Fighting Words Workshop at SCoTENS

Usually when I’m working with the Youth Media Team at an event I don’t get to see much of what’s going on because we’re busy preparing for interviews, interviewing and writing up our account of what has gone on.  Yesterday at SCoTENS (Standing Conference on Teacher Education North and South) I made an exception on Conor Galvin’s recommendation.  It turned out to be a very good recommendation to go to the Fighting Words workshop.

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Fighting Words provides free tutoring and mentoring in creative writing and related arts to as many children, young adults and adults with special needs as we can reach. Our programmes and workshops are delivered mainly by volunteers. (ref: http://www.fightingwords.ie/about-us).

At the workshop we worked though a creative writing exercise aimed at Primary level. Sean Love from Fighting Words in Dublin led us through the exercise with Geraldine Wilkins from Fighting Words in Belfast documenting our story.  Sean started by getting us to suggest a main character. With 3 potential characters (with names and foibles included e.g. Sarah who only ate yellow food) we then got to vote on which one we would choose.  To vote we had to close our eyes to provide a secret vote.  I have to say I just loved the idea – it was such an effective way of coming up with a main character, their friend, their ambition and their greatest fear.  After we had chosen all of these in a similar manner, we began the writing process.  The idea is to create the beginning a story that can then be taken in many different directions.

As I was sitting in the workshop it struck me that this might be a great process to come up with ideas for games or animations in Scratch in CoderDojo.  Sometimes I find that the kids can come up blank when they’re trying to come up with ideas and I think this might kick start that process for them.  Even the process of coming up with ideas as a group is very creative and might in itself provide enough to get kids over their initial lack of ideas.

Having seen a scaled down version of the process I’d love to see a full on workshop so thank you Conor for the recommendation 🙂

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Ada Lovelace Day

I’m blessed to be surrounded by women who encourage, support and inspire me.  On this Ada Lovelace day I’d like to acknowledge some of these women and pass on my gratitude for all that they do.  Women like Mags Amond, Susan Nic Réamoinn, Catherine Cronin, Mary Loftus, Leigh Graves Wolf, Pam Moran and Hellie Bullock.  What started as an online connection with all of these people has, over the past few years, developed into real friendships that have sustained me through good times and bad.

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I’ve been involved in CoderDojo and the Youth Media Team over the past few years.  In both of these groups I have come across girls who inspire me with their sense of enthusiasm, fun and a dedication to get the job done.

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I think it’s fair to say the future is in safe hands … 🙂

Of course a blog post about inspiring women wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the one and only Bianca Ni Ghrógáin.  It’s a bit surreal to be referring to Bianca as someone who is no longer with us, because over the past few weeks I have felt her impact in so many events that I have attended, from DojoCon to Féilte to MegaDojo.  Her legacy lives on in so much of what we do …

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CoderDojo Nenagh 3 years on

We’re coming up to our 3rd birthday at CoderDojo Nenagh so I thought I’d share some of what has been happening over the past 3 years.  We’ve been running once a month since the 18th April 2012 with the exception of the summer break and we’ve settled into a great routine.  In the beginning Scratch was the mainstay of the Dojo but we also had Arduino and Python workshops.  For the last year we’ve had Scratch and HTML groups happily working on projects.

For me one of the highlights of the past 3 years was in February 2014 when James Daly and Michael Murphy from Atom Split Games came to do a workshop.  We all thought James and Michael would come with cool technology to show us (well I certainly did 🙂 ), but they came with … paper and markers!  What transpired was a Design workshop that certainly stopped me in my tracks. Our instructions were to put away the laptops and get drawing.  It was an electric session that culminated in a series of presentations that symbolise for me all that is good in CoderDojo.  Here’s a selection of images form that workshop

