Welcome to The Year Ahead, a mini-series from the Heinemann Podcast, hosted by Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re) Invigorate Your Teaching. Meenoo has always believed that teaching is harder if you do it alone, and teaching during a once in a lifetime pandemic is as hard as it gets, but by meeting educators around the world who are going through this too, maybe together, we can share ideas, commiserate, and be a witness to each other’s experiences. In this podcast series, we’ll meet educators who are getting ready to return to school under the most challenging and unusual circumstances.
In today’s episode we are meeting James Protheroe all the way from Wales, UK. James teaches his students in an elementary school and this year will be shifting his student centered learning approaches to meet this hybrid learning moment. More information about our guest and resources mentioned during this episode are in the show notes. Now, let’s meet James.
Below is a transcript of this episode.
Meenoo: James, it's good to see you. Welcome. It's been a while. I don't know if you can see, but I'm wearing a Minecraft shirt in your honor. One of the things that I'm really excited that I get to talk to you about, James, is not just our mutual love for game-based learning, but I hope in this conversation that we'll get to dig a little bit deeper into how you have taken what students love and have made it the center of your practice.
And when I think of one of the most thoughtful and compassionate people to work with young people, you are one of the people who comes to my mind. So, I'm really thankful that you are making time for this chat, and I'm really excited for those listening to get to know you a little bit. So welcome.
James: Oh, thanks, Meenoo. It's my absolute pleasure to speak to you today. And really looking forward to catch up really on everything that's going on with teaching and learning, particularly in these times. So yeah, really excited.
Meenoo: Yeah. I mean, we've shared some really fun experiences. Remember when we used to be able to get on planes, and get on stages?
Meenoo: And you picking up a very sleepy me from Cardiff train station. Yeah. I think if you want to know if someone is a good professional development leader, ask them to teach a bunch of adults Minecraft, and you and I have both seen each other do that, so that's a bond that can't be broken easily. So I'm super, super excited.
I obviously know you and know a bit about your practice and have even seen you leading your practice in person, but those listening might be like, "Who is this guy with an awesome accent on this podcast?" So do you want to start by just telling us a little bit about yourself, a little bit about your teaching journey, what you love about your work? Yeah. I'd love for people to hear a little bit more about that.
James: Oh yeah, definitely. So I'm James Protheroe. I am assistant head teacher at Darran Park Primary School, which is in Wales, hence the accent, in a little town called Ferndale. I've been teaching now for 16 years, and I've been in a more formal leadership role for the past seven years.
My expertise really... I worked with students aged between 3 and 11 in a primary school. My main teaching practice has been with those learners between 7 and 11 years old, that type of thing. And I've got to be honest, it is an amazing job. I love working with young people. You want honest feedback about anything, ask a seven or eight-year-old child, and they'll tell you exactly what they think. And I think that's one of those things that you've always got to be learning, you've always got to move with the children, because if something doesn't work, they'll definitely tell you if they're not enjoying something.
I'm a real, real advocate. My passion, I guess, would be for using technology in the classroom, but in a really integrated approach to teaching and learning. So, not using technology for technology's sake, really using it to open new doors, open horizons for learners that, I guess, without that sort of technology they wouldn't be able to do.
So, as you already said, I'm huge advocate. I love using Minecraft: Education Edition in the classroom, not just because it is an amazing and engaging tool, but I've seen how it can develop a range of skills and knowledge with our learners, but in that really engaging in an innovative platform. And particularly how we can use it to raise aspirations, letting learners discover that they've got more experience than their teacher is something that they love to win. So getting them to share their knowledge, their expertise with me certainly keeps me on my toes, but with other learners and with other teachers is just an amazing thing.
So yeah, I love teaching. I've also had the pleasure of working with lots of teachers from around Wales. Our school is a center for professional development for the learners using digital skills. As you already mentioned, I love working with teachers of lots of different backgrounds, but our learners particularly have got so much from sharing their expertise with others. So we've created sort of mini digital trainers where they amaze me all the time, really.
