Friday, December 2, 2011

Government Planning Cuts to School Guidance Services

It has emerged today that the Irish government plan on making dramatic cuts to the provision of guidance and counselling services to second level schools. Currently guidance hours are allocated to schools based on the number of pupils in the school - see this circular for more information. This provision is outside the normal teacher / pupil ratio. However, the upcoming budget looks set to remove the ex-quota allocation of guidance counsellors, instead including the service with the normal teacher / pupil ratio. 

Such a change in guidance provision would have a devastating effect on the provision of guidance and counselling in Irish second level schools and will see guidance competing with subject areas within the general school allocation and non-timetabled counselling. This will ultimately lead to job cuts - most likely to guidance counsellors but also to general second level subject teachers.

There are a number of serious concerns to this proposed change. The adoption of such a policy would mean many students - principally the most vulnerable - could be without access to one to one counselling support for a wide range of personal problems and issues including low self esteem, family breakdown, mental health issues, self harm, bereavement , stress management and more. 

Students need guidance services to help them make important educational, career and personal decisions - right throughout their school years - while guidance counsellors are extremely important to the pastoral care structures of secondary schools in Ireland.

The Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), in a statement earlier today, point out every students' right is to ‘appropriate guidance’ is mandated under section 9 (c ) of the Education Act. The Teaching Union of Ireland have also come out strongly against the proposed changes calling the cuts "unthinkable". The IGC are also calling for their members to lobby their local politicians, managerial bodies and trade unions in an effort to stop the government making these proposed cuts.

I think this is pure madness! I'd like to hear your opinion.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Science Community Asked to Help Shape Future of Irish Science Education

The National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA) revealed earlier this year their new vision for senior cycle science education in Ireland – new draft syllabi for Leaving Certificate biology, chemistry and physics and a dramatic change in how they could be assessed. The NCCA also opened up a consultation process to allow scientists, outreach groups, teachers, parents, students or anyone interested in science education the chance to mould the future course of science education in Ireland. 

The NCCA’s aim is to create a “learner centred” approach to science education with a spotlight on developing scientific literacy, critical thinking skills, communication skills and the cultivation of analytical proficiency across all the senior sciences. 

There have obviously been some changes to the content of each of the syllabi with some material added and other elements removed – which is sure to cause much discussion. However, the most significant change is a shift in the focus of the assessment from purely examination based to the incorporation of a new practical component

When introduced candidate will receive twenty percent of their total mark, in each of the subjects, based on the completion of mandatory practicals throughout the two years of study (5%) and a 90 minute practical test (15%) where pupils will be asked to complete a series of three or four short set tasks. These tasks will aim to assess their practical skills and their ability to analyse data and draw conclusions. Some of the material within this practical assessment will be beyond the scope of the syllabus. 

The terminal exam will also look to challenge the candidates more and reward students with a greater understanding of the scientific method. The NCCA have just recently released samples of the types of question which could be included and they are a welcome move from the current style of exam question in Leaving Certificate which, more often than not, rewards the students capable of remembering facts and regurgitating them on paper come exam day. 

The consultation process, which closes on Friday (October 28th), is a chance for anyone with an interest in science to shape the future direction of science education. 

Over the past number of weeks, science teachers around the country have been meeting to discuss the new syllabi, the proposed changes, additions, deletions and to consider the new approach to assessment. By all accounts these meetings have been very productive and the Irish Science Teachers’ Association (ISTA) will be submitting the teacher feedback to the NCCA

However, it is also incredibly important that the Irish scientific community are willing to contribute to this consultation process. It is vital that the new syllabi are up-to-date with new scientific thinking; include the latest advances in scientific understanding; contain relevant content and develop the required skills for the next generation of Irish scientists. 

