Laois school links with MIT to study Portlaoise rapid population growth

STEM: American university picks CBS as pilot school

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

massachusetts institute of technology

Portlaoise school students take part in Blossom project

An exciting new link has been formed between Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of America's most prestigious universities, an Irish University and St Mary's CBS in Portlaoise.

The CBS is one of three Irish schools chosen for the BLOSSOM project created by MIT near Boston, the leading college in STEM education worldwide. It is introduced in Ireland through the University of Limerick.

Former St Mary’s CBS mathematics teacher, Dr Brian Carroll, is leading the project through his post at Hibernia College, a nationally recognised leader in teacher education.

The Blossom project teaches STEM subjects using practical methods of thinking that include videos.

The four-week maths project chosen for all of CBS's 75 Transition Year students is midway completed.

The boys have been considering problems like how averages can be misleading, such as the average depth of a river if one was planning to walk across, using videos made by MIT.

Their final project will analyse why the population of Portlaoise has mushroomed, including doing interviews with locals who moved here both recently and generations ago.

Teacher Paul Cahillane explains what the boys will be doing.

“They will have to do research in groups, to talk about the consequence of population growth, and look at hard and soft policies that caused it, like decentralisation of the Dept of Agriculture, and better access by road and rail. They will be applying maths to real life,” he said.

It is 'blended learning' with students from all levels of maths working in teams together.

Mr Cahillane said the new methods of learning maths have had an instant positive reaction from students.

“Some lads took to it easier who are in ordinary level maths, it's just a different way of thinking. You could see the reaction straight away,” he said.

CBS already uses videos as part of their teaching processes.

“We use them for teaching revision, we send students our videos through an app. It is a great use of technology and we can see the results already in Junior Cert results,” Mr Cahillane said.

“The fact that MIT knew we use videos already as a teaching aid, and we are strong on technology with using iPads, made them excited because they knew we were a school that could use this new method,” Mr Cahillane said.

Feedback from the CBS teachers to MIT will then be used to refine the teaching method for use in secondary and university level around the world.

“They will interview the teachers and students and get our feedback to alter the lessons. Then they can use this technique with secondary schools or universities,” Mr Cahillane said.