charles Dickens enacted revenge in print for un-gentlemanly behaviour, or just find a selection of historic houses to visit within an hour from London.  It’s a lovely resource that provide real human stories behind the pomp and lets be honest probably slave funded splendour.  

Figures in the Sky

Finally 28 different ‘Sky Cultures’ are examined in a site analysing how different cultures across the world and over time created myths and characters from star constellations. Some groups of relatively bright stars are so distinct that cultures from around the world, separated by vast oceans, have connected them into a constellation in almost the same way.

The site is very interactive and if you click on the ‘Western Modern’ option in the Sky Cultures page, you are immediately taken back to the top with all the relevant constellations shown.  They include cultures as diverse as Navajo, Inuit, Arabic and Western.  I’ve done a screen shot of this with Orion showing (It’s the easiest one to find!) In Sardinian culture it was known as the sticks. Go and explore, you’ll be there a while.  


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