On Tuesday, December 5th, we had a visit from the eTwinning coordinator at Léargas, Liliana O’Reilly, and her colleague Anna D’Arcy. Léargas is the National Support Service for eTwinning in Ireland.
Initially Liliana made contact with the school to extend her congratulations on the work our school is already doing on the eTwinning platform and to suggest that she visit the school to discuss the impact our school’s work on eTwinning has had on our staff professional development, our school and our students and to see how they could support us in expanding our work on eTwinning projects.
Liliana visited Senior Infants, First class, Third and Fourth classes, which had been involved in recent eTwinning projects, and listened to the children explain about their involvement in eTwinning and what they learned from the projects. She also gave a very informative staff presentation on how teachers can start or continue their involvement in eTwinning, and on the support available from Léargas.
What is eTwinning?
eTwinning is a free and secure online platform linking a community of more than 500,000 teachers across Europe. It allows teachers working in Europe to communicate, collaborate, develop projects, share and be part of a large learning community. It supports primary and post primary schools to find partners and work on joint projects in any curricular area, using Information and Communication Technology (ICT). eTwinning is funded by the European Union and administered in participating countries by a National Support Service (NSS).
There are many benefits for staff in using eTwinning. It gives direct contact with education professionals in other European countries, develops awareness of teaching approaches used in other countries and allows sharing of expertise and experience. For children, eTwinning provides increased motivation, as they have an audience for their work in a school in another country, it enhances key skills, including ICT use, it provides greater cultural awareness, encourages self-directed learning and develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills in relation to subject content.
Our involvement in eTwinning began during our Blue Star programme last year, when we worked initially on projects with schools in Poland and Italy, and on further projects with schools in Sicily and Finland. eTwinning proved very successful with staff and children, who were able to explain their involvement in the projects to our visitors from Léargas.
One of our projects was when RETNS initiated the Leaf Hunt Project with schools in Sicily and Finland.
Children from a school in each of the three countries took photos of trees around their school neighbourhoods and made PowerPoint presentations for each other. The information swap between the three schools resulted in very interesting projects.
We hope to continue our eTwinning involvement during the coming year as we believe that there are many benefits from this type of learning for everyone involved.
Our third annual Science Fair was held on Friday, November 24th. This year’s event was bigger than ever, with a record number of visitors from our parent body. Fifth and sixth class students put a great effort into preparing for the Science Fair, setting up their stalls attractively and competently answering all questions put to them. Our budding scientists provided a great range of experiments and tests for the visitors including the popular Guess the Flavours and The Stroop Effect, demonstrations on how slime works, what happens when you mix different liquids and an example of the power of wind, to name but a few. Here are some photos from the event.
As part of our review of homework in RETNS we asked parents and guardians to take part in a survey to gauge views on current homework provision and to suggest how we could make homework tasks more relevant to children in our school. A total of 85 people (more than half of our 148 families) took part in the survey and most respondents answered all the questions. Out of that number, 48.8% of respondents feel that homework is worthwhile, 28% feel it is not worthwhile, and 28% don’t know.
Responding to current homework provision
Respondents were initially asked some questions on current homework provision. When asked for a view on the amount of homework being given, 44% of respondents felt that the amount of homework currently given is just right, although a high proportion, 29.8%, felt that it is usually too much. When asked how difficult/easy your child finds homework, 68.3% felt that it is usually about right, with 17.1% feeling that it varies too much to say. A small proportion of respondents (8.5%) felt that homework is usually too easy, and only 3.7% of respondents felt that their child’s homework is too hard.
Most respondents felt that their child can complete homework without help or supervision ‘most of the time’ (45%) or ‘sometimes’ (30%), while ‘hardly ever’ was cited by 18.8% of respondents. For those who stated that their child has difficulty working alone, tiredness was cited as the main reason for this problem, although a sizeable number (24 respondents) said that their child resents having to work at home.
