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No more pencils, no more books - tablets and laptops instead in Port Coquitlam

Anna Saint, a Grade 9 Riverside student, with her iPad. The schools is moving towards all digital classrooms by 2016. - DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Anna Saint, a Grade 9 Riverside student, with her iPad. The schools is moving towards all digital classrooms by 2016.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

Anna Saint’s backpack is a little lighter these days because she is one of 320 Grade 9 students at Port Coquitlam’s Riverside secondary school who have given up pens, paper and heavy books for a single digital device.

Gone are the mechanical pencils, the fine liners and highlight pens. Saint uses her finger or a stylus to write answers on a digital worksheet and instead of reading hard-cover school textbooks and gluing paper to cardboard for projects, Saint incorporates photos, video, and graphics into her presentation and does all her research on her lightweight iPad.

Is this the future? No, says Saint, it’s a practical alternative to paper-based instruction, and she’s loving it.

“There are so many options, it’s easy to be inspired,” she said.

Cased protectively in a lime-green cover, Saint’s coursework is organized neatly by colour and file. No messy papers to be dropped or lost. No dog-ate-my-homework excuses. Lessons are easy to retrieve, notes are easy to share.

She can do her school work anywhere, and often does.

FULLY DIGITAL

Tapping her iPad, Saint retrieves an astronomy project she researched and wrote using a Dr. Who theme and it looks as professional as any text. “For me, it makes it a lot more fun to do,” Saint said.

This anytime/anywhere education may appear groundbreaking, especially in districts that don’t permit their students to be online except in computer labs. But Riverside is joining the real world when it comes to education and it shows in the enthusiasm of both students and teachers.

It will be the first school in School District 43 go fully digital — all students at the PoCo school will be working off their own or school-supplied devices by 2016, with next year’s crop of Grade 9s the newest to be inducted.

Teachers Brian Gee and Jeremy Brown say their colleagues have been energized by the switch to digital materials, finding ways to use the latest apps to teach their subjects or engage students in projects. Twenty-five teachers meet every week to exchange ideas, share experiences and talk about the latest education app, and more teachers will come on board as each grade is introduced to the digital initiative.

Going digital doesn’t mean students aren’t collaborating face to face or using pen and paper. Hands-on labs and tech ed projects are still very much part of the curriculum. But there are now more options for both teachers and students, said Brown, a science teacher, who said, “Where there’s more freedom, there’s more learning.”

MOBILE THE TREND

Principal Anthony Ciolfitto said it’s a natural progression from initiatives the school started 10 years ago. “We were seeing the trend.” he said, “and the trend was mobile devices.”

With Riverside teachers fully committed and willing to go digital with their course materials, the next step was to get parents on board.

Last spring, the school checked with parents and the PoCo moms and dads embraced the idea. Many of their children were already bringing tablets and laptops to school, Ciolfitto said, and the school was able to provide them with experience from earlier pilots with tablet-based physics and science programs.

“That allowed us to provide the parent community with the data and information they needed,” Ciolfitto said.

The goal was to have 80% of students show up with devices in September, with the school supplying the rest — but 90% of kids arrived with the digital equipment in their backpacks, making these devices “the new school supply,” he says.

Challenges? There are a few, mostly with making sure students can get access to the digital material, which has to be adapted to a variety of devices, the most common being Apple’s iPad and tablets made by Samsung or using Microsoft Surface.

And the school could have a looming internet crisis if the city of Port Coquitlam and SD43 don’t come to an agreement on installing fibre optics within the next three years. Teachers are also focused on making sure students stay safe online and have an “electronic footprint” they can be proud of.

“It’s a skill-set they need. We have to give them a realistic view of what real life is like,” Ciolfitto says.

A digital pioneer in SD43, Riverside is now setting the pace for all B.C. schools. Many SD43 teachers helping students with diverse learning needs are also using tablets. It makes sense. Students are already digital natives, it’s up to the education system to catch up.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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