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26 Mar, Sunday
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Montreal Families

High school students using Google technology

It’s no secret that the modern classroom is evolving. In an age where even daycare children are taught to use iPads, textbooks are delivered as files and photocopiers are becoming a thing of the past, educators are focused on giving kids the tools they’ll need to succeed in an increasingly digital job market.

To meet this reality, the Lester B. Pearson School Board has partnered with Google to bring their students the most up-to-date classroom technology possible.

The Chromebook Program, which was introduced this year as a pilot project into three of the board’s high schools, has students working on Chromebook laptops and using Google’s educational apps and capacity for collaborative projects.

At Lakeside Academy in Lachine, every student in Grade 7 purchased the laptop whereas at Beurling Academy in Verdun and St. Thomas in Pointe Claire, the schools bought the computers for in-class use only.

“This is really a game changer for us,” said Tanya Avrith, the school board’s lead teacher in educational technology and digital citizenship. “Let’s face it, digital literacy has become as important as reading and writing.”

Avrith said the LBPSB decided to go with Google because of the wide variety of useful applications, ease of use and, at just over $300 each, the low price of the laptops. Each student in the pilot project has been given a Google account and space in the “cloud,” a virtual storage area where work can be stored and accessed from any computer connected to the Internet.

Within the classrooms, teachers implement their own projects, using applications that can make maps, slideshows, presentations, images, movies and more.

Glenn Katz, an English language arts teacher at St. Thomas High School, says one of the best features of the program is the fact that it allows collaborative work, with up to 50 people being able to edit the same document. He says it’s been a hit with the students so far.

“They love the idea that they can take a document, share it among all the other students in the class, and collaborate that way,” he said. “And the bonus for me is I don’t have to stand by the photocopy machine. I can correct right from the screen. Everything is much faster and they get instant feedback.”

Katz is also using the technology to have his students host their own websites and blogs. They’re currently working on photo essays to share with each other and with friends and family. At Beurling Academy, students are making a big collaborative slideshow about their family holiday traditions to put online.

Avrith said the technology also allows a teacher to deliver different applications to specific students, making it easy to personalize the program for a variety of learning needs. For example, a student who has trouble with reading can benefit from an application that reads out loud.

This technology is their future

According to Avrith and Katz, the new technology makes learning more engaging. After Katz’ class finished reading Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for example, students conducted a live video interview with actors from the Montreal Shakespeare Theatre Company to ask them what it was like to perform the play.

“It made the material much more real to them,” says Katz, who also wants to arrange for students to communicate with people living in the places in which famous novels are set.

Avrith says these are just a few of the ways that giving students access to technology allows them to participate much more actively in their own learning.

The role of the teacher is changing equally fast. “The teachers are becoming facilitators of learning as opposed to ‘the sage on the stage’,” she explains. “The kids have all the information now. What they need to know is how to access that information, what questions to ask. We want them to be innovators and problem solvers.”

She hopes that after this year’s test run, the program will expand to more schools and classrooms in the Lester B. Pearson School Board.

“These kids are going to enter a workforce where being able to access the web and the cloud is going to be priceless,” she says. “We’re trying to be forward-thinking in how we’re using this technology, because this is their future.”

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