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Muinín Catalyst (2019 - 2021) Key Findings

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Our Approach Sample of Learners responses Summary of 21st Century Skills

In 2019 we gained additional funding from Living Iveragh, a philanthropic organisation keen to promote learning and research in S. Kerry and Anne Heraty, CPL plc, Ireland's largest recruitment company, to continue our research and look at the opportunities and obstacles to learning within Transition year. A summary of the key findings are presented below.

In Context: With no prescribed curriculum in Transition Year, there is strong potential to augment gaps in learning and skills-building. However, students and teachers with a high-status exam-focused perspective can struggle to see the benefit of an approach that will not ‘tell the student what they need to know’ which could be explored more concretely within TY. Depending on the foundational base of 21st-century skills developed in their previous three years of post-primary schooling, there may be limits to the efficacy of one academic year. The Muinín Catalyst programme is designed to help students develop skills in:

  • Research

  • Critical thinking and inquiry

  • Circular Design-thinking

  • Problem-finding and solving

  • Digital literacy in the 21st-Century education

  • Socio-environmental, open-source philosophy

De-programming: A reality, often overlooked, is the impact of teaching and learning that students (and teachers) have experienced in the three years prior to TY. Further, our prior research has shown that the limits to learning are being recognised as early as 7 - 8 years, by primary school learners. This has meant that the MC programme sees a new cohort each year, who have not had the experience of some basic aspects within the MC programme: no definitive answer or formulaic approach; iteration (trial, error or more commonly understood ‘failure’) is the way of learning; discussion and self-directed research, albeit scaffolded are not common. This has meant two things, the first term is spent building confidence and challenging habitual learning habits and as with any behavioural change, such as de-programming can be uncomfortable.

Our prior research showed very quickly that we needed to factor this into safe approaches to learning in order to avoid overwhelm and consequent shut-down. While the ambition and desire may be towards new ways of learning, as outlined in the various reviews and teacher and student feedback: if it is to succeed it must be developed sensitively and constructively. To this end, our core project / R and D module and our other micro-modules were devised to ensure that students and teachers have a step-by-step ‘distress tolerant’ approach e.g. paired and group work, anonymous reporting, and feedback.

Empathic Design - from our circular Design Thinking core module Problem to Pitch

Project-based learning: Following on from the issue of scaffolding resources, a key finding came from supporting teachers working with existing off-the-peg project resources. Within TY, teachers do want to introduce new opportunities and take the opportunity to try new things. For many reasons, selecting one of the many off-the-peg projects available seems an obvious choice. However, many of these resources seem to have assumptions in-built, the most prevalent: teachers and students will have many of the skills that are necessary to undertake and execute such projects. As such, these skills, often implicit, are neglected within many of these resources. Overt tasks such as form a team, create an effective awareness campaign are not only complex tasks, they often mask the need for more essential skills e.g. analyse the roles and skills required for the project’s objectives, team discussion and communication, and working collaboratively. Off-the-peg resources do not develop or scaffold the skills needed to enable the teachers to adequately deliver them.

There is also limited confidence or technical understanding of the processes or time required to develop the skills through more iterative, exploratory approaches. Project development and management can only be partially learned through academic processes, experiential learning is necessary, and generally, students’ and teachers’ experience in this area is limited. Many teachers have not worked in other sectors, nor does teacher training support project-based learning and the curriculum has only recently encouraged this style of learning in students. It is therefore difficult to subsidise the resources with prior experience.

It was also found that there can be a lack of interdisciplinary planning evident in some schools. Collaborative or team teaching across multiple subjects (linked learning) is not common or supported due to timetabling or other obligations e.g. teaching load or school culture. Linked learning could alleviate some of the time, effort and skills required to undertake project-based learning, especially using inquiry or experimental approaches.

Thematic approaches across subjects would encourage a systemic approach to acquiring knowledge and an interdisciplinary application. While this could subsidise the issues found within off-the-peg resources, it is only one of a number of issues that could inhibit developing 21st century skills-appropriate resources.

SEAI - Turn the lights off Work Experience - Irish Whale and Dolphin group Building 3D printers

Timetables and Covid-19: Due to COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, there was an immense reduction in face-to-face time with teachers and learners. This hampered progress in the practical components of delivering the modules and working alongside teachers to facilitate logistics and real-time CPD. Despite strong interest at the beginning of term from teachers, there wasn’t strong uptake in developing and working with new material; perhaps constraints with delivering curriculum in restricted circumstances being the cause.

The ever-changing TY timetable caused issues with continuity in delivering the modules. Students and class groups could be pulled out of lessons for external trips or workshops, or team-building days (particularly over the COVID period). This has been our consistent experience with other schools also, and having a linked learning approach could alleviate some of the impact of this, with consistency across the week allowing students time to work on their projects as well as enhance student project success.

Building Capacity: One of the key findings of MC was the importance of building capacity in both skills and competencies for present and future scenarios. Our Future of Work event was designed to expand students' and parents’ thinking on current and future developments in the world of work. Through the FOW event, we aimed to showcase different pathways and possibilities, locally and beyond. Through an exhibition of local entrepreneurs and local speakers in a range of professions, we hoped to highlight potential: previously unrecognised local opportunities for developing experience and supporting entrepreneurial activities.

