Scratch National Finals


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May 2nd saw me make my way to Dublin Castle for the National Scratch Finals. The decision was made to run the finals on the same day as the Formula 1 in Schools finals which were taking place at the end of the first Irish Tech Week.   I’d been asked a few weeks previously to judge the competition and despite some hesitation I decided to agree. My hesitation came from my lack of experience of judging a competition like this, or in fact any competition.  I’m so glad that I did agree as I got a chance to see first hand the creativity on display.

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I arrived in Dublin Castle at about 10.30 to be briefed on the task in hand.  I was down to judge in the 5th and 6th class category with two other judges.  We were to judge the entries separately and then meet to agree the winner in the category.  Then came the hard work of judging.  I have to admit I really enjoyed this part as it gave me an opportunity to chat with the students about their projects.  There were five projects in total and in my naivety I thought I’d get through them reasonably quickly giving me the chance to see some of the other projects on display.  This wasn’t to be the case because I found that once I started asking questions the children just wanted to talk about their projects.  It was clear that they all really enjoyed working on them and that they had learnt a lot in the process.  From my perspective, this made them all winners 🙂 Of course, they couldn’t all be winners but choosing our overall winner wasn’t as difficult as I had originally thought.  Sometimes one project stands out from the others and this was the case for us.  Having said that, it was a close contest and it was great to see two projects from our category awarded the ‘Best Educational Content’ award and the ‘Best Social Project’ award.  I even got to present the Best Technical Sophistication award

Photo courtesy of the www.scratch.ie website

Photo courtesy of the http://www.scratch.ie website

All in all it was a great day with the beautiful Dublin Castle providing a stunning backdrop for the days proceedings.

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CESI Conference 2014

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It’s been more than 2 weeks since the 2014 CESI conference and it’s only now that I’m getting to reflect on the event.  Because of my involvement with the Youth Media Team on the day, I didn’t get to sit in on as many of the presentations as I would have liked.  Having said that, working with the team was great so it was worth the sacrifice.

After CESI Chair, Adrienne Webb, welcomed us all to Galway Minister Ciaran Cannon then delivered his opening address.  He reminded us that we need to educate our students for their future not our past and spoke of the way in which technology will facilitate global collaboration in the classrooms of the future.  This really resonated with me as ‘Global Voices’ is our theme for the 2014 ‘ICT in Education’ conference.  He then spoke about a Digital festival of Learning to be held in Dublin Castle on May 30th and 31st May.  I’m looking forward to hearing more about this event and to being involved with the Youth Media Team.  There was a bit of discussion on the backchannel on Twitter about the Minister’s reference to coding.  My thoughts on coding are well known.  I lecture in a technology department to computing students and I’ve been involved in CoderDojo for more than two years.  I do however agree that coding must have a context in an educational setting and that it’s not just about teaching coding but about another way of thinking.

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The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Spark the Imagination’ and I think it’s fair to say that Dr. Daithí Ó Murchú did just that! One of the things I most enjoy about conferences like the CESI one is the mix of inspirational keynote addresses and practical workshops and presentations.  Daithí’s keynote was certainly inspirational.

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He asked us to look to 2050

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Daithí reminded us of the need to develop coping strategies.  He spoke of Continuous Partial Attention as opposed to Multitasking. His parting shot was to remind us of the need to take time out.  Turn the phone off, meditate …  This is something that becomes harder to do but which becomes more and more important  in this ever changing, connected world.

Next up were Dr. Michael Hallissy and Dr. Deirdre Butler who spoke about the National Digital Strategy and the future of education.  Unfortunately I missed this session but judging from the proliferation of tweets they provided attendees with plenty of food for thought.

The packed schedule of breakout sessions provided lots of variety for attendees, so much so, that the Youth Media Team found it difficult to find people who had time to give their thoughts on the event, for  much of the early part of the day!

