Schools Integration Project No. 005g

Control Technology Empowering Minds


Stokane National School, Co. Sligo

Scoil Náisiúnta an Stuacáin

Action Research and

"Mindstorms" Robotics

"Action Research is becoming an increasingly important element in educational change and professional development," writes Dr. Sheelagh Drudy, President of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland in her preface to the book, "Action Research in Ireland" (first published in 2000, ISBN 1-902047-01-X). She goes on to state that, "This form of research has been under way in many classrooms, schools, universities, colleges and other education and training situations for some years". But what is action research? It is an area of research conducted by individuals or organisations which involves the participants "in a process of constructing understanding about their practice in order that they might improve it.", states Dr. Drudy. In the same book, Jack Whitehead (Lecturer in Education at the University of Bath) warns that a "powerful state may wish to contest and even control teacher thinking" and Diarmuid Leonard (Professor and teacher educator at University of Limerick) states that this "warning is a challenge to the Teaching Council of Ireland to safeguard the rights of teachers to a research-based rather than a regulatory professionalism." Bernadette Ní Áingléis (member of the Inspectorate, Dept. Of Education) "highlights the potential of action research for constructing a knowledge base which has intimate relevance to school development and teacher professionalism," in the same book, and she states that "it is particularly encouraging and exciting to hear of school communities travelling down roads less travelled in research. I mention here especially learning organisations which integrate information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as film, photography and video in school review and teacher professional development." Often research is carried out on child learning in a particular area, with a particular team (comprised of a group of children, teachers, parents) and there is a mistaken belief that what works well in one area will work equally well somewhere else -- it will replicate well if all the factors are the same, but invariably, they are not. In the book, "You And Your Action Research" (ISBN 0-415-14475-2) by Jean McNiff, Pam Lomax and Jack Whitehead, (1996) it is stated that "the main purpose of action research is to bring about a change in practice." The measurement of what constitutes best practice is often best done by the practitioner and the speediest way to get meaningful and useful feedback is for the practitioner to perform the evaluation with a view to finding the best approach for the team.

An actor comes off a stage and wonders what the audience and critics think -- their thoughts and views may or may not have a bearing on his next performance. A soccer player views a video of a match he's just played to try to find out what went wrong with a view eliminating a weakness from the game. In 1994, a group of teachers reading in St. Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra, Dublin, did some research into the effectiveness of their work in the classroom. A cross-section of schools in Ireland took part. The initial hypothesis sought to determine if when parents', childrens', DES', teacher's and managerial authorities' views on what should happen in the classroom coincide, that maximum coupling between the system and children would take place in direct proportion to the degree in which all the parties agreed on the agenda. The method of acquiring data was by means of a survey which was filled out by the children and their parents, and data analysis took place in the college. The data showed that in the areas of reading and maths that children, parents and teachers were of a common view, but in Irish language studies, that there was a huge divergence, with a consequential higher and lower level of success respectively at those subjects in schools. This was a form of action research in that teachers examined their own practice and sought to determine some of the reasons for their successes and failures.

This SIP is an effort at approaching ideas, thinking and text from a different angle. Why does one and one make two? Two is a name we give to one and one....three is a name we give to one and one and one. We do this for convenience, and each piece of LEGO has to have a different name for convenience sake. We can say these names or we can write them. We can say the words and never have to write them, or we both say and write them, but the emphasis is always on going from actual concrete materials which children can see and feel and talk about, to the textual representation of same. The emphasis is therefore on the visual and spoken rather than the pure written which involves so many more skills. The end products often show where a child is at in terms of understanding materials technology -- a subject in post-primary -- and so much educationally sound happens around the projects that a full evaluation would run to several volumes, but the path to the product is indeed a great learning experience. Process or product? The product may be fine but the process is a magnificient example of good practice!

As a teacher I can say that the children got a lot from the project, and that it is well worth thinking about, particularly with small groups who like to work independantly at problem-solving, and it has a special place for those less academically able. What about the gifted child? The visual spatial learner? "You can tell you have one of these children by the endless amount of time they spend doing advanced puzzles, constructing with Legos, completing mazes, counting everything, playing Tetris on the computer, playing chess, building with any materials at hand, designing scientific experiments, programming your computer, or taking everything in the house apart to see how it operates." -- quote from http://gifteddevelopment.com/Articles/VSLWelcome.htm on Visual Spatial Learners. There is ample on scope for the activities in this project in the New Curriculum Maths programme, and Construction is a major section in the Arts programme. This project has shown how History and Geography can be explored in an enjoyable way, and an interesting thing about the Crom Dubh project was that it would be difficult to determine whether the children or the parents showed more enthusiasm when it came to visiting sites! With all the DIY and remote-controlled machines in our daily lives, it can only be natural to have children dabble in their creation, and this was a most rewarding aspect of the project. Photography and the making of mini videos was magic for the children, and it was amazing how quickly they adapted to the simple rules of using the camera, and to the processing of images to produce animations and web page backgrounds. An educational environment which creates bridges between the home and the wider community must be regarded as successful -- the processes involved in this project certainly meet these criteria.

-- Vincent McMahon N.T., B.Ed., Dip. in Remedial Ed.

© 2001

Useful links

Action Research Ireland: http://www.iol.ie/~rayo/

Trinity College Action Research: http://www.compapp.dcu.ie/~mfarren/actionres1/

Action Research International: http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/ari/arihome.html

Gifted Children: http://gifteddevelopment.com/Articles/VSLWelcome.htm

Ms. Leslie Graves, Chairperson of the Irish Association for Gifted Children, has a lot to offer teachers. Contact the Irish Association for Gifted Children Library (IAGC) at : lgraves@eircom.net