In a rapidly changing world, there are new business opportunities, services and products. The demands for changing skills and competencies, not only in the world of work, can present both threats as well as opportunities, something the Muinín Catalyst programme seeks to bridge. Offering ways to augment the curriculum and present existing local opportunities can ease the transition and expand thinking around what is possible. This also increases the opportunities for developing employment of local faculty, supporting local economic resilience as well as challenging the dominant narrative of ‘there’s nothing here, we have to leave’.

Developing health and well-being walkway

What learners enjoyed: We continued to use the 3-2-1- class-by-class evaluation method:

  • students were asked to report three things they felt they learned within the class

  • two things they enjoyed, found particularly interesting, or would like to know more about and

  • 1 thing on their overall feeling about the class, did they like it or not.

The findings from the Muinín Catalyst programme were consistent with the findings in our prior research trialling and iterating the resources. Students clearly show interest and need for citizenship and political education, sustainability and climate change education, and opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and applying their knowledge. Group work, practical and interactive activities and the importance of the skills embedded in the lessons were noted.

Digital literacy: Our resources use blended learning which highlighted a number of challenges; students were not used to self-directed learning even when scaffolded (building up learning supports) or using digital tools. This is potentially a blind spot within education, as students are using mobile technology for socialising or entertainment, but their skills with technology for learning should not be assumed despite their competence with gaming, apps or social media.

There have been improvements in the academic year 2020/21 with more training and scaffolding in the use of Microsoft Teams, inevitably COVID-19 schools closure forced this issue. This further identified the need for structured blended learning that integrates analogue pedagogical principles with available technology as an area for development within teacher training. To this end, we have begun developing a Digital Literacy for Learning micro-module, which will become part of the resources.

Fermentation workshop Tree planting - 250 native trees

Environmental Education: There have been developments in introducing education for Sustainable Development into primary and post-primary education. In primary-level education, this is easier due to the whole-class approach, rather than the siloed subject areas of post-primary level, where different teachers teach different subjects (Nevin, 2008, 54) and a focus on high-status examinations. MC emerged from research that integrated the SDGs into educational resources. In order to ground the SDGs into a more generative ethos, we plan to develop resources that fold in the pillars of the Earth Charter; in order to ground the work in a values-based approach -

Our prior research found that students were experiencing eco-anxiety - they were worried about their future -’because they didn’t think they had one’ (CodesRes, 2021). They also reported, not talking to friends or adults and that our resources gave them hope. In having accurate information and seeing opportunities to effect change, the students felt more able to process the situation and less helpless.

Research shows we need to develop education that engages with geopolitical concerns, the climate emergency, and other emergencies (McKeown and White, 2021; OECD, 2020; Together for Design, 2020; NCCA, 2019,2020). Additionally, preliminary findings show the need to provide learners with knowledge, skills and attitudes to deal with the challenges of the 21st century (OECD,2020). The external report from OECD to Ireland is also very timely in the context of seeking changes to our education systems enabling our young people to have the necessary skills for the challenges that are before them, our societies, and economies of the future. We are the only evidenced-based resources that integrate place-based STEAM, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, through a project-based learning model that is challenge-led and solution-focused. Further, our resources have been built to scaffold both teaching and learning, supporting educators to integrate this pedagogical approach to their practices, through in-class continuing professional development.

Raised Beds Project Design Sprint - Marine Plastic Waste SEAI - Turn the lights off

Muinín Catalyst Sustainable STEAM (MCSS) programme is a transdisciplinary pedagogical approach that utilises the Sustainable Development Goals as a thematic principle for the creation of place-based STEAM lesson plans and blended learning resources that augment the Irish Curriculum with 21st Century future-ready skills; Creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, creative problem-solving, design thinking and the ability to communicate and develop effective real-world solutions to key global challenges. We look forward to continuing to progress this work and develop the next stages as outlined earlier in the report.


Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) (2020) Together for Design: Digital Product and Strategic Design Skills for the Future, National Skills Council, Ireland

McKeown, A., Hunt, L., Murphy, J., Turner,E., White, R. (2021) Co-Designing for Resilience in Rural Development through Peer to Peer learning networks and STEAM Place-based Learning Interventions, Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland

McKeown, A. & White, R. (2021) Muinín Catalyst - Exploring Future-ready Teaching and Learning, International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education (IJCDSE), Volume 12, Issue 2, 2021 Accessed: 26.7.2021 Available here:

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), (2019) Interim report of review of senior cycle education, NCCA, Dublin Accessed: 7.9.2019 Available here:

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), (2020) Report of review of senior cycle education, NCCA, Dublin Accessed: 7.1.2021 Available here:

Nevin, E. (2008), ‘Education and Sustainable Development’, in Policy & Practice. A Development Education Review (ed) Jenna Coriddi (2008)

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2020) Education in Ireland: An OECD Assessment of the Senior Cycle Review, Implementing Education Policies, Accessed 4.12.2020 Available here:

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