The closing plenary sessions were a great way to round off what was a fantastic day, of sharing all that is good about technology in education across all levels.  James Corbett, from MissionV, combined the past and the future in his presentation using the Oculus Rift.  Stephen Howell, from Microsoft, then took us on a tour of Project Spark.  Dave even got the chance to have a play

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Sending people home with their heads filled with inspiration, ideas and lots of practical ways to make changes in their classroom is what you hope for as an organiser of any conference.  I think the organisers of the CESI conference certainly fulfilled this remit.  All I can hope for, is that we can do the same for the attendees of the ICT in Education conference in Thurles in May!

The full transcript of tweets of the event can be found here.

 

TeachMeet CESI 2014

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Last Friday saw me make my way to Galway for the annual CESI Conference.  The event was preceded by a TeachMeet (replacing the previously held CESIMeets).  There was lots of information shared on the night.  Here’s a flavour of the night from Twitter.

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As you can see there were lots of great ideas shared at the TeachMeet.  To see the full twitter conversation and to access the links shared check out the transcript here.   Well done to Helen and John for facilitating a great night of sharing ideas.

Due to some technical difficulties on the night it was not possible for me to login to show Flickr.  Check out my Prezi on Flickr here.

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.

TeachMeet BETT 2014

Last Friday night I found myself at my first TeachMeet at BETT.  This is widely acknowledged to be the largest TeachMeet in the world with the 2014 event having 650 attendees.  A TeachMeet is an informal meeting of educators to share best practice, ideas and innovation in teaching.  We were reminded of the rules at the start by the MCs Kate (@KateRussell) and Ian (@iusher)

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Russel Tarr (@RusselTarr) kicked off the Meet with a 7 minute presentation in which we heard about classtools.net, a website with lots of resources including the random name generator which was used on he night to decide who was presenting and when.

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Next up was Chris Waugh (@Edutronic_Net) telling us about how technology can transform teaching and blogging with his school at edutronic.net …

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Then it was the turn of Alex Warner (@EducationAlex), Graham Wilmott and James Turner to tell us about HOTSkills.me, a website to assist learners

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Cecilia Christiansen (@cematematik) then told us about the MatchBox Equations, an app designed to help with learning the fundamentals of algebra

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Next up was Kathryn Evans (@KathrynWiki) telling us about how Google drives her classroom

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Then it was the turn of Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist) to tell us about Tech tools for IMPACT in your lesson

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Some of the resources shared by Mark …

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Next came Julian Wood (@Ideas_Factory) telling us to be the purple cow!

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Leon Cych (eyebeams) then told spoke about CPD TV

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The Aurasma Augmented Reality app was shared by Alessio Bernardelli (@asober)

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Alex Isaachsen (@AlexIsaachsen) then shared “speed geeking”, a means of sharing short sharp bursts of tech in a school.  12 geeks 7 minutes each (a little like the TeachMeet :))

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Then Steve Bunce (@stevebunce) shared the ‘Thomas was alone’ BAFTA award winning game about friendship, jumping and so much more.

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Jon Tait (@teamtait) shared his thoughts on using Social Media to create a global audience for student work

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Kurt Soser (@kurtsoeser) spoke about 21st Century Maths

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We then heard about @batttuk (bring a teacher to twitter) from Stephen Lockyer (@StephenLockyer) and  Ben Waldram (@MrWaldram)

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Stephen stayed on stage to be joined by Sarah Findlater (@MsFindlater) to tell us about Igniting change through @SLTchat

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Next up was Miles Berry (@mberry) who gave a very enjoyable demonstration of recursion using the TouchDevelop app

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Oliver Quinlan (@oliverquinlan) reminded us that we need doers  but we also need thinkers too … He also shared the Education Endowment Foundation website.

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Mar Dixon (@mardixon) gave her presentation complete with Google Glass …

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Then came Andy Field to share his bring your own browser presentation

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The second last presentation was given by Catherine Steel (@TaffTykeC)

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Rachel Jones (@rlj1981) closed proceedings with a very entertaining presentation on ICT Wins for Non ICT Geeks

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As you may have guessed at this stage I absolutely loved the live capture of the TeachMeet by the amazingly talented people at Creative Connection.

