If you had seven minutes to revolutionise teaching . . .
Teachmeet Ireland allows teachers to share ideas and tips with peers in the style of Ted Talks. Here’s a sample of some of the best recent innovative teaching strategies
Paul Knox with pupils at Castaheaney Educate Together, engaged in a project called Playworks, a semi-structured approach to organising yard time. Photograph: Alan Betson
The founders of Teachmeet, Kathleen Byrne and Ciaran Brennan
EV3, a Lego robot
Teachmeet Ireland has found a simple way to spread tips and tricks that can be easily integrated into the classroom. In a very informal meeting, nano (two-minute) or macro (five-minute) presentations are given by participants, focusing on any aspect of education.
The speaker order is decided by Fruit Machine, a tool from classtools.net that picks names at random. This is something that sums up the tone of the meetings.
“It’s a degree of unpredictability that’s encouraged at Teachmeets,” says Ciara Brennan, a sixth-class teacher at St Peter’s primary school in Bray, and one-half of the Teachmeet Ireland team. “It keeps it a little bit informal, and there’s not a sense of ‘Oh God, I’m next, I’m next’. It’s serious and the content is solid, but we do want to have fun. It’s also a way of demonstrating how you can keep people on their toes and run an event with a twist.”
Teachmeet Ireland recently held a meeting at Féilte, the Teaching Council’s festival of education and learning in the RDS. Presentations ranged from rebels to robotics. Another, run by Kathleen Byrne, the other founder of Teachmeet Ireland and the principal at St Patrick’s National School in Glencullen, took place at the INTO principals’ and deputy principals’ conference.
“The people who would be attracted to this kind of conferencing and idea-sharing would have traditionally come from the tech area,” says Brennan. “But we felt there was a void there for primary teachers who teach so many different subjects and embrace so many different methodologies to have a forum where they could share all of their ideas, cross-curricular, across all different disciplines, using that format but focusing it at primary level.”
Brennan has presented a number of ideas at Teachmeets, including presentations on Class Dojo for encouraging positive behaviour in the classroom; alternative ways of creating presentations for the classroom; and Twitter, video and podcasts in the classroom, among others.
“No idea isn’t worth sharing; that’s kind of the ethos of the whole thing,” she says. She has implemented many of the ideas she has picked up from other presenters in her own classroom, which has brought benefits for herself and her students.
“While it might seem like work for you getting these initiatives set up, they’re the things that get kids out of bed, get them into school, get them more engaged. You become a memorable teacher, and they want to give you more. They just become part of your day,” she says.
“I have heard ideas for areas I would maybe say I’m weaker at teaching, and they give me confidence to try additional methodologies. And you have the sense that if someone else is doing it, I could do it, because everything is presented in such a palatable way.”
Ideas aren’t vetted, although presenters from corporations rarely fit the tone of Teachmeets, say Brennan. However, new presenters are encouraged to come, usually; most meetings have at least four people who have never presented before.
Teachmeet Ireland started out as Teachmeet Primary East, but is now rolling more and more meetings out across the country.
Brennan hopes that, as it grows, this method of training can be incorporated into teachers’ continuous professional development in the future.
“I’m delighted the Teaching Council has realised the potential of this. Director Tomás Ó Ruairc came to one of our Teachmeets in Leopardstown earlier this year, and he was impressed by it. They’ve acknowledged this is a great space in which to learn, and it’s so innovative.
“We’re optimistic that with the CPD requirements being integrated into our jobs, this sort of stuff will be given the same status as the traditional workshops and courses people do,” she says.
- Upcoming Teachmeets include one in Cavan on October 16th, in Cork on November 19th and in Donegal on December 4th. teachmeetireland.com
FROM REBELS TO ROBOTS: TOP TIPS FROM TEACHMEET
- Class sketchbooks: Claire Egan is currently studying an MA in art and design education: Cheap, plain copybooks became sketchbooks for Egan’s first class. They brainstormed ideas and practised drawing in the sketchbooks to explore the idea of process, which took away the pressure to do art pieces “correctly” immediately. By the end of the year, children were using them to sketch out ideas for other subjects as well as art. clairesprimaryschoolart.blogspot.ie
- Digital assessments: Julia Sweeney, Global Teacher Outreach for Edcite: Edcite is an online platform that allows teachers to create or customise digital assessments, quizzes and homework for students. Information and videos from across the web can be incorporated for a fuller learning experience, and they are making progress on curriculum mapping for Ireland. All assessments are auto-graded in order to save teachers’ time.
