Is your child at the centre of their education text with illustration of young girl sitting in front of a computer

Is Your Child At The Centre Of Their Education? – Part One

We are living through a period where child-centred education has become more important than ever before. Read More

Image of online classes

EdTech News – March 2021

Zooms this week have often included the words ‘there’s light at the end of the tunnel’ and it is starting to feel like that with schools re-opening in the UK and more and more people getting the vaccine. I’m also aware that in the rest of Europe it may not feel like that at all yet with cases on the rise and new lockdowns being announced. I really wish I didn’t have to write about developments in Education in light of Covid-19, but here we are for another month.Read More

Image of student doing online learning/classes on laptop. Notes are shown by her side

EdTech News – February 2021

We’ve rolled into February, but for many of us, it’s just a continuation of the same theme – lockdown.Read More

Vlog 9 Thumbnail Makematic Catherine Davies Gianna Pornasdoro

Makematic Year In Review: Makematic Behind-The-Scenes Episode 9

We’ve made it folks. The end of 2020 and what do we do at the end of each year? That’s right. We eat and celebrate and eat. But since the team can’t come together this year to celebrate and eat during our annual Christmas dinner, we’ll do a bit of reflection on the year that was.

This episode of the vlog we reflect on 2020. I was joined by Catherine Davies (Co-Founder) and we chatted in the vlog on how the team coped and adapted to our working from home situation. If you’d like to see what our working from home situations look like, check out vlog #5. It’s got some great dog pictures, so you’re welcome. Additionally, Catherine mentioned in her own words the tweet below, which is completely true and something that I personally keep in mind during the days when like the weather is a bit grey.

We also reflected on what the company’s challenges were this year and what we did to overcome them. On a brighter note, some of the wins that we experienced, such as doubling our team from 22 to 42!

Check out vlog #9 below! P.S. it’s a long one! We did reflect on 2020 and in case you lived under the rock this entire year, 2020 had a lot going on.

Though we are all looking forward to saying goodbye to 2020 and the challenges it brought to everyone across the world, we will bring some of the lessons and experiences that we faced during this year into 2021. We will be more conscious of our travels in 2021. We’ll ask ourselves if a meeting can be conducted over Zoom in order to reduce our carbon footprint. We’ll look far and beyond for amazing talent. And most importantly communicate to each other when we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed out or just need to take a break.

What were your wins and challenges this year?

Animated drawing of students and teachers in a classroom with desktops being used to learn about global education

EdTech – October

Now that it looks like education – the way we teach and learn is affected long term, the EdTech experts are starting to uncover what this may look like and what the implications may be. Will the pandemic lead to an innovation in education though?

The EdTech podcast doesn’t seem to think so. Listen here and join the debate.

The Brookings Institute has written an article on how education can emerge stronger than ever before. “It is hard to imagine there will be another moment in history when the central role of education in the economic, social, and political prosperity and stability of nations is so obvious and well understood by the general population. Now is the time to chart a vision for how education can emerge stronger from this global crisis than ever before and propose a path for capitalizing on education’s newfound support in virtually every community across the globe.” The article also highlights four emerging global trends in education from COVID 19. 

Another big educational transformation taking place is a shift from directed education to self-directed education. “….the complexities of our world require deeper connection to our most human traits—such as creativity, empathy, agency, and curiosity—not the algorithmic thinking, regurgitation, and blind deference to authority that our system so effectively engenders with its current methods and targets.” Read more about it here.

Lastly, I wanted to leave you with the report on the EdTech Vision 2025 from the Education Foundation. Not just a celebration of what has been done well, but very much a wake-up call on what needs to be improved for education technology and digital skills for tomorrow’s global citizens. 

animated drawing of teen sitting alone

Online Book Club Is No Replacement For A Killers Concert

Amid ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the unique frustrations and struggles faced by teenagers and their parents during lockdown are being overlooked, writes Jack Pickard.

“Hang on, my daughter has just started eating the dog’s food!” – before the coronavirus, the weekly board meeting normally ended with AOB and setting the next agenda, not retrieving your offspring from the kitchen floor. This is a typical COVID-era example used to highlight work-life struggles as we’re forced to work, study and parent at home. And parenting during lockdown is certainly not easy. But this applies to all ages of children.

