img_20161127_164931Congratulations to the Library teams in Counties Cavan and Monaghan for the first iteration of Cavan-Monaghan Science Festival, held last  week to coincide with Science Week Ireland. (Is this an example of Glocalisation?)
I loved the lectures on climate change, focusng on water and soil, in the library on Wednesday evening. The family day on Saturday was terrific – the small people I know (and quite a few adults also) had a great day panning for ‘gold’, programming robots of all sizes, making their own binary code bracelets, and producing a giant bubble machine with a slider control. A special ‘well done’ to the students and teachers of Scoil Mhuire, Lacken, who brought their STEAM room resources and shared them with all comers.
Hopefully this will be an annual event, and will grow and grow.

 

This was a long promised trip to attend Russel Tarr’s brainchild, the Practical Pedagogies gathering in Toulouse. Over 200 attend, and well over half that number are presenters. It was worth the very roundabout journey to meet old vintage  friends and make new friends, and share ideas old and new. It was a really well-thought-out, hospitable and very well organised affair; the venue being the international school, we also had a chance to look about the classrooms and labs – all in all it was lovely. The socialising was great fun each evening in central Toulouse. The people who came there were among the most committed, reflective and passionate I have even come across. Although the title says practical and pedagogy, these people are about more than tips ‘n tricks (nowt wrong with those mind you) – I’d add purposeful and philosophical to all other p words.

The programme of lectures and workshops, bookended between two lively interactive plenary sessions with Ewan McIntosh, is here:
http://www.practicalpedagogies.net/pages/materials.php, and the #pracped16 hashtag timline is still flowing with ideas here https://twitter.com/hashtag/pracped16
Lisa Stevens has posted some terrific (analog) sketchnotes on her blog here:
http://lisibo.com/2016/11/pracped16-sketchnotes/
I was mesmersied watching Lisa build the first one during Ewan’s opening keynote. What a woman.

My first epiphany (and most affecting) of the two days was The Mantle of The Expert workshop with Tim Taylor. My brain and my heart are still working it out. It was sublime. (And I wasn’t officially mean to to be there – a series of lucky instinct-driven decisions took me there; not the first time that has worked out well for me.)
The afternoon workshop was with the creative force that is Stephen Reid – Immersive Minds – delving into the possibilities for using MineCraft with students.
The next day workshops I attended were with Ewan (loved the 5 Why/s, and What Would X Do? [and thanks for the TeachMeet chat]); and another off-piste workshop with Bryn Llewellyn (Tagtiv8) that turned out to be a cracker – as well as learning, I was definitely creamcrackered after chasing round the schoolyard playing team tag spelling and emoji collaging (is that even a verb? it is now, I guess!).
‘My’ workshop was in the final slot, and we had good fun in the physics lab – there was a lot of squeaking and squealing (loudest from Dughall, Bill, Julian and Ros, the locals had slightly more decorum), as we worked our way through the stages of the human circuit and making LED glowies. This exercise has now been forever officially renamed Chicken ‘n Chips in their collective honour.

Thank you a thousand times to Russel; and to everyone for their memorable company – les garcons Dughall, Julian, Bill, Steve, Simon, Bryn, Tim, Pete;  et les filles Lisa, Julie, Cat, Cathita, Ros, Sonia, Yasmin. Hope to see you at BETT in January.

{ And my special secret ‘take-away’ is going strong, thank you again, Julian! }

The Standing Committee on Teacher Education North and South (that is one very long name!) conference was in Armagh City this year. I was delighted to be invited to take part.
There was a pre-conference audience for researchers with Etienne Wenger-Trayner, “Communities of Practice” expert. This went on for quite a long time longer than planned, because of his interest and willingness to tease out participants’ questions and comments. The discussion was illuminating, especially for the newer researchers. Thanks for this gift, SCoTENS committee.

I was taken by how many times Teachmeet was mentioned by speakers in the afternoon plenary session. In particular Margery McMahon’s listing of TeachMeet, Pedagoo and teacher blogs as ‘bottom up’ CPD, during her pitch before a panel discussion. Sidebar: The alphabet was being seriously juggled during this conference – we had CPD, PD, PL, and finally TL. Later, over dinner, I heard CPL. (C for continuing, P for professional, L for learning, T for teacher). Their use is all a little higgledy piggledy at the moment, in a sort of Betamax-VHS way.

lusitaniaThe Friday morning workshop with John Peto (from the Nerve Centre, Derry) and Brendan Tangney (of Bridge21 in Trinity College), Dublin had some good discussion around learning. And I was delighted with my 3D printed model of the Lusitania.

Mealtimes were a treat – it was great to meet and catch up with some good people – so, Marie Therese Killen, Mairin Glenn, Catriona McDonagh, Siobhan O’Sulivan, John Peto, Seamie O’Neill and Annette Kearns, thank you for the great company.

