My 2013 in pictures

On New Years Day 2013 I took a notion that I would take a picture every day in 2013.  As a non photographer, I’m not sure where this notion came from, but I’m so glad that I decided to do it, and even more glad that I put it out on Twitter that I was going to do it.  By the end of the day I was part of a Flickr group of more than 50 people, all of whom were taking on the 1 picture a day challenge.  It was an eclectic mix of people spread across the globe.  Through the pictures uploaded by the members of the group we got a window into each others lives which I personally loved.  For me, being part of a group helped me to keep taking pictures every day and I’m delighted to have taken a picture every day during the year.  There was more than one occasion where I realised after 10pm that I had no picture taken for that day so I found myself taking pictures of some of the regular items around my house! Notwithstanding the poor quality of some of these pictures I’m happy to have a series of summary pictures which evoke some very happy memories of :

– a very sunny summer spent traipsing the country

– the conferences I attended, spoke at and organised during the year

– my interactions with CoderDojo during the year

– some of the beautiful sunrises and sunsets that have obviously happened in previous years but which I wasn’t really that aware of

– the trips to the movies and other places I went went to with my son, daughter and nieces and nephews

… and so much more.

I’ve already signed up for the 2014 1 picture a day challenge which I am really looking forward to 🙂

You can see a snapshot of my 2013 below or you can browse the individual pictures at my year in pictures page.

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January Summary

February Summary

February Summary

March Summary

March Summary

April Summary

April Summary

May Summary

May Summary

JuneSummary

June Summary

July Summary

July Summary

August summary

August summary

September Summary

September Summary

OctSummary

October Summary

November Summary

November Summary

December Summary

December Summary

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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.

Personal Learning Networks and Organisations

Week 3 in the Exploring Personal Learning Networks seminar has us looking at PLNs and Organisations.  In some ways it’s dto ifficult to see where the overlap comes between the two.  PLNs by their very nature are personal.  They evolve and grow as a result of the interests and passion of the person involved so I’m struggling with how they fit with organisations.  There is however no denying, that organisations can and do benefit from the very strong PLNs of their employees.   My major concern is that, as so often happens, trying to fix something that isn’t broken can lead to smashing the very thing you valued.

Over the last few weeks of the seminar many of the participants have been grappling with defining PLNs and after a fashion we have come up with our definitions but they’re personal to each of us.  This makes it very difficult for an organisation to ‘adopt’ PLNs in my opinion.  For each persons  definition of a PLN, there is also a set of tools which helps them to connect with those in their PLN.  This can involve entirely virtual connections to entirely ‘in-person’ and everything in between!  I think it’s fair to say that for most people it’s probably a mix of the two especially in this connected world we now live in.  I know it is for me.

The biggest challenge for organisations as they look at adopting PLNs, is that there are so many ways for people to connect, that it can be difficult to be supportive without being specific about the tools which people could or should use and the manner in which they could and should connect.  What works for one person will not work for another when it comes to their PLN.  If we look at four of the many tools which can be used to facilitate connections: Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.  For me personally, Twitter is my go to place.  I love the brevity of the 140 character message as it forces people to really focus on their key message.  I also love the open nature of Twitter, as, for the most part, you can dive into a conversation without even following those involved in the conversation.  Yet for others, Twitter is their worst nightmare!  I don’t see Facebook as part of my PLN for the most part.  I have an account but keep it mostly for personal use with most of my contacts on Facebook personally known to me.  Yet for others, Facebook is where most of their connections are fostered.  Google+ hasn’t lit the same fire in me as Twitter as a means of connecting with others.  I find the lack of brevity more overwhelming and find that I have to work harder to find the information of interest to me.  This has been helped with the Communities option but I worry that this is narrowing the focus as mentioned in my previous post. Yet, for a growing number of people Google+ is becoming their go to place for connecting.  Finally LinkedIn for me is just somewhere to have my digital CV of sorts but I haven’t leveraged the power of the discussions and so many other aspects of this networking application that so many others seem to use to their advantage.  What I am hoping to illustrate is that when it comes to PLN’s

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So maybe the challenge for organisations is more to do with supporting the many different ways to connect rather than adopting PLNs …..

4731898939_e972eb3594image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/birgerking/4731898939/

Defining Personal Learning Networks

Week 2 of the Exploring Personal Networks (PLNs) online seminar has us looking towards defining a PLN.  At first glance this seems quite straightforward – in fact I’ve already defined a PLN in my previous post as “the people I come in contact with, both in person and virtually from whom I can learn”.  But is this definition enough?