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DesignWS2Another highlight has been the collaboration with Nenagh Foróige that has just begun.  Our Dojo has been lucky to have a space provided for us by Nenagh Arts Centre since the beginning. Foróige are housed in the same building and before Christmas I was approached with a view to a collaboration.  Foróige run an entrepreneurship programme and they wanted to work with a group of our ninjas with CoderDojo providing the technological know how.  A group was chosen and the fun and games started at the beginning of February.  It’s mostly team building at the moment but in their second week they went to Google HQ in Dublin.  I wasn’t a bit jealous!  10 of our ninjas went and took part in a Dragon’s Den on the day and one of our teams won 🙂  I’m really looking forward to seeing how this evolves over the coming year …

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Over the years there have been many other highlights that come as part of the package that is CoderDojo … the hum of conversation as ninjas work together making their own games, animations and websites, the smile as a problem is sorted, the quiet confidence as ninjas share what they’ve been working on not to mention the smiling faces coming in the door and the groan when I tell them it’s time to pack up …

It’s been a great few years as CoderDojo Nenagh has evolved.  This has been possible with the help of the parents, some of my former students who have been generous with their time and of course the ninjas themselves.  I’m looking forward to what comes next for the Dojo … 🙂

Coolest Projects

DCU My daughter has been in CoderDojo for more than 2 years but wasn’t sure what was involved in Coolest Projects so we decided to go to DCU on Jun 7th to see what it was all about.  After a busy few weeks of conferences that I was directly involved in, it was lovely to spend the day at an event as a tourist.  The icing on the cake was that it was a day out for just the two of us 🙂 After the opening ceremony, we got a chance to check out some of the more than 250 projects on show on the day.  As a Scratch fan and with a growing interest in the Makey Makey kit we made our way to the Scratch room first.   We saw lots of interesting ideas but I think our favourite project was ‘Are you smarter than a cat?’  It turns out that collectively we are (although, if truth be told, I’m not sure I would have been, without her help :))

Smarter Than A CatWe also went to a couple of the talks, which were more for me than her so I kept those to a minimum.  There were a lot of projects to see (250 in total across five categories – Scratch, Website, App, Mixed and Other) so we got to see lots of variety across the entries. Hopefully we’ll be back next year with an entry so she’ll get a chance to be part of the awards ceremony 🙂

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We finished off the day as we started it, hanging around the DCU sign, except this time it was with Bianca Ní Ghrógain 🙂

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BETT 2014

I’ve followed the BETT story of many #edchatie teachers on Twitter over the past few years jealously.  It never seemed to work out that I too could go – that is until this year.  Anyone who had previously been, extolled the virtues of going to BETT, and I wondered if it could possibly live up to the hype.  Having now seen it for myself, I can categorically state that it did! BETT runs over four days and I went for the last two – the Friday which included a TeachMeet and the Saturday.

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I had done a little bit of preparation before making the trip but it was of the download the app and the material variety rather than actually engaging with what was available.  On the Thursday night I had a look at the talks and made a rough plan of what talks I wanted to see over the following few days.  I figured that from an exhibitor point of view I would just wait and see what caught my eye.  It turned out that I was completely unprepared for the wide variety of exhibitors that were at BETT.  There was something for everyone, but I have to admit that I found the sheer volume a bit overwhelming, particularly on the Friday.  As a result I made the decision to focus almost entirely on the talks.  There was plenty to choose from with more than 50 talks on Friday alone!

First up for me was Arvin Ross talking about Digital Storytelling.  Arvin gave a very engaging talk and shared his pick of the best apps to help with Storytelling

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The Puppet Pals app also got a mention as a great app for Story telling.

Next choice for me was Ed Cooke talking about memory techniques and how they can be used to super power student learning.  What struck me was how Ed got us all to remember 20 seemingly unrelated objects by weaving them into a story.  Seeing how we remembered the items both backwards and forwards was a revelation.  The final surprise was revealed when Ed told us that the 20 objects were in fact elements from the Periodic Table (the balloon representing Helium etc.).  Check out memrise.com for more information.