There was a fairly even balance between those who feel that their child learns a lot from doing homework (32.1%) and those who disagree with the statement (34.6%), while 10 respondents out of 81 who answered the question ‘strongly disagreed’ with the statement. When asked if doing homework helps a child become independent 50.6% of respondents agreed, while 32.5% disagreed.
Encouragingly, 57.5% of respondents stated that their child ‘usually’ knows what he/she has to do for homework, with 30% replying that their child ‘always’ knows what to do. Regarding organisational problems in regard to homework the most common responses were that children sometimes forget to write down assignments or forget to bring home books or materials required.
On some of the other questions, a majority of respondents said that they always see their child’s homework, with over half the respondents stating that they sign homework ‘usually’ or ‘sometimes’. Asked whether their child enjoys homework, 19% either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ but 35% disagreed with the statement. 56.3% of respondents felt that homework can ‘sometimes’ be a cause of friction in the home, although 21.3% felt that this is never the case. With regard to the issue of making provision for homework, two main difficulties were cited; the fact that children need a lot of downtime after a busy day in school and that they are involved in many outside activities.
Reviewing homework – future possibilities
A sizeable number of respondents in the survey (40/82) believe that homework is worthwhile, with the fact that it keeps parents informed about school work being cited as the number one reason for this answer. For those who felt that homework is not worthwhile the main reason cited was that it can be a cause of friction and anxiety at home. Some comments were very strongly in favour of no homework, with one respondent saying that homework takes children away from family time and activities they love, and creates a negative association with learning.
When asked which areas of homework they felt should be left out, the overwhelming majority said rote learning, e.g. poems to be learned by heart. A smaller percentage (17.5%) suggested that tables should be left out. Irish reading and Irish spellings were the other two main areas which respondents felt should be left off homework.
Looking to the future, 66.7% of respondents said they would support a policy that gives written and learning homework Monday to Wednesday, with learning homework only on a Thursday. An overwhelming 81% said that they would support a varied approach to homework and there was support for a wide range of the activities suggested. Creative tasks and active homework were among the most popular answers.
In addition to completing the survey, many parents/guardians took the time to write further comments. Some made additional suggestions for activities that promote critical thinking or would keep children interested in learning after a hard day at school. The range of additional comments shows what parents and guardians value in terms of homework and gives much valuable feedback in relation to this dialogue and review of homework provision in RETNS.
All of the comments will be taken into account and we are very grateful to those who took the time to complete this survey and make further constructive and insightful suggestions.
Judging by the responses and comments, while there is a generally positive view of homework, there does appear to be a strong view in favour of finding new and innovative ways of approaching homework in order to keep the love of learning alive. Our teaching approach in RETNS includes much active learning and we agree that active learning helps develop and nurture a love for learning. We are fully committed to extending this to homework as much as possible.
To add weight to our small research findings, the recently launched ‘So, how was school today?’ report states that,
‘75% of young people agreed or strongly agreed that they learned best through active learning such as quizzes, learning games and role play etc.’ Project work and debates are also cited as examples of active learning in the report.
This major report was launched on November 6th by Minister Katherine Zappone TD and Minister Richard Bruton TD. More than 3,200 young people in the 12-17 age bracket took part in the Comhairle na nÓg research which focused on the topic of Education.
On Friday, October 6th, we celebrated One Day Together, to highlight Educate Together’s National Fund-raising efforts. At our assembly, 5th class gave an excellent presentation on what it means to be educated in an Educate Together school and helped the rest of the students to see the many ways in which we are similar to other schools yet also to think about the ways in which Educate Together schools differ from other schools in some important aspects. Their presentations, which show a very good understanding of the different aspects of our ethos, are displayed on our Ethos Board at the top of the stairs.
Here are some quotes from their writings.
In Educate Together schools the children can get creative and voice their ideas and opinions.
We do not treat you differently if you are different.
Educate Together is not a one belief school.