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Maths Fest 2013

Back in April I was asked to speak at the Irish Mathematics Teachers Association conference which was to take place on Saturday 12th October.  Before I had a chance to talk myself out of it I agreed.  After all it was six months away, I’d have plenty of time to gather my thoughts and it would all be fine in the end wouldn’t it?  Natalie Noone, the National Treasurer of the organisation and the conference organiser mentioned CoderDojo when she asked me to speak so I decided to tie in a few strands that have been blowing in the wind for the past while.  As some of you may know, I completed a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) module earlier this year where we looked at Learning Theories.  I was very taken by Seymour Papert’s Constructionist Theory , which contends that learning happens most effectively when people construct personally meaningful artefacts.  This is something I see happening at CoderDojo as children and teens learn to code prompted by a desire to create games etc. of interest to them.  This is something I have been keen to bring to my own teaching so my final assessment for the TEL module saw me looking at Robocode, a programming environment which allows the coding of virtual tanks which can then do battle.  I decided to tie the three strands together in my MathsFest presentation.

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Fast forward to Friday October 11th and I find myself at the pre-conference banquet, chatting to some of the other presenters, attendees and exhinitors.  It was a lovely, laid back evening, a perfect pre-cursor to the very busy day ahead.  Natalie and the rest of the team had put together a great programme with a a wide variety of topics and presenters – the only problem was only being able to choose one presentation in each slot!  I was lucky to have my slot on in the morning session as I was nervous about how it would go.  My presentation had come together in a way that I was happy with, but I couldn’t help but be nervous, as my first trip to MathsFest had me speaking there, so I wasn’t sure if I’d pitched it correctly.   In the first time slot I went between two sessions – Catherine Kierans Autograph demonstration and Dr. Maria Meehan’s talk on  research about promoting conceptual understanding in the Maths classroom.  Catherine’s session was very hands on and practical and Maria’s session provided plenty of food for thought.  I particularly loved the idea of ‘convince yourself, convince a friend, convince an enemy’.  Next up was my session on ‘Coderdojo, Constructionism and Maths’.  My presentation can be found here.   Next up for me was Dr. Ailish Hannigan’s session on mathematical thinking vs. statistical thinking.   It’s interesting that traditionally strong maths students may struggle with statistical thinking and vice versa.  I’ve often seen this as students who may struggle in other areas of Maths have a keen intuition when it comes to Statistics.  The other takeaway from Ailish’s talk was the importance of getting students to collect their own data.

Next up was lunch and it was lovely to catch up with Paudie Scanlon (the driving force behind the Irish Maths Teachers Google+ community).   After lunch I found myself in James Grime’s talk on Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine.  As we started to look at some of the most basic cipher systems, I was transported back more than a  few years as my undergrad final year thesis was on the subject of the Playfair Cipher system.  James’s entertaining talk has rekindled a latent interest that I’m looking forward to developing.

The Enigma Machine at Maths Fest

The Enigma Machine at Maths Fest

The next session found me in Audrey Byrne’s talk on Digital Literacies.  Her research on the topic with 15-17 year olds offered many insights which again illustrates the point that

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image credit: http://teaching.monster.com/benefits/articles/8742-powerful-quotes-for-teachers-printer-friendly-version

The really key point of Audrey’s talk was the need to listen to what students have to say, as opposed to thinking we know what they want and what works for them.

The final session of a busy day can be hard to present at but I have to say that Dr. Julie O’Donovan’s ‘Tale about functions’ was the perfect end to what was a very enjoyable day.  I loved the fact that we were greeted with the question

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on entering the room.  It was refreshing to see functions front an centre like that 🙂

I wondered about how much there would be from me at a conference aimed at second level Maths teachers but I needn’t have worried.  There was plenty of food for thought for anyone involved in teaching Maths, regardless of the level.  Well done to Natalie Noone, the dynamo behind MathsFest, and her team.  I’m already looking forward to MathsFest 2014 🙂

Check out some of the tweets from Mathsfest here.   I’m hoping that there will be more tweeting Maths teachers at MathsFest 2014.