This time last week my head was full of the many positive takeaways of the (now an annual highlight of winter) trip to the BETT show in the east end of London. It actually takes a full week for the city / exhibition hall induced tinnitus to subside. Visiting the BETT Show itself is like a giant circus showground with crowded booths full of everything to do with technology in educational. My interest in it is all about being with “BETTers” – people I meet, spend time with, travel with. (Reading others’ reactions, I am not alone in this: Ben Hall, Steve Wheeler).

 

This year’s trip had four stages, each different and memorable.

No.1 avant-BETT – Although I got there late and missed much (sob, missed our own expat rock star @lmcunderwood) of the event, the teachmeet style Creative Tech in Education meet organised by @HelenLeigh, was a heartwarmingly good start to the weekend. The suggestion to expand it next year was enthusiastically applauded by all present. One delight was meeting again with Josh Lowe, the 14 year old creator of EduBlocks (for the first of three encounters with him and his Dad of the weekend).

No.2 the BETT Show – The show itself was the huge assault on the senses that it always has been, but disappointingly was missing the Steam Village of recent times. But as ever, there were areas with pockets of brilliance and fun, mostly made such by the people involved in creating and curating them …

  • the loveliest idea highlighting that tech will only ever as good as the creativity that leads its use was at the Atomwide booth, next door to my hero @dawnhallybone at the London Grid for Learning booth.

    I’d seen Dawn show off a caricature she’d had drawn there the day before (above left), so I made a point of getting in line early in the day. Watching the artist Luisa Calvo from wickedcaricatures.com was a singular treat, as was chatting with her as she sketched us all (that’s Lisa Stevens above right, and Pamela O’Brien below left and centre) with her digital pen and palette:

  • the bright yellow Fab Lib bus (from Flanders, Belgium) full of maker equipment caught our collective Irish eyes, but my favourite moment was the delight of discovering they were using familiar Turtlestitch designs with their embroidery machine:IMG_20190125_111107
  • the “escape room” booth was good fun to try out, we were genially hosted by the lovely Simon Johnson – in room 1 we had to use minecraft in @breakoutEDU style, in room 2 we had to program and drive floorbots thru a maze, and in room 3 we worked with a mixture of AR and VR to answer questions and break a code. Most importantly, we had to work in pairs or teams, and with timely interventions from the ‘teacher’ in order to succeed.  There was much food for thought and discussion here, congratulations to those who conceived, built, and presented this challenge

  • finding the micro:bit booth allowed time to stand and watching the genial genius David Whale at work, meet the happy loons from Pimoroni, and meet up again with EduBlocks Josh and his Dad again – and best of all persuading them to sign up to participate in the TeachMeet. It felt good to be there, in a space where the most creative ideas were using probably the cheapest piece of tech on show at BETT
    https://twitter.com/pablisch/status/1088780976807923712
  • a chance encounter meeting the @digiladies young students from Newcastle with their amazing teachers – AND getting a badge – as well as seeing them win the Pi-top competition using the truest hashtag as far as they are concerned: #wearethefutureIMG_20190126_010913
  • the pitstops at the Acer booth were most welcome, thanks to Eugene McDonough introducing us to Adam Gibbs, who gave us time, space, and caffeine enough to allow us the luxury of moving in and making ourselves at home sitting for a while comparing notes and discussing what we’d seen so far. It was typical teacher talk – how would we adapt / amend / exploit / enhance the various ideas when we got home to our various classroom, conferences, community meets?

No.3 unBETT The main focus of a trip to BETT for me has to be the TeachMeet. This year there was a change of venue to outside BETT, across the way in Tapa Tapa – an inspired choice. We all owe  huge gratitude to Drew Buddie, Ian Usher and Dawn Hallybone for spending untold hours and using their combined strategic and persuasive superpowers to overcome huge challenges on our behalf and succeeding in making this event massively enjoyable and wonderful for all of us there. Their combined capacity is astonishing, and all delivered gracefully with good humour.
{Teachers – they get the job done!}
It is worth reminding that THIS IS ALL DONE VOLUNTARILY, pardon me using my rusty teacher voice there for a moment.
For details, go to ian usher’s thread logging all the speakers, topics, and links to their presentation begins at that there link – in itself this showcases a very neat way to archive what was shared at #tmBETT19, and I am totally adopting this idea, thank you Ian. As well as the chance for an annual hello with the fantastic teachers of the UK, an added treat was meeting some US folk I have long admired: Kyle Calderwood, Richard Byrne.
And I was proud as punch of the three Irish presenters (we claim Richard now) from Richard Millwood, Pamela O’Brien and Stephen Howell – maith sibhse go léir!! And the end of the evening we had a lovely moment when the house stood to applaud Josh Lowe presenting his EduBlocks software:

No.4 après-BETT As ever, this trip has a social aspect. This year’s “Fellowship” sharing food, chats and fun was comprised of me, Richard, Pamela, two Stephens (Howell and Eustace), two Johns (Hegarty and Heffernan), Gloria Enrique and Eugene and Dee McDonough. Thank you all for your conversation, company, and care.
This year’s theatre outing was to Hamilton. It is no exaggeration to say that all three of us – Pamela, John, and me – were very very happy with the decision to go. If it is still there next year, I’d happily go again.

