Artist in My School

Artist in My School Project

Artist in My School Project

On Friday last, a six-month-long “Artist in My School” programme came to a wonderful finale at Our Lady of Mercy School in Stradbally. The artist in question is Miranda Corcoran from Bunmahon. She worked with pupils from Junior Infants right through to sixth class on a weekly basis since September last, and the results of their work have been placed on permanent display at the entrance to the school. Working on a brief to create a piece around the theme of Irish legends, much discussion with the children eventually narrowed it down to two pieces that they are learning about this year: The Salmon of Knowledge and The Children of Lir.

It is true to say that the children have benefited greatly from this experience. Teachers have commented that it has given them a greater sense of confidence in their artistic abilities and this also transfers directly to other classroom work. According to school principal, Pádraig de Burca, the benefits will be long-lasting. “I have seen the project grow from an idea to what we have on display here today.  It is true to say that every child has learned and developed their skills and their enjoyment of creative art, and this permanent display will have a long-lasting benefit to our school and the pupils who created it. It is their legacy, and will be here long after them”

Speaking to a large gathering of pupils, parents and members of the wider community, Miranda Corcoran thanked the children for their enthusiastic participation, their ideas, and their help to one another during the course of the project. “Towards the end of the project I noticed how the pupils seemed surprised at how all their ideas came together so well in this vibrant artwork. It seems to have given them a huge sense of pride and it certainly is a great achievement by them. Many different techniques were learned along the way including silver leafing and mosaic. They worked really well as a team and as time went on their skills and confidence grew.”

Miranda Corcoran is co-owner of The Art Hand, an art school based near Bunmahon.  They have over 40 young students who take part in classes on a weekly basis. They also run an outreach programme for schools where they usually undertake specific art projects.

Back in June 2012 Miranda won a Wonderwoman of Business Award. The Awards were established by The Women’s Enterprise Network to celebrate outstanding women in business in County Waterford. The staff, parents and pupils at Our Lady of Mercy in Stradbally fully endorse her skill and enthusiasm and wish to thank her most sincerely for her magnificent work here since last September. Miranda can be contacted at

The Children of Lir


My talk to pupils and parents on March 22nd:

I want to welcome everybody here today. It’s a dreary miserable morning outside, but inside there is beauty, creativity and inspiration.

This beauty, inspiration and creativity began back in September 2012. I spoke with my staff and we decided to approach Miranda Corcoran to work with us. We had no real idea of what we might do, but we wanted a dominant piece of mural art for the school. For the first three sessions, Miranda worked only with Mrs Crowley, Mrs. O’Riordan and myself. We narrowed down our ideas. We decided the porch would be the place to use. We wanted it to be linked to schoolwork in some way. We wanted it to be a piece involving every pupil in the school.

The journey from these ideas to what is on display today is nothing short of remarkable. Your child will have told you about the lessons themselves. Your child will have told you about the sense of excitement, the sense of achievement and the sense of pride.

I feel that we have been very fortunate to have had Miranda Corcoran in our school every Wednesday since last September, for a number of reasons. She has been a breath of fresh air. She has awoken a level of creativity in each child that they may not have known was within them. She has inspired us.

I mentioned to Miranda a few weeks ago that I had noticed a very positive art impact in the quality of artwork within my class. Miranda was not at all surprised. There is always a strong spillover effect when confidence and creativity are abundant, she said to me.

Very shortly, we will unveil the two murals. Before we do so, I want to comment on the circular disks already unveiled around the entire porch area. It was our original intention to link these to both main pieces by using decorative Celtic Art. In, fact the boys and girls learned quite a bit about Celtic design, and we were in the process of preparing and painting / decorating each piece.

However, something wonderful happened, and the change happened not because of the adults. The change came about because of the freedom to discuss that is within these children…the freedom to offer suggestions knowing that they will be acknowledged, the freedom to be brave and take a risk. When I think about this, I am proud to be a teacher, because much of this freedom is what life really is all about. In the end, we changed tack. One large disk depicts the school crest.  Each of the remaining disks contains a word that represents something within our school that the pupils picked out as being important. They hit the nail on the head. Here are the words:

Play, Fun, Teamwork, Confidence, Creativity, Faithfulness, Inspiration, Friendship, Community, Gratitude, Peace, Knowledge and “Le Chéile”.