This is an excellent opportunity to influence how science will be taught in this country over the next decade and there is a responsibility on everyone involved in Irish science to ensure that this new direction is the right one. So please take some time to review the new syllabi and to fill out the short questionnaires so that the NCCA can mould these draft syllabi into structures that promote the sciences and develop scientific literacy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Stoverview

My former St. Columba's College colleague Jeremy Stone recently took up a management and teaching position in his native Devon in south west England. Over the past number of years Jeremy and I have worked tirelessly on the Frog Blog, nurturing our science department blog from its tadpole infancy to its current bull frog status. Now Jeremy acts of Head of Teaching & Learning at Stover School in Devon and has failed to shake off the blogging bug. His new project,A Stoverview, aims to offer an "independent 'take' on news, views and events" from his new school and the educational world.

In it's short history Jeremy has provided some excellent posts for teachers, and those generally interested in teaching and learning, to ponder on - including a recent post on the "perils of modern technology". He also has an excellent discussion piece on homework.

So please pop on over to 'A Stoverview' and see what's happening. Alternatively, why not follow Jeremy on Twitter!

Friday, October 14, 2011

University Plans to Down-Grade the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education

Below is a short post from a student teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, on a decision made by our country's universities to down-grade the Post Graduation Diploma in Education (PGDE) from a National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) Level 9 qualification to a Level 8 (at the same level as a Higher Degree) - without any consultation with the students who have registered and paid for their course. The course is also being renamed a Professional Diploma in Education. This is the final year that the "H-Dip" will be a one year course, being replaced by a two year long course from 2012. It is unclear if the new course will be a NFQ Level 8 or 9.

There has no coverage of this story by any newspaper or online news site, principally because only one university has informed the students on the changes. The student teacher, who has a legal background, outlines the many problems associated with the changes - which appear to me to constitute a breach of contract in the very least with everyone having registered and paid for the course advertised as a NFQ Level 9 qualification. The changes - which have been implemented and not merely suggested - seem outrageous to me, especially considering media outcry on the use of under-qualified individuals in teaching positions. Interestingly, when contacted, the ASTI and the Teaching Council were unaware of the changes and were unable to provide any advice to the student teacher. Anyway, this is what our student teacher has to say, describing the situation as "a real case of more stress and officially less success".

As I sat in my PGDE lecture the other day I was treated at the start to the usual drudgery of announcements, one flippant remark was made as the announcer was about to exit the theatre. It was something along these lines:
Just to let you all know the course has been renamed the Professional Diploma in Education, it has also been downgraded to level 8 from level 9 on the NFQ framework. 
Interesting, I thought, we were told if we had any questions please send an email. Out the announcer waltzed and the lecture started! 

So what does this mean for this year’s PGDE / (PDE!!) students? Well, there are some serious questions which need answering!
  1. Is the qualification still internationally recognised? 
  2. Are we going to be the only level 8 year? If the course becomes 2 years will the new course be level 8 or 9? 
  3. When we are qualified will we be on the same pay scale as teachers with the level 9 qualification? 
  4. Has the cost of the course been reduced in line with its downgrade? Will we be getting a refund? 
  5. Will students be able to get a grant for the course considering they already have a level 8 qualifications to get on the course? 
  6. Will this year’s students be disadvantaged when interviewing for a position against a candidate with a level 9 qualification? 
As it can be seen this change has brought up numerous issues which affect all of this year’s PGDE students, all of whom applied, were accepted, registered and paid for the PGDE not the PDE. On a very simple level this looks to be a cheap shot, a badly disguised austerity measure. What is more frustrating is there has been no communication on the issue, nobody in the School of Education can answer any of these questions as they plainly don’t seem to know. The Teaching Council also didn’t know of this change when contacted. 

Please leave your comments below as I feel this issue of a grave importance. We already have a situation where new entrants into the teaching profession will be paid 10% less than their colleagues, and on a lower pay scale. Another blow such as this is going to detract talented young minds from the teaching profession, causing further problems down the road. Please, pass on this post also.

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Year, Same Argument: Standards in Maths & Science

Last year I wrote a piece on this blog arguing the case for the supposedly poor standards in maths and science in this country and specifically in the leaving certificate. I feel it important to reiterate some of the points made in that post (and some new ones) as the issues seems to reoccur every year and I feel it is unfairly represented in the media - especially in print. 

