Welcome to my blog!

Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Síofra Harkin and I’m 15 years old. I live in Co. Donegal, Ireland and I’m currently in Transition Year. In this blog I hope to talk about everything that interests me from fashion to music and from school to my social life!! Hopefully I’ll be back with some new blog posts for you all very soon. Thanks for stopping by!

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Open Policy Debate in The Royal Hospital, Kilmainham.

It’s not everyday I get to meet An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and to take part in an Open Policy Debate- so yeah, Thursday past was a pretty amazing and empowering day for myself and my fellow Webwise Advisory Panelists. I was invited to attend an Open Policy Debate held by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin on Thursday 8th March. This opportunity was presented to me by Webwise Ireland, who I have been working with over the past several months, being a member of the Webwise Advisory Panelist and a SID 2018 Ambassador with them.

Due to the early starting time for the debate, myself, my mother and two of my fellow panelists enjoyed a wonderful stay the night before at the luxurious Carlton Hotel- only a short journey away from the debate venue in Kilmainham.

After a wonderful evening of relaxing and chatting to the other panelists- Cillian and Jane over dinner, getting ready for the day ahead of us, in the hotel we decided to catch 40 winks before an early rise at around 6.30am on Thursday morning. Just after breakfast and checking out, at around 7.30 am, the taxi arrived at the entrance of the hotel to transport the four of us to the Royal Hospital. The journey wasn’t too long considering the usual city traffic and we arrived in Kilmainham after 8am.

Upon arrival, we were taken back by the stunning setting of The Royal Hospital, an impressive building enclosing a beautiful courtyard. The historical significance of the building gave the debate a stronger sense of importance and it felt like the absolute ideal location for the day. From here, we were directed towards registration, where we got our name tags and an information packet each.

Right away, the four of us met up with Aideen, Tracy and Jane from Webwise and together we enjoyed a cup of tea and a catch up, whilst taking in the exquisite interior design of the venue. We got a chance to meet lots of different people from various different organisation and companies who were also in attendance at the Open Policy Debate.

Soon, we were approached by a photographer who informed us that An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was on his way to the debate and the photographer wished to take a photograph of myself, Cillian, Jane and Lorcan with Leo Varadkar himself. We were absolutely thrilled- not only was the Taoiseach going to be at the same event as us, but now we were getting to meet him and have a photo with him! The photographer led us out front, where we were told to wait for Leo’s arrival.

Not long after, he arrived and we were invited outside. Here, Leo Varadkar took the time to shake hands with each and everyone of us, while asking us a bit about ourselves- like where we live and go to school.

I felt extremely privileged to meet both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Denis Naughen and both were such genuine and down-to-earth characters, who were interested in speaking to students like ourselves. We made sure to take plenty of photos with the Taoiseach and all the ministers who also took time out of their busy schedules to attend!

Following this, we made our way back inside where I was taken to the tech man to get my mic, seeing as I was to be on the first panel which was beginning shortly. I got a chance to meet the other people who were going to be on the same panel as me. After an introduction to the event from Leo Varadkar, Denis Naughten and Gail Kent, my panel’s discussion began.

Both of the two panels for the day were composed of people from various different organisations, however, we all had the common aim of discussing and debating policy on online safety and hopefully helping to make a positive impact on the action plan for online safety policy by the Irish Government.

Countless important views and opinions were shared among the panel, issues of all kinds in relation to online safety were highlighted. I was the only student on this panel, so it was interesting to hear things from adult perspectives- similarly it was interesting for the other panelists to hear what I had to say, being a child growing up with the use of the internet in daily life. It was a truly eye-opening discussion and was so rewarding knowing that everyone had the common aim of solving the problems discussed. Following my panel discussion, there was a table discussion at each of the tables, led by facilitators, including some other members of Webwise. The table discussions were a chance for the audience to share some of their views and come up with points that perhaps were not fully covered by the first panel and that were important to ask the second panel that would be commencing after a short break.

After the break, the second panel were invited to the stage. This panel also contained members of lots of different organisations along side my fellow Webwise Advisory Panelist Cillian Fogarty.

This time, the panel had the job of discussing points made by the audience during the table discussions and answering questions. Cillian made some excellent points, also from a student’s perspective. It was very empowering for Cillian and I to have the voice of the youth heard and acknowledged at such a prestigious event.