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Over at UKEDCHAT they published a list of 100 “Edutwitter”ers to follow in the UK, and another list for international Edutwitter. This prompted a response with a list of 100 for Scottish Edutwitter. So I wondered who would be on my Irish Edutwitter 100? I started to jot down – it didn’t take long – then double checked with my list from the last ten years; and sorted them A-Z. This would not be a bad “starter pack”. I know others in Ireland have made some lists before this; maybe it is time someone with skills and energy collated the lot together. [ So here’s a challenge to teacher trainers and pre-service academics – sorting a properly curated and hyperlinked Irish Edutwitter directory would make a stonkin’ student project – g’wan someone, do it! ].
Thank you to each these 100 Irish Edutweeters each of whom has taught me something via Twitter, made me smile or in some way has enriched the ten years I have been in twitterland. There are more of course but 100 was the challenge this time. they come from every sphere of Irish education.  I’m keeping one special extra spot for Bianca Ní Ghrógáin RIP who tweets no more but who’s influence on anyone who followed her as @bnighrogain or @groganbee was profound; her gifts to me are beyond measure.

The @magsamond Irish Edutwitter 100, 2009-2019, A-Z:
@7mjb @_conorgalvin @ailbheforde @aliegan @amandasalt
@annemmcm @aoibhinn_ni_s @arickard @ashdonohoe @avril_ronan
@boyle_thomas @caramcdermott @catherinecronin @cfoxcavan
@chrisreina @ciarnac @claireoconnell @clareire @conpower
@corneliathinks @cosmiccork @daithi @dek0h @domaho
@donenda @e3neenan @eadso7 @eam0 @eibhlin71 @evelynoconnor
@fboss @ffarry1 @foleykev @franktullamore @friedacrehan
@hassandabbagh @he4therw4t5on @hellbullock @hey_km @humphreyjones
@irishsenteacher @iseultmangan @istone_irene @jacdee73 @jakerowanbyrne
@jamescorbett @jhegarty @johnmayo @johndhodonoghue @juliedepaor @julieuichois
@kateingalway @katrionaos @katzb21@kevinsullivan79 @languagesdude @laoireO
@leanneedu @leonaforde1 @levdavidovic @linehanbm @lismiss @m2thefizzle
@maggiemgreen @mairinglenn @majelladempsey @marloft @marygtroche
@mccarthyduncan @medv2 @miriambergin @mrdannymurray @mrmalcontent
@mrneilbutler @nl_84 @noeleenleahy @orna_farrell @pajo23
@pamelaaobrien @pamelalamela @patjburke @paud_ie @paul_knox1985
@podubhaigh @primedteacher @richardmillwood @sandrinepk @saorog
@seanictmayo@seaoneill @seomraranga @simonmlewis @sjayc @snicreamoinn
@speediecelt @susancmccarthy @tomfarrelly @tonyrileynz @topgold @toruairc …

ps – twitter, edutwitter, tweet, twittersphere, twitterati, etc – what a totally ridiculous language is used in social media.

pps – if you spot a mistake, don’t be polite, ping me to fix it.

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timelesslearning-reaction audio wav version:

I have been looking forward to reading Timeless Learning since the recent announcement of its release. The book, a beautifully produced hardback, arrived during the timeless winter holiday recess, so there was nothing in its way, or mine. (Disclosure: I ordered with the teeny edge of anxiety that comes when you know the authors – you want the book to be as brilliant as you know they authors are.)

Timeless Learning

Timeless Learning

Verdict: A keeper. It was a “drop everything and read” book. The content – the story of Ira, Pam, and Chad leading and supporting change in their public school system in Albemarle County, Virginia, USA – is a clear telling of the work I have been following from afar, so this alone made it a satisfying read. It outlines how they identified barriers to student learning, and conceived and implemented ways to dissolve them over time – changing classroom structures, professional learning opportunities, leveraging all possible financial and system supports. Everything possible to be done to take a student perspective on school is done.