Meenoo: Yeah. I want to come back to a few things, especially the way that your students teach adults. I definitely want to touch on that in a moment. Do you want to help us understand a little bit of the context of your students? Where are they growing up in Wales What is their experience like?
And when we talk about this opening of horizons for students, why is it particularly important for students that you teach and you reach every day? And I want to clarify, even though you are a school leader, you still work directly with students, that you're still teaching students.
James: Yeah. That's right. Our school is situated in a little town called Ferndale, which is in South Wales in the UK. And I guess what's really special for me about working in that area is that I grew up there as well. So the school that I teach in, I went to myself as a child and our learners are absolutely amazing. They're fantastic. They're like sponges, I guess. They take everything on board and they really want to learn and develop their knowledge in lots of different ways.
I guess our main challenge is that a lot of our learners... The town where our school is in Ferndale is only about 25 miles away from the capital city of Wales, but on public transport to get from our town to the capital city, it would take you over I guess, an hour and 45 minutes.
So unless learners have access to cars, they don't tend to go very far. They're immediate sort of environment is what most of them see. And it is a lovely environment. It's a beautiful place to live. It's situated in a valleys community. You've got green as far as the eye can see, but they're limited, I guess, in what's there beyond that immediate sort of environment. A lot of our parents work in that immediate vicinity, so they don't go very far.
So I guess, as a school for us, one of those challenges is how do we raise aspirations to think well there is a really big wide world out there. And I guess the one thing we've really used that has been the most pivotal to this journey is how we've used technology to raise aspirations. I really get learners to see, well, there is a big wide world out there, but to using technology, it's just a laptop or a device away. So we've really integrated things like Skype in the classroom has been huge. Our learners have organized sort of meets with schools all over the world, really. Mexico, United States all over Europe, and they see this as part of their learning. They don't see it as anything special anymore. It's just what they do.
And that's what I want. I want them to understand that you could work, you could stay in your locality forever, but you could be working with America. You could be working anywhere in the world with technology. As well as this, actually, as I mentioned earlier, it's using technology in a really purposeful way. We call them our digital leaders. They're called Digi Darrans at Darran Park Primary. They came up with that.
Meenoo: I love that name, Digi Darrans.
James: They came up with that name and every year we enter something called the Enterprise Troopers competition. I guess the main aim of this is to start a business from scratch and basically enter a competition and compete against other schools who do exactly the same thing.
We run it as a whole school competition, first of all. So you had some classes making things like friendship bracelets, or bookmarks or cakes or fruit kebabs. But I was so impressed when my learners said, "Well, as digital leaders, we train other children in our school how to use technology. Why couldn't we do this for children in other schools, but charge them for that?" So they developed this model and they priced it. From the very beginning they looked at, "Well, if I was going to visit another school, what costs would I need to think about?"
So they thought about things like transport, access to equipment in other schools, the amount of money it would take ... They even thought, "Well, we can't go on our own to another school. So we need to work out how much it would be for a teacher to take on for the day. So they worked out that if we had a substitute or supply teacher in for that day, how much it would cost.
It was amazing. They entered the competition. They made something like... I guess the amount of money they made is irrelevant really, but they made over like 5,000 pound over the year. But the experience that it gave them and the confidence those children have now to talk to adults from anywhere, it just amazes me. And these are children that initially didn't want to talk to another adult from the next school. Literally now they will interview teachers from across the world, really confidently. I think it's using technology in a purposeful way, but not forgetting those skills that we want them to develop as a result of what we're doing.
Meenoo: Yeah. What I'm struck by when you share the need to expand students' view of the world beyond their immediate neighborhood, I think no matter where listeners are tuning in from, they can relate to this. For me, it was teaching students from Southwest Philadelphia who had never been to center city, Philadelphia, which is only 10-minute drive in a car and leaving their immediate neighborhood to see what the center of the city has to offer in terms of culture and in terms of opportunities. That is so common, whether you're in a small town in Wales or a small town in America, or you are in a neighborhood in an urban city. I think what struck me about what you said was the purpose behind bringing technology into the classroom, where the student remains the center of it, that it's not about whatever's the latest fad or whatever the latest shiny thing is, but rather, letting the students lead.