Many are under the impression that teens are easier to look after during pandemic-enforced restrictions as they are more independent. Any attention or advice has been for parents with younger children, leaving the exasperated parents of teenagers forgotten and unsupported. But with so many parents of teens struggling during lockdown, this should not be the case. Teenagers, like young children, bring their own set of problems, all of which are magnified when forced to stay inside.

Take homeschooling and maths problems. Teens’ maths isn’t just simple addition and subtraction any more. Questions like ‘x2 + 4x -2 = 0, find x’ leave you not only struggling to understand the question in the first place, never mind answering it, but also wondering how someone ever lost x in the first place, given there’s one right under that small 2 and another next to the 4!

Being unable to help out in these subjects not only inhibits teenagers from being able to learn but it is also very demotivating for them, making it hard to encourage them to keep working. The result: raised voices, slammed doors and dirty looks for the rest of the day.

Another struggle for parents is trying to fill the void left by a year of cancelled activities that teens had been looking forward to so much. The advice is to find something new and interesting to do – join an online reading group perhaps, something you’d never thought of doing before lockdown. But for a teen, who was hoping to attend Leeds Fest, that just isn’t going to cut it. Not that reading groups aren’t incredibly exciting, but I reckon the atmosphere at a reading group might be slightly different to a festival. I don’t think I have ever managed to properly discuss the merits of the Great Gatsby as a commentary of the time period whilst being crushed in a mosh pit.

This excitement of freedom and friends is something that should be experienced away from parents. But with ongoing lockdown and restrictions on our social lives making this impossible – what are parents supposed to do to help their teens enjoy these times as best they can?

Freedom and friends also come with other more complicated problems. Unlike younger children, teenagers start to experience issues such as friends falling out and navigating the friendship groups that they belong to. Not quite Brexit, granted – they are not having to make complex political alliances or consider the impact that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will have on the economy. But even so, teens are more socially developed, and their issues are much more complicated than a younger child’s struggle to pull two Lego bricks apart (unless that was actually a part of the Brexit negotiations?). 

All these things stirred together with a much-too-generous helping of hormones leave struggling parents with a rather unpleasant cocktail: a teenager with rapid mood swings and complicated problems that requires much more emotional energy than they did ten years ago.

While younger kids may demand more physically, teens require a different kind of patience, sympathy and understanding. Ignoring this and focussing attention mainly on parents with younger children alienates parents with teenagers, who are also having a hard time. As lockdowns look set to continue for the foreseeable future, let’s widen our focus to offer sympathy and support to parents and children of all ages. 

Image of young woman smiling with an office background. Back to work, covid-19 edition stated as text

Back To Work: Covid-19 Edition | Makematic Behind-The-Scenes Episode 7

Technically, we’ve been working. We’ve never stopped. But in this vlog, we’re showing you the office space – COVID19 edition. So technically, we went back to our official workspace.

Fun fact, there were more sanitisers and face masks in the office than there were people. This is probably quite a common thing nowadays and our office in Belfast was no different. In this vlog, I take you an “unofficial” office tour to show you the measures we have taken to ensure that the space is safe to work in. I say “unofficial” as office spaces should be more lively, with more people and more banter, hence I vetoed this tour just like I am with 2020.

In this unofficial tour, you’ll see the layout of the office, the sanitisers and face masks that I mentioned, and clips of me aggressively wiping surfaces and anything that I’ve touched at the end of the working day. You’ll also hear various safety messages (e.g. wash your hands, wear a face mask, etc.) that you may have heard over the past six months because those messages are the only consistent and non-changing rule that we’ve been told to do.

If you haven’t watched the vlog yet you can watch it below, where I have embedded into this blog (you’re welcome).

Spoiler alert: we’re back at home because the rules change all the time. Literally, all the time. We’re complying and working back at home in our little office spaces. If you’d like to see our home office spaces, you can read it here.

I don’t know when we’ll be back. But when we do, I hope that we can go back to when we feel safe and when there are more people than sanitisers.

Watch episode 7 here!

Animation of children in the classroom with devices

EdTech News – September

For many of us, September means the start of the new school year. This year, there’s a lot of uncertainty and changes to the usual set-up. Some students aren’t going back at all, some will have a hybrid model and others will sit in a classroom that looks and feels very different from before. Over these last six months, a lot has been written about the effect of COVID on Education and a lot more research will need to be done to assess the full effects. However, we do already know that some changes will be here to stay. Some people even say that the new desk set-up in the primary school classrooms, with all pupils facing the same direction towards the teacher, will increase attainment. 