What more needs to be said?

Storm at Bunmahon Beach

Storm at Bunmahon Beach

As mentioned at the outset, it was a wild wet morning, with strong driving east wind. After finishing and locking up for a well-deserved Easter break, I visited The Art Hand near Bunmahon and on my way back home I stopped in at several beaches to photograph the wild Atlantic. One of my favourite photos is this one, taken at Bunmahon. The “snow” in the foreground is sea foam. In fact, it was wobbling like jelly, and every now and again much of it would “fly”, driven onshore by violent gusts. It looked like snow even when in the air!

Similarly at Ballyvooney where the foam was swirling around the mouth of a sea-cave, and later at Ballyvoile the strong storm was wreaking its havoc. Time to go indoors and put on a warm fire. Happy Easter.
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You Need to Think Carefully

I will be departing from my usual attempts to retain a positive mindset with my forthcoming post this coming weekend. The trade union movement (or, rather some individual unions) has done a deal with the Government to save one billion euro over three years. I think it is rotten. I will be voting against the deal, and I’d love the opportunity to try to persuade you to think carefully on all the details. Then vote NO.

In the meantime here is a little free download that I got. I edited in a big “NO”. Feel free to copy & print. It’s royalty free. No trade unionists were damaged during downloading.


Vote  "N O"

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Precious Cargo

My attempts in this blog to remain focused on positive education topics is not always easy to implement. This week, however, I have no such issues. I am writing about the imminent retirement of a school bus-driver. This man has completed forty-three years service. I returned to my old school, Whitechurch NS, last Friday for a short farewell function. It brought back many positive memories for me.

In the course of an inspiring speech, this valued driver spoke about his many years at the wheel. An element that particularly struck me was his mention of bad roads and long driving hours, but that his constant motto was his understanding that the children in his care were “a precious cargo”. The comment led me to think of our collective responsibilities for pupils in our care, and the fact that this applies not only to teaching staff, but to all adults involved in a school.

So, if we take a closer look we would add the following to the list: school secretary, school cleaning staff, temporary and part-time teaching staff, sub teachers, local clubs’ liaison persons, parents and Board of Management members, commercial support personnel such as IT technician, sales-persons, book publishers’ reps and not forgetting the maintenance guys (especially the plumber…wrote about this last week). This cluster of adults spans the full spectrum of support personnel needed by each and every pupil. I am reminded of what I think is an African saying: It takes a village to raise a child. In my mind also, is the common cliche that quality of education is dependent on development of positive links between the four main education partners, namely pupils, teachers, parents and community.

Often, the focus rests primarily with teachers and pupils. However, schools that forge positive links with parents benefit hugely. I am often reminded of the rather pointless scenario where lots is happening, but the stakeholders are kept in the dark. Here are some of the ways in which my school helps to engage with parents:

  • School log
  • Newsletters
  • School and class meetings
  • Feedback requests
  • Open door policy
  • Community events

A memorable highlight last term saw us planting 1500 daffodil and crocus bulbs on the school grounds. We were fortunate to have had the plants sponsored by the local Tidy Towns Committee. Then, during our Halloween mid-term break, we organised an event to engage pupils, parents and community. One of our pupils wrote about it here.

Ready for Spring

We planted 1000 daffodils and 500 crocuses


I googled for ideas to develop partnerships within schools and came upon an interesting site. The post I have linked to relates to Constructing School Partnerships with Families and Community Groups This will be me reading homework for this week.

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Jack-of-all-Trades in No-Win Situation

It was a busy week. Full week of teaching, including several initiatives just started this week: basketball after school (thanks to Mary in Newtown), basketball in school thanks to Mrs. Cummins, sewing with Mrs. Taylor, cooking with Mrs. O’Mahony and lots of intensive lessons as we get ready for confirmation in mid-February. Thankfully, two scheduled meetings needed to be deferred due to unforeseen circumstances.