Literally in this case, the Digi Darren's are the ones leading. They came up with the idea. They figured out the cost profit ratio. They worked out the practical details and they ran their own business. I am struck by your practice in the way that technology is literally a tool, but really it's the relationship and the needs for the needs of students and expanding their world that remains the core of your practice. I think doing this, as you said at the beginning, in these strange times where at least once a year I would get to see you and be excited to see you, whether it's in London or Wales. This year, we're not going to be able to do that. This year is unlike any other year for all of us. I'm just curious about how things are going in Wales, if you are back in school or if you are opening school and what will school look like this year in Wales and just for you to share a bit more about that.
James: We all were opening for all learners in September, and we've basically been, our government has basically told us in Wales that we'll have full numbers in each class. They've more or less said that social distancing between adults and learners is still really important. In terms of groups of learners, a child from a class will stay in that class bubble for the whole time. We will sort of stagger, I guess, or start the day at different times for each class so they're not mixing with children from other learners. Then throughout that day, they'd stay, we'll timetable the yard, the dinner hall, the break times to make sure that as far as we can, that we keep the learners separate from each other. It is going to be really strange, particularly with... Our school, for a primary school in Wales is quite large. We've got 344 learners at the moment in school, but literally we've got sort of one set of toilets for our younger learners and one for the older learners.
Things like that are going to take a lot of working out. I think what I've noticed from this whole thing is how adaptable learners are, and they'll soon get used to this. We have been very fortunate that before the summer break, all our learners came back for four weeks in small groups. They've sort of got used to the social distance in element, the sort of washing their hands, sanitizing their hands, those types of things. I guess what's going to be different now is because they're in groups of up to 30 students, what is learning going to look like in that sort of sense? Technology again, is going to play a huge part, but really something that I think has been really beneficial to us as a school, is the blended learning approach that we've adopted and throughout lockdown and throughout distance learning, it's been a really important part.
Our learners use Teams. They have been using Teams to communicate. We've been able to do things like face-to-face calling, just to be honest, sometimes just to check in with our learners and see if they're doing okay rather than to do any formal teaching. Then they'd be able to collaborate with their classmates using that platform as well. When we come back to school, we'll be able to, this blended approach will involve face-to-face learning, time for online learning and then hopefully because, if whatever happens down the line, who knows we could end up being in a situation where the school has to close again, hopefully because learners would be so used to using these platforms, it will be seamless that transition.
Yeah. I think very exciting times. I think learners, I'm sure learners are ready to come back because it will be close to six months in Wales since some of our learners have been in school. From a social point of view, definitely obviously there are going to be teaching is going to be very different to what it was last September. We call it the new normal from at the moment because [inaudible 00:17:44] and what is that normal going to look like? I guess only time will tell and the way things develop over the next few months.
Meenoo: Yeah. I think the resiliency of young people is always there and it's something that you're always struck by when things continue to change in schools, even when we're not living through a pandemic or teaching through a pandemic, students quickly adapt. It's often very telling how hard it is for students when it comes to adaptation. I'm curious about some of the... And for folks who are listening, Teams is like an equivalent of Zoom. I'm curious about digging a little bit deeper into your blended learning approach, especially how you're using things like Minecraft and game based learning.
For some of some folks who might be listening, Minecraft might be the same that they know, their students play at home or their own children play in the back of their car on a long are on our long ride. Or they've heard of things like creepers blowing up, but beyond that, they might be like, "What? Minecraft in a school." It's such an important part of your practice, again, not for the tool, but what it has done for your students. I'm going to give you a moment to talk about that and just describe the types of learning that your students have done with Minecraft.
