When the opportunity arose to attend this conference I jumped at the chance. First and foremost as a teacher I felt I could gain lots of useful knowledge and strategies to implement STEM learning, as part of my remit I have also taken on the role of Play Champion within my school which involves setting up a play blog with the junior play champions, something I now know a wee bit about. Secondly as a relatively new blogger I felt I could gain valuable insights into the digital world. This conference did not disappoint, it was peppered with motivated and passionate individuals and companies who all share the same objective – supporting STEM teaching in Scottish Schools.
The conference was held in Strathclyde University’s Technology and Innovation Centre. This meant catching the 7.30 train, not to worry though Baby D ensured I was up early and pulled an all nighter just to make sure Mummy was awake nice and early! The fact that it was probably the hottest day of the year made for a very pleasant walk and train ride too!
The conference was opened and chaired by one of Scotland’s most versatile journalists and broadcaster- Keith Aitken. He facilitated lots of professional dialogue throughout the day and ensured the day ran smoothly and on time. It was also very encouraging to see the opening panel was all female, possibly quite a deliberate ploy to inspire girls to pursue STEM learning and careers.
Now I have to be very honest when I heard the keynote speaker was a ‘real life’ rocket scientist I got extremely excited and started telling all my colleagues that there was going to be a rocket scientist speaking at our conference. It is this excitement and enthusiasm that I hope to ignite in my pupils. Amanda Regan is an Engineer from the European Space Agency, Earth Observation Future Missions, European Space Agency.
Her talk really was inspiring, she told of how she had overcome her own challenges throughout school to become a rocket scientist and work for NASA and on so many interesting and exciting missions. I found it amazing how she started to gain knowledge about her field from age 14 through writing letters and reading materials sent from NASA. She also shared some fab resources which can be used with children- specifically the ESA Kids website which I’ve not had a chance to look at properly yet but it already has my interest.
Amanda spoke with a passion about some of her missions and experiences so far in her career which I of course loved because I am a space geek and love science having taken biology, chemistry and physics at school. Amanda illustrated beautifully the need for perspective and ultimately gave teachers their purpose back. Amanda highlighted the crucial role teachers now play in an ever evolving digital world, children may have all the information at their fingertips but it is a teachers perspective that will enable the children to use and apply this knowledge in different contexts.
Next up we heard from Professor Judy Robertson, Chair in Digital Learning / Research Lead in Education, Teaching & Leadership, University of Edinburgh. Judy shared lots of practical ways teachers can begin to teach computational thinking, coding and programming as early as nursery. Judy highlighted how learners can learn the different computational skills through everyday experiences. Then learners can begin to use their understanding to analyse computers and start to develop computer languages. Finally once learners have developed computational thinking skills they can begin to design, build and test computing solutions.
There is lots more information about this model at http://www.teachcs.scot
Then we gained an Irish perspective of how STEM learning is supported in a different school setting from Janice Feighery at Camara Education. It was comforting to see how Scotland’s progress is similar and that other teachers are also needing support in delivering this aspect of the curriculum. It was also hugely beneficial to hear later on from Janice that other areas of the curriculum are not de-prioritised to ‘fit’ STEM learning it, it simply has to happen alongside all the other learning. At our school there is certainly a focus on embedding the use of ICT and developing mathematical and scientific thinking within a range of contexts and settings.
We also heard from Ian Stuart a consultant at notosh. He was really engaging and fairly provocative. He challenged you to really think about what it is you would like to achieve with learners. I found his take on the 1st Day of school to be very interesting, the truth is almost every day I go to work does give me that 1st day feeling but I am fortunate to work in such a diverse and interesting school. I am genuinely excited by learning and passionate about supporting children and mostly challenging them to reach their potential.
After the panel there were three workshops. Well there was a lot more to choose from but you had to sigh up for three. My first workshop focused on using Apple Technology as a teaching tool. Our school already uses iPads in our daily teaching so this session was particularly useful. The session was hands on and full of practical ideas to go away and use with learners, as a teacher this is a very valuable part of any CPD session!
Next I had two sessions using Google Suite- the technology is seemless but our Local Authority uses a different programme. I will be able use the ideas and application of the technology with my class. There are so many programmes, APPS and software packs out there, you could spend days trying lots of different things however as a teacher I feel a valuable skill is using the tools you have effectively. For me this means using the things we have really well and not trying to take on too many things before we become proficient in using and teaching with each. In the future we may well use Google Suite.
Game Based Learning
Stephen Reid founder of Immersive Minds has to be the most passionate speaker of the day, evidenced by the roar of applause after his whirlwind presentation. Stephen gave lots of wonderful examples of games you can use to engage learners. The way Stephen demonstrated how games can be used was truly inspirational. As a teacher it is easy to let things get a bit stale but Stephen’s excitment sparked my own passion for learning and stimulating learners. The way Stephen focused not on the actual games but how they could be used was excellent, it has changed my way of thinking about using games for learning. It has also challenged me to be more purposeful in the stimulus I do use to engage learners.
Throughout the day there was ample opportunity to network with various companies and educators from across Scotland. There was a real buzz and everyone appeared genuinely interested and passionate about sharing their strategies and experiences.
Food for Thought
My colleague and I spent most of the day discussing and mulling over all the ideas and strategies put forward. We were still eagerly chatting about various things on the train home. I guess the point I am trying to make is that we were fully engaged and motivated by the conference to reflect on our own practice and think about how we can take our school forward. We again chatted about the importance of doing things effectively before trying to implement new things but the day was packed with lots of different perspectives and ideas to consider. The day flew by in a bit of a blur, demonstrating just how full it was, there was lots to think about and we will no doubt be chatting about it more intently over the next few weeks.
The conference was fantastic and has left me motivated to take STEM learning forward with my pupils.