At lunchtime I decided to go to the Flipped Learning session in the main arena.  The session was given by Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, co-founders of the Flipped Classroom.  I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing some aspects of flipped learning so it was great to hear about how others have made it work and what their students have gained from it.  One of my takeaways from this session, was that the Flipped Classroom does not dehumanise the classroom, but rather that it places the teacher even more at the centre of the class  as the focus has changed.  The very strong message was the importance of relationships in the classroom, a point that was reinforced in the drawings that were to be found on the outside of the BETT arena

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After a quick bite to eat it was time to go to Doug Belshaw’s masterclass on improving digital literacy among staff and students.  What I loved about Doug’s talk was that it was more of a conversation starter than a masterclass as it prodded us to consider a broad range of literacies as opposed to a single one.

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I particularly loved this  proverb

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I know which is my preference – what’s yours?

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My final session of the day was Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ talk – ‘Beyond the Limits’. It was billed as an Inspirational Keynote and boy did it deliver!  Hearing Sir Ranulph recount his tales of crossing both the Artic and the Antartic was active learning at it’s very best.  It’s great to get a chance to hear people of this calibre speak at events like this.  I love to hear people from outside the educational domain speak at educational events as they often have a different perspective which challenges up to think differently.  

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By this stage it was time for me to do a talk of my own.  I had been asked to speak at the OCR stand about CoderDojo with Mags Amond.  I wasn’t sure how it was going to work as it wasn’t a scheduled talk – it was more a case of start talking and hope that people would stop and listen.  It turned out to be a more enjoyable experience than I had imagined – Mags and I worked well together and a good few people stopped and listened.

The rest of Friday was taken up with the TeachMeet which I’ve previously written about here and the TeachEat, an opportunity to chat and mingle and generally relax after a long, busy day.

First up on Saturday was ‘Learning Science with iPads’ with Ed Walsh.

edwalshI was very interested in the next session ‘Analytical and predictive primary math teaching in Finland.  Finland is often held up as an exemplar regarding education so I was curious as to what we might find out from this talk.   I was a bit taken aback to find that the same issues around Maths education are to be found there

IMG_8609We heard about the emphasis on autonomy and teacher training that are so central to the Finnish education system but also the issues around integrating ICT into the system

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It’s good to get this viewpoint and to see that teachers in many different countries are dealing with similar issues to the ones we face in this country.

IMG_8650One of the last sessions I went to was the Stemettes Hackathon.  It was such an enjoyable session and reminded me a lot of CoderDojo.  I loved how Anne Marie led the hackathon and used the example of making a jam sandwich to demonstrate the concept of an algorithm with the girls who had come to work on developing websites in real time.

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The future is safe with these kinds of initiatives …

And so we come to the last session of BETT2014 – ‘The Great Education Debate – can technology ever replace the classroom?’  We heard short presentations from the panelists : Tim Rylands who stole the show in my view, Anne Lise Kjaer, Maggie Philbin, Ian Bauckham and Simon Milner.  I learned a new term from Tim – the elsie as opposed to the selfie.

elsieOne of the ideas that was reinforced during the closing session was the importance of the teacher in the classroom while recognising the power of technology to hook students and to facilitate learning.  It’s good to see that the emphasis on technology in education is entirely about its integration into the classroom, as an aid to teaching and learning, and not about it’s use for it’s own sake.  Plenty of food for thought until next year …

IMG_8654 While I’ve focused in this post on the talks I attended, the most important aspect of attending conferences for me is the opportunity to chat to other educators.   I was fortunate to spend the weekend at BETT in the company of Helen, Bianca, Mags and Kathleen as well as many of the #edchatie folk who made the trip to BETT.  Chatting about what you are hearing and seeing helps to process all of the information that is being thrown in your direction.  I definitely get more from a conference when I get a chance to discuss it with others.  It’s also good to hear about the work going on in classrooms across Ireland and beyond … hearing Bianca talking about “her” kids and the amazing projects that they are working on, hearing Mags and Kathleen talk about the importance of the relationships they have with their students, hearing Helen talk about the success of the How I Learn book all serve to invigorate you in what you are doing in you own classroom.  It’s also amazing to get the chance to catch up with people like Steve Bunce, Doug Belshaw, Helen Keegan, Dughall McCormack, Joe Dale and so many more.  It’s only when you get a chance to reflect on the overall experience of BETT that you begin to realise just how much you get from attending!  I’m looking forward to BETT 2015 already 🙂