As kids in an Educate Together school we are respected by teachers and staff. We are allowed to wear what we like so we can exercise our own individuality. We call our teachers by their first names so we can have a better working and personal relationship with them. I feel very privileged and grateful to be in an Educate Together school.
No matter who you are, where you’re from and/or what you believe in, you always have a chance at an ET school.
I love my Educate Together school and I’m really grateful that I go to one.
We are asking everyone to give generously to our annual ET fund raiser – Halloween Dress Up Day.
Many schools are discovering the value of using mindfulness to help create calm in classrooms, to increase children’s capacity to become still and notice what is around them and to help them feel good about themselves. Research has indicated that mindfulnesss practices, although simple, are very profound and can create a solid foundation on which to build self-worth, compassion and resilience.
Research by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland shows that one in three children will have experienced a mental health problem by the time he or she reaches 13 years of age. Experts say that while mindfulness may not be the ‘absolute fix’ for children’s mental health issues, it can at least help give them skills from a young age to develop their resilience and ability to cope with the ups and downs of life.
Our teachers have been using mindfulness techniques for some time and sharing lots of good ideas. Part of our mindfulness practice in school has been our very successful Mindfulness Monday initiative, in which a class take on to remind us every Monday to take a mindful moment every so often and to focus on the positive. The students in fourth class are creating a set of positive inspirational thoughts, one of which will be promoted and displayed each week.
Many experts believe that ‘little and often’ is the way to go with mindfulness practices, so constant small reminders to ‘take a moment’ can be very effective. Our teachers use ‘Yoga Pretzels’ which are fun yoga activities for kids (& grownups!) and small visualisations throughout the week. Children are also given regular movement breaks during the day and opportunities to learn outside when possible, including Forest Learning. On Monday nights, as part of Mindfulness Monday, children will be asked to write a Gratitude Log (or similar as appropriate) as part of their homework.
Some useful resources for doing mindfulness at home are:
http://www.mindfulnessmatters.ie/ which has a range of materials and a link to the RTE Nationwide programme on Mindfulness in Schools
http://www.cosmickids.com/learn/ where you can learn to teach kids yoga through online training
Forest Learning is an educational initiative designed to offer pupils an opportunity to achieve through hands on learning experiences in a local woodland environment. Regular sessions take place in a woodland environment, where the landscape itself adds to the experience of learning. Fifth and Sixth class have been participating in the Forest Learning experience for the last few weeks in St. Enda’s Park. Here are some pictures of the pupils at work.
In this year which marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, there is no doubt that the ‘digital landscape’ has changed enormously in recent years, in particular for the younger members of our community for whom a world without smartphones is unimaginable. This fact was brought home to me recently in a conversation with some 9 and 10 year olds who incredulously wondered how on earth we managed to survive without mobile phones! And while the world has undoubtedly benefited from the advances in mobile technology, and children have unprecedented opportunities to learn, to create and to interact in new ways, the advent of smartphones, social media and increased access to technology of all kinds does bring increased risks for young people.
CyberSafeIreland published its second annual report yesterday, September 13th.
During the last year CyberSafeIreland has spoken directly to 4,893 children aged between 8 and 13 and 885 parents across Leinster and has made some disturbing discoveries in regard to children’s behaviour online. According to the report:
Despite age restrictions of 13 and older on many social media services, the vast majority of children under 13 that we have met already had a significant online presence
16% of the children surveyed spent in excess of 4 hours online a day.
22% of the children surveyed were in online contact with strangers. Most of these (14%) reported that they were in contact at least once a week and 6% of this number every day.
Nearly a third (32%) of children have either never spoken to their parents/guardians about online safety or have not done so in the last year.
In almost two-thirds (64%) of our workshops with 8-10 year olds, at least one child was playing adult rated games.
12% of all children reached had shown themselves in YouTube videos.
