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Senior kindergarten teacher Brad MacMaster is loved by children and parents alike for his unconventional and humorous approach to gender neutrality and learning in his classroom. The Newcastle Public School teacher wears pink every day to class and also uses a Smart board to foster interactive learning. (Yvonne Berg/Yvonne Berg for The Globe and Mail)
Senior kindergarten teacher Brad MacMaster is loved by children and parents alike for his unconventional and humorous approach to gender neutrality and learning in his classroom. The Newcastle Public School teacher wears pink every day to class and also uses a Smart board to foster interactive learning. (Yvonne Berg/Yvonne Berg for The Globe and Mail)

The future of education: Last in a five-part series

Globe readers nominate innovators - teachers leading classrooms of the future Add to ...

Joanna Sanders Bobiash

École Wilfrid Walker School, Regina, Sask.

Earlier this year, when Japan was devastated by an earthquake and a deadly tsunami, Joanna Sanders Bobiash found a creative way to explore the issue with her Grades 6, 7 and 8 social studies students.

She asked them to build a website that could teach the school’s younger students about the disaster.

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“The fact that they were writing for a broader audience instead of just me, I felt like they had a stronger sense of responsibility,” she says. “I found that they really retained the information a lot more.”

The students used Google Earth to map the path and the impact of the tsunami, and wrote entries on the recovery efforts, and how earthquakes and tsunamis are formed.

This summer, Ms. Sanders Bobiash became one of Canada’s few Google-certified teachers after she attended a training session in Seattle over the summer. The training taught her new ways to use collaborative documents and YouTube in her classroom. Her students now have their own websites, which act as a sort of e-portfolio that their parents can use to track their learning.

Ms. Sanders Bobiash is also working to flip her classroom – meaning students would view her lectures at home and then focus on problems and assignments in class. She intends to spend her Christmas holidays building video lectures that she’ll post online. Although a number of resources already exist in English, she must build her own because her school is French immersion.

“Students get a lot more out of the lecture if they can hear and see it,” she says. “They need to be able to review and they don’t always have someone outside of the classroom who can read to them in French.”

– Kate Hammer

Heidi Siwak

Dundas Central Public School, Dundas, Ont.

The best class project Heidi Siwak has led in 22 years of teaching began with friendships forged over Twitter.

She collaborated with people in New York, Australia and Finland who have interests in children’s storytelling and app development, and helped her Grade 6 class build their own iPhone app.

A year or so ago, Ms. Siwak fully committed to using technology to help change the way her classroom operates, and took on the app project “not knowing at all what I was getting into,” she says.

Her students picked the app’s purpose – a tourism guide for Dundas – chose landmarks, photographed them, researched and wrote about them, and designed everything from the user interface to the colour scheme. Ms. Siwak’s global friends handled the programming.

The app will launch soon, full of facts and history about sites in Dundas. It maps directions to the sites, and if you point your phone’s camera toward any one it overlays the image with information.

“[The students]were so engaged. They became professionals,” Ms. Siwak says. “It was amazing, the level of discussion.”

Discussion is key: Ms. Siwak spends much less time teaching from the front of the class and has scrapped her seating plan. Students work mostly in groups with her guidance, and post their work to the school’s blog network.

“It’s noisy,” she says. “There’s lots of talk.”

The class had neither an iPhone nor an iPad when the app project began, but they make do with the technology they have. For Remembrance Day, for example, they hosted a global Twitter chat about Hana Brady, of the book Hana’s Suitcase, with participants from nearly every continent and Hana’s brother, George Brady, following along. And after watching a documentary, they arranged a Web question-and-answer session with a British-based archaeologist featured in the film.

“This is a different world now, in education,” Ms. Siwak says. “It’s not within the four walls any more – the whole entire world is our classroom.”

– James Bradshaw

Bill Belsey

Springbrank Middle School, Cochrane, Alta.

Bill Belsey has never known teaching without a little help from technology.

Thirty years ago, he and his wife were fresh out of teachers’ college when they landed at Eskimo Point, now in Nunavut, to start their careers. They had some salary advanced, but instead of stocking up on supplies or paying down student loans, they bought a Texas Instruments TI-99 to teach with – one of the first computers in the Arctic.

Now, students in Grades 5 to 8 from his rural school at the foot of the Rocky Mountains have no trouble using technology to delve into troves of information.

“We have kids coming into our schools now who have more knowledge about certain content areas than their teachers do,” he says.

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