Of course, a week in school would not be normal if I did not have a few “situations”… such as the oil boiler deciding all by itself to fire up outside of the preset clock times, the interactive whiteboard seeming to take on a life of its own by projecting the screen image at an angle of almost 70%, and (what about this for a shocker?) the passenger window of my car closing and opening on an almost constant basis, even when the ignition key is removed!!! This needed and immediate mechanic callout, but the incessant rain had gained entry and remained within for several days. However, that’s the nature of being a principal teacher. I am very fortunate that I have a very good team supporting me. My teaching staff are outstandingly motivated people, and the plumber, IT technician and local mechanic all came to the rescue promptly!

However, the above really is only an aside to the purpose of this post. This morning on twitter over hot chocolate at my favourite Dungarvan Bagel Bar, I was astounded not by one specific tweet, but again by a second one, seemingly unrelated. Both were posted within minutes of one another by different users.

This is a UK “directive” aimed at teachers who are teaching in Catholic schools, similar to my own. The content is quite shocking, in my opinion. It brings to mind a story, seemingly true. In Ireland until the mid-1960’s a teacher’s salary cheque was posted not to his home address, but to the local Parochial House. The teacher would have to call to collect. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation fought a very long battle to have this situation changed. The battle was long because at that time the Department of Education was at the beck-and-call of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid. The story was told to me by a retired visionary principal teacher. On occasion, when collecting his salary, the priest’s househeeper asked him to call back “on Monday”.

Here’s the second:

I have copied a section of the link here… (Again, it is in relation to UK schools)

“A senior source in Mr Gove’s department said that the ultimate decision over whether teachers could lose their jobs would be down to the European Court of Human Rights rather than the Government. News of the Mr Gove’s fears come as the Coalition prepares to publish a bill legalising same sex marriage today. Opponents to the proposed law say that those who take a stand over the issue could face the sack under law. In a report compiled by the Coalition for Marriage campaign group, human rights lawyer Aidan O’Neill QC said that schools may have the right to sack staff who refuse to promote gay marriage in class, according to the Daily Telegraph. But legal advice given to Equalities Minister Maria Miller suggested that staff would not be forced to act against their beliefs. A Department for Education spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Schools will not acquire a power to dismiss teachers who refuse to teach views about gay marriage which are against their conscience.’ But a DfE source added: ‘These (decisions) are all under the control of nine guys in Strasbourg, it is just fundamentally uncertain and Britain isn’t in control of this.’ “

So, I am heft wondering? The jack-of-all-trades principal teacher outlined in my introduction will be judged by criteria at opposite ends of the spectrum. Would I need a mechanic or a plumber to sort that one?

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Mrs. Hay’s Keys: Grammar Is Important

I’m an old fogey when it comes to writing. I spend many hours each term teaching grammar. We work on this formally twice-weekly, and incidentally when an interesting situation arises.

One such situation was brought to my attention during the week. A sixth class pupil wanted advice. She wasn’t sure if the sentence she had written was correct, so I took a look. “Mrs. Hayes’ keys had been left in the car ignition.” Is this correct? I asked her to explain the apostrophe. She was able to say that the apostrophe comes after the “s” because the word finished with the letter “s” and the keys belonged to Mrs. Hayes. I confirmed that she was right, and I affirmed her accurate recall of a grammar rule. I was about to return to my reading lesson with younger pupils, but the confident girl lingered. She actually adopted a tactic of mine (I was intrigued to notice!) as she looked directly at me with a slightly puzzled look. She looked at me and then back to the text, alternating twice. In effect, she was asking me to comment and I obliged her with a quizzical “You’ve just noticed something, haven’t you?” In the twinkling of an eye, she mentioned that maybe the lady’s name was Mrs. Hay, and quickly again she said that if her name was Mrs. Hay the apostrophe should come before the “s”…. “Mrs. Hay’s keys had been left in the ignition”. Perfect teacher moment!

Have I lost you? The task she was working through involved figuring out the correct use on an apostrophe. This advanced pupil had completed the easier sentences and came to the above example. She displayed good understanding of a topic taught on many occasions by me over the past year. Yes, the same topic was taught repeatedly, simply because grammar is not a very interesting topic and as such needs regular revision in order to ensure it sticks in the mind. She was in a position to help younger pupils (she is 12, in a class of 8 to 12 year olds) but what intrigued me was that she had adopted a thinking process that went beyond the lesson being taught. She explained also that there was a second example that could be interpreted differently. “The lion’s den was littered with the carcasses of dead animals.” denotes one lion, whereas The lions’ den was littered with the carcasses of dead animals.” means more than one lion.

