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Grade 10 students Lola Gilmore, left, and Sydney Kelly work with electric circuitry for a prototype wall inspired by the TV show Stranger Things at The Study, a girls’ private school in Montreal.

Allen McInnis/Handout

As many parents of young children can attest, tablet technology such as the Apple iPad can be a great distraction tool on long car journeys and in many other situations.

Whether it involves cartoons on Netflix, fun applications or the latest and greatest video games, children as young as 2 can quickly learn to become avid consumers of technology.

Technology is increasingly playing a prominent role in classrooms, too. However, instead of encouraging consumption, it is being used as a tool for creation.

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“It’s not something we’re using every day, it’s used when necessary and it’s just like a pen and paper,” says Paul Romani, co-founder and director of Pear Tree Elementary in Vancouver.

“When you need to use pen and paper, you do that; when you need to use an iPad, you take out the iPad.”

Pear Tree, a co-educational private school that offers kindergarten to Grade 7, prides itself on the integration of technology into the classroom. Whether it’s Microsoft’s Surface Pro, Apple’s iPad or an interactive whiteboard, they all play a role in the school curriculum.

The ease of editing on an electronic device encourages children in their writing, Mr. Romani says. If children make a mistake too often on pen and paper, he finds that they screw up the paper and throw it away. Tools such as spellcheck or apps that predict what the next word might be, based on context, provide more reassurance.

“So this allows them to be more creative, and to learn through making mistakes because they become more willing to improve their work and go through the editing process,” he says.

A green screen sets the stage for creative filming at Pear Tree Elementary in Vancouver.

Handout

That process also extends to other forms of literacy, such as using videos or creating animation. Pear Tree doesn’t have dedicated art classes, per se, but instead uses technology as an artistic tool. Mr. Romani says that in so doing, it empowers students to realize that technology can be used as a form of expression.

It also helps to alleviate a lot of concerns parents might have about the use of tablets and other technology in the classroom.

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The graphic result created by Pear Tree students.

Handout

While other schools may use iPads as a gimmicky way to get kids interested in boring material, Mr. Romani says that simply creates a novelty effect that wears off quickly.

“The kids at our school don’t use technology in the same way that you do at home,” he says. “They’re not using them for games, they’re not using them for watching videos. They’re actually creating those things instead.”

The same goes for some of the newer forms of technology.

An increasing number of homes now have voice-controlled digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, but they can also play a role in the classroom.

At The Study, a girls’ private school in Montreal, technology plays a prominent role, but it’s not just technology for technology’s sake, it’s all about the application.

Six years ago, the school changed its curriculum so that it’s now teaching programming, coding and electronics, starting in kindergarten and going through to Grade 11. So when the school acquired a couple of Alexas for its audio/visual club, it wasn’t merely so the students could ask it to play a song or to deliver a weather update. Using programs such as Python and Amazon Web Services, the students created their own Alexa skills, which are custom commands including finding an obscure radio station or devising an obscure trivia game.

“Alexa’s fun,” says Amalia Liogas, The Study’s IT director. “… But if the kids want to continue using Alexa, they have to learn how to program so that Alexa will accept individual commands that they want to give."

Just like Pear Tree, The Study uses tablets, with the school providing one-to-one iPads and laptops throughout.

In one example, Grade 2 students took their iPads home and interviewed someone with it for a career-exploration assignment. Then they brought the tablet back to school and gave a presentation, live-streaming the event to both their parents and the people they had interviewed.

“Technology will play a role in education,” Ms. Liogas says. “It’s what you do with the technology, that’s the key point. If you’re just using the iPad as a typewriter, you might as well use a pencil.”

Zaina Khan, a Grade 12 student at Elmwood School, an international baccalaureate girls’ school in Ottawa, says the use of technology in the classroom provides meaningful education. For example, in her geography classes she has used a program called ArcGIS, which helps with the creation of maps for assignments.

“It actually creates this sense of connection between what we’re learning in a way that’s a little bit more hands-on,” she says. “Especially for learners like me, I think that really caters to the way I absorb information.”

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Like many other private schools across Canada, Elmwood incorporates technology throughout, but it is used in different ways depending on the age of the students. There is a one-to-one MacBook program from the middle school up to the high school, but kids have access to MacBooks and iPads throughout.

One such example is that kids can practise reading on an iPad, and are then asked multiple-choice comprehension questions to ascertain their understanding of the text. That data then feeds back to teachers, so they can track a student’s fluency as they learn to read.

“It’s not necessarily what’s the latest and greatest shiny new gadget,” says Matthew Perreault, Elmwood’s director of technology, “but what are the pieces of technology that we can use to make sure our kids are … learning as best they can in the classroom.”

But it is always a complement to traditional methods.

Cheryl Boughton, Elmwood’s head of school, says that students still need to know how to spell and learn their multiplication tables.

However, in an age of almost limitless information on the internet, technology can help access that and decipher it, to an extent.

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“You don’t think anything of picking up a pen,” she says. “Equally [the students] don’t think anything about whatever technology they’re picking up, it’s just, ‘Is this the right tool to allow us to do what we’re trying to do?’ ”

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