Throughout the day, the main conclusions reached were- there is an equal balance of responsibility for both education and industry in relation to online safety for the children, there must be an action plan for the government put into place in the very near future and all internet safety centers should work together to reach the common goal of a safer world for everyone online.

After the second panel discussion concluded, Miniser Naughten drew the event to a close with a reassuring and confident talk. He was delighted to see the interest in online safety from everyone there and an action plan will be put into place soon.

After the Open Policy Debate, we got a chance to personally speak to Minister Naughten. He asked us to keep in contact with him as he was very keen on keeping the student voice a strong factor in planning the action plan.

I had a wonderful day at The Open Policy Debate and really look forward to seeing all the brilliant online safety initiatives being put into place all over the country so that everyone in Ireland can use the internet as the great big world of opportunity it should be!

Céilí Dance Lessons

With the fast approach of Seachtain Na Gaeilge 2018, us TY students in Crana College are preparing all the fun activities we plan to run to celebrate. We have come up with lots of great ideas ranging from ‘Bingo’ (as Gaeilge of course!) to face painting. We aim to run the exciting activities with some of the junior students in the school, from first years to third years.

Our TY Coordinator came together with the other TY Irish teacher and they came up with another great way we could celebrate the wonderful language and culture that is Irish- Céilí Dancing!

Céilí Dancing is a traditional Irish way of dancing, usually set to traditional Irish music like reels and jigs. Céilí Dancing has always been a social activity in Ireland, since emerging in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In history, Irish people would’ve came together to do céilí dancing just like we would perhaps go to a disco or party nowadays. The dance formations are in pairs or groups which ties in with the social side of things.

Our teachers knew the majority of us did not know how to céilí dance already so they kindly booked us a lesson in the local youth club near our school last Monday.

We left the school after lunch on Monday and walked over to the youth club where we were kindly greeted by Sarah, who would be our céilí teacher for the day.

We began by getting into a line against the wall and learning the first step that would be needed for céilí Dancing, this step was simply referred to as the “1, 2, 3”. After we learnt this step we broke off into groups of 8 to learn the rest. We each had our own partner who we’d be mainly dancing with.

We spent a while getting used to the steps before we put it all to music. Most of us were a little clumsy at first but with practice, we soon got the hang of it.

By the end of the lesson we were all able to do a simple céilí dance and some of us will be selected to go to the gym during Seachtain Na Gaeilge to teach first years the dance we learned.

We might be having another céilí lesson with Sarah soon to refresh our minds and advance our skill a little bit.

I really enjoyed learning céilí dancing and I really look forward to doing our activities for the junior students in the coming few weeks!

My Personal Experiences on Social Media.

Being a part of the generation I am growing up in, social media has become a part of my everyday life. Tweeting, sharing, posting, liking and so much more online every single day is something I have become accustomed to, but as with anything there are both pros and cons to the increased use of social media in our lives, particularly in the lives of young people.

I am 15 years old and I use the internet in so many different ways, for example I use multiple different social media platforms like Snapchat and Whatsapp to contact my friends and family, I actively use Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with basically everything going on in the world, I use search engines like Google to aid me with my studies at school and I use the useful app ‘Google Classroom’ as an effective way to keep up to date with my school work and assignments but also to be able to contact my teachers from home if I need help with anything.

I am in Transition Year at school in Co. Donegal and my school, Crana College, is definitely keeping up with the times in relation to technology and social media. Each Transition Year student in my school receives a school iPad at the beginning of the academic year for us to research, take photos and keep a digital record of all our work and projects for the year. Because of the encouragement to use the internet positively in my school, I would consider myself quite well informed on how to stay safe online and how to spot danger on the internet. I wanted to be able to help others remain safe online so a few months ago I successfully applied to become a Safer Internet Day Ambassador with Webwise Ireland, a fantastic Internet Safety Centre for children, parents and teachers in Ireland.

In addition to this, I was recently selected as a Student Writer with The Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU)- The national union for all secondary school student unions in Ireland. As part of my role as ISSU Student Writer, I get to blog and write articles in relation to ISSU and school life in general. This suits me perfectly as I already have my own Transition Year blog where I share all my experiences from TY with the public and I actively use Twitter to promote my blog posts.

One of my favourite parts of using social media on the daily has to be keeping up to date with everything going on in the international music industry. I play the guitar and piano and over the years I have used the internet to search tutorials and advice on how to improve my music skills. I love being able to learn about something I love and I think social media provides me with such easy access to the world of music and helps me develop my skills. It is examples like this that show just how beneficial the internet is to people of all ages and how it gives people the opportunities they mightn’t be able to enjoy without the internet.