In 1973 the Department of Education & Skills here in Ireland introduced a New Primary School Curriculum. I started teaching shortly after this, and soon became aware that many teachers viewed this new syllabus with derision. It will lead to a sharp drop in standards in English and maths, they said. In effect, teachers were being asked to be jack-of-all-trades in order to broaden the education of pupils, and to incorporate the concept of pupil-centred teaching. English and maths standards did drop, and have continued to drop. Pupils have very definitely benefited from a broader education, and this has been a very positive development, but the price paid has been too high. Too many schools failed to revolt against a curriculum imposed by so-called experts. I would even go so far as to say that some younger teachers’ english and maths standards fell below what is required to teach effectively.

I profess to being ultra-modern when it comes to many initiatives in education. Certainly, my passion for integration of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) had brought many miracles to my class. My recent post here is, in some small way, a testament to this. However, when it comes to English grammar I am a bit of an old fogey. Boring rules need to be taught over and over again. I call this teacher-centred education. Teacher knows best. The interesting factor here, is that constant repetition of a simple (but boring) concept does bring its rewards when the penny drops. Pupil satisfaction following patient perseverance is more lasting than many child-centred activities that in essence mean nothing. The child, being the most important education partner, is not entitled to hog the agenda.

There was a further new updated curriculum in 1998. Years passed, and finally, the penny dropped with the education gurus on the top steps. The PISA Report compared standards of performance of Irish pupils between 2000 and 2009. The Irish education system, once lauded as perhaps the best in the world, was rocked. Now, thankfully, there is a returning emphasis to literacy and numeracy. There is very little funding attached to this major policy shift, but there is an implied recommendation that any teacher who decides to downgrade the time devoted to other curriculum areas might be actually doing kids a big favour!

English is about communicating, both verbally and in written form. Recent texting experience (textese?) has given us a generation of poor spellers, inadequate communicators and something far worse, I think: a generation that seems not to bother whether it’s right or wrong.

All comments welcome. Feel free to disagree and open up some debate.

Useful links worth following include:

The Unheard Cries of A Misplaced Apostrophe Recommended read by Felix O’Shea. @GrumpyComments

The Grammar Blog Thanks, Tom! @tomdotquitter

Funny Grammatical Errors

Funny Grammar Mistakes

15 Grammar Mistakes That Can Make You Look Silly

My new class blog. Just up this week.

Surely, some reader may find some grammar mistake(s) here, or perhaps some spelling errors. I shall take this as a compliment in that they have read the article carefully!

Finally, if all of this is just a bit too heavy, you’ll find some light relief (i.e. normal everyday behaviour, fun and family-focused stuff) over at my personal blog, Kilcaroon. Kilcaroon is a townland in Tipperary, home of my maternal grandmother.

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Commander Chris Hadfield In My Classroom

Two weeks ago I came upon a wonderful idea at Pedagoo. Very simple, as many wonderful ideas usually are. I resolved to bring a specific teaching strategy to my classroom. I wrote about it here a little while back, In fact, it was my first post on this new Irish blog from Dungarvan, in County Waterford, Ireland. To summarise: rather than ask a question for pupils to answer, I turn the tables and provide the answer. The pupils’ task is to research in order to find a suitable question for the particular answer.

I certainly am delighted with the results. Yesterday’s answer was “Commander Chris Hadfield”. Immediately, to my shock and amazement, one of my pupils stood up, stretched herself tall and raised her hand. When asked for her question she replied “Yes, who was the first Canadian to walk on the moon?” (This was news to me!) The following morning several of the girls had similar questions. Currently, Commander Hadfield is orbiting the earth on the International Space Station. I know this because I’ve tweeted him twice recently. He’s got multi-thousand followers, so I really don’t expect a reply. However, the power and the reach of blogging will likely mean that this blog post will arrive on his laptop screen pretty soon now…fingers crossed here in Stradbally. The world is a small place.