The Leaving Certificate is a deliberately broad curriculum requiring candidates to study at least six subjects over a two year period. Most study seven while some study eight. This broad curriculum does not suit most individuals and is the exception rather than rule when compared to most other European countries - who generally adopt a more focused curriculum in the senior cycle - for example UK students study a minimum of three subjects at A Levels. This all means that the average leaving cert pupil will spend approximately 45 minutes with each subject per day - five or six lesson periods per week per subject including subjects like maths, physics or chemistry. This simply isn't enough time to reach the standards that we set for ourselves. We need to allocate more class contact time with pupils for all subjects if we are to meet our own high expectations. To do this we need to either increase the school day (Ireland already has one of the longest schools days in Europe) or reduce the number of subjects required at leaving certificate. For me, the latter is the most obvious for a number of reasons. At the moment leaving cert students are seen to make their subject choices based on which subjects are easiest to obtain good grades in - besides aptitude and interest. Reducing the number of subject taught at leaving cert would mean a more focused approach could be taken in the subjects, more class contact time given to each subject, more time for exploring the practical applications of subjects like maths and science in these classes and less pupils picking subjects that they neither have an aptitude for or an interest in. This would also allow the students with a strong aptitude in science and maths to focus on these subjects without having to study subjects that they have no interest or aptitude in.

In Ireland, mathematics is a compulsory subject at leaving certificate. To compare the performance of every Irish student in mathematics to students in other European countries is simply unfair. In the UK, only 30% of A Level students study mathematics this year. While on paper the standards they achieve is very high (around 44% achieve A*'s or A's annually) the A Level system has been undergoing dramatic grade inflation over the past decade. They also have more class contact time due to their more focused curriculum. It must also be remembered that an A grade in Ireland is awarded for scores over 85% while in the UK it's 70%. Granted, there is a high failure rate in maths in Ireland but if the subject was optional these students would choose subjects more suited to their aptitudes.

In Ireland, over 50% of leaving cert students choose a science in their senior cycle. When compared to the UK the figure is around 17%). This figure is mainly down to the numbers of students studying biology while the percentage of students studying chemistry and physics in Ireland is slightly lower than our nearest neighbours. This all comes down to the so called "points race". Students choose seven or eight subjects which they feel will allow them get the most points. Chemistry and physics are known as more difficult subjects so less students choose to study them. The high numbers in biology are down to students requiring at least six subjects and to "keeping their options open" in terms of university choice (it is also perceived as an easy option). Neither outcome is favourable. We have students capable (and possibly interested) in studying physics and chemistry but choosing not to because of the points system. We have students choosing biology who have neither the interest nor aptitude. We need radical reform of the points system to remove these negative outcomes and encourage more students to study the sciences for the right reasons. 

We also need to remove the leaving cert's dependence on the terminal exam. These exams are good are assessing rote learning or the ability to learn off definitions and formulas. They are limited at determining the candidates ability to problem solve or adopt scientific knowledge to practical problems. This is what science is about - it's a process not a collection of facts and figures. At the moments we are in a system which rewards rote learning and memorising facts. We want to teach students to ask questions not answer them. This will mean a change in how we assess our students and will require some form of continuous assessment. The ASTI don't like that word but teachers and their unions need to take as much responsibility for educational reform as politicians should. No longer can we see ourselves as pawns in the process - we are part of the system and the ones best positioned to offer advice and suggestions for our system's urgent reform.

Finally, I can plead to the Irish media adopt just one stance on this issue. Either complain about grade inflation in the leaving cert or poor standards. You can't have it both ways. To say in one article that the number of pupils achieving A's is rising and this needs to be addressed and in another criticise teachers and the DES for poor standards simply won't cut it. Make up your mind on what you want to report on.