The report outlines what it considers to be the risks to young people online, and why they are particularly vulnerable, and is well worth reading by parents in order to keep abreast of developments and safety issues. In fact, the report stresses that, “children and young people need the guidance of teachers and parents to learn to manage and cope with this added dimension to modern life” and that, “parental engagement in, and supervision of, their children’s online lives is an extremely important strategy in mitigating these risks”.At one point the CyberSafeIreland report quotes the ISPCC’s assertion that online safety is the “child protection issue of our time” given that there has been an increase in younger children contacting their Childline service with online safety concerns.
Another significant finding of the report is that, “Almost 70% of teachers surveyed reported that they do not feel sufficiently resourced to effectively deliver educational messages on Internet safety; this is up from 64% in 2015/16”, and the report recognises that “both parents and teachers need far more support in order to protect children from online risk, and that children, as avid users of technology, need to be empowered from a young age to use the Internet both safely and responsibly”.
Welcome back to all children and families for the 2017/2018 school year, and in particular we welcome our new class of Junior Infants. Hopefully they will all settle into the routines of RETNS very quickly. A very special welcome also to our new staff and we wish all in our school community a very successful and enjoyable year ahead.
We start off the term as always with our Wellbeing Week in which the children look at what will help make this year a happy year for them and how they can help others. Pupils’ wellbeing is very important to us in RETNS and we are always looking at ways in which we can improve wellbeing, whether through encouraging increased activity, healthy eating choices, positive attitudes and culture or working with the children in new ways to help promote a happy school for all. Through our assemblies, our in-class work in SPHE and our ethical programme, Learn Together, and through our many student committees, we listen to the pupils’ voices, we actively foster empathy among our pupils, develop leadership and teamwork skills and encourage creativity. We aim to actively foster and create a safe, supportive environment in which all of our students feel cherished, stimulated and proud to be the best version of themselves. All of our work is towards equipping our pupils with the skills and resilience they need to make the most of learning and school, to be good citizens and to become changemakers for good. We encourage children to be kind, to look out for each other, to be role models for others and to ensure that bullying never rears its head in our school. If potential bullying situations arise pupils are encouraged to speak up and use the power of the school anti-bullying ambassadors team to nip any potential bullying in the bud. Each child is encouraged to be part of the solution of creating a school where all will feel safe, happy and cherished for the unique individual that they are.
Last year 4th class read an inspirational quote to the school each week. This one emerged as a favourite: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito” Dalai Lama.
An apt quotation for a new term.
Last term a number of children worked with their parents and grandparetns to produce some beautiful stroy sacks for use in the school. The results were amazing, extremely creative and each one very individual. These will be stored in the specially made ‘sacks’ to use during special story times in the junior classes. A huge amount of planning and work went into the making and filling of the sacks and we are very grateful for all the time and effort spent by those who took part in the project. While acknowledging that the project was time-consuming, everyone was delighted with the outcome and those involved thoroughly enjoyed the process.
After our very successful Blue Star programme last year we were delighted to hear that the Blue Star team would like to use our drone footage as part of their promotional material for this year’s programme. Check it out here!
We marked the end of our participation in the Blue Star programme with an Open Morning on Tuesday, May 9th, (Europe Day) to which parents, guardians and members of the local community were invited to view the children’s work and talk to our student ‘guides’ about what each of the classes have been doing as part of the programme. Displays included written work, art work and projects as well as videos of dramas enacted by the children, a specially composed Rap and some PowerPoints presenting work completed as part of the programme. Later we gathered on the playground to have an aerial photograph taken with a specially commissioned drone, which caused great excitement!
As our special event to mark Europe Day and the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome this year, we all dressed in blue and walked through the local housing estate, joined by parents and some local residents, making our way to the local park where we sang Happy Birthday EU and did our Handshake for Europe.
Staff and students have enjoyed participating in the Blue Star programme, with the combination of learning new and interesting facts, creatively presenting their learning and celebration which have all been aspects of the programme.