James: Yes. Thank you for that. Minecraft Education edition is a tool that our learners love, but as a vehicle for developing knowledge and skills, it's an amazing, amazing... I can't speak highly enough about it. Now, I've been using Minecraft for the last five years in the classroom, and we've done some amazing projects. Again, all learner driven projects, from things like researching the heritage of the schools' area, the students found out about a mining disaster that killed about 250 people from the community 150 years ago. Because they don't understand really that the area used to be a mining community, it didn't mean anything to them. The fact that they were able to research, finds out things about it and then create like a field trip type thing. They went to the site, they record the information, they created that using Minecraft.
They were able to immerse themselves, so they put themselves, they imagined what it was like to travel underground. They wrote diary articles, which they then shared to each other. They were really using it to, I guess, construct reality and think about how they could access those skills in this way. We've used it for developing history in lots of different ways. One thing that for me, has been very, very different, has been in the past, we've always used Minecraft where it's been a face-to-face experience. We've worked together. I've introduced the problem or they've introduced a problem and we've used it together in one space at one time. Obviously, during lockdown when we're thinking about distance learning, this wasn't possible.
I created a project and as I mentioned earlier, we used Microsoft Teams to collaborate and communicate and to share information through a shared platform. Then we also used a Minecraft Education Edition for learners to collaborate with each other. The project was called Amazing Architecture and the whole project was designed to think about, "Okay. What does an architect do? We see buildings appear all the time, but what is that process? What does it look like?" I created a world in Minecraft Education Edition, and I built a hotel in that world. It was called the Beacon Hotel and I played lots of information, signs and boards and links out to other websites.
And the first thing the learners did was they roamed around, they explored that building. And at each room, there was a guide or an NPC, a non-playable character, that would give a little bit of information about how the world was constructed. So the learners did that. Then they went away and they used other tools such as Microsoft Sway to think about their own amazing building, to design their own amazing building as well. And they created a multimedia presentation using Sway again, which is a really interactive tool where learners can create their own presentations in a really easy way. The fantastic thing about Minecraft is that through using an NPC, you can share that link and attach it to the Minecraft world.
So we set this up, learners did that. And then they came to the fun part. They were able to, in this world, create their own buildings using Minecraft: Education Edition and the research that they'd done. So if you think about the building, all that sort of buildup work already had taken place. Now, if I was going to do this face-to-face in the classroom, it would be easy because I could say, "Lesson one, I'll introduce this. We'll do some work." But using Microsoft teams, I was able to break down the task into smaller sections and they were able to do that work and share back what they've done. So I could see it, but the other learners from the class could see it as well.
Now, I will say I wonder where I fit in sometimes because the builds that the learners did in this way blew me away completely. If I give you one example, learners had been thinking about the field hospitals that had been appearing in the area to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. So one of the learners created, using the ExCel Center in London, they researched this and she created what was called the Phoenix Hotel, and she said... Well I spoke, "Why did you create this?" And she said, "Well because we need to be thinking about where our COVID patients are being treated. I've constructed this hospital." And they had an isolation ward, they had signs saying, "One person at one time, please wear masks. Remember your protective equipment."
Meenoo: Wow, yeah.
James: Obviously, all of this is done remotely without any face-to-face direction for me. So Minecraft was brilliant and Minecraft was the but I guess that joined everything together.
James: But when you think about all the skills and all the knowledge that children were developing as a result of that project, it blew me away to be honest.
Meenoo: Yeah. I mean just skills or research, synthesizing information, processing and applying complex information. And then probably the highest skill in any learning which is creating something new or taking the background knowledge and applying it in new contacts. The students were doing that. Especially the last example where a student took a very large structure, like the ExCel Center in London, and turned it into just in case we needed a COVID response center. That's incredible. How do you think your students' learning needs will shift from last September to this September? And how will you know that and how will you meet those needs?