Conor Galvin of UCD hosted a round table of invited doctoral researchers, each at a different stage of their work. In “flipping the seminar”, Teachmeet (or #DocMeet?) style, he’d asked each of us to do a micro-presentation, but also to prepare in advance a simple formative assessment of one of the others’ written summary, ‘two stars and a wish’ style. Conference guest Etienne Wenger joined to listen to each story, and add his tuppence worth to the feedback. This was a very powerful session – the depth of the passion of the researchers as they told their stories to date was very encouraging for a beginner. The collegiate feedback was generous and incisive.

Thank you, SCoTENS, for the invitation to take part; this community of generous and bright people is a serious support system, and access to it is very much appreciated.

 

The Next Generation: Digital Learning Symposium at DC last Tuesday had a rather complicated and unwieldy title, but it unfolded into something simple and useful – a day for ‘scholarly professionals’ to show and share what they care about. The day had a good mix of round table and panel-led discussions, breakouts for shorter presentations, and provocative keynotes. (Programme details here).

The afternoon included a Rapid Fire expo, complete with Wheel of Fortune, for those currently researching for a doctorate. This had something for everyone – speed, variety, questions, almost-formed answers, pleas for help, and a huge helping of passion. Props to Enda, Tom and Naoinh for keeping it all on track, Ant and Dec style. I definitely appreciated this TeachMeet style, as it did some of my topic explanation for me, Blue Peter style. It was my third time to shout this “if Teachmeet is the answer, then what is the question?” out. (First was AUCIe 2016; Report on the second, SCoTENS, still to come). Each time, good helpful answers, as well as offers of support, information, and links to more of the same, are being generously shared. All of this is helping towards sharpening the research focus. When the sharing is offered by people who care, it is precious stuff. Thanks to each of you.

I think my favourite moment of delight was sitting with Keith Johnston at the very second when Prof Grainne Conole flashed to a keynote slide holding an image of (the absent) Richard Millwood’s Learning Theory map. G’wan, our team!!  (For the curious, that reference is to Foireann MKR – Mags, Keith, Richard). For the even more curious, the Rapid Fire slides I used are here as pdf ndls-dcu-amond, or here as google slides.

magsteachmeetnextgendl

On the origins of TeachMeet in Ireland. With a forever loop marquee scroll ‘thank you’ to the three Scottish bloggers – Ewan McIntosh, David Noble, and John Johnson – who sat round the first table and talked to each other about talking to each other.

I remember when I was young being frustrated when I could not divine sayings used by the elders, main example “It’s an ill wind that blows no good”. I eventually figured it what it meant. It came back to me recently when reflecting about bringing TeachMeet to Ireland. It was a very ill wind – the greed fuelled collapse of the Celtic Tiger – that caused us to import and adopt TeachMeet from the Scots in early 2009.

When the country was awash with paper money, I was dispatched by the Teacher Education Section to the Scottish Learning Festival, along with the rest of my colleagues (our remit at the time was to source, design and deliver formal continuing professional development to Irish schools). At the end of a long day of lectures and workshops, a friend of mine, John Heffernan, reminded me of the TeachMeet being organised for that evening by Ewan McIntosh. I’d signed up online out of idle curiosity; but I was tired and hungry; so, it was to be dinner or TeachMeet? I chose the latter. Good move.

The format was relaxed but not chaotic, attendees were also presenters, there was no hierarchy. The tables were round, like a wedding. The order of presentations was randomly picked by a charming online fruit machine thingie which had been made available online by a then unknown Russel Tarr. Speakers had either 2 mins (nano) or 7 mins (micro), with a jovial but firm heave-ho when time was up, and a pointed no-no to slides full of bullet points . Half way through the evening, we had 15 minute breakouts in which one person led a focused conversation, and attendees could wander about to get a flavour of all, or stay put with whomever we were curious to hear. In the background I was vaguely aware of a screen showing some tweets from far and wide, forming a conversation between those in the room and others who were following online via Twitter. And there was a chance to chatter over a food and beverage break. All these elements – the self-selection of the speakers, the encouragnent of tales of practice rather than bullet-ridden slides, the round tables, the random order of calling speakers forward, the inclusion of ‘TeachEat’, and in particular Twitter backchannel and the ‘soap box’ conversations (this was a name I gave them for want of a better one) – became, and still remain for many, the hallmarks of a successful TeachMeet. I loved it all, and I knew that I knew many others who would delight in this experience.