So, to conclude, we need to:
  • Remove the points system as it currently stands and radically reform how students are chosen for university entry.
  • Reduce the number of subjects studied for the leaving certificate to four.
  • Make maths optional allowing the syllabus to expand.
  • Make our assessment procedures less exam focused.
  • Teachers need to take responsibility for educational reform too and become more proactive in this regard.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

NCCA Reveals New Biology, Chemistry & Physics Syllabi

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment have revealed their new syllabi for senior biology, physics and chemistry. The concurrent release of the syllabi is no coincidence and marks a new direction for senior cycle science in Ireland, or so they promise. The NCCA have also formally opened a consultation process on the new syllabi, asking teachers, parents, students and members of the science community to comment on the content and approach outlined in their documents.

There has obviously been changes to the content of each of the syllabi but the biggest change in approach to senior cycle science is the introduction of a practical component in the assessment procedures for each of the subjects. Twenty percent of a pupils total mark in each of the subjects will be awarded based on the completion of mandatory practicals throughout the two years of study (5%) and a 90 minute practical test (15%) where pupils will be asked complete a series of three or four short set tasks, assessing their practical skills and ability to analyse data and draw conclusions. Some of the material within this practical assessment will be beyond the scope of the syllabus.

A brief look at the syllabi reveals plenty use of "copy and paste" between them (the most obvious of this is in the assessment procedures of each syllabus, which are so alike they all are entitled "ASSESSMENT IN LEAVING CERTIFICATE BIOLOGY"). The key skills targeted in each syllabus are appropriate and laudable (the key skills are identified as information processing, being personally effective, communicating, critical and creative thinking and working with others). I applaud the use of terms like "design", "apply knowledge", "interpret", "discuss" and "analyse" in the learning outcomes of each syllabus but I am concerned that the syllabi is still very teacher driven and exam orientated.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Habitat for Humanity - Miskolc 2011

I wrote recently about building social awareness in schools, specifically through the organisation Habitat for Humanity (HFH). I have been involved with HFH since 2007 and have been lucky enough to lead two Global Village (GV) teams to Hungary, most recently to Miskolc in early April. Once again I was able to see the pupils who accompanied us blossom and grow during their short stay and work so hard to achieve the goals of HFH and the GV programme. For the pupils and staff of St. Columba's College, these trips foster a deep sense of fondness for our European friends and we hope to return to Hungary again in the coming years. I have put together a montage of photos from the trip for the pupils and teachers to enjoy - I hope you enjoy it too. To find out more about our adventures in Miskolc (and the other trips to Hungary) visit the SCC Habitat Blog or follow SCC Habitat on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Consultation to Begin Shortly on New Biology, Physics & Chemistry Syllabi

I have just received an email from Yvonne Higgins, Chairperson of the Irish Science Teachers Association, indicating that the new syllabi in Biology, Chemistry and Physics are being sent out to teachers for consultation. The email reads:
"At the NCCA Board of Studies meeting on 16 February it was agreed that the draft syllabi for all three subjects should be sent out for consultation. I have been in touch with the NCCA and have been informed that these syllabi will be available in April. The ISTA will be organising branch meeting to discuss the syllabi. Comments will have to be returned to the NCCA by October 2011 and the ISTA will be making formal responses to each syllabus by this time."
The consultation process will provide teachers with the opportunity to comment on the content of the new syllabi while I also hope that we will be given the chance to comment on the assessment procedures. As mentioned in my recent post on More Stress Less Success I made the point that our current syllabi are far too descriptive and lack wonder, while the assessment procedures promote regurgitation and not thinking. The consultation process will end on October and the syllabus will likely to be introduced for September 2012 or 2013. I still feel that the process is too slow and I hope the new syllabi account for the every changing nature of science and include some "non examined" material. Time will tell but at least the process has began. Well done to all teachers involved in the process in the creation of these syllabi and I look forward to seeing the fruits of your hard work. For more information on the work of the Irish Science Teachers' Association or to find out about membership click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Frog Blog Wins Irish Blog Award

