Dan Roberts is a self-professed “geek” who has always loved school…and is sometimes known as “The Chicken Man” (a moniker bestowed on him by his students during an especially unique class project called “Recharge the Battery”). As he explained to the TED London crowd, “Learning actually saved me several times as I was growing up.” Luckily for his students, Roberts has kept that love of learning, and it translates into his teaching each day. So much so, he has won numerous national teaching awards, most recently the ICT Visionary in Education at the TES Schools Awards. He has held various positions of responsibility within secondary schools, including Deputy Headteacher at Saltash.net Community School in Cornwall, and most recently he was named Headteacher at the International School of Seychelles.
It almost goes without saying that Roberts is extremely passionate about 21st century learning. Perhaps most important, he pushes the status quo of how schools use and view technology. “Taking [technology] away from a child in school today would be like taking away a pen from me when I was learning,” he says.
It’s my pleasure to share today’s Daily Edventure with you about Dan Roberts.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced
innovation in education?
I think the best way to sum this up is to quote what was written about me last week when I won a national award for ICT Visionary in Education. The judges said:
“Dan Roberts deserves the title of ‘visionary’ for being consistently innovative in educational ICT over a long period of time. He is no one-trick pony (or even a one-trick chicken), but a bold scavenger who explores all sorts of different technologies and discovers new approaches for other teachers around the world…One example of his work is the Recharge the Battery science project, which began when pupils wanted to rescue battery chickens from a local intensive farm to live a free-range life at the school. This scheme became the basis for a unique curriculum involving the innovative use of technology such as webcams, which has since been disseminated around the globe by Microsoft.”
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
From the feedback that I have had from teachers and students that I have collaborated with all over the world, I have inspired them and transformed the way they approach learning.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Embrace technology to empower young people and the adults that they connect with. Through new technology and the changing global landscape of education there is a whole new set of possibilities, we must be relentless in the pursuit to unleash the greatness in the quality of teaching and learning that is happening inside and outside the classroom.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
This has been so easy, really it isn’t rocket science, it is all about empowerment and encouraging the children and staff to take risks. All I have done is support them to use technology to make a fantastic contribution to the quality of their learning by doing things differently. I often use a quote from the Wright brothers: “If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
I think the biggest obstacle for students over the years since I have been teaching – and it is not just where I am currently but everywhere – has been the quality of teaching. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) in 1996 published a report analyzing the quality of education over the last 50 years. One of the main findings about what made a successful school was that “The quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” Often for a child, the quality of their learning experience can be a lottery, each school has variance within itself, as it does at regional, national and international levels…it is rare to get a completely consistent approach. Students only have one chance at education, I have strived and been driven to make sure that they have the best opportunities they can to be engaged and inspired in learning.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
One good thing here in the Seychelles is that students all have the potential to receive a free education, which is not necessarily the case everywhere in the world. I haven’t been here long enough to discuss in detail what the country is doing well and what it needs to do to improve.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
One huge challenge for the country will be the conditions that they need to create over the next few years with the advancement in technology. Literally in the last month or so, the country received the capability of fiber optic cable to bring high-speed Internet access to the country. The potential power of this technology means that there is a great responsibility for the government and the community to educate the students, teachers and parents how to use technology responsibly and effectively. In the next few years there will be changes educationally and socially in the way that people live and learn both inside and outside the classroom. It will be an exciting time.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Technology/ICT has been advancing at a phenomenal rate – kids are extremely lucky in some ways to have such potential – if only they are allowed to use it. ICT is not just a tool for learning, but a whole new way of learning. Kids can learn anytime, anyplace and anywhere! Technology can bring the real world into the classroom, which means that as teachers we can better prepare kids for the exciting adventures that they will face in their future. Technology does help to create lifelong learners, encourages, engages the disaffected, extends and challenges the more able learner, and can support the most vulnerable. It is engaging kids in a way that it has never before, to put it quite simply, the learning possibilities are limitless.
I do believe, however, that there are still many children around the world that simply don’t have the same opportunities. You may think I’m talking about developing countries where they may have one computer in the whole school, but I’m not. Many of these schools are doing amazing things with that one computer – I’ve seen this first-hand. I’m actually talking about those schools that see ICT or technology as “evil,” “dangerous,” or a “distraction.” They ban, block, filter and confiscate. What is the learning like in those classrooms? We educators have an obligation to this generation of children to embrace technology and allow them to use it.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Have the confidence to take risks inside and outside the classroom, but at all times in everything that you do, make sure in taking these risks you always safeguard the children that you work with and yourself. Be true to your own core values and strive to make an incredible difference to the lives of young people. I always remember a quote I read when I trained ten years ago which has stayed with me all of this time:
“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate, humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crises will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanised or de-humanised.” – Taken from Teacher and Child by Haim Ginott.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
New technologies. The best thing about the advances in technology is the empowerment for students. Their learning experiences and opportunities can create a legacy for those in years to come. They have a global audience and the power to make a real difference in the lives of everyone for the future.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would give every child everywhere in the world an inspirational teacher because is this is the single most important factor in helping a child have the best educational experience they can have.
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About Dan Roberts
Birthplace: Cheshire, England
Current residence: Seychelles
Education: BSc (Hons), Med, NPQH
Website I check every day: http://www.twitter.com
Person who inspires me most: The children that I work with, they are a daily inspiration to me and relentlessly help shape innovative and creative ideas for the future.
Favorite childhood memory: Playing on a beach with my family in the sunshine.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): No plans whatsoever…so could be anywhere, which is exciting.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? Yesterday evening I attended a fundraising event on the beach here in the Seychelles for children from a children’s home. I was laughing at my son who is two, dancing with a hula hoop on the beach getting in the way of all the other older children.
Favorite book: 1984 by George Orwell
Favorite music: A real mix anything from rock, reggae, rap, R&B!
Your favorite quote or motto: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” - John Lennon