Young Innovators 2014

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As part of the ITLG Silicon Valley Global Technical Forum in Limerick this week an event aimed specifically at second level students took place in Shannon airport on Monday.  More than 600 students descended on the airport to look at how we might be living, working, playing, shopping, travelling and learning in the future.  We took an ICT in Education Conference Youth Media Team (YMT) to the event to capture the day.

The event was MC’d by RTE DJ Ruth Scott and was kicked off in style by Music Generation Limerick City.

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Next up were Rose Hynes from Shannon Airport, Maria Hinfelaar from LIT, Colm O’Neill from BT, Craig Barrett from Intel

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and Ingrid Vanderveldt, Entrepreneur in Residence in Dell

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We then heard from some Young Entrepreneurs before the competition was deemed to be underway.  At this stage the Youth Media Team had identified some of the speakers and exhibitors that they would like to interview so it was time to get to work…

They started by interviewing some of the exhibitors like Grasp Wearable Technologies, Lero, CoderDojo and the Connecting Women in Technology Group.  They wanted to interview Mission V but the queues to try out the Oculus Rift were relentless all day so it was nearly the end of the day before they got their chance to do the interview!  They also interviewed Eamon Dalton, one of the judges, Pat Donohue, mentor of the winning team and three of the teams involved in the competition including the winning team from Castletroy College.

Over the course of the day we were delighted to also get the opportunity to interview Ingrid Vanderveldt, Minister of State for Training and Skills Ciaran Cannon as well as three of the Dragons from the Dragon’s Den: Sean O’Sullivan, Gavin Duffy and Peter Casey.   Not a bad day’s work 🙂

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This the third outing for the team and my second time working with them and they continue to be a pleasure to work with 🙂

Check out their interviews here.

BT Young Scientist Exhibition

I’m ashamed to say, that before this year, I had never attended the Young Scientist exhibition.  I’m normally teaching when it comes around, and in prior years I felt that my children were too young to go so I never managed to get there.  That changed last year but for various reasons we didn’t make it so this year we vowed to go.  Now that I have been I can’t really understand why I didn’t go sooner!

Last Friday saw my son, daughter and I head to Dublin.  Once inside the exhibition, there was so much to see and do that we weren’t sure where to start.  There were exhibits from Science Foundation Ireland, Analog Devices, CoderDojo, RTE and so much more.  We were drawn back to this section throughout the day as there were lots of interactive activities for attendees here.

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IMG_8332[1]Ther were also shows running throughout the day.  We went to the ’50 Years of Space Exploration’ and ‘Titan the Robot’ .  Both lasted about 20 minutes and were very enjoyable.

IMG_8335[1]The rest of our time was spent wandering through the hundreds of projects on display by students.  There was such a wide variety of topics covered that it’s very hard to summarise here.  There were a few that we saw that stuck with us for various reasons.  One that really caught my eye was Kayleigh’s key to speech.  This was a very simple idea at heart where a system was built to allow a student with cerebral palsy to participate in class using some buttons with predefined phrases.  What impressed me the most was that the project grew from a desire to fill a real need in the classroom to give a student a voice.

IMG_8334[1]Some other projects I liked were

  • the 3D printer
  • the app to identify wild flowers
  • the investigation into Project Maths and the benefits for students problem solving skills
  • the suicide awareness app
  • the use of wireless sensors to enhance martial arts performance

to name but a few.  We only saw a small proportion of the projects on show but what we did see was very impressive.

IMG_8338[1]Before we left we had a look at the projects in the Primary school section.  Unfortunately, by the time we discovered this area a lot of the teams had packed up their projects but there was still lots to see.

IMG_8336[1]If you haven’t been to the Young Scientist Exhibition before, my advice is to put it in your diary for next year.  It’s already in mine!