Léargas | School Education
Léargas | School Education
Castletroy College in Co. Limerick is a post-primary school with 1,200 pupils. The school has been involved in European projects since 2009, and from 2012 to 2014 ran a Comenius and eTwinning project called ‘Voices from the Sea’. It involved more than 100 Transition Year students and focused on themes of European Citizenship and Intercultural Education. The project was conducted with partner schools in Estonia, Italy, Germany, France, Portugal and Turkey and used the question ‘What are the voices from the sea?’ to explore the influence of the sea on the people, language, architecture, geography and art of the countries involved. Students in the different countries engaged with each other online through social media, and in person through short school-based exchanges. The project was considered particularly successful because of its whole-school approach and impact on pupils. Project co-ordinator Brendan Colleran explains how the project developed over time.
How the project began:
It really started when I attended my first eTwinning workshop in Dublin in 2009. It was a bilateral workshop with Estonian partners and I started up an eTwinning project with a contact I made at that workshop. Then, because we worked well together, we started talking about having a bigger project. Gradually that became our Comenius project, that we did with partner schools she had worked with before through eTwinning. We’re actually working with the same schools again on our current Erasmus+ project, ‘EUtopiaPlus’.
Establishing the project in the school environment:
The big thing is having photos up around the school. You can have official logos and reports but kids put zero meas on that: they just love the photos. I’ll put images on the data projector in our lobby sometimes too. The project has been finished for a year now but they’re still talking about it – even the parents ask about it before their kids start in transition year!
Engaging participants in the project:
The main thing is information. There was some wariness at the start and it was hard to get people involved, particularly because we had no history or data to back up what we were saying. But we hosted an information session for parents, telling them exactly what would be involved, and they started to engage. Also, at the beginning people saw the project as all about going away to a foreign country. I said to the parents and the students that they’d have as good a time setting it up here—organising Snapchat and What’s App groups and hosting the international students—as they would going away. Parents were sceptical at first but when we hosted the students and they saw the connections that were made, and the tears at the end, they saw the effect it’s had.
There was no wariness about this current project because now they’ve seen that it works. In fact parents were lobbying to get their kids involved, whereas last time I literally had to go around the corridors asking students if they’d join in!
Integrating the project into the school curriculum:
One of the particular difficulties of running European projects like this in a secondary school is the demands of the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert, so we ran the project with Transition Year (TY) students. As well as having more time available to give to it, in TY all teachers are looking for new ideas to cover and this project complemented other subjects very well.
We have one timetabled class a week called ‘Review’ where I can check in with the students, see how they’re getting on and what they need to do. We hold it in the Computer Room so students also log on and chat to the students in the other schools in real time. It was initially a challenge to get the class on the timetable and if I hadn’t been the deputy head of year it might not have happened, but it has worked out really well!
We also get other teachers and subjects involved; for example, if we want to look at how you’d teach an international person a poem in English then the English teachers might work on that in their class. So using the flexible, modular system of Transition Year works really well.
Impact on participants:
We’ve just had the sixth year graduation and it was mentioned by the students as a real highlight of their time in school and a happy memory. A few students came up to me as well and said it was the best thing they’d been involved in during their time in school, so that was lovely. In general the students who’ve done it have become more outgoing and are certainly more confident in their IT skills, but also more personally confident because they’ve learned to make friends with people from other cultures. They’re also a bit more approachable I’d say.
Communicating with partners:
We really learned that you have to stay in constant contact with your partners. We use the groups and messenger functions on Facebook and developed a rule that you have to ‘like’ a post to acknowledge you’ve seen it. Then if there’s a suggestion we’ll say, ‘you have until Friday to state that you agree or disagree, and if we don’t hear from you we’ll assume that you agree’. I write the minutes of our meetings and circulate them, giving a list of the decisions made, tasks agreed, and dates they have to be done by. We’re all teachers and we love talking – especially the Italians! – and sometimes it’s easy to forget what’s been agreed. Also the other partners are speaking their second language, so it could be that they haven’t fully understood what was discussed. This helps keep us all on track and we can make sure that we’re agreed before we go ahead.
It varies throughout the project. Obviously there’s a lot of work involved around the time of our student travelling and when we’re hosting students, but for me I’d say it’s around 40 minutes a day. That’s why the review classes are really helpful to me. You have to keep on top of all the message and discussion and if you don’t do that 40 minutes a day you won’t get the project done.
Professional benefits for teachers:
Many students developed an interest in my subject (Brendan teaches Design and Communication Graphics, Architectural Construction Technology and Materials Technology (Wood)) just from doing the project. For example I have students who didn’t do Construction Studies for Junior Cert but took it up for the Leaving because they liked the project and liked the way I worked. Actually I had five girls take up Construction Studies for the Leaving Cert after doing the project and they’ve just finished their exams. I know some will definitely get A’s at higher level and that is fantastic.
I also love that I have more contact with other teachers, both inside the school and out. I’ve had stands at the CESI conference, at the French Teachers’ conference, I’ll have a stand at Féilte this year about the new project and teachers really enjoy chatting to you about it. In this school we’ve 1200 students and a big staff, so it tends to be very department-specific: you wouldn’t necessarily know teachers from the other subjects that well. Because of the project I’ve worked with a lot of teachers who I wouldn’t have engaged with otherwise, like the language teachers and the science teachers. Because the project was really flexible it was easy for teachers from other subjects to get involved.
Well, I’m now co-ordinating a follow-on project using all the same partners except France (which had to drop out). Because we worked so well together we wanted to see was there any way we could stay working together! So we have a KA2 multilateral project called ‘EUtopiaPlus’, and it’s going really well. Normally the first six months of any project are spent getting to know each other, learning how each other works, but because we already had that work done we were able to get straight into it. We’ve just had a meeting in Sicily about it and I’m excited to get it going!
A longer version of this success story is available in the 2014 Léargas Annual Report.