About 10 years ago, I went to the Association of Science Educators annual conference with my colleague Majella Dempsey. (We were at the time working together as Development Officers with the Science Support Service. One of the topics we were focussing on was electricity – how to evolve the teaching of this concept, and deepen the understanding of both students and teachers. We’d settled on a model devised by the School of Education at York University, The Big Circuit, bundled with some pre- and post- diagnostic questions.) When the ASE programme showed a workshop on electricity, off we went. Good move. Move of a lifetime, to be honest!

The workshop was being given by a Swede called Hans Perrson. To my shame it has taken me way too long a time to check out his details and learn more. He needs to be as well known as his compatriot, the late Hans Rosling. (What is it with Swedes called Hans who are amazing at explaining complicated concepts in simple ways? Up with this sort of thing, I say).

Hans Perrson is a gifted teacher. Being in the room with him just that once is still sharp in my memory. He ran us through a ‘human circuit’ method of engaging students in thinking about conduction in a circuit. His golden idea was to use a small chirpy chicken toy as the focus. Everyone in the room was charmed. When the workshop was over, we all got a yellow fluffy chirping chicken to take away.

It has become one of my favourite teaching aids. I have used it a lot in a lesson that has been named “chicken and chips”. It is a starter activity for both physics and computer science lessons, and at coderdojo camp. (We even made the wall of honour at the Scratch Conference in Amsterdam 2015.) Over the years with ideas suggested by colleagues and students I have added in coal, pencil graphite in ever decreasing layers (thanks Bianca Ní Ghrógáin), silicon (thanks Diarmuid O’Leary), water, thermo-sensitive pawpid-img_20150815_120247.jpgper (thanks Majella Dempsey), and diodes (thanks Michelle Rogan) to the circuit trials. I have yet to find one human who has not been intrigued and charmed by the exercise, or a student too young or too experienced to learn in this fashion. And even tough the talk is of conductors and semiconductors, the most frequent question asked is “where did you get the chicken?”. That’s when I always tell them about the fabulous Swedish teacher Hans Perrson. I hope his ears have burned each time!

So, ten years on, it is time to say thank you in public, Hans. Your idea of us all holding hands with the chirpy little Kycklingen has helped a lot of teachers and students with their understanding, and more importantly, made them smile. If anyone knows anyone who knows Hans, please pass this message along.

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Thank you very much, Carl Wieman, for all the PhET materials designed and shared over the years. It has made a big difference to teaching and learning difficult-to-understand science concepts. Top of my list, often declared in my “if the internet goes on fire what will I save?” list, is the current electricity interactive widget. Priceless.



Q: “So how do I know I am at a TeachMeet?”

A: Look around the room…

TeachMeet at BETT 2010

TeachMeet at BETT 2010. [Pic. courtesy Martin Burrett @ictmagic]

There is an MC, a Fear a’ Tí or Bean a’ Tí, working the room, keeping order on events with relaxed vigilance and a light touch. Attendees (numbers may be anything between a few and a crowd) are seated around tables arranged to maximise chatter and exchange. The atmosphere is light, the audience is good humoured and appreciative of colleagues who have volunteered to share their stories. The presentations are short and snappy; timekeepers may subtly show an agreed ‘yellow card’ signal when allotted time is almost up; if the speaker goes over time, or off topic, there may be seen a soft toy flying towards the speaker. Some of the presentations may be live online, or a video sent by a teacher who cannot attend in person. The order of speakers is chosen by an online lottery system overseen by the MC (who has in most cases been the curator of the programme for this TeachMeet), who has a prepared list of volunteer speakers who’ve answered an open call made and responded to on the internet and promoted through social media. The presentations almost always feature a simple classroom intervention that has worked for the teacher presenting. Attendees are encouraged to use social media with a designated hashtag, posting a flavour of the TeachMeet to those who cannot attend but may be following online. In some cases, there’s a tripod with a device live streaming or recording the event. After the first few speakers have presented, the MC will organise a breakout time during which several pre-arranged volunteers will each lead a particular conversation, or do a demonstration for the small group. The Law of Two Feet is evident here – each attendee is free to visit one, all – or indeed none – of the ‘soap box’ corners during the breakout. After this, the MC gathers the attendees back for the rest of the random order short presentations. At some stage of the evening you will have been offered refreshments (‘TeachEat’) and perhaps been awarded a raffle prize, or asked to partake in a team challenge. If you looked around the room and saw most of the above – that’s how you know you’ve been at a TeachMeet.

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Coderdojo Ireland’s Mentor MeetUp series around the country continued yesterday with a Dublin meet. Thanks to Bank of Ireland for venue and refreshments, and Nuala and Philip of Coderdojo Foundation for organising the logistics. It was a terrific MentorMeetUp in Trinity College, with a definite TeachMeet flavour. The group in attendance was the perfect mixture of the inquisitive and the informative – everyone added something to the mix. The features speakers and topics are listed here – but in truth it was the audience engagement who made the afternoon buzz.

  1. Mags Amond – some simple hands-on ideas to introduce ninjas to CS, with a view to Code Week 2017.
  2. Philip Harney – update on develepment of all Coderdojo resources.
  3. Daniel Brierton – update on all things Coderdojo Zen.
  4. Abeer Alsheaibi – From the CRITE lab in TCD, Abeer outlined here current PhD research on TPACK, Bridge21 model, and pedagogy for current and future Coderdojo mentors.
  5. Guillaume Feliciano – all things Sushi Card, with an interesting twist on keeping language and translation in mind when designing them.
  6. Niambh Scullion – a ‘from the heart’ overview, informed by Niamh’s experience, on how to ensure (and endure) a continued and focussed drive to include girls.