I'm delighted to announce that the Frog Blog took home the gong of 'Best Science / Education Blog' at this year's Irish Blog Awards, which took place last night in Belfast. Many thanks to everyone who supports the blog and what we do here in St. Columba's College in promoting science and ICT in education. Thanks to the pupils and staff who contribute to the blog as well as those who take the time to read it. I would like to thank our fellow nominees: Anseo a Mhuinteoir, SeandalaĆ­ocht, Live at the Witch Trials and SCC English (who inspired us to begin blogging in the first place and has been extremely supportive ever since) for their company on the night but more importantly for creating interesting online content for all to enjoy. I would also like to thank Damien Mulley for the excellent work he has done in organising this year's event,  the last Irish Blog Awards, and for recognising the increasing number and quality of Irish educational and scientific blogs by creating a category in this year's IBA's. The event was a great success with a lively yet relaxed atmosphere. Finally, well done to all the nominees and winners in this year's awards. For further information on all the runners and riders click here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Putting Wonder Back in to Science Education

Fellow science teacher and blogger Noel Cunningham, from King's Hospital School in Dublin, recently wrote an excellent blog post on the "Wonder in Science - And Why We Hide It". In the post he bemoans the inherent lack of wonder in the Irish science syllabi, both at junior and senior cycle, revealing our science curricula as boring and dull. He later posted an apology to students of second level science everywhere, past present and future, for putting them through the ordeal he so elequently describes here:
We educators take this incredibly exotic jungle of knowledge called science and distil it until all the wonder has been removed and we are left with nothing but a heap of dry shavings. We then pour this into our syllabus and textbooks and make our students learn it off by heart so that it can all get vomited back up come exam time. And then we wonder why so many young people don’t like science.
I would like to add my own voice to that apology because I too am "a cog in this horrible machine". I too turned my back on true science and asked my pupils to learn by memorising, regurgitating facts and formulas for tests and exams. I too stifled the wonder in science, in exchange for exam success, "results" if you can call them that. In recent years I have endeavoured to bring wonder back into my science classroom, using the Frog Blog as the main tool, to reveal science as the ever evolving and living subject that it is - not a collection of facts, equations and dull "experiments" as portrayed by the syllabi and textbooks. 

Last week I attended the Atlantic STEM Conference and Leo Enright, the conference chair, made the point that the NCCA were doing "great things" in bringing the science curricula in line with the economic needs of the country - developing the "future skills for future jobs". The extraordinary claim was made during a debate on promoting sciences in second level schools and I simply had to interject. The NCCA's last offering was the 2003 revised syllabus for junior science, which is universally regarded as a dull and lifeless representation of my life passion. The syllabus is too broad, still too exam focused and the practical component is a mere gesture  rather than any concerted effort to bring true investigation into our science classrooms. It is so devoid of wonder and awe that it fails to ignite even the most inquisitive mind. For example, there is no mention of space in the syllabus, no astronomy whatsoever! Why? Are they afraid that pupils might find this interesting and then ignore the section of conservation of matter or, heaven forbid, forget that V = R X I? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fine Gael - Labour Programme for Government: ICT in Education

This is an interesting snippet from the new Fine Gael - Labour Programme for Government on their policy on '21st Century Schools'. What are your opinions on their plans?
"The Government will end the treatment of ICT in education as a stand alone issue, but will integrate it across education policy.This will begin with merging the National Centre for Technology in Education with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. .... The primary priority for investment in ICT in the immediate term will be the the integration of teaching and learning across the curriculum and investing in broadband development to ensure schools have access to fibre-powered broadband. Investment in ICT will be maximised through pooling of ICT procurement. Greater use of online platforms will be made to offer a wide range of subjects and lessons online, and to enable schools to "share" teachers via live web casts. These online lessons will be made available through a new Digital School Resource, bringing together existing resources from NCCA, Dept. of Education and other sources as a cost effective means of sharing expertise between schools. We will engage with the publishing industry to develop more online resources and new mediums for their learning materials."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smart Careers Poster Competition

