“If you use innovative technologies in part of your lesson effectively, you might just capture the imagination of some of the class who are not normally fully engaged with the learning that is taking place.” – Jimmy Edwards, UK

Jimmy Edwards knew he wanted to be a teacher when he was just 11 years old. “I liked the idea that I could help other people learn new things,” he says. But a diagnosis of dyslexia nearly made him give up on that dream until a favorite teacher, who was also dyslexic, convinced him that he could do whatever he put his mind to. That encouragement led to an impressive teaching career for Edwards, one focused on using innovative technology to build 21st century skills. He now teaches at the Saltash.net Community School, a Microsoft Pathfinder School whose slogan, “Believe and Achieve,” certainly applies to Edwards.

A two-time Microsoft Innovative Teacher finalist, Edwards documents many of his projects on his Tech Lemur blog, with the hope that other teachers can benefit from what he’s learned, just as he’s benefitted from collaborating with other educators through the Partners in Learning Network.  “I think because of the Partners in Learning Network,” Edwards says, “I have become a better teacher and I definitely reflect more on my own practice.”

Today, Edwards is one of the 21 teachers taking part in the Windows 8 Appathon, a two-day boot camp where educators compete to turn their ideas for Windows 8 education apps into reality. His Smart Shade app is designed to help students with dyslexia, the same learning disability Edwards overcame as a young student. Learning disabilities affect more than 10 percent of the population, and of those, more than 80 percent have dyslexia. According to Edwards, “Scientific research has shown that a specific and individual color, worn as tinted lenses, will relieve the symptoms of visual stress and allow more fluent, efficient and comfortable reading.” This is the idea behind the Smart Shade app, which aims to remove the need for tinted glasses when using a phone, tablet or PC.

We wish Edwards and the other Windows 8 Appathon participants well, and we look forward to reporting on the exciting results later this week. Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with ICT teacher and innovator Jimmy Edwards. 

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

I went to a school called Tamerside Community College in Plymouth. I got on with all my teachers, but there was one individual who made a significant difference to my education. Her name was Mrs. Mapes, my Geography teacher in year seven (yes, she was called “Mapes”). Like I said, I had wanted to be a teacher when I started secondary school; I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the end of year seven and thought that there was no chance of me becoming a teacher due to this. She saw this was troubling me and took me to one side and explained that just because I’m dyslexic does not mean I can’t do something, like becoming a teacher. I was a little skeptical about this, as it didn’t seem to make too much sense to me at the time, but teachers were seen as clever and infallible in our eyes as year sevens. She then explained that she was dyslexic and that although it would be hard work, you can do what you want to do if you put the effort in. From then on I was even more determined to become a teacher.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

I have been very lucky to be a part of the Microsoft Partners in Learning Network for several years. This has presented lots of opportunities for me and my practice as a teacher. I was fortunate enough to get to the UK final of the Microsoft Innovative Teaching awards twice, once in 2009 and again in 2011.

I got to the finals in 2009 because of a project about e-safety which was delivered to all the year groups in saltash.net. The project was designed to make students aware of the dangers when going online and what to do if they got into trouble. The project I submitted in 2011 was called, “The Kinect Generations Project,” which involved using a Microsoft Kinect sensor to help engage students who might not necessarily be engaged during lessons. This worked particularly well with SEN (special educational needs) students as it promoted collaboration and got everyone in the class involved. The students loved this project as it was a different method to learning from what they were used to.

These events and the Partners in Learning Network allowed me to see what other teachers were doing in their classrooms as well as what projects other schools were setting up. I also helped present on the Microsoft stand at BETT 2012 because of my work with Kinect in the classroom. This was a great opportunity to meet other teachers from all over the country and world, who were interested in what we were doing in the UK.

My practice as a teacher has changed dramatically because of these events. I now look at problems from different perspectives and think about how each method I use to teach affects and engages individual students as well as the class as a collective. I also look at trying to make projects in our curriculum have a more global feel to them, due to the ease of contacting other schools around the world due to the contacts I have made.

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

When it comes to implementing new innovative technologies into education, the most important rule to remember is that it has to have a positive effect on the learning of your students. It is not the case that using innovative technologies will create a perfect lesson and everyone will learn something. However, if you use innovative technologies in part of your lesson effectively, you might just capture the imagination of some of the class who are not normally fully engaged with the learning that is taking place. This gives you the opportunity to look at learning from a different angle, which was the idea behind The Kinect Generations project. We used the Kinect to learn about basic ICT skills which the students would not usually be excited about, e.g. spreadsheets. The students loved it and really wanted to get involved in helping one another navigate the interface and develop their skills.

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

I personally think that the most exciting innovation that is happing in education today is how easily the Internet is making it for schools from all around the world to collaborate together and learn from each other. New ways of setting up projects are becoming available and developing all the time. Skype in Education is an excellent site to start with when setting up a global project.

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 am very passionate about collaboration and communication. I feel that with great communication and collaboration people can accomplish many great things. It is skills like these that we need to infuse into the 21st century learners of today.

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

If I had the opportunity to give one educational tool to every child in the world it would be a device that would enable them to communicate with each other and access the vast amount information on the Internet. This would enable them to not only learn from each other but from previous generations’ mistakes. Although you often only hear about the bad things that happen on the Internet in the press, there are some amazing sites and networks out there which aim to better the world we live in.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Currently in the UK the education system is having a massive overhaul, and depending who you talk to it’s not for the best. I have never been very political but I do believe that education should not be used as a political football. I think that it should discussed by all parties involved and not just the elected political party. I sometimes wonder if politicians realize what damage they are doing to the young people in education with the decisions that they make.

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

I think that education must change by looking to the future rather than the past for its educational model. It should be about what a student understands, and not what they can remember from a text book. We need to embrace the changes and enhancements of technology and not be scared to incorporate these into an educational model that will allow our students to compete in a global market. This will allow students to thrive in the 21st century.

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

This biggest obstacle I have had to overcome to ensure that students receive a quality education is the fear of trying new things. It’s very scary being outside of your comfort zone, but with the right support in place and an attitude that it’s OK to fail, as long as you learn by your mistakes, you can succeed. I am very lucky to work at saltash.net. The school has a very open mind to new technologies and new ideas. It is never a case of “that won’t work” but rather “have you thought about doing it like this?” We find solutions to problems as opposed to just dwelling on the problem.

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

The best advice I can give to any school facing a similar problem is to be positive about new ideas and give them a go. Contact other schools who have been in a similar situation, go and have a look at what they have done. It all comes back to communication and collaboration. There are excellent support networks out there like the Partners in Learning Network where teachers strive to offer the best quality education they can to their students. The teachers there are more than willing to help each other. We are all on the same side and strive for the same goals; we want our students to enjoy school and above all be happy and want to learn.


About Jimmy Edwards

  • Birthplace: Plymouth, Devon, UK
  • Current residence: Liskeard, Cornwall, UK
  • Education: BA Hons in ICT & Educational Studies, ICT PGCE, M.Ed
  • Website I check every day: www.cnet.co.uk www.hotmail.co.uk
  • Person who inspires me most: My Dad
  • Favorite childhood memory: Christmas when all the family gets together and plays trivial pursuit.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): London
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh every day; I always try and see the funny side to any situation as life is too short. Besides, no one gets out alive anyway.
  • Favorite book: The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton or Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
  • Favorite music: I listen to all music but particularly like older music from the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Never take anything personally and always be objective, not subjective.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: A rising tide raises all ships.


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