Monthly Archives: April 2017

I’m reading a lot of TeachMeet ‘stuff’ these days. This is one my favourite bits, and I’m keeping it close by to keep me grounded. I don’t receive the TESS magazine, so belated thanks to journalist Adi Bloom for putting this snippet from Ewan McIntosh into a ‘TeachMeet 10th birthday’ page last June, and thanks to Ian Stuart from tweeting a pic of p14 of that issue.

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I couldn’t resist ‘slidifying’ it to use myself (didn’t use PowerPoint, I promise!):


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.

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