Smart Careers is a great new poster competition for 1st and 2nd year pupils brought to you by Careers Portal with the help of Discovery Science and Engineering, Scifest and the National Centre for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning (NCE-MSTL).  Discover the reality behind real careers – explore one and present your findings on a poster (or a PowerPoint slide) for a chance to win super prizes – with amazing Apple iPads, iTouchs and iPods all up for grabs! Simply pick a career that interests you, research why science or mathematics are important for that career and present your findings on a poster or PowerPoint slide. Easy! All the information you need here and the application is available here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Post - Teaching Shoos

Ronan Swift is a teacher and a musician. He is also well known for his unusual choice of shoes! In this More Stress Less Success guest post Ronan recalls a particular question posed to him some years ago at the end of a lesson and uses his shoes as a platform for a provocative discussion on imagination, inspiration and creativity in the teaching profession.

“Sir, we were just wondering (giggles); why do your shoes (more giggles)…look like Cornish pasties?” Much giggling.

This little enquiry was a genuine end of class interaction some years ago now and the reason I’ve included it in my post is because it started me on a train of thought that has led me to writing this post.  Today, I’d like to talk to you about shoes.

Well, no what I really want to talk about is not strictly speaking shoes but has more to do with imagination, inspiration and creativity.

When a country decides what to include in the courses it makes for its children’s education it has to include all the building blocks of knowledge that are the basics upon which further learning can blossom. Every school system needs to both provide its young people with fundamental knowledge and equip them with certain skills so they can perform various tasks and so they can do their own learning. On this we all agree. It’s too easy to give out and say that our education system places far too much emphasis on learning facts and stats and not enough on cultivating imagination and creativity. That’s not really what I want to do.

I just would like you to be a bit more aware of the importance of creativity and imagination in making the world a better place and for you to be aware of the potential to be creative that you, that we all have. For me creativity begins with a sort of openness, with allowing thoughts, words or phrases, ideas to enter your mind, to wash over you and to allow your thoughts to roam, to make connections and links that may lead to a spark of something new and different. Certainly you can’t shut yourself off and be ‘closed’.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Survey on Stress, Well-being and Multiculturalism in the Irish Educational System

A researcher from NUI Galway is asking Irish teachers to take this short survey on stress, well-being and multiculturalism in the Irish educational system. Participants will be entered into a random drawing for a €100 voucher (although I'm not sure how, as the survey is anonymous). Well anyway all Irish secondary school teachers are invited to participate. All entries are confidential. To complete the survey click here, it just takes a few minutes.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What is the purpose of education?


Defining the purpose of education in less than 500 words may seem like an easy task but, as I sit here gazing at my almost blank computer screen looking for inspiration, I have come to the realisation that it much easier to define what the purpose of education is not! But even then I am destined to take the high moral ground and try to make myself sound like the perfect little teacher and declare “it certainly isn’t about exam results anyway”.

Knowing how wonderful I now am, I begin to get a warm feeling inside. But it isn’t lasting long and the warmth inside is now being slowly replaced with disquiet. Because to say that teachers have no responsibility in ensuring their pupils succeed in state examinations is inaccurate. For our pupils to progress to third level education and, particularly in the current state of the Irish (and world) economy, to give them a greater chance of obtaining suitable employment, our pupils must ensure success in these examinations. In a sense they are bound by the system and, ultimately, so are we.

But of course the purpose of education is not wholly about exam success, despite how the media may represent it. It is above all else about inspiring and empowering our pupils. It is about giving our pupils the skills they need to succeed in the working work, in society and further education. It is about creating an environment for successful personal, behavioural, emotional and intellectual development. It’s about creating an atmosphere which allows young people to become self aware, socially aware and form mature relationships with both their peers and the adults in their lives. It is about letting young minds discover what inspires them, what their passion is, and to give them the confidence to explore that passion further. A pupil may fail state examinations but may succeed in becoming a balanced, self aware, mature, socially conscious member of society. We all know pupils like this, indeed I know family members like this. The system failed them but their teachers did not.