- Bar models in maths: Claire Corroon is a primary-school teacher who runs maths workshops: Corroon introduced her bar model drawing method for maths, which involves drawing bars and dividing them to help children solve maths problems visually . It’s a quick, simple alternative method of problem- solving in primary school maths. sites.google.com/site/primarycpd
- Record of progress: Mary Jo Bell, a senior infant teacher in St Anne’s School, Shankill, Dublin: Using Evernote, Bell had her senior infants photograph their artwork and handwriting, and recorded their reading and oral Irish at several points throughout the year. This meant she was able to digitally record each child’s progress over the year and share their e-portfolio with their parents. evernote.com
- Organising play: Paul Knox, a primary-school teacher at Castaheany Educate Together and ChangeX mentor for Playworks: Playworks is a semi-structured approach to organising yard time, prioritising play in the yard. With more kids in school, Playworks seeks to use the space available for inclusive play, with a series of quick, in-and-out games that allow many children to be involved. There’s a series of claps and chants everyone can get involved in, and ro-sham-bo (or rock, paper, scissors) is used to resolve playground disputes. Knox has found kids come back from yard time more energised to learn, and ultimately there is less bullying in the school. changex.org/playworks
- ‘Green screen’ Irish: Patrick Burke, a third-class teacher and IT and maths co-ordinator at Scoil Chormaic CNS in Balbriggan: By putting green backing paper on a noticeboard, Burke realised he had a ready-made green screen in his classroom. Using an iPad and the Green Screen by Do Ink app, he had his class write scripts in Irish and read them aloud while filming using the app. They created videos, and Burke found it a good way to enliven Irish class. doink.com
- Enlivening literature: Sharon Kearney is a PhD student at the Centre for Research in IT in Education in Trinity College Dublin: Kearney sought to make secondary-school English literature more engaging for students. Audio recorders and digital storytelling software were used to make English literature more interesting and relevant. One example was imagined emoji-laden texts between Shakespeare characters.
- Restorative practice: Michelle Stowe, English and Spanish teacher at St Mark’s, Tallaght: Stowe spoke about using restorative practice techniques to cultivate community in her school. It’s a collaborative and proactive way of trying to build community and manage conflict by collectively identifying and addressing harms and needs in the school. The idea is that good relationships in school lead to an effective teaching and learning environment. mstowerp.wordpress.com
- Teach with Twitter: Damien Quinn, teacher in an autism unit attached to a mainstream school in Co Sligo: Quinn runs a Twitter project in which classes upload images and thoughts on signs of autumn in their community, with the hashtag #anfhomar. This allows them to use Twitter in the classroom and to collaborate and interact with other schools participating in the project. twitter.com/seomraranga
- Lego learning: Maggie Green is on a career break from primary education and is a maths tutor and research supervisor for Hibernia College: EV3 is a Lego robot that can be used in classrooms to provide hands-on learning. Students can build, programme and test their solutions on real-life technology, which Green says helps to create deep thinkers in a way that’s fun for children. theschooldoor.com/lego-and- learning
- Teaching study skills: Andy Homden, chief executive of Consilium Education, which publishes International Teacher Magazine: Teachers often focus on getting children through school, but it’s important to see them prepared for the next stage of their life as well. Homden suggests building a study-skills regime in across the school curriculum to help build a body of knowledge to bridge the gap, whether it be between primary and secondary school, or secondary and college. consiliumeducation.com
- Using the library: Maria O’Sullivan is a senior librarian with South Dublin Libraries: Focusing on the benefits of local libraries for teachers, O’Sullivan discussed the 1916 archive of photographs the South Dublin Libraries has, which all teachers can use for free. Images event tickets, official records, guns and much more are available to capture children’s attention.
- Safe tech: Maria O’Loughlin is a development manager for Chatbudi: Children’s digital footprints are being created before they learn to walk, so teaching about online safety is paramount for children. Chatbudi provides technology to ensure a safe introduction to technology, with a safe-cross code for the 21st century. chatbudi.com
- Tools for the classroom: Mags Amond is a retired teacher of science, biology and computer science: Classtools.net is a one-stop shop for a collection of free, simple tools that can be used in the classroom. You can find uses for storytelling, differentiation, sorting, literacy, group work and assessment. classtools.net
- Social stories app: Cormac Cahill is a primary-school teacher in an autism unit at Carrigaline Educate Together National School: It’s often suggested that children with autism carry a folder of social stories: written or visual guides describing various social situations, behaviours and interactions. Cahill felt this was like carrying a sign declaring their autism, so he developed these social stories, sometimes with video or audio narration, on iPad so that children in his school only had to take out their phones or iPads to look at them. Search “Cormac Cahill” in the iTunes store