My definition could equally apply to a Community of Practice (CoP) so how can we differentiate between the two?  Etienne-Wagner(1) defines a Communities of Practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”.  There is certainly an overlap between CoPs and PLNs, but for me the crucial difference, is the intentionality behind the coming together of a CoP, and the incidental nature that often characterises a PLN for me.  My PLN consists of people across a variety of interests from Maths to Programming to teaching to technology in education to ….. just the general thought provoking people you spot in passing.    The incidental, accidental learning that happens, as you spot ideas from one domain which could have a positive impact in another domain, is why I love the many interactions that the virtual world facilitates.  Sometimes we tend to apply a set of blinkers, which prohibits breaking down barriers, when we narrow the focus to people we know share a common interest.  In my previous post I referred to the cross-pollination of ideas across the levels in twitter chats like #edchatie.  For me this is such a powerful interaction that allows people to see outside the “box” they find themselves in, whether it be primary, secondary or third-level.

The next overlap which is interesting to examine is that between Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).  It’s difficult to find a universally recognised definition of a PLE, but there seems to be a consensus that a PLE refers to the the technological tools or environment which facilitates the connection.  In my reseach on this topic I came across Joyce Seitzinger’s graphic

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/catspyjamasnz/3118564555/sizes/m/in/photostream/

I like this idea of a PLE as a subset of PLN.  It fits best with my own views about PLN’s which places people at its very core.  A graphic posted by Catherine Cronin to the 1 pic a day Flickr group that I am also a part of really caught my attention earlier this year

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Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/catherinecronin/8444998755/sizes/m/in/photostream/

I love this idea of connecting to think together.   The very real friendships that develop among people who “know” each other virtually before they meet in person is a testament to the depth of the connections which are forged through a sense of shared values. Of course meeting face to face is not obligatory, but I do find that some level of face to face contact does help to grow and sustain the connections.

So where does this leave me in regards to defining a PLN?   I started my previous post and this one with a definition of a Personal Learning Network as “the people I come in contact with, both in person and virtually from whom I can learn” and I’m sticking with that for now 🙂  But maybe I should redefine it as a Passionate Learning Network a la Shelly Terrell …

PLN Sign

Image credit: http://weconnect.pbworks.com/w/page/24566813/PLN

References:

(1)    http://wenger-trayner.com/theory/

Leading Teaching: Empowering the Profession

Fintan O’Toole, Deputy Editor of the Irish Times addressed the attendees at the Festival of Education in Learning and Teaching Excellence on Saturday October 5th.  It’s not an understatement to say that Fintan’s guest lecture really struck a chord with the people in attendance and those who were connecting via social media.  He spoke about how so many memoirs begin with a reference to a specific teacher and used this to illustrate the importance of teachers to mould the lives of so many.  More importantly he referenced the fact that the memories that we have of teachers, are not the that they helped us to achieve an A grade, but their kindness, their understanding of our personality and our specific needs, their encouragement and their astuteness.  Teaching is  “a personal transaction . .. that to some extent can be measured but it must be allowed to transcend measurement. It is an intimate personal relationship that has a huge effect on peoples lives.”.   His understanding of the challenges facing teachers and of the importance of the relationships between teachers and their students was a breath of fresh air.  At a time when so many teachers feel under siege his empathy was reassuring.  I was very taken by his contention that

“It is very important that we don’t allow that language of so-called austerity to capture a narrative about what teaching is and what teachers do. In particular, we have to face the fact as a society, that some of the demands that we’re placing on teaching … are completely at odds with the wider social expectations that we have of what teaching is supposed to do and what it is supposed to achieve.  There is an incoherence in the public narrative of what teaching is right now that can be very damaging.”.

He then spoke about the importance of efficiency, particularly in times of austerity, but he cautioned against the limiting nature of some of the efficiency measures which can be used.  Rote learning could be regarded as being very efficient but this then leads to the question of “What do we want our students to emerge as? “.  As an economy and as a society it is crucial for our future to produce students who are confident, creative and critical.  Creating an environment to allow our students to take risks, fail, and learn from the mistakes which inevitably follow is crucial for our future.  This idea of learning from failure is a recurring idea from many across my PLN over the past few months.  The key to producing confident, creative, critical students is to have confident, creative, critical teachers.  Quoting Gandhi, Fintan challenged teachers to “be the change you want to see”.   He spoke about his concerns around teacher confidence in the face of the other three C’s of casualisation, contempt and containerisation.  The casualisation of the teaching profession undermines the professional status of teaching, will be very difficult to undo and will damage society in the long run.  The implementation of the so-called Croke Park hours is just one example of the contempt in which teachers are held and Fintan contends that if we don’t trust teachers to use the 33 hours wisely we shouldn’t trust them with our children.  He also cautioned against the containerisation of teachers and spoke of the need to support teachers in their different approaches to teaching.

