For over a year the Ministry of Education has been hinting at a change in direction for the province’s education system.

It all started in mid-2010 with murmurings about “21st Century” or “child-centred” education, with little to no explanation of what that meant, leaving educators, trustees, and parents to banter about ideas on blogs, listserves, and the Twitter-verse.

Even the recent launch of B.C.’s Education Plan has few answers — just a plan to have a plan after engaging with education stakeholders.

But some schools are way ahead of the curve. By using technology, giving students the opportunity to choose what they want to study, or even just allowing teachers to deviate from the curricula norm, these schools have already taken education to the next level and waiting for the ministry to catch up.

Rise of the machines

Librarian Moira Ekdahl is quick to correct anyone who says John Oliver Secondary School in East Vancouver has a library. It’s a Learning Commons now.

Stacks and reference materials have been replaced by laptops, iPads, and interactive white boards. There are still books — Ekdahl swears they will never disappear under her watch — but technology is taking over.

“It’s really driven by giving kids multiple ways of accessing resources and information, and the tools to shape their own learning, and also to support new ways of teaching, because I think teachers need that support as well,” she told The Tyee.

While any teacher can make use of the technology, there are two particular programs that use technology as a main tool in the classroom: the Digital Immersion Minischool and the iPad Literacy Cohort.

Running from Grades 8 to 12, the Digital Immersion Minischool has been running from John Oliver since 1997, taking in students from across the district interested in expanding their online skills. Though the technology has changed, the main objective never has: teaching students how to operate in an Internet world.

When The Tyee visited the Digital Immersion 8 class in early November, students were just getting their brand new Mac laptops, a requirement for the course. Working in groups, they negotiated the definition of “social citizenship” with the aim of creating a wiki on the topic, and ultimately establishing six concrete rules for a class code of online conduct.

“I think we’ve always been teaching those skills. I didn’t grow up with this at school, but we were still required to learn how to critically think, how to problem solve, how to articulate our thoughts, how to present,” explains teacher Zhi Su.

“The way we access and interact with information is different. If you look around you, you don’t see students standing by the bookshelves and accessing books, they’re all on computers, and that’s what they tend to gravitate towards. It’s up-to-date, latest information, whereas some of these books are older than I am.”

By Katie Hyslop, 15 Nov 2011,

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