Teachers turn to tech-savvy students for curriculum help

Secondary students from across the Greater Toronto Area will collaborate with teachers to help them bring technology into their classrooms, during a conference at York University this week.

Fifty students from York Region and the Toronto District School Board will participate in the Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning (ABEL) program’s 2008 Summer Institute Aug. 18-20. The conference aims to help educators develop new strategies for teaching and learning using leading-edge technology, and demonstrate how they can work digital literacy into their lesson plans.

"The students have an intuitive knowledge of digital technologies that is often leaps and bounds ahead of their teachers," says Janet Murphy (right), project manager for ABEL. "They’re actually better-equipped to understand how it can be worked into a learning environment because they are so familiar with technology."

The program engages students in a multimedia challenge; students then share their problem-solving approaches with teachers. Murphy says this is helpful for educators, who agree on the importance of digital literacy, but are often less fluent in the ins-and-outs of various applications.

"As a teacher, you wouldn’t know how you could make use of a wiki or moodle in your classroom if you weren’t familiar with them," Murphy says. "Teachers stick to paper and pen, because it’s what they know."

This year’s challenge has a ‘green’ theme: students are developing public service announcements on environmental topics such as global warming and alternative energy sources, and uploading them to the Web with a tool specially-developed in partnership with IBM.

Murphy says students were keen to create an interactive Web site for research findings, blogs, forums and chats. In response, ABEL and IBM are developing an environmental Web portal that will be launched at the ABEL Summer Institute. The portal, made possible by an IBM Community Grant, will offer space for student projects, which can be ranked by visitors. It also offers an instant-messaging application called Chatterbox. Teachers will be able to share curriculum ideas, lesson plans and other educational materials.

Liz Gildner, IBM’s manager of corporate citizenship & corporate affairs, says the company’s collaboration with ABEL is an ideal partnership. "The portal project and the philosophy of this conference reflect IBM’s leadership commitment to corporate social responsibility, environmental issues and philanthropic efforts," says Gildner. "IBM’s desire is to provide innovative technology and services to K-12 programs in math, science, technology and engineering."

The 2008 Summer Institute will reduce its ecological footprint via carbon offsets for printed conference materials; ‘green’ power offsets from Bullfrog Power; recycled-content promotional products; and reducing waste on catered food.

Founded in 2002, the ABEL program works with educators in classrooms across Canada to integrate new and existing information communication technologies in teaching and learning. It is led and funded by York University and the York Region District School Board (YRDSB).

For more information, see the July 2 issue of YFile or visit  the ABEL Web site.