Three teachers from Northern Ireland; Tom Fitzsimmons and Ciaran McLaren from Crumlin Integrated College, and Eileen McStocker of St. Pius X College, will be travelling to Hong Kong to represent Northern Ireland at the 2008 Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher’s Forum in November. The teachers were chosen from competitors all over Northern Ireland who entered the Microsoft competition to find Northern Ireland’s most Innovative teacher.

Tom Fitzsimmons and Ciaran McLaren were chosen to showcase their innovative pilot course which was initiated as a foundation for year 10 pupils who would later choose GCSE Double Award Engineering. Eileen McStocker’s exciting project, Conservation Online, takes pupils from a local primary school on a virtual journey around St. Pius X College conservation area. The teachers from both schools are part of the Northern Ireland Regional Training Unit’s (RTU) Online Learning and Teaching for Educators Programme, (OLTE). This programme, funded by the Department for Education, aims to develop and support schools’ ability to use elearning effectively.

Speaking today, Tom Fitzsimmons said: “Ciaran and I are delighted to be chosen to represent Northern Ireland at Microsoft’s 2008 Worldwide Innovative Teachers Forum. We are really looking forward competing against our peers from all over the world in Hong Kong.”

Eileen McStocker noted, “It will be great to see what other innovative projects people are doing to integrate digital learning in the classroom and I’m sure there will be many lessons to learn in Hong Kong that we can apply back home.”

Tom and Ciaran’s pilot course is designed as a foundation for the pupils in year 10 who will later choose GCSE Double Award Engineering and Mathematics. The design and planning of the course required students to have no prior knowledge of engineering concepts or have any previous experience in learning through the virtual environment. Therefore the course planning had to ensure that the students were fully inducted and introduced to both the rules of online learning and the fundamental concepts of Engineering.

Eileen’s project is a 10 week course which takes the user on a virtual journey around St. Pius X College conservation area. The various stops on the conservation area are outlined through digital photographs and the associated theory topics are conveyed to students using a variety of files, work tasks and discussions. Each week a new topic or stop is covered with some tasks extending over two weeks. When the 10 week course is complete students will make an actual visit to the conservation area.

Tom Jackson, Schools Technology Innovation Centre Manager, Microsoft Northern Ireland, said: “It’s great to have two Northern Irish schools competing at the global finals this year. I think it will be tight between the two projects and I really think one of them has a great chance of winning the overall prize with their project."

“As the world changes and the skills our children need in the work force of the future change, we need to move education to a model of 21st Century learning. These projects are great examples of the innovative approach we should be taking.”

Jackson continued, “People can always find new and better ways of doing things, if they put their mind to it. Teachers play an important role in helping achieve that. Through the Innovative Teachers Forum, Microsoft is bringing together accomplished educators from around the world who share an enthusiasm for continual innovation in education.”

Dr. Victor McNair, Senior Lecturer, University of Ulster, who was one of the judges in the competition noted: "This year, the judges had a challenging task as all the entries were of very high quality and reflected the creativity and commitment to ICT-supported learning of our teachers. I was particularly impressed with the way these teachers integrated their excellent lessons with well designed and stimulating ICT-based activities."

The 2008 Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Forum will take place in Hong Kong from the 3rd of November through the 6th.

The 2008 Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher’s Forum is part of Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Programme, a worldwide initiative aimed at supporting interdisciplinary work in secondary education and beyond. The goal of the event is to enhance student learning through teacher development and leadership. As part of the initiative, Microsoft collaborates with local and international experts in curriculum development and teacher training and seeks to increase access to latest computer technologies in educational institutions.