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Summit leaves youth buzzing
Yellowknife Catholic Schools brings technology, problem solving together at district-wide event

Kirsten Fenn
Northern News Services
Tuesday, June 13, 2017

St. Joseph School was buzzing Monday morning with drones, gadgets and the voices of students excited about learning.

NNSL photograph

Ben Li, left, Kabbamoy Paul, Mario Hernandez Mellin, Eric Li and Saad Arshad teamed up to fly a drone through a set of checkpoints during the Yellowknife Catholic Schools student summit on Monday at St. Joseph School. - Kirsten Fenn/NNSL photo

It was all part of the Yellowknife Catholic Schools student summit, which brought together 90 Grade 4 to Grade 11 students from St. Joe's, Weledeh and St. Patrick High School to create their own inventions and solve problems using the latest technologies.

Another 10 students from each school took part in a leadership workshop as part of the summit yesterday.

"We're trying to create opportunity for student-centred learning - learning that students are really engaged in," said Simone Gessler, associate assistant superintendent at Yellowknife Catholic Schools.

"These are the skills that they're going to need for tomorrow and even though we don't know what tomorrow looks like, we know that technology is a part of what we do."

The student summit was designed to mimic a professional conference, with students getting the chance to register for the event and pick from a number of workshops based on their personal interests, said Gessler.

A day's itinerary included everything from creative writing to flying drones to building an animated rock band using a basic coding program.

Keynote speaker for the day was Blake Everhart, technology co-ordinator for the Indiana Migrant Education Program in the U.S. He also guided students through a drone workshop.

"Instead of the traditional way of doing things, how can we expose them to things that may motivate or engage or help them make a decision about what they want to do in the future?" he asked as a number of puzzled faces approached him looking for answers to their questions about drones.

While he could give students the answers to their problems right away, Everhart preferred to encourage them to find their own solutions.

"It's supposed to be fun, it's supposed to be challenging, hands-on," he said, adding many of the activities are also about teamwork.

Upstairs in teacher Janessa Kerr's class, students were working on a different kind of problem-solving, using Google Forms to write "choose your own adventure" stories with different endings.

"It's very much a survey-based kind of product, but you can use it in all sorts of creative ways," she said. "We don't always have time to write the whole story all over again, but this way they can follow different threads at the same time."

Grade 5 student Zoe Jarvis was writing a story about the Loch Ness Monster and trying to choose between an ending where the boy in her story hides from the creature or decides to investigate what the monster is.

"You can choose what you think would be the best decision and you can see what ends up happening if you go this way or this way," said Jarvis.

Kerr said the use of technology in writing interactive stories not only engages students but teaches them important organizational and planning skills.

Most importantly, the conference is to teach students to be critical thinkers in a world where textbooks can no longer teach them everything they need to know, according to Gessler.

"It's good to take risks because that's how you learn and move forward," she said. "This is where their learning happens, they're engaged . we're just giving them the tools and the learning and the opportunity to go deeper."

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