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Bear Grylls, Andrea Bocelli and a live link to an astronaut add wow factor to DMU grad's teaching award final

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate was in Dubai at the weekend for a major conference after making the final shortlist of ten people for a $1million (£805,200) global teaching prize.

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Ray Chambers, who graduated from DMU in 2008 in Computer Science, was one of the finalists chosen from 20,000 applications from 179 countries, for an award which is said to be the most lucrative in teaching.

The ceremony opened with a performance by tenor Andrea Bocelli, the prize was delivered to the stage by Bear Grylls, who parachuted into the awards from a helicopter, and the winner was announced via a link to an astronaut on the International Space Station.

Although Ray did not win the overall prize he told his Twitter followers he had enjoyed an unforgettable experience at the event run by the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation.

He said: “The hospitality of all the team at the Varkey Foundation has been amazing, I won't forget the experience.

“Someone said commiserations. No way! I've made so many friends here and the future is bright!

“I'm so humbled by this experience. I'd love to use this platform to promote teaching! We need more! It's a great job!”

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Ray got to meet the overall winner, Canadian Maggie MacDonnell, who has been teaching Inuit children in a remote Arctic village. Her win attracted the attentions of the world’s media and she received congratulations from Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Ray said on Twitter: “I'm going to miss this lady! She's my new Canadian #bff [Best Friend Forever] so proud of you Maggie.”

The award was handed to Maggie by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UnitedArab Emirates, ruler of Dubai and founder of the famed Godolphin racing stable.

The 30-year-old, now a computer science teacher at Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire, attended the award ceremony on Sunday as  part of a two-day Global Education and Skills Forum at the Atlantis hotel, Dubai, which saw some 1,600 delegates discuss the latest issues in education.

Ray gave a 30-minute masterclass on the Saturday afternoon and also won a third-prize medal in a team networking exercise alongside teachers Lisa Parisi, of New York, and Janet Hayward, from Wales.

Ray only entered the teaching profession by accident as the result of a last-minute degree placement change while studying Computer Science at DMU, but found that he loved it and has never looked back.  

Speaking about his time at DMU, the 30-year-old Corby man said last month: “DMU gave me the foundations for computer science that I am now able to pass down to my students with the new computer science curriculum.

“My favourite thing about the DMU course was that I got to be more independent and investigate. I loved the lab [sponsored by Orange at the time]. It allowed us to do programming where we could send text messages and the computers would interpret our text messages. This was a fun module for me and one that I’ll always remember.”

He also praised Technology Head of Studies Mary Prior, saying: “She was amazing; very supportive and encouraging, particularly through my final project. She had compassion and helped me become more independent with my studies.”

Asked about the life-changing moment when he switched his DMU work placement to one in teaching , Ray said: “In 2006 I started a placement at Pegasus which was a computer programming placement. Unfortunately I was made redundant due to the company being taken over. After this, I contacted DMU and their placement management said that someone had dropped out of a placement in a school in Corby [Lodge Park Technology College]. I went to the interview and was given the job. It was a friend at a school placement who suggested going into teaching.”  

It’s not the first time Ray has enjoyed awards success. In 2013/14 he won the Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator award and 12 months later scooped the UK national teaching prize for innovative use of technology. In the same year he won the YGC (Young Games Designer) mentor BAFTA.

Ray has developed new software for learning using Microsoft Kinect and he was nominated for the global teacher prize by an employee of Microsoft.

He has also created a YouTube channel to help teachers prepare for computer science teaching, which has now had more than 250,000 hits, and the BBC has asked Ray to contribute to its Microbit resources and its Click programme.

Posted on Tuesday 21st March 2017

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