Student teachers volunteer at technology camp for Aboriginal kids

Instead of holidaying during the March break, seven York teacher candidates volunteered at an IBM IGNITE camp for Aboriginal children.

The teacher candidates based at York’s Barrie site drove to Midland for the three-day camp held at St. Theresa’s Catholic High School. Trained in advance, they helped about 20 mostly Grade 8 pupils from Beausoleil Island First Nation, and the Midland and Penetanguishene area build and program Lego robots, make circuit boards to power fans, lights, sirens and radios, and use a data-harvesting device to gather and graph daily air pressure, temperature, humidity and light information.

Little girl building with lego“The whole camp experience was amazing!” wrote teacher candidate Mary Bedford in an e-mail. “From planning activities with the help of IBM and their partners to engaging the participants, it was worth the drive to Midland.”

The Midland IGNITE camp was one of 10 held across Canada. IGNITE stands for IGNiting Interest in Technology and Engineering, and the camps are part of IBM Canada’s national strategy to encourage First Nation, Métis and Inuit youth to stay in school, build self-confidence in their technical abilities and explore possibilities for their future.

“As a recent graduate, I felt that this would be a great volunteer opportunity to see first-hand how these tools can engage children in the curriculum content,” wrote Sheri Gillespie (BEd ’10).

Some of the instructors learned as much as the kids. “I’m not very tech savvy,” admitted Neil Mckenna. “It gave me the confidence to teach this.” During training, like students later, he said he became so engrossed by the snap circuits, “I didn’t want to stop.”

The children became so engrossed that “oftentimes during breaks and waiting to be picked up at the end of the day, they wanted to continue using the teaching tools,” wrote Gillespie. “It isn’t too often that you will see children choosing to use educational tools during their free time. You know that you have participated in a positive experience when they want to take the activities home with them. Learning can be fun, and as an educator we need to find tools such as these, which will meet the needs of today’s students!”

Mckenna signed up for the camp because, as a future Grade 4-to-8 teacher, he is concerned about the high drop-out rate among a growing population of Aboriginal students in Simcoe County. Technology is where the future lies, he said, and he viewed the camp as a way to engage students in something fun and doable while raising their self-esteem. “I really feel as a teacher I should help students out whenever I can.”

“This is the first time IBM Canada has partnered with teacher candidates to deliver a technology camp,” said Andrea Pavia, manager, corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, IBM Canada, in a media release.

“We’re really proud of what our teacher candidates have done. It was a unique collaborative learning experience,” said Diane Vetter, Faculty of Education course director at the Barrie site, who coordinated the participation of teacher candidates with IBM Canada and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.

“It was a big commitment all around on their part,” said Vetter. The teacher candidates volunteered their time during the only break they get during the winter term. Prior to the three-day camp, they trained for two days and spent up to 20 Two little boys hours setting up the workshop.

In addition to hands-on science and engineering activities, the camp featured First Nation and Métis inspirational speakers on the importance of technology, education and working toward their potential.

“We were fortunate to have an elder with us for the duration of the entire camp who grounded the FNMI (First Nation, Métis and Inuit) cultural experience through ceremony while also creating an embracing community environment,” wrote Bedford.

The IBM camp’s aim – to boost the success of Aboriginal children – meshed with a York Faculty of Education program to infuse mainstream courses with a First Nation, Métis and Inuit perspective. The program was a response to an Ontario Ministry of Education policy framework that identified a gap in student success for Aboriginal students (see YFile Nov. 23, 2009)

“One of the factors identified as causing the gap was a lack of understanding of First Nation, Métis and Inuit cultures among teachers,” said Vetter. “So we ensure that teacher candidates at our site have those understandings, so they can create an inclusive environment in the classroom.”

York teacher candidates who participated from this year’s class were Neil Mckenna, Mary Bedford, Patricia Jambo, Selena Jain and Jennifer Trace-Elliott. Those who participated from last year’s class were Sheri Gillespie and Ashley Densmore (BEd ’10).