Constructivist Experience

Aisling Murrary from the Science Gallery said that their goal is to have students who experience one of their exhibits say that “I left with more questions than answers.” After spending the past week learning not only about ICT in schools, but the history and culture of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, I have a lot more questions than answers. Therefore, it was a great experience and one that I wish many of my colleagues could have had.

On the plane ride home, which was extremely long, I started to organize these questions so I could dig deeper, but found myself thwarted by lack of Internet access. This made me reflect on how important it is that we provide good, reliable and robust Internet access to all of our students, so when they discover an area of interest, they can explore it and create new understandings. I started to think about how that network infrastructure has to happen, but without inquiry-based teaching and learning, the need isn’t there. For example, if I had gone to Ireland with a sightseeing tour group, I probably would have been fine with reviewing the photographs that I took and watching the in-flight movie. But, the CoSN Delegation was like being in the classroom we want for all of our students.

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Le Cheile Secondary School

It was wonderful to see students at Le Cheile Secondary School after spending the morning learning about the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 and the Junior Cycle. After all, they are the reason we do the work that we do.

We reached the school almost at the end of their school day and were greeted by Principal, Dr. Aine Moran. She quickly took us to visit a several classrooms before the students were dismissed. As we entered the classrooms, all students rose from the chairs to greet us. I was quite impressed with this, and their uniforms added to the effect. Most schools in Ireland have uniforms.

After spending the weekend in Dublin City Centre, and seeing a predominantly white and some Asian population, I was surprised to see the number of students of color. We were told that this school is in a rapidly growing area that is seeing many immigrants from Nigeria, Kenya, Iraq and Syria.

This is not your typical school in many aspects, but a couple of things stood out. The first was that it is a “School with No Books.” Dr. Moran believes that books, even e-Books, hold teachers back from truly transforming instruction. She recruited teachers who would design their own teaching resources and be nimble, creative and student-focused to respond to whatever their student’s learning needs were. Many of us do not have the opportunity to recruit 100% of our teaching staff, but seeing what the Le Cheile teachers were doing in their classrooms, drives home the point that if we move towards a constructivist pedagogical orientation, effective use of digital technology will happen. Without this change in orientation, we will be simply substituting what we have been able to do with paper and pencil.

The second thing is that it all starts with good Leadership. Dr. Moran is building this school (physically and academically). She is not just the administrator that is working around construction of a new building, but the Instructional Leader of the school.  She quoted our Keith Kreuger as saying “Educational software is only one tool in the learning process…not a replacement for well-trained teachers, leadership and parental involvement”. But we know that it takes the Principal to make the other 3 P’s (The People, The Policy and The Plant) to work effectively together.

Comparing Ireland to Washington State

I have been enjoying learning a lot about Ireland’s history and culture over the past couple of days. It is amazing to see buildings that were constructed so many years ago. For example, this morning we visited Kilmainham Gaol. This is a prison that was built in 1796 and used for over 100 years before the infamous housing and execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Comparing this to Washington State, around this time, British Captain Vancouver discovered the Puget Sound and mapped the Washington coast. I am pretty sure that there were no buildings then that are still around now.

This got me thinking about how the country of Ireland compares to the state of Washington in K-12 education. Here is some data that I have been able to put together:

Ireland Washington State
Population 4.5 million 7.1 million
K-12 students About 1 million About 1 million
Budget for education $10.2 billion (includes some post secondary funding) $13.2 billion (just for general education)
% of students who graduate 89% 78%
% of students who go to post-secondary schools 67% 61%

As I have the opportunity to meet education officials, school staff and leaders of education initiatives in Dublin and Belfast, over the next week, I wonder what other similarities and differences that I will find.

I suspect that they have the same challenges that we are faced with in K-12 education and I hope that I can get some ideas of how they are addressing these to bring back to Washington State. I am already getting great ideas and links to valuable resources from my fellow delegates and am so appreciative that CoSN has created this wonderful program.