Mon, Feb 19th, 2018
Karen Murnane is a primary teacher in St. Patrick’s National School, a rural school just outside Bruree, Co. Limerick. St Patrick’s has been a Digital School of Distinction since 2015. Karen has over twenty years’ teaching experience and has always had an interest in integrating ICT (Information and Communication Technology) into the classroom. She completed an M.Ed. in the use of ICT with Special Educational Needs pupils in 2001. She got involved in eTwinning three years ago and became an Ambassador in September 2017. Her eTwinning projects have twice won National Quality Labels. Karen recently took part in a course in the Future Classroom Lab through eTwinning Professional Learning.
In early January I saw a course on Collaborative Teaching and Learning with ICT offered on eTwinning Professional Learning. This immediately grabbed my attention as I felt the title and content fitted in very well with the new Digital Learning Framework set out for schools as part of the Digital Strategy. So I applied through Léargas and was over the moon to be one of those chosen to attend.
I arrived in Brussels on Sunday 28 January 2018, to an airport bustling with people. It was a different world, one where people commute to a different country for work: as opposed to my short commute along a country road, where the only traffic congestion is when a herd of cows cross the road!
The Future Classroom Lab is just a few minutes’ walk from the European Parliament in Brussels. It is ‘an inspirational learning environment, challenging visitors to rethink the role of pedagogy, technology and design in their classrooms’. Just reading this description alone made me feel excited about the journey I was about to begin.
Entering the Future Classroom Lab was like waking up on Christmas morning and seeing everything you not only wrote on your list but also secretly wished for! There was everything a ‘techie lover’ would like to have in their classroom: bee bots, LEGO Mindstorms robot kits, personal video conferencing handsets, 3D printers and more.
The workshop trainers were Bart Verswijvel, a Belgian educator and expert trainer who works as a pedagogical adviser in European Schoolnet, and Viola Pinzi, a member of the digital citizenship at European Schoolnet. There were twenty participants at the workshop, all from an educational setting and mostly primary or secondary schools. Nationalities included Polish, Belgian, Czech, Portuguese, German, Austrian and of course Irish!
Throughout the first day we had many collaborative activities, most of which involved ICT tools. Every activity was adaptable for our own classroom and many of the tools involved a competitive element, which of course is very motivating for children.
The Future Classroom Lab is an aspirational set up that is more flexible than the traditional ‘chalk and talk’, where learning is by pupils from teachers. In the FCL set up pupils can also investigate, discover, invent, create and interact so that they are in charge of their own learning and being facilitated or helped by the teacher. Each area of learning is set out in a separate area of the room. It is inevitable that when zones such as these are created for active learning, different pedagogy and technology is needed. While you don’t have to have a multitude of equipment, you (as teacher) may need a new mindset: when pupils are active learners, you become more of a facilitator and are not always directing the learning in a particular way.
On the Monday evening the whole group went out for dinner in the city centre. This was a great opportunity for more informal conversations and many friendships were kindled with talk of future eTwinning and Erasmus+ projects. It was great to meet like-minded teachers who would like to engage with collaborative projects on the eTwinning platform.
On the second day we focussed on collaboration. We were set a challenge to work in groups of four to create a plan for a project that we could use with our own pupils. We used materials produced on Co-Lab, and could also use online tools to plan our lesson if we wished. My group used The Learning Designer. This was certainly a challenge: not only did we have to think of a topic for the project, we also had to use our own collaborative skills to plan this activity and how we would implement and assess it in our classrooms. Of course assessment is integral to developing our teaching, especially formative assessment. We were shown a set of four assessment tools in the form of checklists that will certainly be useful when we return to our classrooms.
I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this workshop. I have gained new insights into how I can improve my own teaching, and how the learners in my classroom can become more engaged in, responsible for, and really take ownership of their own learning. As a teacher I feel it is very important that our skills constantly evolve, and that we continue to find new and innovative ways of engaging the children in our classrooms while keeping traditional educational values at heart. This workshop provided endless opportunities: for me to improve as a teacher; to collaborate on future eTwinning projects with other participants; and for the pupils that will benefit from the new tools and methods with which I hope to engage.
I was delighted to meet with Seán Kelly MEP, himself a former teacher, before I started on my journey back to Limerick. Seán was one of the ‘celebrities’ that came to our school when we celebrated receiving the Digital Schools of Distinction Award, which was the same day I was introduced to the concept of eTwinning by Ambassador Tom Roche. Full circle!