Peel District Kicks Off the Year with Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age Conference

HAZELby Hazel Mason, Superintendent of Education, Peel District School Board

For the second year running, the Peel District School Board kicked off the year with its second annual Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age Conference. 550 teachers took time from their vacations and attended the conference on August 20/21 and the excitement in the room was palpable.

The focus this year was on 21st Century Pedagogy with a strong emphasis on numeracy. Peel, like other Boards in Ontario, is anxious to support our students in finding more success in math and looking for 21st Century ways to help us achieve our goal.

On the first day Justin Reich, from Stanford University, talked to us about the importance of 21st Century pedagogy within a global context. I think we can all agree education is a very conservative institution and the change necessary to make 21st Century pedagogy a reality is perhaps the most significant educational change in over a decade. Justin helped our teachers to understand just how much the world our students will be entering will require strong creativity, innovation, collaboration, and the ability to solve problems. The finite curriculum document has no place in this world because information in our new reality has a very definite shelf life and it isn’t very long. Teachers spent the rest of the day in poster sessions and workshops put on by their colleagues. Teachers learning from teachers, was the format we used, a format that the Peel Board has found very effective in our 21st Century journey.

The second day was focussed on gaming and gamification. Teachers were treated to an expert panel who talked about the use of gaming in their classrooms and the cautions teachers should consider when thinking about gaming. The SAMR model has been a key model for Peel when considering technology use in the classroom. If gaming is simply a substitution for what you have always done in the classroom then you will probably get the results you have always gotten. Students might be more engaged but improved results may not be the outcome. The panel discussed gaming in the classroom as a tool to transform the learning and encourage the skills identified by Justin in his talk on the first day.

The next session on day two was a digital playground: an opportunity for participants to “muck” with a number of different gaming ideas guided by an experienced “gaming teacher.” The teachers loved it. They tried Minecraft, Maki-maki, Prodigy, Badging, and a number of other educational gaming suggestions. We finished off the day with an inspirational talk from Clive Thompson who challenged us, motivated us and entertained.

Knowing how to teach and learn in the Digital Age is the new moral imperative for educators. Peel teachers walking out of the conference could feel the urgency.