Thursday, April 26, 2012

TED-Ed Beta Website Launches - WOW!

The long awaited TED-Ed website has launched, promising to help teachers get the most out of video in their lessons. The wonderful website, currently in its Beta form, provides an innovative and structured approach to using video in the classroom. The website is based around providing excellent curated educational videos, created by collaborations between teachers and animators, and in providing a structured lesson around them- which includes quizzes, extra materials and big questions! The new platform will also allows users to take any useful educational video, not just TED's but from YouTube perhaps, and easily create a customized lesson around the video. Users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact on the world, a class, or an individual student. It's genius! The video below actually explains things better than I could (showing the power of video, perhaps!)

The Beta version of the website currently has 62 curated videos, from a range of curricular areas, on their system with 670 "flips" or personalised lessons based on those videos. One of my favourites is this short video on "just how small is an atom?", a tricky concept for some kids which is presented in simple terms in this excellent animation. Of course, TED-Ed also provides you with a quiz and other learning tools to effectively use the video in class. There is also the the option to "flip the lesson" and edit it to suit your own class. It is such a brilliant idea but more importantly TED, having taken their time developing this, have created a portal that teachers will feel comfortable using. I'm looking forward to getting involved! Visit TED-Ed now!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Share Your Innovative Lessons with O2 Learn

Have you got an innovative lesson that works? Would you like to share that lesson with other teachers and students? Would you be willing to make a short video about your lesson? Would you like to win some cash for your troubles? The O2 Learn Awards are a brilliant initiative which allows teachers share their inventive lessons online with thousands of other teachers and students. They're building a video library of great revision lessons, on a range of subjects, from teachers across the UK to help connect people to great teaching. These curriculum focused mini-lessons can help students catch up on some subjects that they can't remember or might have missed and give teachers new ideas for their own classroom!

The lessons are rated by the students and judged by expert teachers, with cash prizes awarded to the winning teachers. So far, O2 Learn has awarded over £300,000 directly to teachers and schools in the UK. A £1000 is awarded each week to the best lesson uploaded to their website with amazing overall prizes awarded at the end of the year for the three best lessons submitted. Every teacher that submits an entry will received a mobile broadband starter pack - although this is limited to UK teachers? Sadly teachers in the Republic of Ireland are not eligible for the cash prizes.

Their excellent website has all you need to know about submitting your video, with tips on creating your video, designing your lesson and uploaded it to the website. There is also a clever section with requests from students on what they would like to know about! You can also explore the lessons on the system and get some ideas for your classroom! Science teachers might find the following lessons of interest but there are loads of other subjects covered too.
Watch the video below for a little more information and check out O2 Learn now! You can also follow O2 Learn on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Want to be a teacher? Why bother!

I love being a teacher. I enjoy almost everything about it - the interactions with my students inside and outside the classroom, the comradery of the staff room, my involvement in school sports, drama & other extracurricular activities. I love my subject (science) and learn something new about it everyday. I love the opportunity my job gives me to explore new ways to teach and I enjoy collaborating with my colleagues to ensure we provide the best education possible in our school. I also enjoy collaborating with like minded teachers on twitter, ensuring my approach to teaching doesn't stay stagnant and constantly keeps evolving to keep up with new technologies and philosophies. In my role as guidance counsellor I get a great sense of satisfaction when speaking to young people about their future careers and helping them develop the tools to deal with personal troubles when they arise.

I'm not rich and I'm not poor. The past number of years have been tough for everyone in Ireland and I am very lucky to be working full time in a wonderful school. However, I have endured a pay reduction of around 15% in that period, through the combined effects of pay cuts and pension levies, and like everyone else things have become much tighter of late. 

But this compares little to the plight of newly qualified teachers - who have endured a cut in pay close to 33%. I simply can't believe that our government has allowed the introduction of this two-tier system through these drastic pay cuts (10% on top of our 15%) as well as the removal of allowances for newly qualified teachers. The starting wage for a full time newly qualified teacher is now just over €27,000. The average industrial wage in Ireland in 2011 was just shy of €36,000 (CSO). 

Let's put that in perspective. Teachers are highly qualified individuals. All must have a three or four year primary degree and a post graduate diploma in education (which will be two years long from 2012). The cost fee alone for the five or six years could top €15,000 and of course there are living costs involved too. (Trainee teachers do not get paid in Ireland). Then, on completion of their training they begin their working life on €27,000. Well not exactly.