In his closing remarks he focussed on the transformative power of education and the importance of investing in education particularly in the current changing global economy. His parting shot was to talk about the notion of making Ireland the “best little country in the world to be a child” rather than the “best little country in the world to do business” as posited by Enda Kenny.

You can listen to Fintan’s keynote presentation in full here.

Exploring Personal Learning Networks

I’ve just started an online seminar called ‘Exploring Personal Learning Networks‘.  The seminar started on October 7th but I’ve just started this week so I’m a little behind the curve on it.  In spite of my tardiness starting, I’m really enjoying being involved so far, as I read other participants blog posts about their Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), vc c and attempt to catch up on what seems to be a very busy twitter chat on the #xplrpln hashtag!

#xplrpln

One of the first tasks we’ve been set, is to share our stories, regarding how having a PLN has changed how we learn and practice in our professional fields.  For me, my PLN has dramatically changed how I practice as a lecturer.  It’s hard to believe that I didn’t really even know what a PLN was a little more than a year ago.  To be honest I’m not sure that I’m any more wise now but at least I now know the term!   I’m not really going to delve deeply into a definition of a PLN in this post, as this will come in my next post for the seminar.  I haven’t yet researched this topic, so I’m going to address my sense of what a PLN is about, as well as, what I can and do get, from my PLN.

My current loose definition of a PLN is “the people I come in contact with, both in person and virtually from whom I can learn”.  I know this is vague and probably overly broad but it works for me right now.  I’m lucky to be part of a very rich, vibrant PLN who have challenged, encouraged and supported me in the various endeavours I undertake from lecturing in Maths and Programming, to organising the ICT in Education conference, to taking my first tentative steps in presenting at conferences and so much more.  I suppose my primary point of contact for many in my PLN is Twitter.  I love the openness of Twitter, as you often come across ideas that may not be related to anything you are currently doing or planning, but which could be adapted to work for you.  The other really positive aspect of Twitter for me is the diversity of experiences and viewpoints you get from the many people you connect with.  I love the ease with which I can connect with other educators across the spectrum of education as too often we see a disconnect between the levels.  Here in Ireland, and in other jurisdictions, we have a tendency to see primary, secondary and third level education as completely separate when in reality our children don’t dramatically change in the couple of months between finishing primary and starting secondary or between finishing secondary and starting third level.  On hashtags like #edchatie, we can and do learn from each other.

The second task we’ve been set is to try something new.  I decided to give Storify a try.  I’d signed up a while ago but never progressed past a test, so I decided to use it to put together a Story of the #mathsfest conference I went to last weekend.  Have a look at the fruits of my labours here.

This summer I’m loving … Instagram

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I joined Instagram towards the end of last year but didn’t really use it much until this summer. Instagram is a photo sharing app which allows people to interact by following each other, similar to Twitter, and liking and commenting on each others posts, similar to Facebook.  Like so many other social media sites it all depends on the connections you make.  At the start of this summer I made a decision to step back from Twitter.  I use Twitter mostly for educational purposes and felt the need to take a break from most things educational for at least part of the summer break.  In its place I chose to use mostly Instagram and Facebook for my social media interactions.

In case you think I’m a professional photographer in hiding, nothing could be further from the truth!! But my year in pictures, which I have undertaken this year, has really awakened a love of snapping pictures as I go.  I’m part of a Flickr group who are all undertaking the year in pictures. There are about 50 of us who started back in January and I’m really enjoying the interactions as we comment on each others pictures etc.  I’ve been having problems with the Flickr app on my phone for the past few months though, so uploading my pictures has become a bit of a chore.  The other issue with the Flickr group is that you have to pick just one picture that represents the day (I have cheated sometimes by creating a collage :-)).

As a result I’ve looked to Instagram to overcome these issues.  We chose not to go abroad on holidays and to take a few mini breaks in Ireland instead this year.  I’ve used my iPhone extensively over the last few months snapping pictures everywhere I go (much to the embarrassment of my son!!).  I love taking pictures and find the ease with which you can upload them to Instagram just makes it a joy to use.  My Instagram gallery has become a lovely reminder of a great summer. I have captured our meanderings around the country as well as the enjoyable days we’ve had closer to home.  Interacting with others, some of whom I know and some of whom I don’t has been good fun too.  So if you like taking pictures and don’t already use Instagram maybe it’s time to have a look.