What lifted the book to “cracking good read” level for me was a combination of the format of the chapters, the writing style, the context, the authors, the stories, the ideas, the challenges.  Each chapter ends in the same series of four open challenges [“over to you” provocations, structured inquiry prompts, reflection starters, calls to action] aimed at the reader-as-educator: which makes the book ideal for a professional book club, and as an inspiration bank for those responsible for educating teachers at any level. The context has both great contrast to our Irish system and strong similarities. This book illustrates the US public school district ‘luck of the draw’ as regards the values and vision of the Superintendent the district is dealt; the strangling legacy and grip of No Child Left Behind and Common Core echo what one reads in many US writings. Echoes of here are strong in the “cells and bells” description of schools, and the ticky boxy metrics of classroom inspections.

A thing that stands out more than once is their observation about classroom observation itself. In one story, Pam outlines her experience, as a trainee superintendent, of being shown how to observe trainee teachers; a note-taking exercise which ended up defeating its own purpose – the more that is ‘observed’, a the less that may be seen. This was in the 80’s, but it sounded just like the process still used in many teacher training observations nowadays. The other eye opener was the description of the bewildered reactions of inspecting and observing visitors upon entering a reconstituted multi-age, ‘problem based learning’ space whose walls – an particular the dominant teaching wall – had been dissolved. Teachers being barely visible or audible seemed to unnerve some visitors, who had no units against which to measure the ‘timeless learning’ they were seeing. The take on professional learning is good to read too, in particular the start of year four day trip to the Maker Faire in New York City, and the long lasting effects it has on the teachers participating. One core piece of advice they thread through the book as suggestion to the reader/teacher, citing Hattie’s ‘collective efficacy’ as goal, is to continually seek out “aspirational peers”.

Each author’s lived experience comes through strongly when reading. Chad is a not just a maker himself, but a committed “maker of makers”. Ira’s unique combination of career experiences is critical to the ‘outside box’ development the three of them are bringing about in this adventure. Pam’s affinity with natural science, her weaving within a Deleuzian rhizome conceptual framework, underpins what shapes her as an evolutionary leader.

I repeat that this book would be an ideal “professional book club” choice, and would recommend to to all those responsible for teacher training and learning, initial and in-career. Enjoy. I did.

PS – I look forward to listening to an audio version read by the authors. I think others would agree.

timelesslearning-reaction A4 pdf version

 

I always feel better for talking with Bernie Goldbach. Or next best thing, listening to his voice on podcast. Bernie Goldbach, teaches creative media for business in the Limerick Institute of Technology. We spoke a length last Sunday evening, rain lashing outside had no dulling effect on Bernie’s golden tones. I loved his questions, and the graceful editing (even deftly weaving in the supposed “out takes”) which makes all his subjects sound their best.

The podcast is here – it is 20 minutes, and Bernie has provided a useful Table of Contents so the listener can fast track past any the ‘meh’ bits. Very neat, Bernie!

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We touched on many things, but the taper to this CONGversation was Bernie’s quest to speak to as many #CONG18 folk as possible. CongRegation is an unconference gathering, brainchild of organiser Eoin Kennedy, which takes place over a weekend in Cong, co Mayo, Ireland, each November – details here. This year the theme was IDEAS. Next year is COMMUNITY.

This year, I chaired four “huddles” over the day. There are eight concurrent huddles running over the the day in various village venues. In each session ten people from all walks of life in Ireland formed a circle (around a table upstairs in Cohan’s Bar in my case). Three of them at random told their story or outlined their ideas, and we debated and discussed. This unconference format makes for a very diffused mix – each person hears a dozen stories over the day, including their own, each person spends time in circle with up to forty others. This makes for a potent sharing of perspectives.

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And Then There Is The Social Element. This year the physics of electronics and semi-Con(g)ductors, a poetry slam, ukelele jamming, and forest foraging were among the ateliers on offer. It is a sure fire six million dollar bet that every attendee left Cong on Sunday a whole lot richer than when they arrived on Friday.

And last word must go to the loveliest Sunday brunch surprise, a priceless gem hidden in Cong -finest cake I’ve ever tasted … another reason to have already booked Cong for next year …

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I just finished reading a book by a young woman I met last summer at a TeachMeet in Newcastle. Presenters at most TeachMeet are teachers (d’oh!), but at this one, Talk On The Tyne, the host Martin Bailey had threaded a theme of well-being and mental health thru the programme.

And so young Ruth Fox came to tell her story. I’ve written about my reaction, and that of the rest of those present, before. I think everyone there immediately became part of Ruth’s ‘Fox in the Box’ army.

Now I’ve read the book, it all comes back to me. This is a book for teachers and school managements to read, both scary and reassuring at the same time. Scary that such turmoil could so badly affect one so young, and reassuring to know that the kind ear of a teacher can do such good. This is Ruth’s story, but it could be about any student in any teacher’s class.

