Changemaker Skills

Highlights from the 2016 Changemaker Education Summit in Killarney, Co. Kerry

What is our definition of changemaker education? 

"Every young person becoming empowered in a learning ecosystem that is explicitly focused on providing experiences that equip and incline them to make a better world."

From 19th to 22nd of October, we welcomed over 150 changemakers and leaders in education to Killarney, Co. Kerry, for the 2016 Changemaker Education Summit. It was a unique opportunity for European members of the Ashoka Changemaker Schools network to come together with innovators from all over the world, to share ideas for the co-creation and reinvention of education in today's world.

The summit programme included keynote speeches by Dr. Daire Keogh (Deputy President of DCU), Miho Taguma (Senior Policy Analyst OECD), Prof. Tom Collins (Chair of the Governing Bodies of DIT and IT Blanchardstown) and Margret Rasfeld (Ashoka Fellow and founder of School on the Move).

Attendees toured St. Oliver's National School (a member of the Irish Changemaker Schools network) and observed a Roots of Empathy class, based on the ground-breaking method for empathy education developed by Ashoka Fellow Mary Gordon.

We would like to extend a warm thank you to all who attended, and a big thank you to Rory D'Arcy and the school community of St. Oliver's N.S. in Killarney for making everyone feel welcome.

See more photos from the summit on our Facebook Page.

Search the #ChangemakerED Hashtag on TwitTER to see live updates from the Summit.

'Meet the Changemaker Schools' - read Carl O'Brien's article about the Changemaker Schools network in The Irish Times.

Meditation practice brings tranquility and confidence to the school day

By Breda Murray, Principal of Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S.

As educators, it is part of our job to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of children who exhibit signs of stress or disruption. In 2010 we introduced a Meditation Project for the students of Our Lady Immaculate, aged between 4-8. We did this for a few reasons. There was a marked absence of any form of ritual or time where the children were offered an opportunity to sit in silence and contact something beyond the business and challenges of their daily lives. Our children were under a complete barrage of noise and activity with few opportunities to go inside and build the inner resources they so desperately needed. The impact of this was evident in their behaviour, concentration, levels of attention and focus, behavioural disturbances, depression, apathy and general wellbeing. Their emotional and mental resilience was not as robust as it could be as they had many obstacles to overcome and often very little support at home. 

Our school is situated in what is termed a 'DEIS band 1' area, which is a category devised by the Department of Education and Skills in 2005 that refers to areas of significant economic, social and educational disadvantage. Although proud of our community, we recognise that growing up in a challenging and sometimes unstable environment can be taxing for young children.

A drawing by a student of Our Lady Immaculate JNS, submitted as part of their meditation practice feedback

A drawing by a student of Our Lady Immaculate JNS, submitted as part of their meditation practice feedback

After researching different types of meditation, we obtained some practical guidelines and resources for both staff and students, and in time established a meditation room that we decorated with a beautiful mural and simple relaxing furniture. We began slowly with about 7 classes, but within 2 years the whole school was meditating on a regular basis. Classes were facilitated by Steve Gregory, who has been working in this area for over 30 years. He brought a sense of deep calm and focus to the children and school environment as he began to work with parents and children on a weekly basis. Steve would work each week with all class groups modelling the meditation practices that the teachers could then with their own class group as they wanted to.

Parents, care givers, and the wider school community were also offered a weekly class, and soon a variety of people regularly gathered in our parents’ room for meditation. There was also a class for the teachers after school, which we have now extended to teaching staff in all the neighbouring schools.

At the end of the first year, I collected feedback from our students in written, verbal and artistic expression. I wasn't prepared for the depth of response and understanding of meditation the children displayed. They had absorbed and understood the various practices, and were using them throughout their daily lives, not just at school. They used the practices to help them sleep or energise, to release negative feelings, or draw in positive ones. Some children spoke of how the meditation helped them to soothe and reassure their anxieties and stress. Some even referred to feeling the presence of deceased family members while meditating, or seeing colours and images.

Reflections on meditation practice

Reflections on meditation practice

It was a revelation to me and Steve to see how deeply they had related to the whole experience. The children's knowledge and understanding were evidence of their immense capacity to go within themselves and find a deeper sense of being. There were many amazing moments that I heard, read or saw in the feedback as well as during meditation classes I observed, but perhaps the most satisfying thing was the realisation that for these young people meditation was as much a part of their lives as P.E., Music or Reading classes. Meditation had become a practice they drew on when they needed it.