Friday, March 9, 2012

David Puttnam at Science Gallery (Video)

I recently attended a lecture in the Open Minds series in Dublin's Science Gallery in which David Puttnam gave a wonderful lecture on 'Technology, Education and Ireland'. The lecture was recorded and is now available on YouTube. It's embedded below for your convenience. You may find the question at the end particularly interesting.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Amazing Line-up Announced for ISTA 50th Annual Conference

Details of the 50th Irish Science Teachers Association Annual Conference have been announced and boy is it shaping up to be a cracker! A 'Symphony of Science' is this year's theme and the line-up of speakers and workshops is extremely impressive. Delegates are sure to be inspired and have their passion for science teaching ignited! The programme of events takes place over the weekend of April 20th - 22nd in Trinity College Dublin & the Science Gallery and registration is now open!

There are several key figures from the world of Irish science speaking at the event as well some of the UK's great science communicators. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing Dr. Michael Mosley, presenter of BBC's 'Inside the Human Body' series (as well as many others) giving the plenary lecture on the Saturday afternoon. Also in the line-up are UK based physics teachers and film maker Alom Shaha, TCD Biochemistry Professor Luke O'Neill, UCC's Professor of Microbrial Food Safety Colin HillDr Eric Finch (Senior Lecturer TCD School of Physics), Dr Ronan McNulty (UCD School of Physics), friend of the Frog Blog Dr Aoife McLysaght (TCD Genetics & science communicator), Dr Ciara McMahon (Director of Environmental Surveillance and Assessment) and many more. Also on the programme of events are a series of workshops for teachers of physics, chemistry and biology as well as exhibits from SciFest. Mary Mulvihill from Ingenious Ireland will give a two hour science themed walking tour of Dublin on the Sunday moring too - something that will surely shake off the cobwebs from the night before! Winners of the PharmaChemical Ireland Teacher Awards will also be announced at the event, with the finalists each giving a short presentation on the work they do to promote science in their schools. I'll be there too - speaking on the opening night but attending all weekend - so come along to put a face on the frog!

Details of the event and registration (which is absolutely essential) are on the ISTA's dedicated conference website. Credit must go to Mary Mullaghy, Chairperson of the ISTA Dublin Branch, for all her hard work in compiling such an impressive line-up!

Friday, February 24, 2012

CESI Meet 2012: An 'Education Hack Day' for Ireland?

If you're visiting the blog while attending CESI Meet in Portlaoise this evening then you're very welcome. If you're not, please join the discussion anyway!

This evening in Portlaoise I am giving a mini  presentation (7 minutes) to a group of similarly minded technophile teachers at CESI Meet 2012, a Teach Meet style "anti-conference" which will formally kick off the CESI (Computers in Education Society of Ireland) Annual Conference. I am really looking forward to the event as this is my first CESI Meet and, by all accounts, they are incredibly enjoyable evenings that inspire, educate and motivate. I'm looking forward to hearing new ideas for incorporating technology in to my classroom / teaching and on how to get more from the technology I already use. 

My own short talk is about plugging an idea - a first 'Education Hack Day' for Ireland. Let me explain. 

What's a Hack? 
A hack is a solution to a problem, not always the most eloquent solution but, more often than not, the cleverest. Think of a problem (let's say poor attendance) - now think of a solution (maybe a simple app which texts parents instantly when a student is marked absent).

What's a Hack Day? 
A Hack Day is a meeting of minds - people with ideas and people with know how. It's about sharing information with other experts in order to make cool and most importantly useful things!! They are generally free to attend (people don't get paid to attend either) and typically last between 24 and 48 hours. Hack Days bring together individuals from a range of fields - scientists, politicians, educators, engineers, programmers, designers, web developers, people with ideas and "makers" etc. and usually have a central theme (There have been "Government Hack Days", "Science Hack Days" (the Irish Robotics Club have organised Science Hack Day Dublin this March) and "Music Hack Days"). The purpose of the events are to think of real life issues related to the theme and develop effective solutions during an intense 24 / 48 hour period. There are normally prizes at the end of the event for the teams that come up with the best solutions to their problem. Everything happens at the event - idea, design, production even things like marketing and funding are discussed. There are usually a number of speakers and workshops organised to kick start the event.

An Education Hack Day?
Why not? We all have ideas for making our jobs easier - both in terms of teaching and administration. We can all identify problems with the tools we currently use but may not have the technological ability to find the solution ourselves. At the moment many educational tools / software are being developed without sufficient input from the people who will ultimately use them. 

As far as I am aware, the one and only Education Hack Day took place last November in Baltimore (the US not West Cork). There is another planned for New York but no date has been set. Some of the ideas that became reality that day include an iPad app that allowed students in the class to browse specific websites relevant to the lesson but no others, a browser extension which allowed a teacher highlight a specific section of a website while making the rest invisible, a tool to help make parent / teacher meetings easier to schedule, an image-to-speech application for autistic pupils, a checklist tool for students and a homework tracker for teachers. Individual teachers are being asked to submit their own ideas too - here's a list of what's come in so far.

The possibilities are endless - think of the ideas YOU have for web apps, mobile apps, widgets, online games, websites, IWB tools, software, hardware, social networking tools for teachers / students or assessment for learning tools? Now think of being able to put those to software developers and designers and seeing them turned in to reality in a day!

What's next?
I want a number of things to emerge from my presentation / post this evening. Firstly, I would like this post (or the Twitter Hashtag #EDHACKIRL) to act as a discussion forum to hear what other teachers think of the idea. Secondly, I would like it to serve as a platform for discussion on what "hacks" you would like for problems you currently have. What ideas would you like turned in to reality? Thirdly, if you are a designer, software developer, maker, doer, programmer etc and you would like to get involved - leave your name below! Finally, if there is an agreement that an Education Hack Day would be worthwhile attempting, I want someone to make the idea a reality. I don't personally believe I have the skills, contacts or time to put such an event together but I know there is someone out there who could. Maybe CESI might want to bring the concept to fruition? Maybe another organisation? Of course I would love to help and will be the first person to sign up - guaranteed!

That's my lot - let me know what you think. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CESI Conference 2012

There is just about enough time to register for this year's Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) Annual Conference this Saturday in Portloaise - a brilliant event which brings together the leaders in educational technology in Ireland. The event takes place in Portlaoise College and promises a wide range of workshops, talks and presentations for anyone interested in using technology to improve teaching and learning in their classrooms. Some of the possible highlights include Fred Boss on the hugely successful #edchatIE twitter hashtag, Caroline Carswell and Miriam Walsh on Captioning Videos for School Use, John Heffernan on A Brief History of the Near Future, Simon Lewis on Creating a Mobile App for your School, and Mags Amond on Edmodo in the Classroom. However, the programme is jam packed with workshops and presentation to meet everyone's needs and tastes - check it out.

I am particularly excited to be attending Friday night's 'CESI Meet' (my first one!) - an "anti-conference" where the talks are short and snappy (15minutes, 7 minutes or 2 minutes) and the atmosphere more relaxed. Look out for my CESI Meet post on Friday night - hopefully you might find it interesting?

David Puttnam on 'Technology, Education and Ireland'

The 'Open Minds Series' returns next Monday (February 27th) with the brilliant David Puttnam speaking on "Technology, education and Ireland: How new ways of learning can assist economic recovery". The 'Open Mind Series' is a collaborative effort from McCann FitzGerald and TCD's Science Gallery, which will see some of the world’s leading thinkers coming together to support the development of Ireland as a global centre for science, technology and innovation. The event kicks off at 6:30pm sharp and pre-booking is essential. Tickets cost €10 or €6 if you are a student. Further information can be access from the Science Gallery website here.

David Puttnam - A Short Biography.

As well as producing award winning films like The Mission, The Killing Fields, Local Hero, Chariots of Fire, Midnight Express, Bugsy Malone and Memphis Belle, David Puttnam has been working in the areas of education, the environment, and the 'creative and communications' for nearly 15 years. He founded the National Teaching Awards, was the founding Chair of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) and spent 10 years as the Chancellor of The University of Sunderland. He is President of the Film Distributors’ Association, Chairman of The Sage Gateshead, Deputy Chairman of Channel Four, Deputy Chairman of Profero and a trustee of the Eden Project. He is also the present Chancellor of the Open University,

The talk is sure to inspire and engage, and might prove a nice way to top off what is sure to be a cracking weekend at the CESI Conference in Portlaoise?

Monday, February 6, 2012

DES to Roll Out 100Mb Broadband to All Schools by 2014

The Minister for Education & Skills, Ruairí Quinn, along with Pat Rabbitte, the Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, have announced that super-fast 100Mb broadband will be rolled out to every second level school in the country by 2014.

Originally launched by in 2009, the 100Mb Schools Programme was originally piloted in 78 schools across the country - initially rolled out from May 2010. The pilot project, as expected, was extremely successful with these schools utilising the super fast internet connection to further incorporate the use of ICT in to teaching and learning in the school.

The national roll-out will be completed over three stages with 200 schools being connected by September 2012, a further 200 being connected next year and the remaining 250 schools being connected in 2014. Commenting on the launch, Minister Quinn said:
“We need to ensure that appropriate digital technology and high-speed internet are in place in our schools as a basic building block to deliver a 21st Century learning experience to all learners. This major ICT investment in our education system follows on from the commitment in the Programme for Government to incorporate the integration of ICT in teaching and learning across the curriculum and investing in broadband development to ensure schools have access to modern high-speed networks”
Minister Rabbitte added: 
“Our second-level schools need industrial strength broadband. Students’ experience of using technology in their everyday lives must be reflected in their learning experiences in schools. We must encourage students and teachers to integrate the possibilities presented by ICT with the traditional teaching methods".
The Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources is funding all of the capital costs of this project, estimated to be approximately €11m as well as contributing some €10m in current costs for the years 2013 to 2015. The Department of Education & Skills (DES) will fund the remaining current costs (estimated to be some €20m up to 2015). DES will also fund the on-going costs on an annual basis into the future.