The answer, and several subsequent questions opened up a wonderful lesson and a very lively discussion, including speed of orbit, general onboard tasks, lots of “I wonder how do they ….?” type questions. But the one that really was the icing on the cake concerned a tweet about an annual overhaul of the urine hoses.  “Space Plumber – annual overhaul of the urine hoses, valves and sensors. After I was done, it worked.” Here’s a link to the tweet. Shrieks of “O my God” and such like, further questions about the mechanics of body waste in space, and much smirking and inventive querying (I don’t know all the ins-and-outs of the matter, pardon the pun) brought this unplanned lesson to a wonderful conclusion. Thank you Chris Hadfield.

It was a good, unplanned geography / science lesson, one that I will not forget in a hurry. Sometimes the best lessons are unplanned. Well, unplanned in the sense that I certainly had not anticipated the outcomes. I had planned the ANSWER. And I want to thank Pedagoo and the #PedagooResolutions Document for inspiring my new teaching strategy.

Time now methinks for my morning exercise. Walk to town, and my weekly opportunity to undo it with hot chocolate at Bagel Bar. My chance to read the weekend Irish Times. Who knows, there may be more answers?

International Space Station. Housework is a pain.

Commander Chris Hadfield completes annual overhaul of the urine hoses on International Space Station


This Pets’ Teacher is a new blog on the block. Shares and retweets will be much appreciated.

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Free Lunch? Broadband versus Encyclopaedia Britannica

Here is the Department of Education & Skills (Ireland) press release announcing free Encyclopaedia Britannica access for students at school and at home.

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has today announced free home access to the online edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica for all school-going children. For the past three years, primary and post-primary schools have had access to the resource, and today’s roll-out is an expansion of this service.
Britannica Online School Edition is a unique and comprehensive resource designed for all levels of learning. It has four age-specific learning areas which contain various engaging teaching and learning materials, all designed to build confidence and inspire continuous discovery.

Announcing the new development, Minister Quinn said, “I am committed to providing digital content to students that enhances their learning through the use of technology. Our children and young people will now have access to Britannica Online in their own homes and this means that whatever their ability, they can learn at their own pace. Access is available to Britannica remotely via the website and will encourage students to continue the process of learning at home.”
Britannica Online has more than 129,000 articles with over 46,000 graphics, 4,000 videos, plus audio clips, interactive games and quizzes. It is updated with new material daily. With an average of 160,000 visits per month, provides a central resource to teachers, pupils and parents, offering access to a growing repository of advice and information.
Today’s announcement comes as the roll-out of high-speed broadband to second level schools continues, with a further 200 schools expected to be connected by September of 2013. ENDS

So, there you have it. Free access to the famed Britannica, thank you very much Mr. Quinn. However, several points come to my mind.
Firstly, as I explained the details of this wonderful resource to my class of pupils this morning one very perceptive 9-year-old mentioned that it is great news…and then (out of the mouths of babes): “But, sure, isn’t google free?” Her point being, Mr. Quinn…what’s the big deal? As if to reinforce the point, as part of our Great Famine history lesson we had been googling for reliable information from several noted sources (here, I use my blogger’s licence to recommend Waterford County Museum), but when we searched Britannica for information about “coffin ships” we came up with NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Isn’t that rather interesting? Try it for yourself. So, what’s the big deal Mr. Quinn?
Secondly, I have to bring to my readers’ attention the fact that in many Irish schools broadband provision is a joke. The last sentence of the press release above refers to increased provision for secondary schools. As a primary school teacher / principal let me tell you my story. My small rural Waterford school in Stradbally received grant assistance ten years ago to purchase equipment, a satellite dish was installed and the school was networked. I began my teaching in Stradbally in 2007, and quickly became aware that whereas the local infrastructure was in place, and a government contract was in place to provide (slow speed) broadband to my school, the system simply did not work. I spent hour after hour on the telephone to the help-desk in Limerick. Lovely people they all were; very pleasant, and very professional…but I suspect that they too were aware that they were attempting to support/fix a system that simply did not work on a regular basis. Here, I am adding a link written by a past-pupil reflecting several years later on our experiences and frustrations at that time.
Our situation worsened until 2010, in particular because we invested heavily in technology and attempted to integrate this technology into everyday school life, without a reliable broadband connection. We certainly were frustrated. Finally, we had to make the decision to abandon the ill-fated Department of Education & Skills broadband provision. I am informed that more than 700 rural schools were in the same terrible situation, and some still are. It seems also that the Department Gurus were aware that they had signed a ten-year contract (reliable information?) and had been sold a pig-in-a-poke. Maybe they were able to secure some refund? Maybe, but that does not solve our problem. We decided to source our broadband from a local supplier, Solar Broadband. Quite literally, we have not looked back since then. We can look forward, and we can plan with confidence. We can attempt to educate to 21st century requirements. We can google reliably; we can research; we can play; we can bring the outside world into our classroom.
This is entirely as a result of reliable broadband provision. Encyclopedia Britannica might be cool, but it’s only a tiny part of the bigger picture. Broadband versus Britannica? You can’t really have the cream without the cup!

