Let us pause for a moment of fond reflection on the schoolroom of our youth, where the teacher's best tools were a pointer, a blackboard and a voice that could make the fuzz on the back of your neck stand straight to attention.
Alas, that quaint old classroom is taking its place in academic history alongside inkwells, writing slates and good old Mr. Chips. In an age when kids start mousing around with computers before they're out of diapers, Canadian school boards are recognizing the need to engage kids on their own terms.
One of the leaders in this regard is Ontario's Peel District School Board, which is the second largest board in Canada. In 2007, it was given a CIO 100 Award by CIO magazine in the US for demonstrating excellence and achievement in IT. And the Board is not resting on its laurels. CIO Laura Williams and the tech team continue to plan and launch new projects that will help keep Peel's teachers and students in the forefront of the technology curve."
"Traditionally we talk about two primary uses of technology in schools: the administrative use and the students' use," said Williams. "But there's another area that we've started to focus on: the teachers' use of computers -- the use of technology as a learning tool."
At Peel District School Board, this focus comes in the form of an initiative called 'Teaching with Technology', which enables teachers to enhance the classroom experience by reaching out and bringing things like animation and visuals into the classroom from the Internet, where they are displayed on large ceiling-mounted LCD screens.
The goal of the initiative is to have every class in every school equipped with a media-capable computer, an LCD projector, Internet access and Video on Demand. As well, each school would have one computer lab for every 400 students.
"The initiative isn't so much about technology per se, but about where technology can take you," said Williams. "We call today's kids the MuchMusic generation. They're used to a media-rich environment and when they come into the classroom you need to be engaging. Some of these kids are visual learners -- they don't get it until they see it. And particularly for those learners, this initiative has made a huge difference."
As a result of the initiative, teachers throughout the district can access a wide variety of Web sites which can be of valuable assistance in teaching everything from mathematics to gym.
A site called Tumblebooks, for example, provides access to an online collection of talking picture books, created by adding animation, sound, music and narration to existing picture books from several leading publishers. Authors like Robert Munsch sometimes do their own narration. The site provides a variety of interesting additional material to students who are reading on their own, and it also gives support to students who require skill building with a variety of exercises that can be matched with other areas of the curriculum.
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