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DMU graduate shortlisted for $1million teaching prize

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate is one of only 10 teachers across the world to be shortlisted for a teaching award with an astonishing $1million (£800,700) top prize.

Computer Science teacher Ray Chambers, whose YouTube channel has attracted more than 250,000 hits, studied at DMU nine years ago.

Raymond inset

Ray only entered the 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.

The final shortlist of 10 has been narrowed down from some 20,000 nominations and applications from 179 countries around the globe, with the winner to be announced next month at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.

Ray teaches at Brooke Weston Academy in Corby, Northamptonshire, and studied at DMU from 2004-2008.  The contest is run by the Varkey Foundation and holds claim to being the profession’s most lucrative prize.

Ray said: “I’m completely shocked and over the moon to have made it through to the top 10 and the whole thing is very surreal.

“What the Varkey Foundation is doing to boost the profile of teaching is fantastic. It’s a great profession to get into and no day is ever the same.”

Speaking about his time at DMU, the 30-year-old Corby man said: “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 [which was 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 sliding-doors moment of his switched DMU work placement, Ray explained: “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 certainly not the first time Ray has tasted 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 was nominated for this latest award by an employee of Microsoft. If he were to win, Ray plans to use the cash to support charities which help students deal with social media and anxiety online. He would also like to support computer science training around the country.

When Ray first entered the profession nine years ago, ICT learning was fairly traditional and undeveloped, so he started developing new software for learning, using Microsoft Kinect, in a bid to make lessons less dry and more varied, incorporating quizzes to make lessons more fun and engaging for pupils.

Inspired by a leap in engagement and academic achievement from his students, Ray decided to share this work with other teachers via a WordPress blog, uploading his resources and tweeting about it to other ICT tutors.

Interest in his innovative methods and development tools began to spread though the academic community and he was invited to give a presentation at the Microsoft European Innovative Teachers Conference in Portugal in 2012 where he suddenly discovered he had an eager global audience. Shortly after, the UK government overhauled the ICT curriculum to create ‘computer science’ and Ray was asked to contribute to the secondary-school computing quick-start guide, to assist teachers who were apprehensive of the changes being brought in.

He then created a YouTube channel to help teachers prepare for computer science teaching, which has now had more than 250,000 hits.

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Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: “I want to congratulate Ray for being selected as a top 10 finalist from such a huge number of talented and dedicated teachers.

“I hope his story will inspire those looking to enter the teaching profession and also shine a powerful spotlight on the incredible work teachers do all over the UK and throughout the world every day."

On the biography page for his award nomination, the foundation added: “All the time he has been conscious of the need to balance his growing global profile with giving his own classes a good education, and thanks to his mentoring, dedication and encouragement his class pupils went on to achieve a runners-up place at a European coding competition.

“Both his success and that of his students prompted him to keep pushing the boundaries with technology and try new methods.”

The BBC has asked Ray to contribute to its Microbit resources issued to teachers nationally and he has also featured on the corporation’s Click programme.

Posted on Friday 24th February 2017

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