Last October, Ireland's EU Code Week Ambassador Julie Cullen tweeted to ask who was interested in organising events for EU Code Week. The next day, Bernard Kirk, Director of one of Ireland's 21 teacher education centres, responded, tagging Irish Minister Ciaran Cannon. Minutes later, the Minister showed his great interest.
Just seven weeks after this rapid exchange, Ireland staged more EU Code Week events than any other EU country — and the members of the new dynamic group who had worked to make that happen were looking for their next project.
Today a guest blog from Minister Cannon about his experience of EU Code Week – and its tremendous legacy for education.
In preparation for EU Code Week we established a new tightly knit group of people who have a passion for digital learning and they come from all walks of life. We saw EU Code Week as a brilliant idea to allow us to highlight the value of coding and to create links with other EU partners. An Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched EU Code Week recognising the importance of the initiative for Ireland. Many of the EU Code Week events were held in schools, community centres and the offices of both indigenous and multinational companies. Some schools established Skype links with classrooms in other EU countries to discuss and display their EU Code Week projects. Everyone saw real value in hosting coding events and once the week was over we felt it was important to sustain that collaborative relationship, we had a really good group of people in place and we couldn't let that opportunity go to waste.
One of those companies involved in EU Code Week was SOS Ventures, a venture capital firm based in Cork and founded by tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Sean O'Sullivan. Sean has a passion for education, particularly in the area of mathematics. He had already supported the Khan Academy and Coderdojo and was looking for an opportunity to introduce the Khan Academy to Ireland. Sean had already met Minister Cannon at a number of Coderdojo events and began to discuss with him how they might work together on a Khan Academy project for Ireland. Minister Cannon indicated that the new team, which had delivered Ireland's success in EU Code Week, was still in place and was more than willing to embrace the Khan Academy project.
Following a number of meetings of the team it was decided to launch a new national online maths competition called Mathletes using the Khan Academy platform. See how it works in the video below – or this good Irish Times article.
This is the first time anywhere in the world that a national online maths competition has been devised using the Khan Academy platform and it has been a resounding success. Despite being launched in the middle of the school year, over 320 teachers from 270 schools signed up for the challenge, including 174 primary and 93 secondary schools. With 3,000 students and over 12% of secondary schools competing in just its first year, the Mathletes Challenge is well on its way to becoming the landmark competition that celebrates maths in Ireland. There are 3,000 students working on Khan Academy and they have spent well over a half a million minutes on Khan Academy. Khan Maths Camps for 11/12 year olds are also provided free of charge each Saturday and 48 % of those attending are girls.
What is really fascinating is the amount of time that children are spending on the Khan Academy outside of the classroom. Over 60% of exercise minutes have been spent out of class. It is a real example of formal and informal education occurring under the one initiative. During the Easter break, when most students of this age would leave an unopened schoolbag in a corner of their bedroom, over 700 students continued to work on Khan Academy for the Challenge, logging over 900 extra hours of maths work in the 2 weeks. I have met one boy in County Mayo who has spent 90 hours on Khan Academy since the launch of Mathletes. We have discovered something very unique here, if you provide learning in an environment that children find fun and stimulating, they will keep on learning outside of the classroom for hours upon end. We have also seen something really significant as 60% of the 150 Mathletes finalists are girls.
With two successful adventures in digital learning under their belt, the original EU Code Week group then began discussing how they could build upon these successes and establish a new Irish-born movement that would inspire new thinking and indeed new action in promoting digital learning. EXCITED - The Digital Learning Movement was established as the vehicle to make this happen and it is already planning its first major event, a digital learning festival in Dublin Castle on the 30th and 31st of May this year. This new movement will bring together trailblazing teachers from Ireland and abroad, young students, tech entrepreneurs, policy makers and academics to begin collaborating on a number of projects, events and policy development in the area of digital learning. Speakers at the EXCITED - Digital Learning Festival include Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy and Lord David Puttnam, Oscar winning director and digital learning evangelist.
Out of EU Code Week has been born an exceptional group of people who are passionate about digital learning and have established collaborative links between education and enterprise that will be of immense benefit in the future.
In the words of John Ciardi: "A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea".