“You might be able to help get that student their pass, but can they apply it in real life? I believe the country needs to support more ‘real-life’ practice with students to make sure that they will float, rather than sink at the end of their school career

Originally posted on the Daily Edventures Blog


Ray Chambers is a relatively young teacher – he’s been teaching ICT only since 2008. About two years ago, Chambers noticed his students were becoming bored in his ICT classes – they could only be inspired by learning to create a spreadsheet or learn Word for so long. So he decided it was time to try something new. “I was introduced to the Partners in Learning Network by another inspiring person, Guy Shearer,” says Chambers. “He introduced me to the innovative things that were happening. I had an idea for using the Kinect in the classroom and I couldn’t find any information on it. He persuaded me to keep looking.”

Not only did Chambers keep looking, he created his own program using the Kinect, and created tutorials and shared this on his blog, to help other teachers do the same. “I taught myself to develop Kinect Applications using the Kinect SDK,” says Chambers. “At this point, many teachers were using the Xbox but none had used the Kinect as a standalone device. I wanted to engage students and I wanted them to enjoy their lessons.” Chambers’ project has grown since and with the help of colleague Stuart Ball, they have created a group of teachers from the UK called the K-Team. “We’re all using the Kinect or Kodu to develop education,” notes Chambers. His project, “Kinect Olympics,” took him to the 2011 finals of UK Partners in Learning Forum, and then on to the European Partners in Learning Forum in Lisbon.

“At the European Forum I was impressed to see that many teachers all over Europe were already using the tutorials from my blog to make their own applications,” says Chambers. “There were teachers from Bulgaria editing the code to build quizzes for their classrooms. Friends who have visited the Global Forum have told me about the impact it’s made. There were at least three more countries at the Global Forum using the technology and the applications I had developed.”

Chambers’ accomplishments have led to him presenting at many events, including BETT in 2011, 2012 and 2013. This year, Chambers and fellow K-Team member David Renton talked about the use of Kinect Applications, Kinect Games and Kodu, and the impact that it has had in their students’ grades. “It was a great opportunity to establish connections,” says Chambers. “As a result of all of this, my teaching practice has changed. The recognition I have had from the students and the enjoyment from them has only made me more determined to be even more innovative. I’m currently looking at ways of using TouchDevelop within the curriculum at our school. I am now trying to make future projects have a whole school impact rather than just in my own classroom. I’m looking at getting students to develop apps for other teachers so that the whole school can make use of this innovation.”

I’m happy to share today’s Daily Edventure with Ray Chambers.

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?

Originally, I wasn’t drawn to the field of education. I had been doing my degree at DeMontfort University and was very much into computer science. I had to do a work placement, which ended up at Lodge Park Technology College in Corby, Northamptonshire. Once I had finished my work placement, I went back to university to do the final year of the course. I went back to Lodge Park Technology College to tell them the news and tell friends about getting a “First” in my degree. It was at this point I was offered a teaching post.

I had no experience in teaching and I was petrified at the thought of teaching teenagers. I was still very young and some of the students were only three to four years younger than me. After a few months of looking for work, I decided to take the position up.

Since teaching, I have established so many relationships with other educators all over the world. My students respect me and I feel that I make a difference to them. My whole outlook on education has changed and I really respect everything teachers do. Education is important to me now because of the impact it makes. I bump into students on so many occasions and that feeling that you have done something for them is a huge buzz. It makes me feel better as a person and it also makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

Mr. Perkins, my design technology teacher at Prince William School in Oundle. I believe he is still teaching today. I enjoyed education and got on well with most of my teachers. I wanted to do computing in secondary school but it wasn’t an option for me. The next closest thing for me was Design Technology. I was able to use the computer to build mock designs and use the CAD tools available. Mr. Perkins was a teacher I could count on. He inspired me to go and think outside the box. He would give me extra work to push me to my limits and would always give me the opportunity to make adjustments to my work. He listened to my ideas and told me that anything is possible. Some of my design ideas were quite wacky but he always pushed me in the right direction in order for me to achieve my goals. Design Technology was my only A grade in school and my designs became a strong point in my degree work.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I have used technology in a number of ways to support my work in both my own classroom and other people’s. I think that it is important that children enjoy their education and I think it’s really important to get them immersed in their learning. The main tool I have used to engage my learners is the Kinect. Students are able to answer questions on their learning using a Kinect Quiz I developed using the Kinect SDK. All I do is edit the questions and they can have a set of different questions in each lesson. Students are able to come up and wave their hands over the answer they are guessing. Even though it is not necessarily a game, the students are used to the technology at home and this engages them with something they already know. I make sure to make tutorials on programming the Kinect and I’ve given away all of the applications I make through the Partners in Learning network or on http://www.raychambers.wordpress.com.

