About 2 months ago Aisling Leavy, a mentor at CoderDojo Limerick, asked me if I’d be interested in submitting a proposal for a symposium at the Educational Studies Association of Ireland Conference with her and some others. The theme of the symposium was “Teaching children to code”. Aisling lectures in Mary Immaculate College, a college which offers a wide range of programmes in Education and the Liberal Arts. She has been involved in a Project where some of her pre service teachers were teaching Scratch to children in a number of local primary schools. Aisling’s plan was that she would present with her colleague Rory McGann, who was also involved in the project, Clare McInerney from Lero, the Irish software engineering research centre, would present on their initiatives to get children coding and Eugene McDonough and I would present on our experiences as mentors in the Limerick CoderDojo. Before I gave myself a chance to think about it I decided to agree.
Eugene and I chatted about how we might structure our presentation and we decided that letting the children tell their owm story was the best way forward so that’s what we did. We did some interviews with the ninja’s and with one of the mum’s and built our presentation around that. I really enjoyed presenting with Aisling, Rory, Clare and Eugene. It was heartening to see so many crossovers in our presentations, which was unplanned, but suggests the beginnings of a synchronicity around coding in Irish education. We all told of the joy that children find in coding. My favourite quote from the session was from Rory and Aisling’s presentation where one of the children in their project said something like “the teacher could have been asleep at the top of the class and we wouldn’t have noticed”.
I had never presented in a symposium before but I really liked it. A symposium is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject”. As a presenter I liked the fact that there was safety in numbers 🙂 As a result of this positive experience I’m thinking of convening some symposia at the ICT in Education conference this year. I think it might encourage some teachers who might be hesitant to share what they do in their classrooms.
As well as our session, I also attended a number of other sessions at the conference. I really enjoyed the format. The sessions were generally one and a half hours in duration with a number of themed parallel sessions in each. Within each session there were 3 or 4 presentations. The two sessions that I attended on Friday were both very thought provoking. The ‘Initial Teacher Education’ session examined topics such as the ‘Entry requirements for Initial Teacher Education’ and the challenges for Initial Teacher Education as we adjust to Project Maths. As a Maths educator I was particularly interested in the session on Project Maths. Hearing Miriam Liston and Olivia Fitzmaurice, talking about the difficulties that their pre service teachers had, with explaining the foundation knowledge that they would ultimately be teaching, outlined the significant chasm that exists between understanding advanced Maths concepts and being able to teach Maths. The University of Limerick have introduced a ‘Mathematical thinking’ module which allows their pre service student teachers to focus on key concepts such as logs and indices, fractions, integers, equations and inequalities, formulae, trigonometry and statistics. One of the students comments “It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just that we’ve never been asked to think before” is very telling in my opinion. You can read my thoughts on this tension between mathematical ability and the ability to teach Maths in my previous post on this topic.
I also attended the ‘Science and Mathematics Education’ session. There was a couple of common threads running through many of the presentations – the ideas of communities of practice and inquiry based learning. These threads were woven through Joanne, Aoibhinn and Maeve’s presentations. With the focus changing at second level to a more application and real world context for subjects like Maths and Science there will be an increased reliance on teachers both within one’s own school and also in the broader educational community.
I also found Úna’s presentation on increasing the percentage of students achieving at the highest levels of Maths very interesting. Her PhD research involves looking at the correlation between standard test results at Primary School and the progress of those students in their future studies in Maths as they continued through secondary school. She has found a consistency between the achievement of students at Junior Cert with reference to their Primary school standard test results but this does not carry through to Leaving Cert. I’m looking forward to hearing more from the ongoing research from those who presented at theses sessions.