In Dublin City, at the end of Nassau St, behind Trinity college and tucked away in the red brick of Oriel House , is the headquarters of an intriguing educational experiment that has been gathering momentum for five years now. Bridge 21 is a team and tech based learning program (emphasis on ‘team’ rather than tech) that in the words of Kevin, one of the program coordinators, is “basically looking to make school more interesting”.
What started out as an outreach program for Trinity College to give student’s on the fence about going to college a taste of what it would be like, has now evolved into something more. When I sat in on a portion of one computer programming focused workshop, the 24 Transition Year students from 13 schools around Dublin were learning to program their own games through ‘Scratch’, they were combining Wii-motes and laser pens they had customized themselves to turn standard laptop screens into multi-touch interfaces, they were testing out and discussing each others ideas, and above all they were enjoying themselves, interested and a picture of what real learning looks like.
These workshops aren’t the extent of Bridge 21’s work though. They’re working in tandem with 12 secondary schools, 8 of which are in Dublin, to help teacher’s redesign their classroom and reinvigorate learning. The real barometer of Bridge’s success though is in the feedback from the students themselves.
After the program I sat down with 6 of the 24 students present who had time to stay back. Full of beans, I couldn’t have stopped them talking, either about the insanities and restrictions of the schools they attended, or how different and empowering they found Bridge 21 to be.
Evelyn from Colaiste Brid: “You have more freedom to do what you want here and be creative. In school you’re shot down for creativity – you’re told it’s not practical or educational, but here they love wacky ideas.”
Lourdes from Mercy, GoldenBridge in Inchicore: “In Bridge 21 we do things, instead of just learning everything by heart from books like in school. If you’re allowed to take learning into your own hands instead of just being instructed you become more confidant. Mutual respect as well. “
Ben, from Droimne Castle: “In Bridge we’re treated equally. Not specially but normally.Kevin is very friendly and he gets everyone involved. If someone is shy he’ll notice and give them the encouragement they need to get them out of there shell.”
Other points were that the students were afforded a mutual respect in Bridge that they don’t get elsewhere and they were unanimous in their agreement that they learned more and enjoyed themselves more there. They felt they were being trusted to make their own decisions and build on their own ideas, while at the same time being both challenged and supported by their facilitators, who treated them as equals and co-learners.
Bridge 21 is taking our stale, teacher focused traditional classrooms and turning into them into exciting hubs of team based learning through modern technology, leading to more confident and thoughtful young people, and demonstrating that learning and enjoyment are inextricably linked.
For more info on Bridge 21 visit their website at bridge 21.ie.