The breakout conversations, over pizza and beer, were most enjoyable. One result to celebrate from this MeetUP was that one student of computer science attending announced that he’d like to set up a dojo in Trinity.

Here’s to the rest of this series around the country – keep an eye on @coderdojo and @coderdojoIRL for details.

It wouldn’t be March is we didn’t have the annual transit of planet #cesicon, and its satellite #tmCESI, across the education horizon. Three weeks have passed since, so better jot down the happenings while the memory still holds!

Friday night


SarahJayne, Caitríona, Susan

Thanks to the CESImeet team – Sarah Jayne Carey, Susan NicReamoinn, and Catriona Lane – we had a great evening in the ballroom of the Regency Hotel. Details of the speakers and topics will be loaded to the Irish TeachMeets wiki in due course. I was delighted to see both Dughall McCormick and Martin Bailey, NAACE buddies, had flown over to join us; and equally happy to meet CESI friends from all over Ireland. (We should have done a county check – I suspect there was someone for every county jersey there. Next time.)

I did a nanopresentation about the nanosecond – a modern take on the Grace Hopper version, using ‘scoobies’. In the Soap Box breakout we made some binary bracelets using the same scoobies and some ‘hama’ beads.  The only downside to leading a Soap Box is missing the other 4 – Danny Murray, Richard Millwood, Jake Byrne, Stephen Howell, and each had a group in thrall. The upside is watching out for the one or two people who combine the Law of Two Feet with a touch of fomo and manage to get around to all the breakout demo corners!

We also had a mini BreakoutEDU challenge to each table to get folk in the humour for the workshop next day. There was huge variety in the presentations, I’ve never seen such fast and furious note-taking and picture snapping. I really enjoyed Martin Bailey’s live appsmashin’ demo, between the Geordie accent and deft screen swiping I was pushed to keep up!


To get a more dynamic feel for the vibrancy of the day, have a look back thru the Twitter posts at twitter.com/#cesicon. The full CESI conference programme is hanging on the website, and it well worth a look to see the variety, breath and depth of what a group of volunteers can out together when working with a shared vision. Both keynotes, Brendan Tangney and Anne Looney, were superb food for thought and action.

One lovely moment was the Bianca awards – Pauline and Gerry Grogan were there with Miriam Judge to present two awards sponsored by DCU in honour of Bianca’s outstanding career. Claire Daly and Mark Baldwin were the worthy recipients of a bursary each, one for research and one for teaching. A runner up award was made to Maggie Green.

Being involved in two workshops meant little time to zip around and see what others were doing, but the atmosphere seemed to be one of happy campers teaching and learning in equal measures. That mad mix of primary, secondary, further and third level education that is one of the CESI hallmarks, was evident as folk passed in the corridors. The now ever present red t-shirts and white pergola of the Youth Media Team were there – teenagers professional in every way, interviewing and live blogging throughout the day.

Pam O’Brien, Paul O’Callaghan and me presented a BreakoutEDU workshop straight after lunch. It was a packed room, four lively teams tackling a series of code cracking challenges. The competition was fierce, and there was evident skullduggery in certain corners. We should have recorded it – the soundtrack would not have suggested 40 teachers in a classroom at a conference! The pictures show that those who almost broke out had as much enjoyment as those “Saturday Wasters” who did break out first.

The stand out experience of the day for me was the ‘unconference’ session co-hosted by CESI & the CT4L (computational thinking for life) cohort – Richard Millwood, Nina Bresnihan, Elizabeth Oldham, John Hegarty, agus mise freisin –  from Trinity College, Dublin. Prompted by the recent announcement of imminent Computer Science for Leaving Cert, it took place in a (foreshortened) Open Space Technology format. Deftly curated by Richard, it was as intense and productive an hour as ever spent at any CESI conference to date. Data gathered is on post-production, and will be published as soon as humanly possible (can’t trust the machines!!!). (And timely use was made of the PDST A3 whiteboards we’d received at #tmwellbeing the previous Thursday night).

All in all,#cesicon 2017 rocked. Meeting good friends – never enough time to talk! – is such a highlight. Making new friends is a delight.

Busy times ahead for CESI, summed up nicely by this quote:

Who knows what will be happening by the next transit of #tmCESI and #cesicon 2018? Whatever you do, don’t blink – it’ll be round again very quickly.



TeachMeet100cakeThanks to Paul Knox and Suzanne Graham of the PDST for a terrific evening at #tmwellbeing on March 2nd in Dublin West Education Centre. It was cool to be back in Tallaght, the location for the very first TeachMeet fadó fadó in 2009. The awful weather was forgotten inside, as about 40 teachers (all bar three at their firstTM) shared their ideas and experience around wellbeing in their schools and their lives. The breadth, depth, sensitivity and honesty across the range of presentations was quite startling, and very affirming.

This was one of the loveliest TeachMeets I’ve been to; I’m very glad to have been there. And delighted with the idea of celebration of Ireland’s 100th TeachMeet with a cake – nice thought Suzanne and Paul.



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