It’s a typical classroom scene at Elijah Smith Elementary School on Jan. 15: a teacher at the front of the class guides students as they navigate the features of an iPad.
In this case though there is one distinct difference from your typical elementary school classroom.
The more than 20 students in the class are Yukon teachers from a variety of schools around Whitehorse as well as a couple from communities outside of Whitehorse who are taking the training online.
The training provided from Apple Canada is aimed at ensuring each school in the territory has staff that knows the ins and outs of the products so that learning is accessible to all. It’s part of a broader effort to ensure staff are aware of the resources available to their students.
That means learning about the First Voices Keyboard app for Indigenous languages, a Draw and Tell feature which allows younger students to draw and record their voice to show what they are learning and Book Creator which allows users to use a variety of media (text, audio and video) to create stories, digital books and more.
In the Yukon, most students have access to iPads to some degree depending on their grade level and class.
The teacher training is part of an overall effort by the territory’s Department of Education to ensure teachers know how to use the resources available to make learning more accessible and provide more learning opportunities in a variety of areas.
There might be a student who has a learning disability and has trouble communicating in writing, said Mike Snider, curriculum consultant with the Yukon Department of Education in a Jan. 15 interview.
The Clips feature allows anyone to take a short video that transcribes what it hears as the words are being said. There are a number of other features that can help students who have vision problems or may have various learning challenges, he said.
The Jan. 15 day-long session was aimed at ensuring each school has an educator equipped with the skills to know what features might be available to assist students dealing with challenges.
“We’ve got all these tools,” Snider said, adding Yukon schools are fortunate to have much of the technology needed to make learning more accessible.
The territory made investments over the years to have that technology in place so officials want to make sure that investment is used wisely, Snider said.
Technology in the classroom has come a long way since Snider began his career in education. He recalled when he started teaching in the United States about 18 years ago, the best he could do to bring computer technology to the class was to essentially “take garbage” – older computers people were getting rid of and refurbish them into a usable piece of equipment, used mainly as something students could type on.
“The connectivity wasn’t there,” he said. Even having a projector in the classroom was a bonus in those days.
As tablets became more accessible, the issue then moved to schools accessing them and then it was not having enough to go around. Now schools in the territory have the equipment and a long list of apps and resources are available to teachers.
“iPads completely changed the way everything worked,” Snider said.
Snider’s goal is to have a community of teacher leaders in the territory armed with the resources to help others at the school navigate those tools to find what is needed for their students.
The demands of teaching, dealing with individual student issues and parent concerns often leave little room for educators to explore a long list of apps, he said.
Having at least one staffer at the school familiar with what’s available means when another teacher is looking for a resource, a suggestion can be made for the program or app that will assist the student rather than the teacher having to spend a lot of time trying to find something that will help.
Along with the resources aimed at making learning more accessible, teachers at the Jan. 15 training sessions were also introduced to the “Everyone Can Create” series that provides opportunities to learn skills in art, music (including using music to teach literacy and numeracy), videos and/or photography.
Snider, who would later lead a session on the music part of the program, said the program allows teachers who may not have skills directly in those subjects to facilitate learning through the programs.
Snider said in his experience once teachers are aware of the features available they’re amazed by the options that can help in the class.
“Creating that awareness is the challenge,” he said.
For Katina Bernier, a Grade 7 student at Elijah Smith Elementary, having technology in the classroom is a key part of her learning.
“I find it’s really helped me,” she said.
Some programs like Clips have made it easier for her to explain her thinking and what she has learned in class, she said. Her class has also incorporated apps as part of the work in detailing the steps required and findings for science experiments.
Bernier said as she looks ahead to high school, she’d like to have more opportunities to use technology in her classes and would specifically like to learn more about coding.
The Jan. 15 training session is just one of a number of opportunities for teachers to see what’s available through various technologies. In February another event will focus on Microsoft tools aimed at increasing engagement, efficiency and developing skills in the classroom, with another session later in the month aimed at using the Minecraft game as a learning tool.
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