Category Archives: Technology

When It Comes To New Technology, It’s About Engaging The Students

The use of technology in education has been a popular topic in educational circles and the media for the last few years. It is often a discussion based on extremes where one either believes that our students should abandon paper and traditional learning methods and tools completely in favour of a fully digital and connected educational experience or schools should shun technology completely for the safety and well-being of children who already spend far too much time using devices. As is often the case with extreme and conflicting points of view, the right path lies squarely in the middle.

I readily admit that as someone who experienced high school in the 1980s, I feel lucky to have actually witnessed and participated in the evolution of both television and computers from relative rarities to technologies people cannot live without. In high school my classmates would rush home after school so they could watch these wonderful new music videos for hours, arriving at school the next day to show off a new dance move, hair style, or single white glove! I spent my afternoons after school tinkering with the latest used computer I had managed to buy with my allowance and paper route money. I got the sense that while my parents did not fully understand my fascination with a useless (to them) computer, they were relieved that I was not ruining my life glued to the television watching music videos that were destroying society as they knew it.

Television and music videos did not destroy society and result in a lost generation. What did happen is parents (and educators) became aware and engaged in what the children were watching. Parents set limits and had conversations about what their children saw. Educators realized that because newer forms of media engaged children, that some of this same media could be leveraged for educational purposes. The world continued to spin and life progressed. The “good old days” were only good in the old days.  Society progresses and changes and going backwards is neither possible nor desirable. Human beings make mistakes. Better to learn from mistakes when students are young and have supportive, responsible teachers around to guide them rather than trying to learn from mistakes as an adult where the consequences can be far-reaching and difficult to mitigate.

Technology in school is not a passing fad. Technology is just one of many tools that teachers here at Mentor College and TEAM School use every day to guide our students to success. The ability for our students and teachers to use digital tools will continue to increase in importance with every passing year. Some argue that technology in our classrooms creates student distraction. The solution back in the good old days when students passed notes as a form of distraction was not to ban paper, so why would we even consider banning technology?

Technology does not replace teaching, rather it augments it. We have an exceptional group of educators in our schools who invest their time and efforts into helping your children become the exceptional young adults they all have the potential to be. We believe that the thoughtful, meaningful, and appropriate use of technology in our classrooms will ensure your child reaches his or her full potential.

Mark Sheward
Technology Resource
Mentor College/TEAM School

A Phoneless India

The moment I tell people I travelled halfway across the world to Udaipur, India, the first question I get asked is “So, did you have WiFi?” – to which I shortly respond with “No.” And yet, this answer so dry and simple always shocks them. “What did you do? How did you text people?” Well, that one is easy. I didn’t text people, nor did I have the burning urge to all day long. I was 11,462 km away from home, surrounded by an entirely new culture, with nothing but my camera, best friends, and curiosity by my side. Why would I need my phone?

Not being able to use my phone for two weeks turned out to be a much easier task than I had previously expected. Before going to India, I was petrified of not having my phone. I mean, my parents couldn’t call me on my birthday, I couldn’t text all of my teammates and friends with the latest gossip, and I couldn’t fall asleep scrolling through the Instagram explore page. Going on my phone turned into part of my daily routine, and I honestly thought that I needed my phone to survive, but I was very wrong. I can truly say that I didn’t miss my phone at all, and even when I was granted certain opportunities to use it, I opted not to.

There were so many wonderful experiences in India that I feel like I would have missed out on if I had my phone. For example, every day we would have some down time to do whatever we wanted before dinner, whether it was playing cricket, showering, or talking with friends. I always took this opportunity to lie in the grass, write in my journal, and have some great laughs with my friends. I know for a fact that if phones were to be introduced into that scenario, that free time probably would have been much different. With that being said, however, I honestly don’t think any of us missed our phones all that much. Yash Pujari, another student on the trip, even said “I didn’t really notice that [my phone] was gone.” And that was the truth. Once the surrounding culture, unique people and breathtaking scenery engulfed you, there was no need to be on your phone. I feel as if I can speak on behalf of the entire group when I say this, but because we were in India for such a short period of time, any time on our phones would have been a wasted opportunity.