Preamble

  • Scratch is a free block-based / jigsaw programming language which allows users create interactive stories, games, and animations. https://scratch.mit.edu/
  • ScratchEd is an online community where Scratch educators share stories, exchange resources, ask questions, find people to collaborate with. http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/
  • ScratchEd Meetups are peer-designed professional learning experiences inspired by the Edcamp model, which in turn is built on the ideas of Open Space Technology*. Basically, attendees turn up, decide what the schedule is to be, then get into it. Anyone who is interested in connecting with fellow educators and learning more about using Scratch in educational settings is welcome to participate. https://www.meetup.com/pro/scratched
  • *In Open Space events participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a central theme of strategic importance. The only rule is The Law of Two Feet – if at any time one feels one is neither contributing nor gaining, feel free to move to another space.  http://openspaceworld.org/wp2/what-is/

Richard Millwood, John Hegarty and me met up with the ScratchEd folk at the MIT Scratch Conference last July, and decided to give the format a go in Ireland, offering a chance for the various groups who use Scratch in schools, colleges, clubs,  dojos to swap ideas. Limerick was chosen as the first venue, as it is where Scratch had its first outing via LERO way way back in 2007.

We met as a merry gang of ten on Wed Nov 7th in Limerick Education Cantre, led by teachers from CESI, mentors from Coderdojo Ireland, software researchers from LERO, and volunteers from MakerMeetIE and joined by colleagues with expertise in designing and delivering resources and training based on Scratch programming. The learner age groups represented in the room covered the spectrum from primary to higher education, and both formal and informal education fora. Our scheduling exercise was based on this diverse wish list:

ScratchEdMeetup scheduling

ScratchEdMeetup scheduling

Our breakout sessions based on this ended up as Scratch 3.0, Progression, Physical Computing with Scratch, Cross Curricular ideas.

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We walked, talked and played our way thru the allocated two hours which flew past. Each of us brought something to the table – a question, an idea, a resource, a clarification – and each of us definitely went away somewhat the richer for the experience, and with plenty of food for thought, and a plan to work on.

Next instance of this meetup can take place anywhere a ¨Scratcher¨ in Ireland is wont to call a meeting; most likely bet is on one taking place at #cesicon 2nd March 2019 in Athlone.

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Megadojo is growing. Starting at one venue – Limerick Institute of Technology – several years ago, this year it took place in six venues: Dundalk, Maynooth, Letterkenny, Tralee, Cork as well as Limerick which has never missed a year. Megadojo is a family coding day, filled with taster workshops, showcases and discussion rooms. Volunteers from the HEA institutions local dojos, as well as invited guests, take part with very good will to help celebrate EU Code Week with as big an Irish splash as possible.

I attended the Dundalk Megdojo, which was championed by Peter Gosling and his colleagues, and hosted in the fabulous PJ Carroll building of Dundalk IT. The labs, corridors, and open spaces were filled with robots, IOT showcases, Scratch lessons, physical computing workshops. The children and parents in attendance seemed very happy with their lot. And right outside the door was the Bumbleance from our nominated charity – families could get a tour of this very special ambulance which brings very young VIP patients to and from hospital from all over Ireland.

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My role at Magadojo Dundalk was to moderate the panel discussion entitle “females in IT”. I was impressed with the three young women, all recent graduates of DkIT, who now work in the IT industry as software engineers, designers, and QAs. Tara, Karen and Nathalia fielded questions from the audience which was composed of local families. It was interesting to note than each of them found it very easy to find employment in their field, and thankfully none of them had as yet met any gender barriers – long may that last for them in their careers. Impressive also was the regard with which they held their DkIT CS department – many of whom were present to support the occasion. I noted the presence of the both the Head of Department and the College President, not just for the opening photographs and ceremony but right thru the day and into the discussion. There was considerable interest in and discussion of the current introduction of Computer Science into second level schools and (soon) primary schools, with the parents present wondering how to have it in “their” school. So thanks to Nathalia, Karen and Tara for stepping up and providing a terrific debate.

Update – thanks to the report published in the local newspaper and forwarded by Peter Gosling, I can give the three speakers their full names and positions – Natalia Salmanova of Prometric, Karen Aungier of Celtic Testing, and Tara McGivern of Avenade.

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Multiply the energy and enjoyment that was palpable in Megadojo DkIT last Saturday by six, add to it the massive energy that will be released at Dojocon in Kilkenny next weekend, and top it with the week in-week out engagement at Coderdojo / Code Club events supported by Coderdojo Ireland and Coderdojo Foundation / Raspberry Pi worldwide – it is a very potent and prosocial investment in our future.

Over to you, Dojocon 2018!

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