Everything I’ve mentioned above are ways I constructively use the internet and social media, however, the internet isn’t always the wonderful world of opportunity it is cracked up to be. In fact, it can unfortunately be quite the opposite! I am very thankful to be able to say that I have never personally encountered any danger online, however, this is mainly due to how educated I am on internet safety- unfortunately not everyone has had the same luck online.

One of the biggest issues young people in particular face online is one that has been in the media a shocking amount recently. This issue is the sharing of sexual and inappropriate content and materials involving teenagers and young people across the nation. Many youth in Ireland become involved in what is commonly referred to as ‘Webcam Blackmail’. Webcam Blackmail is basically where people are ‘tricked’ or misled into sharing inappropriate/ nude images and/or videos of themselves to other people online- often the receivers are not who they claim to be and can use the images as leverage to get the victim to send more material or in many cases send money.

As a teenager growing up around so many people using the internet daily, I am very aware that this problem exists and is more common than what some people want to believe. The main issue with addressing this problem is young people being too scared or embarrassed to tell someone the situation they have ended up in, or more importantly what they did to end up in such situation. It is very encouraging to see the large support network that is being created to help people who have been a victim of any inappropriate behaviour online, teachers and parents are being provided with resources to educate their children on the dangers of social media and being encouraged to speak to their children about what they do online. It is a known fact that 1 in every 3 children in Ireland do not talk to their parents about their lives online, this to me is a worrying amount. A brilliant resource that has been created with this exact purpose is the ‘Be In Ctrl’ resource created by Webwise Ireland along with An Garda Síochana.

Yet another danger on social media that especially affects very young internet users, often below 12 years of age, is the befriending of strangers online based on their profiles. Unfortunately many young people who use social media are misled into accepting a friend/follow request from someone they do not know. In more cases than enough adults or young adults set up fake profiles online with the one intention of ‘catfishing’ people or leading them to believe they are someone they are not. They use a fake name, address and photographs to build this convincing profile and often target younger internet users who they view as more vulnerable. Once they befriend these young people, they can often begin to ask for personal information such as the school they go to or ask for photos off the victim. In worse cases, the person behind the account may even convince young children and teenagers to meet up in a public location, needless to say how dangerous such situation could be.

Having all that said, it is important to remember that we often focus on the bad side of the internet and lose sight of the wonderful benefits of social media. It can be used to make friends who have similar interests as you, it can be used to promote businesses and charities, it can be used for shopping and it can even be used to find your soul mate! All of which can be done through various social media platforms.

I’m conclusion, I think that if the youth of Ireland grow up being properly educated on the safe use of the internet then it can be used to its full potential. I would consider the internet an almost essential part of my life and I know that many of my peers would agree. Social media, technology and the internet are the way of the future and I believe we should embrace them with open arms and minds.

Finishing my TY Cube in Woodwork 🔨

It has almost become a tradition in our school that every year the TY group create their own cube in the woodwork module. The idea behind the cube is to have a box to place all our favourite memories from the year in and to display it at our TY graduation at the end of the year.

We began working on our cube project in woodwork way back in September, however, we only have one double class of woodwork a week and we often missed classes due to different trips and days out so it took us a while to reach the finished product.

We didn’t start into the actual construction of the cube right away, we spent a few lessons simply planning out the design and eliminating different pattern ideas. Once we had decided on a design that we were happy with and that would be practical to make within the time-frame, we had a development sheet to work on. This sheet had to include a ‘net’ of our cube displaying what the final cube was planned to look like, some reasoning behind choosing the design, materials such as paints and markers that we would need to design the cube and any other relevant information on the project. After much deliberation, I decided on a red guitar theme as I love to play the guitar and my favourite guitar that I own is red.

After this, we had to create a ‘mini cube’ out of a sheet of paper to show what our cube should look like when it was complete. We had to cut out the net shape of the cube, colour it and design it accordingly, fold it up and stick it correctly and in my case- add on an extra piece of paper as the neck of the guitar.

Here is what my mini cube looked like;

Finally after all the preparation work was complete, we got cracking and began making the real deal! Our woodwork teacher was really helpful and had the five pieces of wood for each side precut for us. This saved us a lot of time and ensured that all our cubes were even and a decent size to hold all our memories!

We worked in pairs of two over the following few weeks in class to make the boxes. We had to stand the cube together, glue the four sides and then use panel pins to nail it together securely.