This blog is in its infancy. This is only my third post. Please comment, and open up some debate around this issue. Share, like and tweet…..mostly tweet I’d say. Thank you from Dungarvan.

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Is Homework A Waste of Time? Almost

Reproduced from the Washington Post last October 2012

How do you think this would go over in the United States? French President François Hollande has said he will end homework as part of a series of reforms to overhaul the country’s education system.

And the reason he wants to ban homework?

He doesn’t think it is fair that some kids get help from their parents at home while children who come from disadvantaged families don’t. It’s an issue that goes well beyond France, and has been part of the reason that some Americans oppose homework too.

Hollande’s reform plans include increasing the number of teachers, moving the school week from four days to 4 1/2 days, overhauling the curriculum and taking steps to cut down on absenteeism.

“Education is priority,” Hollande was quoted as saying by at Paris’s Sorbonne University last week. “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” as a way to ensure that students who have no help at home are not disadvantaged.

Despite the four-day school week, elementary school children in France spend more hours a year in school than many other developed countries because students are there all day, starting at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 4:30 p.m., with some kids staying even later.

It’s not clear where the money to hire thousands more teachers will come from, but, the Associated Press reported, Education Minister Vincent Peillon will have to figure out how to implement the reforms. One option is to shorten summer vacation, though, such a move isn’t likely to be popular because it is practically sacrosanct in France.

Whether Hollande really gets all of this done is open to question. But his homework position is not original; some school districts in the United States did the same thing going back more than a century. Early in the 1900s, the influential Ladies’ Home Journal magazine called homework “barbarous,” and school districts such as Los Angeles abolished it in kindergarten through eighth grade. In fact, some educators said it caused tuberculosis, nervous conditions and heart disease in the young and that children were better off playing outside. The American Child Health Association in the 1930s labeled homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease.

Today people who oppose homework have different objections, among them, the research that suggests it doesn’t really help young children learn.


Yes, for my part, I happily endorse the view that homework is not necessary. However, many parents will be appalled to hear this. I normally give less homework that some might want me to give, balancing both sides. One exception perhaps: pupils should be required to read extensively outside of school as homework.

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There Is No Box

It’s January, and it’s resolutions-time.

I’ve been taking a little look every now and then at the Pedagoo Resolutions Document.  and I’ve added an idea myself hoping to bring together several heads around the notion of class blogging. I will be keen to follow those who are on that particular subsection, and I will be looking to explore ideas with a view to selecting software that will allow individual blogging. So roll on January 7th. I rarely have difficulty motivating myself to return in January, and this year I am more excited than ever. It’s going to be busy! Perhaps that’s the attraction.

I’ve had another little look back to that interesting document and my attention is caught by a really simple idea. This idea is for the teacher to focus in on a specific teaching tactic – that of providing the answer in order to spark interest and creativity of pupils in order to find the question! I am grateful to Iain @maximusparsons who submitted this idea. I’ve added myself to the list and will follow with interest. As a small means of continuing the process I’ve added my first answer. Take a little look, and feel free to comment or add your question. Better still, add yourself to the Find the Question list, and expand the collaboration, or you may prefer to take a little look through the bigger picture.

I will be implementing this in my class during January, and I will provide feedback here. Watch this Irish space!

In addition, this is my first submission to Pedagoo, and I’ve added it also to my personal (not-education) blog. My blog is not education-related, but I think it’s an indication of my optimism in relation to the potential of Pedagoo that I decided to publish there also. That sounds like a mouthful! But I know what I mean. That’s the answer. What is the question?

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