Above: Daniel Noonan, Jack O’Brien and Dara Russell.
Following the Minister of Education, Richard Bruton’s recent announcement, three small rural primary schools in West Cork are set to receive up to €20,000 in funding having been selected to participate in the School Excellence Fund – Digital. The fund will support clusters of school working together on specific projects to demonstrate the innovative use of digital technologies in teaching, learning and assessment. It is designed to encourage and recognise excellence and to ensure that innovation in schools is supported and rewarded.
This initiative will be spearheaded by Togher National School, Dunmanway, having been recognised as the lead school within their cluster, working alongside Cappabue and Drinagh National Schools. Principal of Togher National School, Helen O’ Connell expressed her delight at hearing of the Department of Education’s investment in such an interesting and important area of children’s education, saying “ICT plays a key role in enhancing the learning opportunities for all the pupils in our school. We are always seeking new learning opportunities and are excited to be involved in this project. We look forward to working with Cappabue and Drinagh National Schools.”
Helen explained how the Department received a huge number of applications for this funding and how they are the only schools in West Cork to be chosen to participate, adding that the application itself involved a huge volume of work in submitting a detailed application.
The three schools together will develop an educational environment, integrating robotics and coding for the exploration and learning of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) concepts. Projects will be introduced into the school curriculum from junior to senior classes to teach programming which allows children to create personally, meaningful, interactive content while also supporting core subjects. For example, junior classes will be taught simple coding which will enhance the learning of maths. While senior classes will build their own robots and then create visual block programming for these robots. This is a three year project but the technological equipment including robotics will benefit the schools for many years to come.
Part of the application was the possibility of linking primary schools with post primary or third level education institutions. Gavin Russell, a parent at Togher National School and lecturer at the School of Computer Science and Information Technology, UCC has come onboard as an advisor for this project and principal Helen O’ Connell thanked the School of Computer Science and Information Technology, UCC for their recent generous donation of computers and robotics kits.
Togher National School has a proven a track record of proactively using ICT. They have won many national awards for creating Films in Schools along with many STEM awards and also holds a Digital School of Distinction award – a prestigious award which promotes, recognises and encourages best practise use of technology in primary schools. This award recognises schools for delivering the best educational experience for their pupils through information and computer technology.
We spoke to teacher Richard Swann about his involvement in the application process. Richard said “I am thrilled that our application has been successful. Since we introduced coding a few years ago we have really seen the benefits. The introduction of robotics is the logical next step. Robotics and coding in the classroom is an effective way to foster higher scientific reasoning, critical thinking and other important skills. This project will allow us to really expand the use of technology in the schools involved.”