As soon as the physical box was made, we got to work painting and designing. I used red paint and a black marker to make the design on the outside of my box. I then used some pieces from an old broken ukulele that I had at home and transformed my cube into a guitar. Then I used hinges to hinge the lid so that it could open an close with ease and not affect the strings. Finally, I stuck an old CD into the centre of the front of the box to depict the circular opening in a guitar.

I was extremely proud of how my box turned out over the few weeks that we had been working on them. I really enjoyed this project because I didn’t do woodwork for my Junior Certificate so it was a whole new subject for me.

Finally, we had one last sheet to fill in- this one was to show how our final design turned out and if it varies from what we had planned. It also had a section to show some of the small details we included in our boxes.

I cant wait to fill my cube with all my lovely memories from TY and share it with everyone!

Becoming a Student Writer with The Irish Second-Level Student’s Union.

As it may be clear from my frequent blog posts, I really enjoy writing. Writing is a skill that I hadn’t given much consideration before Transition Year but since last September I have started using my passion for writing in new and exciting ways rather than just the occasional English essay or Geography long answer.

I began this blog way back in September and have used it ever since as a way to share my experiences in TY. The idea of writing always interested me but I never had much to write about, or so I thought. Now, I get the chance to write about things happening in my life, especially at school and thanks to Twitter my audience is increasing incredibly.

I recently finished my second block of TY Work Experience in a local newspaper called “The Inish Times” (blog post all about my time there to follow!).

To add to my writing opportunities, I recently stumbled across an opening for a “student writer” position with the Irish Second-Level Students Union, more commonly referred to as ISSU. ISSU is the overall union of all second-level student unions in Ireland and is a fantastic organisation which works tirelessly to improve the secondary school experience for teenagers and teachers alike all over Ireland.

Once I came across this opportunity, I knew I had to apply as it sounded like the ideal job for me. I enthusiastically filled out the form right away, outlining exactly why I wanted the position so badly.

Only two days after I sent away my application, Colin Clarke (The Student Engagement and Development Officer with ISSU) sent me an email offering me a place on the student writer team! Needless to say I was over the moon with this news and I accepted the position right away.

I recently received my first task as Student Writer and will be able to talk a bit more about it in the near future.

I look forward to seeing what the future has to hold with my engagement with ISSU and want to thank all the people at ISSU for accepting me onto the team!!

UCD TY Science Workshops 🔬💥

The wonderful University College Dublin (UCD) is known not only for college courses but also for hosting a range of activities and workshops for secondary school students all over Ireland, often giving them an insight as to what college life is like and what courses UCD provide for their students. This week, I was lucky enough to partake in one of these kind of activities. On Sunday, myself and four of my friends- Amy, Sarah, Stella and Niamh hopped on the bus to Dublin so that we could attend some of UCD’s TY Science Midterm Workshops beginning on Monday of this week. We had first heard about these courses when our Chemistry teacher told us they were running and how beneficial they would be for us, especially because we are using TY to explore the world of opportunity when it comes to choosing a suitable career path for us for the future. We were so excited when we heard about the opportunity we just had to get involved. The courses were timetabled to go on all week- Monday to Friday, with different courses and topics on each day. I, along with my friends, applied to take part in the Physics, Astronomy and Space Science Course on Monday morning, the Earth Science Course on Tuesday, and the Science Careers Course on Tuesday afternoon.

When we arrived on Monday morning to the UCD Campus, we were all so excited to get to see what a real college campus is like and we got to take in some of the stunning views like the fountain in the image above. We easily found our way to the O’Brien Science Centre which was a huge, and very impressive, building fully complete with multiple labs, classrooms, lecture halls, a cafe, seating areas and so much more. From here we signed in with the Student Leader team who were so pleasant and made us feel so welcome.

The Physics, Astronomy And Space Science Workshop began at 10am in a lecture hall in the O’Brien Science Centre. The lecturer for the class was Astrophysicist Antonio Martin Carrillo. The lecture lasted three hours in which was split into three different sections. We began by learning some of the basics about astronomy and space science, including learning about infrared light to x-ray light and everything in between! We learned some things that we don’t essentially cover in science class at school so it was very interesting. We got to see some lovely photographs of the sky that Antonio took himself, they were so interesting!

