The CESI National Conference took place with its usual aplomb at the DCU Institute of Education in Drumcondra just last month. A new addition to this year’s proceedings was the awarding of the Bianca Ni Ghrógain Memorial Award sponsored by the Irish Research Council (IRC). It was a bitter sweet occasion as the wider CESI community came together to honour a valued friend and inspirational educator, Bianca Ní Ghrógain, who departed from us all too early in June 2015 following a short illness. At the time of her untimely death Bianca was in the first year of a full time PhD programme at DCU funded by the Irish Research Council. Using her experience as a teacher at Griffeen Valley Educate Together School where she was renowned for her passion for the ‘flipped classroom’ and her use of educational technology, Bianca intended to use her PhD studies to advance the understanding of how these two concepts could be married together to promote STEM/STEAM education in primary schools.
Given the potential significance of her PhD course of study and Bianca’s contribution to the education community both in Ireland and internationally, the Irish Research Council were very supportive of a request from Bianca’s PhD supervisor to fund a once off memorial award in her honour via CESI. The award funding was separated into two separate prizes, one with a focus on research and the other with a more classroom/practitioner focus, reflecting both sides of Bianca’s teaching and academic career. Following a competitive process the two best projects were selected and the winners were announced at the CESI annual conference in March 2017. It was perhaps only fitting that Bianca’s parents, Pauline and Gerry Grogan were also in attendance on the day to present the awardees with their prizes in honour of their brilliant daughter’s name and memory.
L-R: Gerry Grogan, Mark Baldwin, Miriam Judge, Claire Daly, Pauline Grogan
Undoubtedly Bianca would have approved of the awardees and the excellent projects they are working on. The research category award went to Claire Daly, a primary school teacher at S.N. Iorball Sionnaigh, Scotstown, Co. Monaghan. Claire is investigating the use of Virtual Reality to develop cognitive maps when reading to support and enhance reading comprehension. With this research project second and third Class children will use VR (Virtual Reality) headsets to explore an interactive representation of a main protagonist’s journey in a fictional novel. Each location or setting encountered by the character will be explored in virtual reality using the Google Street View application and Google Cardboard headsets. Through her research Claire will be testing out the hypotheses that the use of Virtual Reality alongside narrative instruction can support the development of accurate mental representations of text, and thus enhance reading comprehension. The classroom/practitioner category award went to Mark Baldwin, a second level teacher at Coláiste Pobail Setanta. Using Microsoft Surface Tablets Mark’s first and second year students will take part in an extra-curricular initiative, Cumas, that challenges students who have shown a keen interest in History to develop their critical thinking and meta-cognitive skills. Mark’s project will demonstrate how using mobile devices such as tablets and other technology tools such as QR codes in an imaginative way, can be used to support the history curriculum utilising an enquiry based learning approach.
As both awardees have committed to delivering a presentation on their work at next year’s CESI conference we look forward to hearing about how their projects have developed and how their students have benefitted from the Bianca Ní Ghrógain Memorial award. While following in Bianca’s footsteps may seem like a hard act to follow the innovative and imaginative projects proposed by these two excellent teachers illustrate just how the spirit of Bianca lives on and continues to inspire teaching excellence. Bianca, rock on!