Irish teacher wins Microsoft innovation award

5 Nov 2007

A Kilkenny teacher has won an Innovative Teacher Award at the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum (ITF) 2007.

Tommy Maher, principal of Scoil Naomh Fiachra in Co Kilkenny, won the ‘Innovation in Content’ category at the event in Helsinki, Finland for his project ‘Don Quixote: Impossible Dreamers’.

Now in its third year, the worldwide ITF is the culmination of a series of regional events designed to honour outstanding teachers for their contributions.

Maher’s project name arose from the Don Quixote novel chosen for the pupils to study. The book was used as a vehicle for integrating ICT, robotics, science and mathematics in the curriculum. In the course of the study the pupils came across the musical Man of La Mancha and were taken with the idea of Don Quixote dreaming the impossible dream.

Later, when students began trying to animate Don Quixote with robots and were trying to design a windmill that would lift Don off his horse, as happened in the novel, they began to see themselves as the ‘impossible dreamers’, thus giving the teacher the name and subject for his project.

“The Microsoft Innovative Teachers programme challenges teachers to think about learning in new ways and gives them the means to so through working with the latest technology,” commented Maher.

“My project focuses on generating ideas for creating and animating robots. Faced with problems, the children will devise and test solutions. They will think about what they are building, build things that think and, ultimately, build things to think with. It ultimately allowed the students to work in a whole new way, enriching the learning experience.”

He will now get the chance to visit the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, in mid-2008. During their visit, the teachers will have a chance to see the latest in classroom technology, talk with Microsoft employees involved in developing software and programmes for teachers and schools and share their own experiences and expertise.

Kevin Marshall, academic programme manager, Microsoft Ireland, said: “We are delighted that an Irish teacher has been recognised as one of the most innovative in the world. We usually think of innovation and development in terms of research institutions but teachers play an important role in demonstrating how using technology in innovative ways can change the way we learn. Tommy’s project is evidence of how the power of software can be used to prepare students for the 21st Century. “

By Niall Byrne