This article gives you some more insight into what the future of the classroom may look like. Hologram teachers are only just the start. 

Two contrasting scenarios are offered here about EdTech and content consumption. First of all, a report by Credit Suisse, which claims that education is having its own Netflix moment. Secondly, how EdTech companies in South East Asia are partnering up with Telecoms providers. 

This article explains that where internet access is scarce, students, teachers and parents are turning to ‘old-fashioned’ television for their lessons. It is lacking the interactive element, but in countries like Brazil, this has become the dominant model over the last couple of months. It certainly is better than nothing and it looks like some countries are going to invest more in their televised educational system. 

At Makematic we continue the roll-out of Untold History stories during September, and this article offers some food for thought around history textbooks and the way that history is taught. 

What do you think, are we teaching our children enough critical thinking skills? 

Animated drawing of desktop showing books and illustrating classes online

Taking European Studies and Modern Foreign Languages Online

In her first blog for Makematic, Dublin based, European Studies and Modern Foreign Languages Teacher, Victoria Malcolm talks about how she successfully took her classes online.

March 12th, 2020 – We are sent home from school with hardly enough time to think about which books we might need for a period of lockdown. After all, none of us have done this before. Teach all their classes from home. Whilst simultaneously running primary school classes for our kids, queuing everywhere for everything, learning how to keep a safe distance and minding ourselves and others in this “new normal”. 

In the weeks running up to the lockdown in my school, a huge amount of work had gone on in the background to help us make the move to online learning. We had chosen Google Classroom as our means of communication and collaboration, as many colleagues were already using this. That said, having a class set up on Google Classroom and being relatively confident using it did not in any way prepare me for the demands of online teaching. In the space of a week, we went from never having heard of Zoom to black belt proficiency as we struggled to work out how we could best provide some sort of continuity of learning for our students. Add to this the ever-increasing saga that was Calculated Grades and the worry that kept you awake at night wondering had you done everything you could to make sure that your 6th Form students received a fair, reflective grade.

Five Months Later …

Fast forward to August 2020 and we are once again consumed by thoughts of school. Are those same classrooms that we longed for in the dark days of April really safe for us to go back to? How will lockdown have affected our colleagues and our students? Will we have everyone back at school? What happens if there is an outbreak of the virus in our school? It is this last question that causes me to look back at my experience of online learning and ask myself what worked, remember – with blushing cheeks – what didn’t and think about how to incorporate this into a plan of action for the new term where online learning may, once again, play a key role in our classrooms.

Zoom Actually Works

What worked? Zoom, surprisingly. Thankfully, all the internet horror stories of suddenly finding yourself in Johnny’s bedroom, watching him eat breakfast in bed at 11am and go through his German homework at the same time weren’t borne out – in my classes at least. An online code of behaviour is, however, non-negotiable

Set basic rules of engagement for your students: 

  • Behave as you would in class, 
  • Dress appropriately, 
  • Have all the class materials you need for the lesson, 
  • Be patient and respect others. 

Webcam On or Off?

Decide from the outset whether you want cameras on or off, your own included – 

often a quick check-in at the start of the class and a quick round-up at the end is enough with cameras on but it depends on the activity. 

Here are some ways I navigated this:

  • For my Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) classes, we were building towards an online oral exam as part of the end of year assessment, so being able to see one another was important. 
  • If I was working on a grammar point, however, the cameras would be off. No need for us to see the pain etched on one another’s faces. 

Private Chats and Breakout Rooms

But it’s not just the webcam, it’s the private chat function and the breakout rooms that were a game changer and is something I would love to be able to do in my real-life classroom! Here’s how:

  • At the start of class, I use the private chat function on Zoom to check-in privately on individual students. I found that a number of students who are normally very quiet in class really embraced the chat function as they felt they were able to ask questions without fear of intimidation from students who work at a faster pace. 
  • At the start of online teaching, I was overwhelmed by the intensity of the 30-minute class online. It was very demanding. However, giving students a task and putting them in breakout rooms to work on something for a timed period allowed me space to breathe and also to think about how the remainder of the class would progress once we were back together as a group. I made sure to drop in on each breakout group at least once to make sure that they were on task – they always were and I think they enjoyed the break from me as much as I did from them! I always chose the random allocation function for the breakout room, as that way, students who might not ordinarily work together in class, got the chance to do so.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom worked well, especially since not all students were able to attend live online classes or simply found them overwhelming. Here are some things I would recommend:

  • It is important to give clear, concise instructions. Don’t write essays. 
  • I got into the habit of writing a quick summary of what we had covered in class that day plus noting any work I had assigned for homework. 
  • Following feedback from my classes, I tried to put up a scheme of work for the week, including any homework exercises, on a Monday morning. That way, if anyone missed a class, the work was there for them. It also had the advantage of keeping me on top of everything and it is a written record of what we covered, including any notes posted, for when the new school year starts. 
  • In the beginning, I was frustrated when students were uploading handwritten work and I was trying to encourage them to type it. Then you realise just how much longer an assignment takes when you are doing it online. Very few of them are graduates of the Mavis Beacon School of Typing and so found that typing assignments made the whole process even longer. You can annotate a photograph of a handwritten page easily in Google Classroom so don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • As an aside, I believe that Microsoft OneNote was the absolute bomb for those schools using Microsoft Teams as their online forum. You can do all sorts of lovely things like recording verbal feedback for pieces of work, which cuts down on your workload considerably. That said, it is possible to upload audio files to Google Classroom so if you want to record yourself explaining the complexities of German word order and send it on to your students, you can! 

Keep It Simple

Overall, I kept it to these two main tools – Google Classroom and Zoom. I dipped into Quizlet once or twice for new vocab but found making new quizzes time-consuming to be honest. Colleagues had good success with pre-recorded material – voicing over PowerPoint presentations, showing worked examples via Screencastify – but I found that Google Classroom and Zoom suited my MFL classroom and, importantly, what I was comfortable and confident using.

Check This Out

Finally, I found a great visual from Online Teaching @ KIS; Do This, Not That by Alison Yang with some very simple, but very important advice...

the online classroom is not the same as the real life classroom and you cannot simply transfer your teaching from one to the other


Top Tips

  • Don’t take on too much – whether this is using new technology or taking up work to correct and, most importantly, give yourself some time off. 
  • Be available during the school day but don’t answer emails from students or parents outside of office hours unless you wish to. 
  • Don’t beat yourself up if your lesson doesn’t go as planned. Learn to laugh at yourself. Your students will find the whole experience much easier if there is not an air of palpable tension in each lesson. 

And finally, use the first few weeks back at school to show your students how to use the technology you would plan to use if we need to go back to working from home. Second time around has to be easier, right?

Image of blog author Victoria Malcolm along with her bio description
Illustration of earth surrounded by different people with different occupations

EdTech News – August

August is for many students, educators and parents ‘Back to school’ month, but for many this year that isn’t the case because of Covid-19. I found some interesting articles on both sides of the debate on whether schools should re-open or not. 

One teacher from Cambridge, Massachusetts in the US makes the case against re-opening schools. The author believes that a physical classroom operating under the new social distance guidelines will be “less effective and less traumatic than the inadequate and painful remote learning experience”. 

Of course, the rules, regulations and circumstances for countries let alone individuals vary a lot. The Economist argues that the benefits of actually reopening schools far outweigh the costs and that countries who didn’t reopen their schools a few months ago should look at those that did.

Finally, a report from Credit Suisse on how the adoption and usage of EdTech has swelled during the Covid-19 crisis, fast-tracking the digitalisation of education by 5-10 years. 

This crisis has changed so many things and the way adults and children learn is just one of them. 

Transition Year European Studies Students from The King's Hospital College Dubin

Makematic Case Study: #17DaystoLearn SDG Challenge

About

The Kings Hospital School, located in Dublin, is a co-educational secondary school for borders and day students, which offers a broad academic curriculum and a wide range of extracurricular activities.

Challenge/Problem

In Ireland young people participate in a Transition Year programme, which forms the first-year senior cycle in many schools. It’s a year that is designed to create a bridge between the Junior Certificate and the Leaving Certificate programmes. Transition Year is an option for students in most schools. It offers learners an opportunity to mature and develop without the pressure of an examination. It also provides an opportunity for learners to reflect on, and develop an appreciation of, the value of learning in preparing them for the ever-changing demands of the adult world of work, further and higher education and relationships.