Obviously this is fantastic news, but why will it take over 5 years from the initial annoucement. If the DES are serious about integrating ICT in to teaching and learning, the roll out should be prioritised and accelerated. For the meantime, schools in the following lucky counties can look forward to increased speeds in the coming months: 
  • Cavan
  • Louth 
  • Clare 
  • Mayo
  • Donegal 
  • Monaghan
  • Galway 
  • Offaly
  • Laois 
  • Roscommon
  • Leitrim 
  • Sligo 
  • Longford 
  • Westmeath

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Choose Life, Choose a Job, Choose STEM!

Choosing a third level course is an important decision and one that will have lasting effects on you and your career. As a Guidance Counsellor, I believe that decision is ultimately about finding a course / direction that suits your personality, aptitude and ability. However, it's also about looking to the future and about giving you the best opportunity to grow in your career. With the "official" closing date for CAO (Irish university applications) at 5:15pm tomorrow, my advice is to think STEM! 

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics and encompasses a wide range of training courses which help to develop critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills. These skills are highly sought after and valued across a range of industries and a degree in science, engineering, technology or maths will provide a solid foundation for a future career. According to the IDA, the technology and science industries in Ireland are set to grow in the coming decade, providing well qualified young graduates with job opportunities. Saying that, the skills obtained while studying STEM subjects are highly transferable to other industries - areas that value critical thinking and analytical skills.

The Irish universities and IT's offer a wide range of STEM courses - at NFQ Level 6, 7 and 8. There is a STEM course for everybody and a quick search through Qualifax will help you find the STEM course for you. has a brilliant section to help you find out more about STEM careers. You can explore hundreds of career possibilities through their website and view all the CAO courses in the STEM disciplines. There is also a large video library of people involved in STEM professions.

Let's face it - if you're studying for the Leaving Certificate this year, you are likely to face an extremely competitive jobs market in 5 years time. Choosing a STEM course will help you develop the skills that will help you get you that job - you will need to add a little bit of your other strengths to guarantee it's yours. 

Note: The closing date for normal CAO applications is tomorrow, however you don't need to finalise your course choices until much later. While the CAO system will shut for a few months, from early May you will be able to able to change your course preferences if you need - except restricted courses (including nursing) which need to be on your preference list by tomorrow.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Quinn Challenges Teachers to Find Savings in Education Budget

Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn challenged teachers to come up with ideas to make savings within the total DES budget. Speaking on the Last Word with Matt Cooper, Quinn hinted that his department colleagues are coming up with some savings ideas but he urged teachers, who work within the system, to offer their advice. He declared that, to date, both unions and individual teachers were not willing to engage in a discussion on possible savings. There was a great reaction to the interview with loads of suggestions coming in from teachers and the general public alike. Some of those ideas included digital payslips, removing chaplins from community schools, staging oral examinations over the Easter holidays and more.

I think we can all admit that savings can be made in certain areas, thereby protecting educational services to the disadvantaged and vulnerable. So I thought it might be a good idea to use this short post to collect ideas from the online teaching community. Please leave a comment below with your idea and I will email the Minister next week with your proposals and the names of those who contributed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ruairí Quinn Launches SAILS - A "New" Approach to Science Education

Today the Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn launched a new €3.75 million programme for science teaching and learning. Dubbed SAILS, which stands for "Strategies for Assessment of Inquiry Learning in Science", the new programme aims to promote the sciences in second level by training teachers to impart critical thinking and analytical skills to their students. The programme will see thirteen partner organisations and higher education institutes from twelve EU countries cooperate to formulate new strategies in teacher training to develop these skills and ultimately improve the number and quality of students studying science, technology, engineering & maths (STEM) subjects at third level.

While I am always glad to see new thinking (and funding) in the realm of science education, and equally delighted to see companies like Intel take an active interest in second level education, I am struggling to see what exactly is new about this! I would also love to know how the €3.75 million will be spent, what way will the training be given, who will give the training and over what time scale? I don't necessarily agree with the sentiment that science teachers don't currently impart critical thinking or analytical skills to their students, but if this is true then the State Examinations Commission must take some of the credit. They have continually produced examinations that promote regurgitation of facts rather than the ability to think critically. Teachers must work within a system that is flawed. If Ruairi Quinn is serious by improving the levels of critical thinking amongst second level schools then significant changes to how science is assessed will yield tangible results.