It can be challenging in life to develop a sense of connection or meaning to something other than the present situation - a journey inwards that satisfies and nurtures and is not dependent on anything other for a sense of completeness or joy. If our children contact that even once through this meditation project, it will all have been worth it, as that experiencecan make all the difference.

This blogpost was written by Breda Murray, Principal of Changemaker School Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S. in Darndale, Dublin 17. Visit their website to find out more:


Teaching coding: Europe is making progress, but more can be done.

CoderDojo is a global movement of voluntary coding clubs for kids.

CoderDojo is a global movement of voluntary coding clubs for kids.

Coding is a skill for the future. Ashoka Fellow James Whelton's organisation CoderDojo is a global, volunteer-led network of coding clubs, which is spread through the CoderDojo Foundation. Below, Global Development Lead Giustina Mizzoni describes the challenges and opportunities ahead.

To date, 15 European countries have introduced coding into their schools’ curriculums with many other countries in the process of doing so. However, more could be done to support informal coding activities as well as in schools from both governments and European institutions.

October saw the end of another successful Europe Code Week, during which thousands of CoderDojo volunteers, parents, and ninjas took part in events around Europe.

The initiative which began three years ago, by Neelie Kroes of Young Advisors, aims to expose individuals, both young and old, from all across Europe to develop a greater understanding of coding and its importance in today’s digitally connected world.

All new Champions who get in touch about starting a Dojo are asked, how did you hear about CoderDojo? For a month or two following Code Week a number from not just in Europe cite Code Week as their reason for wanting to join the community!

CoderDojo continues to grow massively throughout Europe. From the beginning of this year to October 2015 over 160 Dojos have been verified in Europe, with many more people registering their interest in setting up Dojos in their communities as well.

Coding at school: How do EU Countries Perform?

A great achievement this past year has been the creation of the European Coding Initiative, a multi-stakeholder group whose aim is to promote coding and computational thinking throughout Europe, both inside and outside of the classroom.

A number of organisations and CoderDojo partners such as European Schoolnet, Liberty Global and Microsoft are all involved in making sure this initiative strives to empower young people and promote the importance of learning to code.

To date, 15 European countries have introduced coding into their curriculums with many other countries in the process of doing so.

National governments are beginning to realise that the introduction of coding into schools not only helps children develop computer literacy skills but also equips youth with many other valuable skills in areas such as logical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork.

Exposing youth to coding through the formal education system and outside through informal clubs like CoderDojo will also assist with closing the digital skills gap that is being experienced across Europe.

Not all children who learn coding will become software engineers and this is certainly not the aim of CoderDojo!

However, it is estimated that 90% of all jobs require candidates to have basic computer skills and CoderDojo is enabling youth to be successful, competent adults regardless of their chosen career direction.

Best Practice Project: Erasmus +

This year we were delighted to become involved in an Erasmus+ project. In conjunction with partners CIT, The Nerve Centre, WiMi and IBE, it aims to create toolkits which will be utilised by new and existing members of the CoderDojo Community.

By surveying the existing CoderDojo Community, our partners are in the process of developing a CoderDojo International Toolkit which will be a detailed set of recommendations, methodologies and guidelines covering all aspects of establishing and operating a CoderDojo Chapter.

While continued support from European programmes such as the Erasmus+ project is vital, we believe more could be done to support informal coding activities as well as in schools from [CM1] both governments and European institutions.

Introducing coding into school curriculums is a huge step in the right direction, so is making ICT training compulsory for incoming teachers.

But this is not enough. Supporting programs like CoderDojo, held outside of formal education system, give European institutions a viable avenue for ensuring more youth are exposed to coding in a meaningful and creative way.

CoderDojo provides an opportunity for children to maintain and further develop an interest in coding whether it was gained from taking part in Code Week, or from a computational thinking class in school.

Throughout our four years of existence, we at CoderDojo has learned that having Dojos outside of a classroom setting helps to encourage young people’s creativity and allows for self-led learning.

Dojos are largely unstructured and young people are given the opportunity to work on projects of their choosing which makes learning to code seem less like another subject and more like a hobby.

In order for CoderDojo to grow and reach more young people, European institutions need to:

  1. Make the development of coding skills for youth a top priority.
  2. Recognise its place not only in the formal education system but also in informal learning environment.
  3. Promote coding at a local level within their communities.
  4. Continue to highlight initiatives like CoderDojo and Europe Code week and encourage all stakeholders to get involved.

This article was written by Giustina Mizzoni, Global Development Lead at the CoderDojo Foundation. Read the original article here.