The students aren’t one bit afraid. The parents, maybe just a little.
Digital Saturday at Westminster Woods Public School brought all the contemporary digital technology being used in the school’s classrooms out for a kind of show-and-play morning.
Parents and their school-aged children packed a large, bright room in the south end Guelph school, testing out everything from green screen technology and programmable robotics, to squishy circuits and Google Cardboard.
Many parents watched in awe as their children worked, undaunted, with sophisticated machines, programs, devices and gadgets.
“Most of the technology here is actually in our classrooms, so you’ll see the Ozobots and the Lego Mindstorms,” said school principal Heather Broddy. “As we get the technology we learn to implement it in the classroom. For the kids it’s actually easier learning than for the adults, because they’re growing up with the technology, and we didn’t grow up with it.”
Digital technology pushes children to think in different ways, developing new problem-solving skills, she added. It enhances their critical thinking capacities.
Bill MacKenzie is the information technology curriculum liaison for the Upper Grand District School Board. The technology on display Saturday, he said, is in every classroom in some schools, but not all. Its presence or absence depends largely on the comfort level of teachers.
“It is absolutely educationally beneficial, so we really promote it,” MacKenzie said. “But teachers who want to do it, do it. And teachers who aren’t quite ready, we provide professional development for them.”
Children learn in different ways, he said. Some like to write, some like to draw, others like to record.
“We look at a variety of different ways that students can express their learning,” he said. “A green screen, for example, provides a very interesting digital way for them to explore creativity, and a visual way to express their concepts.”
Gone is the idea that only a written assignment will do to test knowledge and understanding. There are numerous other ways, including digital ways.
Students have immense opportunities to use digital technology, especially given the compact size and enormous potential of cellphones, MacKenzie said.
“That really makes it possible for them to do incredible things that, in the past, were only in the realm of very specialized, highly expensive stuff,” he said. “Everything you’re seeing here is well within the budget of schools to purchase.”
A number of students and adults were having fun with the green screen at Digital Saturday, using it to simulate swimming in the ocean, or to put their dukes up against Star Wars villain Darth Vador.
MacKenzie said Digital Saturday was organized in direct response to a request for the board’s parent involvement committee, which expressed an interest in knowing more about how digital technology is being used in school learning environments. There have been five Digital Saturdays at various schools over the past couple of years.
“We’re thrilled with the turnout,” said Brent McDonald, superintendent of education. “It’s the students that are really driving the excitement, so when they get a chance to show off what they can do with technology, and if it helps us work with parents so they have a good understanding, it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
McDonald said there is “phenomenal support” within Upper Grand for utilizing digital technology in the classroom. Teachers are the strongest supporters of it, driving its introduction at a grassroots level, he said.