When covid-19 hit and schools in the Republic of Ireland were required to go into lockdown. The year-long inquiry-based action projects that Transition Year students at The Kings Hospital School were doing with other schools in the European Union were put on hold. In particular, the eTwinning project that the students were organising called “Get up and goals” was put on hold indefinitely. This project partnered with schools in Croatia, Italy and Turkey and focused on learning about the SDGs and creating transnational actions projects to highlight global and local issues. The programme which had mostly been face-to-face was now completely online.

This posed a challenge – How could the students continue to engage with the global themes they’d been exploring and change the focus of the “Get up and goals” project? 

To continue on with their global education teacher Viki Malcolm encouraged her European studies students to complete the #17DaystoLearn Challenge. The #17DaystoLearn Challenge is a 17-day challenge to educate and inspire young people to take action around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In addition students at The Kings Hospital have taken their project online.

The original project plan was to have a community day of action planned for the issues raised for each SDG – however, lockdown ended that. Instead, students took their awareness campaigns online by creating Instagram or Twitter accounts for their chosen SDG and others conducted surveys of students in their school on their chosen topic. The collaborative work has been collated on a Wix site and this became the final product of the project.

Students were encouraged to complete at least one challenge – that which related to the challenge; they were to motivate students to get involved in the challenge and became an assessment item.

Results/Impact

Some students were inspired to complete each of the challenges for the #17DaystoLearn Challenge over each of the 17 days. Here is a reflection from one of the participants who actively engaged in the challenge.

I participated in the #17DaystoLearn Challenge for a couple of reasons. The main one was because my European Studies teacher encouraged me to take part. Throughout the past year, we have been working on a project with students from all over Europe, developing our knowledge of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. When I first heard about the #17DaystoLearn Challenge, I thought that it would be a great way to enhance my understanding of the Goals and help me to finish my project.

I started on Day 1 with the first Goal, No Poverty. I watched the relevant videos on the Makematic app, wrote a blog on my thoughts and completed the activity for the day. I did this for all 17 days.

Each day brought something new, whether it was learning about Reduced Inequalities or Life Below Water. I learned so much about a variety of different issues and how the UN is trying to achieve the 17 SDGs by 2030.

Because I did it for 17 days, I was able to spend time on each goal. In class, I had mainly focused on two or three goals but the #17DaystoLearn Challenge forced me to research all of the goals, expanding my knowledge on each of the interesting topics.

To achieve the 17 Goals by 2030, action is needed. Not just by the UN and governments worldwide, but action from every single citizen of the world. We all live on this Earth. We all have an important part to play.

Thomas Eve, 16 years old

Conclusion

Adjusting to the new normal whether that be in everyday life or in a virtual classroom is not an easy task. Nonetheless, it’s an adjustment that we are all facing. The students of The Kings Hospital school had impactful plans to inspire and educate others about the SDGs. However, with the effects of covid-19, the original plan of action halted. But with the use of technology they were able to continue their project online by participating in the #17DaystoLearn challenge. They utilized social media and websites to communicate and collaborate with what they have learned about 17 SDGs. They learned, participated and reflected about the SDGs and realised what role they play in ensuring that we meet the 17 SDGs by 2030.

Digital Divide of two individuals

EdTech News – June

I’ve decided to continue this monthly EdTech news blog on a now-familiar theme; the impact of Covid-19 on EdTech and the future of learning. Virtual graduation ceremonies have started to take place, signalling the official end of students’ education. For Gen Z the future is, unfortunately, not looking so bright with youth unemployment soaring and the job’s market looking very different than before. These young people are being urged to make the most of the digital learning economy, skill up and look into which jobs won’t be automated. 

Now that so much of our learning takes place online, it’s more important than ever before that we prepare students to meet their needs, challenges and opportunities. We need to bridge the 21st learning divide.

What good is online teaching though, if you don’t have access to a digital device? If unequal access to technology remains unaddressed, the global impact on student learning will be devastating. This article covers some of the lessons China has learned on how to bridge the digital divide. And from a different angle by the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani.

And finally, I wanted to leave you with this article on the use of technology by schools, which also touches on the digital divide.

Technology isn’t a silver bullet, but it can be a great support when used effectively and if it can be enjoyed by all.

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