The true purpose of education is ambiguous to say the least, but there is certainly a differential in how the state assesses educational achievement and how teachers do. Do educational administrators care little for personal development and more about academic standards? Do teachers care about academic standards too or do they see the bigger picture? Are teachers the human side of the education system? What do you remember from your time in education, your exam results or the people you interacted with? I honestly couldn’t tell you about how I did in the leaving certificate history exam but I can tell you about the advice and support my history teacher gave me, how I still heed that advice and how I now pass it on to my pupils.

Whatever the true purpose of education, passionate teachers are needed to achieve that purpose.

#496 Words - For more from the #purpos/ed debate visit:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Building Social Awareness in Schools with Habitat for Humanity

There are few teachers would argue that schools have an enormous responsibility for not only the intellectual development of our pupils, but also for their emotional, spiritual, career, personal as well as social development. Many schools now run major social awareness projects in their schools, principally as part of their Transition Year programmes, which can aid in developing a social awareness amongst the pupil body. In my own school, we have partnered with the charity Habitat for Humanity (HFH) in designing a social awareness initiative that meets the needs of our pupils, staff and school community as well fulfilling our duty in helping those less fortunate than ourselves.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-denominational Christian Charity, which helps build houses for people who simply can't afford them. Habitat works in partnership with families to build their own homes and other homes in their community. It is completely non-profit, with all funds used to build houses and create the structures in other countries to do the same. Since its inception in 1976, HFH have built over 250,000 homes in more than 100 countries, including Ireland. Once built, Habitat supplies the family with an easy to pay loan. The family will help build their own house but also build other homes in their community, a term described as "sweat equity".

Since 2007, the school has been sending pupils and teachers to building projects with HFH in Hungary, a country we have fostered a great relationship with since our first visit. We worked for two years on a building project in Csurgo (during St. Patrick's Day in 2008 - hence the dodgy photo above), one year in Hajdu and this April we will travel to Miskolc in north eastern Hungary to continue our work.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Inspirational CESI Conference

Last Saturday morning my colleague Julian Girdham and I set off for Portlaoise College to attend my first (and I believe his second) Computers in Education Society of Ireland Conference (#CESI2011). We had been pencilled in to give a short presentation on “Building & Growing a Subject Blog” in the late afternoon but were also keen to attend several of the other workshops and talks on offer in the impressive itinerary. I, personally, was eager to finally meet all those “tweachers” and edtech tweeps with whom I had been conversing with since I joined Twitter way back in November ‘09. Inspirational figures like @simonmlewis, @rozzlewis, @pajo23, @fintanmurphy, @anseoamhuinteoir, @pizievondust, @fboss, @magsamond and @lismiss (to name but a few) were all in attendance and I was excited to see each of them in the flesh. Needless to say, all were equally as impressive in person.

The day began with an inspiring and motivating presentation from @tombarrett, a powerhouse in the world of educational technology (or simply education in general). Tom spoke passionately about his views on education and offered some simple yet practical advice for getting the most out of our charges. Indeed, Tom was eager for all of us in attendance to contribute too and he asked each of us to write just one simple idea on a post-it. Since then, Tom has collated all those ideas and created a “mosaic” of all our suggestions including my own: Become a Tweacher, Connect on Twitter!

Unfortunately, so many of the presentations I wished to attend conflicted on the timetable (despite some being repeated) but I still got great enjoyment and inspiration from those I did attend, namely the excellent presentation by Ross Mahon from Google (with the guys from Camara) on Google Docs and @pajo23’s superb presentation on “Extreme Twitter”. I wasn’t sure if this was going to involve bungee cords or a parachute but it turned out to be a brilliant talk on using twitter for sharing news and information (or for the occasional treasure hunt) within the school environment – really inspirational stuff!

The day ended with a couple of hundred techie teachers singing in Zulu, all thanks to the inspiring figure of @markpentleton. And I think inspiration is surely the recurring theme of my first trip to a CESI conference. I was frankly astounded by the wealth of talent and enthusiasm amongst the delegates and workshop presenters. I genuinely feel that teachers are often excessively modest and don’t give themselves the credit they deserve, but the teachers I met as #CESI2011 warrant every plaudit. These individuals are experts in their field and in any other profession would be placed on a pedestal and praised from on high. Yet they seek no praise and do what they do, simply from a love of teaching and a willingness to share their passion with others. If that isn’t inspirational, then what is?