James: I think the first thing, because this is a very different world to the one that they were in last September when they were coming back, and we've always got things to think about. Our learners in the UK have six weeks off in the summer. There were always things that we need to think about on a basic skills level, literacy and numeracy, and you think often learner skills will drop quite considerably within those six weeks, particularly our younger learners. Now we've got to remember, some of these students haven't been in school for six months, so there's going to be a real focus on those basic skills, particularly with the face-to-face interaction that we have with our learners. So literacy, reading, writing, and digital skills is going to play a huge part.
For me, the most important thing that we need to consider is our learners' emotional, physical and mental wellbeing, because it's been a very scary place to live in the world over the last few months and some of our learners haven't really had the opportunity to talk, to discuss with anyone outside their immediate environment. So it's going to be very much thinking about how can we integrate this so the children have lots of opportunities to discuss, to talk, to make sense of what's happening? But also, that we can reassure learners that sometimes... As adults, we don't know everything. But helping them to support them to cope with change, I think this is going to be a huge part. And on the same level there, learners' physical wellbeing. Some learners haven't been out of their house really for the last few months. So getting back to having regular activities within school, regular exercise.
And as I say, I've used that phrase, "The new normal," already, but children I think will be able to adapt to that a lot easier than adults because they are so adaptable. But it's just reassuring learners. And actually, if somebody is worrying, it's important for them to know talk about it. We're all scared of things. Don't keep things bottled up. So for me, that's going to be the most pressing thing. And we are very fortunate. Our Welsh government has actually said to us, "Spend the first few months focusing on those basic skills that learners have missed out on as well." And for me, continuing our approach of using technology to support distance learning still, because if we are continuing to use that, ultimately, when you think about future ready skills, that's a huge bonus for the learners to keep developing that. And as I say, looking for the positives in everything is what we really need to do.
Meenoo: Yeah. I mean there's so much talk about the loss of learning or loss of skills and loss of time. And every other day, I see a new article that's the scary headline of, "Schools have to open whether it's safe or not, because there's loss of learning for students." And I think what you're calling out is any time there's a break from school, there's a rebuilding. Yes, this year is unlike any other, but the importance of paying attention to caring for the whole child, their emotional wellbeing. And I love that you called out even movement. Their physical wellbeing is just as important as ensuring that they have basic literacy and basic numeracy skills. And I think for adults who will have to stand in front of students in a few weeks, the honesty of saying, "I don't have all the answers and this also is scary for me," will go a long way in building that trust and not putting up this false veneer.
And it goes back to what you said, if you really want to know the truth about anything, ask a seven-year-old because they are the biggest detectors of lies. So I think you're right on that yes, there will be additional supports that all students will need because of what we as the world have gone through, but let's not forget about paying attention to all of their needs and not just their basic learning needs. I'm curious about this point of caring about students, to caring about ourselves and caring about educators. You're both an educator and an educator leader in your school. How do you think about that? How do you think about the kindness that you want to ensure that your students experience, but also that the adults in your building experience? I'm curious about how you think about that.
James: Yeah. I think that is a really important thing to consider that everybody has experienced this whole pandemic in very, very different ways. And for some staff who might have been what we call shielding. So some staff have been told that they weren't allowed to leave their house because they had underlying health conditions or that type of thing, for those staff to then be told, "Okay, now you're going back to school," it's going to be a big thing. Some of those staff have been working throughout because our schools opened as childcare centers or hubs. So some staff have been back for the whole time. But it's okay. And I think it's really important for staff to understand that it's okay not to be having a good day. It's okay to feel worried and to feel...
And I think from my point of view as a leader, I would say that talk is really, really important. Talk about what's going on, talk about how you're feeling and don't bottle things up because it is such a frightening time to be thinking about. You've got to stop sometimes and think, "Well if I'm not looking after myself and my own wellbeing, I'm not going to be able to effectively support my learners in the same way." So we've done things like when the school day ends, we've asked staff or encouraged staff not to stay in the school building, but to leave, to get away from the school, one, so each class can be cleaned thoroughly, but two, because staff then need that time because the first few weeks is going to be exhausting for them.