I have also made use of the Xbox 360 and a number of different games to enhance the subjects they’re being taught. In my Kinect Olympics project, the students played sports games and then we used Microsoft Access to analyze their scores. This made them critical thinkers. They had to find out the answers themselves and rather than giving students a dull scenario, the students were able to have fun with their learning. I know that some people do not see games as a way of learning but if you give students applications which are boring, then they won’t use the technology. We need to make sure that they still want to use it and this is what I am doing with some of the applications I’ve developed.

Right now I’m currently starting to develop schemes of work using the new TouchDevelop platform in the hope of getting some of my students to develop applications to help other teachers around the college. It is an exciting new chapter for me.

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

The most exciting innovation for me at the moment is “BYOD” – Bring Your Own Device. A few schools in the UK have been piloting a scheme which allows students to bring their own devices into schools. Students already know how to use their own mobile phones and their own tablets. Teachers would not need to train them to use them. They simply plan their lessons around the technology.

An example might be for students to work collaboratively. Students can use Live Messenger on Windows phones or other platforms to discuss work or share files. They might be able to Skype from classroom to classroom to talk about their learning for the day. At the same time, this would save colleges money. The only thing teachers would need to work on is their approach and the planning towards the scheme. They would need to make sure that every student benefits.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

I’m very passionate about critical thinking and problem solving. I have changed my approach to teaching recently and have started to encourage problem solving. Many students around the world need that inspiration and that push. I think it is easy to say “I don’t understand it,” but the people who don’t understand and work on something until they find the answer. These people have the biggest reward. It gives them a sense of accomplishment.

My students are becoming more independent. If they can’t do something they will use whatever resources they can to find the answer. They will test their programs more rigorously. With the implementation of computer science in the UK education this is going to be a very important skill within my subject.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

If I could give one educational tool to every child in the world it would be an Internet connection as well as a mobile phone device. I think it is important that students have access to communicate with each other. There is so much information available to us and not all children can access this. There are children in third-world countries that are being trained to fend for themselves. If they had access to a communication device and the Internet, they would be able to find video tutorials for making fire and more. It would not be a case of having a visitor train them once. If they forgot how to do something then they can revisit it. Some of these children do not have access to education. What if they could teach themselves by having access to the online world of resources?

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

The UK is in a major change at the moment. There are a lot of politics involved. Some people might agree that there are positive changes and some might agree that there are negative impacts. It is very political. We’re moving away from our current method of assessing student attainment. Many people aren’t happy with this change and feel that it may disadvantage some children.

The positive thing about this change is that the UK is going to recognize computer science as a science in schools. It is currently taught as ICT and many children are getting bored by lessons where they’re taught to build the same presentation. They might be taught how to word process. Although these are good skills to become digital literate, computer science will improve our countries economy by providing businesses with a new lease of life in the programming sector. Many businesses aren’t able to employ programmers at the moment because they just don’t have the skills they need. Training students from an early age will make them more competent when arriving at universities and then universities can have more time getting down into the higher level programming.

How must education change in your country to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

I believe the education system needs to be more flexible for children. We currently have a system where students are rated on whether or not they get their C in certain subjects. This is difficult for some students and I believe pressure is put on schools getting students a grade rather than making sure that the student has life skills.

You might be able to help get that student their pass, but can they apply it in real life? I believe the country needs to support more “real-life” practice with students to make sure that they will float, rather than sink at the end of their school career.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

The biggest obstacle I have had to overcome to ensure that students receive a quality education is the fear of trying new things. Since being at my new school, I worried whether students would have the same response to my wacky way of teaching. I was worried about them having the same reaction to the use of technology. I have since got back into the swing of things and continue to use the same technology within my lessons. I am very lucky to have a supportive team at Uppingham Community College and the school is very open-minded to trying new things. It is very much a case of trying it and if it fails, evaluate.

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

I believe that teachers and school leaders facing similar changes should just bite the bullet. If they think that they have a good idea, try it! If it isn’t working, you’ll know and you can make changes to try it again. I have four year-seven classes and eventually I’ll try something new. If something isn’t as engaging as I thought it would be with one class, I have other classes to improve on the idea. This is what makes a good teacher. Someone that is willing to change. I also believe that teachers need to try out the technology before saying, “I don’t do computers.” A good platform for me was the Partners in Learning Network. The number of teachers sharing good practice is amazing! If you have fear of trying something, check out the results and the impact from Partners in Learning. There are a huge number of resources available for any teacher or school leader who may have doubts.

About Ray Chambers

  • Birthplace: Kettering General Hospital in England
  • Current residence: Corby, Northamptonshire, England
  • Education: First Class Honours, BSc in Computing DeMontfort University, PGCE/GTP at Nottingham Trent University.
  • Website I check every day: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news
  • Person who inspires me most: My mum and my dad.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Getting 4th at my first regional Irish Dance qualifier and qualifying for the world Irish dance championships.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Limerick, Ireland
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? In the car this morning on a day out with my wife. She was making up parodies to bizarre songs on the radio.
  • Favorite book: The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.
  • Favorite music: I grew up listening to my dad listen to Blondie and now they’re one of my favorite groups. I also listen to Shakira in a lot of my spare time.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss
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