Secondly, we did some activities and experiments to visually explain some of the things Antonio had taught us about. My favourite experiment was where different students got to sit on a spinning chair and hold two small weights. When they kept their arms in close by their side- they spun fast, however, when they expanded their arms (or at least tried to) the chair slowed way down and it was difficult to hold! This experiment was basically to explain why galaxies are flat 💫.

Finally, during the last hour of the course, we got to use the provided laptops in groups of two to use different websites about astronomy. They were so interesting and I’ll definitely use them again.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Physics, Astronomy and Space Science Workshop, it has opened my eyes to an area of science I hadn’t given much consideration before and Antonio was so helpful and pleasant to be taught by.

After our first day as college students (😆) we got a chance to go to O’Connell Street to see the interesting landmarks like The Spire and The GPO, and of course there was time for some shopping there too! We were really looking forward to our second day, which unfortunately would have to be our last in UCD as we had to travel back home to Donegal.

On Tuesday morning, we got up bright and early once again and hopped on the bus out to UCD. This day, we had two different workshops with an hour for lunch in between. This time we knew our way around a bit better and we got to the building with plenty of time to spare.

The student leaders signed us in once again and at 10am we met in a classroom where we were all taken across to another building and the Earth Science Workshop began. The earth science workshop focused mainly on geology- all about rocks and fossils. I had learned a fair bit about geology in geography for the Junior Certificate but not as much in science, so it was interesting to see things from more of a science point of view there.

We got to learn lots about what the geology course in UCD entails and what kind of careers it is associated with, once again it made me consider geology more than I had done before.

At 1pm we got to have lunch so my friends and I went to the cafe in the O’Brien Science Centre.

At 2pm the Science Careers Workshop began, it took place in the same lecture hall as the physics course the day before. We were split into groups so that we could get know some new people and improve our team work skills. I got to know the others in my group right away.

The first thing we had to do was come up with a team name, but at this point we didn’t know that the name we chose would then become our “company name” and so we had to come up with what kind of company we were going to be, what good or service we were going to produce or provide and why. This activity helped us work in a team and agree with one another.

After that, we received some information on what four students from UCD would make up the panel who would come to talk to us and answer our questions about science and college in general. We got to compose the questions we wanted to ask them. Shortly after, the four students joined us and sat at the front of the room. From here we took it in turns to ask them all questions about their college experiences, what courses they are studying, why they decided to attend UCD and so much more. This was very useful for us as we had so many questions about starting into our Leaving Certificate studies and into college.

I had a wonderful two days in UCD and I found it so useful to me, especially coming up to Leaving Certificate subject choice. Thanks so much to everyone at UCD who provided the workshops for TY students like my friends and I!

Being Selected as TY Recruitment Officer.

When I think back to this time last year, I was at a bit of a crossroads in my school journey. I was in third year getting ready for the quickly approaching Junior Certificate Exams, but I also had to focus some attention on what I would do after the exams, it was a matter of choosing to carry straight on into 5th Year where I’d have to choose all the subjects to sit for my Leaving Certificate or to apply to take part in Transition Year. Deciding whether or not TY is for you is a huge and important decision for any third year student across the country- on one hand it could be the ideal opportunity for you to unwind a bit after the stressful exams and have lots of new experiences but on the other hand if you find out that you’re not exactly the ideal candidate for TY you could possibly end up being somewhat stuck in a year where you could’ve been moving on through your Leaving Cert studies. Thankfully our TY Co-ordinator annually selects a few current TY students to take on the role of TY Recruitment Officer and speak to the third years and their parents about what TY has to offer and what kind of people it is best suited to.

When last year’s recruitment officer came to visit one of our classes and give us a quick talk and video presentation all about her TY experiences. This talk and presentation made my decision to do TY so much easier and clearer for me, I knew that I wanted to apply for the programme and knew what would be expected of me.

A few weeks ago, our TY Co-ordinator told us that she was looking for applicants to put themselves forward for the role of TY Recruitment Officer. When I remembered how easy my decision was after listening to the Recruitment Officer last year I knew I wanted to put myself forward for the position as I wanted to help the third years with their decision and thought that I had lots of experiences in TY that I wanted to share with everyone.

I wrote my application and sent it off right away. A few days later, our TY Co-ordinator called myself and two others in my class out to talk. She said that she was very impressed by all three of our applications and knew that the task may be too big for one person alone, therefore, we were all selected for the role.

I am delighted that myself and the two others got the part and look forward to creating a video and presentation to give the third years soon. I can’t wait to share all my experiences with my peers and their parents!