So we've said to the staff, "Please don't feel that you're going home and working every night, because that is not going to be sustainable. There's got to be lots of things to consider, so be kind to yourself." We've also grouped our teachers in teams. In terms of planning, that type of thing, we give our teachers regular time out of the classroom for planning, for preparation, for that type of thing. We're encouraging our staff to use things like Microsoft Teams to do lots of that remotely so they don't have to physically make that journey.
But I'd say the main thing, really, is encouraging staff to talk about what they're going through and to make sure that it's okay not to be okay. It's okay to have a bad day. The one thing I would say is that, obviously, because our learners are themselves making sense of this whole situation, it's being careful, sometimes, what we share in front of the learners as well. Being responsible that if we are worried about things, that we're not passing that on too much to learners. So, creating spaces where staff can go to have their breaks so they're away from learners is a key part.
Meenoo: I just want to call out some very concrete things in case any school leaders or system leaders are listening. You're creating room for your teachers to have space to talk about it. You're grouping them and providing a team support so they're not tackling this transition to teaching during pandemic on their own. You're giving them explicit time to do planning work, which is really important because learning has to change no matter how digital first you were. And you're making room for the emotional distress that everyone is experiencing, and you're explicitly saying things like, "It's okay to have a bad day, and there is room and space to process those things." I just think so many educators will look to their leaders for that kind of support, and they may or may not get it, but it's important that we explicitly call those things out, that you think are just important.
I think, as I said, no matter how digital first teachers might have been, this is going to be different. I'm curious about someone listening to this who maybe used technology, maybe didn't, but is now starting to think about how technology can be that bridge between themselves and their students, somebody who's like, "I don't know, it feels like all too much, and sometimes it's just a bunch of shiny buzzwords." How might you... Because you have used technology to make an impact for your students, what advice or what would you share with them, someone who's just starting to embark on their own digital transformation of their classroom?
James: If someone's thinking about how they're going to use digital technology, really, to change things within their school, or to change their approach to teaching and learning, I would always say, "Start with why. Start with the why, what you want it to do." Because a lot of schools think, "Well, I need to be using technology," and you ask them why, and they say, "Well, because everybody else is." And that can't be so.
I'd say, "Establish that vision. Think about what you want to achieve." So, think about your vision. Then, in terms of resources, in terms of infrastructure, make sure that as a school leader, I need to make sure that all those things are set up, first of all, to ensure that when my staff starts to use it, it's easy for them. Think about things like the infrastructure, the amount of equipment you have in school, that type of thing. And then, think about the CPD, so the continual professional development, and don't overwhelm people. Because if you give them a two-hour training and they've not had chance to try anything out themselves, it's going to be lost. So, I would say short, sharp, focused training.
If I give you an example, we've used Teams before in school, but not really used Teams to do face-to-face calls with students. The first thing we all did as a staff was we set up calls between staff where we looked at one aspect of the platform for 15 minutes. Then, staff went away. They played with that for 10 minutes. The following week, we came back. But then, we put sort of the... that sort of the... I can't... I'm trying to think of the word. We put the expectation on staff that at the end of the session, they would do something, come back the following session, and share. So, we're building on the expertise that they've already got.
If we think about our digital journey within the school, we focused on Teams as that, the thing we were going to look at. We didn't then go and look at different... lots and lots of different tools. We focused on one thing, introduced features, shared back, and then used it with our students. Next term, we'll think about something else. So, start small, but think about why you're going to use it.
If you want use a tool to do face-to-face calls with your learners, then Teams would be a really appropriate thing to be using. If you want to think about a tool that can really engage creativity, collaboration, think about something like Minecraft Education Edition. But as I say, the same thing, whatever tool that you use, start small, a little bit, and build upon that and think about what you want to achieve from using that tool.