To see some photos from this year’s CESI Conference click here. Please leave a comment below if you were at this year’s conference and let me know which workshops you attended and who inspired you!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

CESI Conference 2011 - Building & Growing a Subject Blog

This afternoon I will be presenting at the Computers in Education Society of Ireland Conference in Portlaoise. along with my colleague and SCC English mastermind Julian Girdham. Together we will giving a presentation  on "Building and Growing a Subject Blog". Below is an embedded copy of our Prezi presentation and here is an information sheet with links to many of the Web 2.0 tools, links, articles and more mentioned in today's presentation. We would appreciate any feedback on our presentation.

Monday, January 31, 2011

ICT and Education - A New Blog

ICT and Education is a new blog aimed at providing teachers (and their pupils) with advice on ICT issues as well as offer information on new technologies and resources that could be of use in a learning environment. The site is run by Scott Crombie, a colleague of mine in St. Columba's College, and is primarily aimed at the teachers of our school. However, many will find the articles extremely useful and practical for their day to day computer use. A couple of the articles of interest include Scott's excellent guide to Prezi, the importance of a good password, the Google Apps Training Centre and tips on how to save YouTube videos and embed them in presentations. Click here to visit ICT and Education.

Thoughts on Using Prezi as a Teaching Tool

Friday, January 28, 2011

CESI Conference 2011

The Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) hold their annual conference on Saturday February 5th in Portlaoise College from 9:00am to 4:30am. The CESI is an association of practicing teachers from primary, post primary and third level with the common interest of using ICT to benefit teaching and learning. The conference will see a blend of workshops and talks aimed at providing educators with additional information to help them incorporate computer technology into their teaching. Those who wish to attend are asked to register here before February 2nd. A full programme of events is available to download here and the cost of the event is just €30, which includes lunch. The conference is preceded by a CESI Meet on Friday evening in the Heritage Hotel Portlaoise (unfortunately this event is now currently booked out).

At 2:30pm on Saturday, I will be co-presenting a talk on "Building and Growing a Subject Blog", along with St. Columba's College colleague and SCC English front-man Julian Girdham. This 45 minute talk will look at the ways both of our subject blogs (The Frog Blog & SCC English) have developed and expanded over the past number of years, their benefits for students and teachers, and the extent to which they reach beyond the school to wider blogging, educational and intellectual communities. We will also discuss their use of podcasts, Twitter, self-publishing and other tools. This year's CESI Conference is sure to be a brilliant event and we look forward to meeting you all there!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2010 - The Year Irish Education Fell to Earth

With Ireland’s OECD ranking in maths and literacy slipping dramatically and our universities falling in global rankings, 2010 was a traumatic year. Here we revisit some of the headline moments from SeĆ”n Flynn, Irish Times Education Editor.


The OECD/PISA study published last week was the most significant event of the year. On reading levels, Ireland has slipped from fifth place in 2000 to 17th place – the sharpest decline among 39 countries surveyed. Almost one-quarter of Irish 15-year-olds are below the level of literacy needed to participate effectively in society. In maths, Ireland has fallen from 16th to 26th place, the second steepest decline among participating countries. Ireland is now ranked as below average in maths. In science, we rank 18th – despite all the hype about the knowledge economy. Cumulatively, the results represent a body blow to a system which has long traded on its “world class” reputation.

In response, the INTO – to its great credit – acknowledged the “complacency’’ which had settled on the Irish education system. But the OECD report left no one in any doubt – the Irish education system needs a radical overhaul.


The Department of Education stopped acting as a cheerleader for the education system this year. Secretary general Brigid McManus and chief inspector Harold Hislop put a new focus on quality and accountability. Already, reviews of teacher training, numeracy and literacy have been ordered. There are encouraging signs that the Department’s notorious “light touch regulation’’ of standards in schools may be ending.