tm-bett09That was September 2008. Then back to work I went, and not much happened until January, when I went to another UK TeachMeet (at BETT in London), and had my gut instinct feeling confirmed – this round table ground-up PD was an positive force. At that time I was volunteering on the committee organising the 2009 annual conference for the Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI). Up until this time, it had been a two day conference, with permission for schools to release teachers to attend on the Friday. And then – swoosh – down came the Austerity Guillotine and sliced off the Friday. We had one meeting’s notice to turn our two day affair into one day. So I suggested we try one of these TeachMeets on the Friday night. CESI Chair, Conor Galvin, and Conference Chair, Tom Kendall, both supported the idea, and that was that. In true TeachMeet fashion, the call went out and those who ‘got it’ immediately stepped up. 60 of us packed into a small room in the Maldron Hotel in Tallaght – we had to spill into to corridors and foyer for the Soap Box breakouts – and had a memorable evening. (So memorable that if you believed everyone who said they were there, it’d be closer to 600). A quick check on Twitter would show that many folk joined up to said social medium that same night thanks to John Heffernan’s tour de force expo of using a Twitter back channel – we were joined online by many from across Ireland and the UK, as we learned the power of a hashtag driven timeline and  watched as #cesimeet ‘trended’. (In this pre-hipster age, we thought that meant we were trendy. Or cool. Or whatever. But we were smitten and we joined up there and then.)

Myself as Bean a’Ti and Conor Galvin as Fear a’Ti had worked together before at education events, but we knew this was different. The atmosphere was electric and energising. The people in the room were a cross section of Irish education – all levels and sectors of formal and informal education were represented. Everyone who was there that night has become a ‘frequent flier’, and many have in turn organised TeachMeets in other venues. Current recorded count just topped 80 Teachmeet from over 50 volunteer organisers.

And so, when we rant and rave about the ‘Powers That Were’ dropping the country on the floor and smashing it in smithereens way back in the late noughties, let’s be reminded about the ill wind that helped take TeachMeet across the Irish Sea.

Facts, figures and future: Being a truly open movement, TeachMeet online inhabits the untidy worlds of the wiki and the Twitter timeline. There is no central HQ, no foundation, no written constitution. It is still surviving on trust among the tribe. The UK wiki , a giant web of data from the past 10 year, is at teachmeet.pbworks.com and is sporadically curated by volunteers. In Ireland,  John Heffernan (a true historian – preserving the past for the future) was prescient in setting up irishteachmeet.wikispaces.com which is on a smaller scale, and consequently slightly more ‘tidy’. A glance that the archive and organisers pages of the Irish wiki will show the and the growing list of those stepping up to volunteer and variety of types of Teachmeet that are evolving – Kidsmeet, MakerMeet, MathsMeet, PrincipalMeet, ResearchMeet, StudentMeet, conference-connected and unconference, North, South, East, and West. It’s delightful to watch the movement grow – the past 1 year has seen more meets here that in the previous 7 years combined. The huge curiosity is about the future, but that is for another, much longer, much deeper, conversation. Join it.

fruit-machine

 

Thanks to Sandra Maguire and her team for a year of prep work leading to this year’s Dojocon in Dun Laoghaire. It was a pretty fantastic way to close out EU Code Week in Ireland. The venue  – the Marine Hotel – was lovely, as were both the weather, and the people who attended.

Some special moments for me…
1. Sandra invited two of Bianca Ni Ghrógáin’s former students, Sinéad and Dylan, (who are now in second level education) to speak, in her memory, of the positive effect she had on their thinking and their confidence.
2. The delight of sitting in a circle “my” workshop with mentors from all over the world, discussion ways to engage young minds with some hands-on action (concrete operational in ‘old money’, thank you for that timely reminder, Richard Millwood) – and working again with Amy Lombard as my ‘assistant’, the type of assistant who knows what you’re thinking before you do. Awesome.

3. Queueing for, and scoffing, a very large highly decorated ice cream cone at lunchtime, thanks to the arrival of the van from Teddy’s! 3. The chance meeting for coffee to catch up with the great Maria Mernagh, or Summer Buzz as we call her!
4. Watching the joy in Rcahrd, Pam, Amy, and Cara absorbed in the arduno/origami workshop.

Dojocon always brings out all that is best in the CoderDojoCavan community – thanks, Sandra and team, you are all rockstars.
(No pressure, Warrington 2017 team!)

 

It was a treat to be invited to Cloghans Hill NSW in Mayo during Code Week 2016, by Iseult Mangan and her students, to be part of their Skycademy launch (first in Ireland), and to be inducted into their team, alongside Hassan Dabbagh.

Iseult explained the way things would go – all this winter the students will plan and code their Raspberry Pi in preparation for its launch, attached to a helium balloon. The balloon  carry the Pi skyward, to collect data and take pictures and video. We, the adults, will all help the geo-location of the Pi that eventually returns to earth, and the students will report on their analysis of the data.

It is all very exciting, and I feel honoured to be involved. Thank you all – I’ll be waiting for the call to action when the launch takes place.

 

 

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