Meenoo: Yeah. I mean, starting with a why, another [inaudible 00:39:29] idea, too, that has influenced my own thinking about why I do the things that I do. I also really want to also call out that you mentioned the importance of just checking in with students via calls. So many teachers have said that, if you're on Twitter or if you've been reading blogs, that just the good old phone call has been deemed really important just to keep that connection with students going. The idea that you learn something even as an adult and then you apply it, and that firms up your understanding of a new concept or a new skill, that's so important. Just like we ask students to do that.
You know, James, we're going to link to your blog. We're going to link to your Twitter feed. Are there any other resources that you want to call out for your work that people should check out?
James: Yeah. My Twitter and my blog, definitely. What I would say, a really good article, or actually a study, that... particularly with blended learning. I'd like to just give a bit of a shout out to is Blended Learning in Action, A Practical Guide Towards Sustainable Change by Catlin Rice Tucker. I just thought, from an educator's point of view, it was really, really easy to read, and I could sort of see, "Oh yeah, that's why I do that." I think as educators, sometimes, finding an article that's going to be beneficial that I can just immediately take something away from is the type of thing that we're all looking for. So, definitely that would be something I'd recommend.
Meenoo: You're definitely a teacher's teacher because you shout out studies that, again, firm up your why of why you bring technology in the classroom. We met because of Minecraft and my work on that team when I was on that team. But I know that we will have a lifelong friendship because of our shared love of serving students. Your friendship means a lot to me and your time to do this has meant so much to me. So, thank you so much, James. I hope that we'll get a chance to check in with you, check in on Wales, maybe in a future episode, and see how your year is kicking off.
James: Oh, thank you very much, Meenoo. It's been an absolute privilege to share our experiences from Darren Park Primary School. Right back at you. I love working with you. We've formed a real bond, and really forward to working with you in the future. Hopefully when things have calmed down a little bit more and we'll finally get to meet again one day.
James: I can't wait for that.
Meenoo: Yeah, I can't wait to see you in London again. Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much.
James: Thank you.
Meenoo Rami, author of Thrive, is a national board certified teacher who taught students English in Philadelphia for ten years, at the Science Leadership Academy and in other public schools in the city. The founder of #engchat, an international Twitter chat for English teachers, Meenoo is a teacher-consultant for the National Writing Project and an instructor in Arcadia University’s Connected Learning Certificate Program. Meenoo has also worked as a teaching fellow with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she led the portfolio to help teachers refine their practice through collaboration. Currently, Meenoo works as a Senior Program Manager helping education, nonprofit, and government organizations to accelerate their digital transformation at Microsoft. Follow Meenoo on Twitter @meenoorami
James Protheroe is assistant headteacher at Darran Park Primary School, South Wales. As a Microsoft Showcase School, the school has placed digital learning at the very heart of teaching and learning. This has included developing effective pupil digital leaders who have supported teachers and learners across Wales to develop effective approaches to teaching and learning with Microsoft tools. James is working with Minecraft and Welsh Government to develop Minecraft Learning Centres across Wales to train educators to integrate Minecraft: Education Edition to transform teaching and learning.
As a Microsoft Showcase School, the staff at Darran Park Primary School strive to use technology to make the curriculum accessible for learners. During the recent school closures, teachers were able to connect with learners through Microsoft Teams. As well as assigning work for students, this provided teachers with invaluable opportunities to communicate with learners through face-to-face video calls. This had a huge impact on the wellbeing of pupils.
James has also used Minecraft: Education Edition to develop a range of innovative projects, developing a range of curriculum-based skills in an exciting and engaging way. In a recent project, That’s Entertainment, learners used Minecraft to create a virtual museum of the history of leisure and entertainment in the school’s local area. Minecraft provided learners with real opportunities to interpret history and develop an understanding of how the community has changed over time. The project received the primary school award at the Welsh Heritage Schools Initiative in 2019.
As a Minecraft mentor and trainer, he has worked with schools across the UK using Minecraft Education Edition to develop knowledge and skills through innovative and engaging projects. James has shared the impact Minecraft can have to develop creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and tangible learning outcomes with educators at conferences around the world.