Even after coming home from India, I noticed a huge change in regards to my dependency on my cell phone. I mean, sure, I still use it to text my friends, but I do not need it like I did in the past. I feel as if now it is much easier to put my phone away for long periods of time, as I don’t have the urge to check up on what has happened in the past two minutes of someone’s life. It is almost as if I can see the futility in cell phones now, as there is so much of the world that I can finally see now that I moved my iPhone screen out of the way. Thus, as my time in India was probably two of the happiest weeks of my life, it also taught me an important lesson to experience the world more and be engulfed in technology less. So, I guess I will leave you with a challenge. I challenge you to put your phone away for two weeks, and see what happens as a result. Did you notice things you never have before? Did you find yourself talking to more people? Did you finish your work faster? Did you realize that you are not as dependent on your phone as you thought you were?

Sierra LeBlanc
Grade 11 Student

Mobile Distraction

I was at a seminar for educators a few years ago when the facilitator handed out a piece of paper with a picture of a parking lot on it. She encouraged everyone to turn off their cell phones and place them in one of the spots in the “parking lot”. Whenever we had an urge to use our phone for some reason, she asked us to write it in one of parking spots and once the parking lot was “full” we could go out into the hallway (with our phones) to empty the lot. It was only a 2 hour seminar but at least 5 people had to leave for “parking lot duty”! I thought it was a good move by the presenter and I felt sorry for the people who could not go 120 minutes without their phone.

This dependency on mobile devices is now getting people fired from their jobs. One of the career choices our students make is in the field of accounting and I am encouraging these students to apply for a job at Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) after university. This is the firm who has been entrusted with the voting process at the Academy Awards for almost a century and as was discovered after the incorrect “Best Picture” award was given out, PwC managing partner Brian Cullinan (pictured) was on his phone and tweeting backstage during the ceremony. Our grads can say during their interview, “If you contact my reference, Mr. Macdonald, he will confirm that I know how to work without needing my phone!”

Because I have been at the school for so long, I do not know what it is like to have a cell phone out all of the time at work. I don’t know what workplaces in “the real world” do with respect to cell phone use but I can’t imagine employees pulling out their phones to answer a text in the middle of a presentation by the boss! I do know that the keywords for technology in both the classroom and the real world are “appropriate use”. At our schools, students who are found using a cell phone during the school day must surrender it immediately and must also meet with the divisional principal to see if further action is necessary. We believe that school (which is the equivalent of the workplace for students) is a place where the distractions of a phone far outweigh its benefits. I wonder (with the benefit of hindsight) if @briancullinan_ would agree?

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School

Spelling Counts

download-1I am trying to decide if it is my advancing years or if it is society in general but I am getting less tolerant when people either do not do what they have promised or change their minds about something that was once important.

I first noticed this with some of the suppliers with whom I deal as the administrative principal of the schools. Rather than wanting to work to keep my business, I was surprised that there was a sense of entitlement to it and I was the last person on their list of customers to satisfy instead of the first. Other times, I would get a quote for work to be done and it was me (not them) who wanted to get the last few pieces of the project completed. The only thing that was prompt was the issuing of an invoice and their expectation that I would pay it immediately (even if I had been kept waiting for the service to be completed).

School Employee Fired for Correcting Students’ Spelling on Twitter

This story is a great example of this. A school board realized that their Twitter feed was “a bit flat” so they hired a 34-year-old as their Web Experience Coordinator to get “some more engagement” with its customers (students). Student focus groups said things were working well and that students were getting more involved because the Board was responding to their tweets. Everything was fine until a student tweeted “close school tammarow, PLEASE” and the response was “but then how would you learn how to spell tomorrow” (with a requisite smiley face emoticon). Personally, I think the tweetmaster could have worded the response a bit differently to reduce the potential for people to be offended (“being offended” is another thing that is either a by-product of my age or society in general) but the “damage” was done. Even though most of the responses were positive before and after the tweet, the employee was terminated for doing exactly what the Board expected!

When it comes to our relationship with our parents and students, we hope that you do not get the feeling that we are “entitled” to your continued support…whether you have been a parent at the school for 15 days (eg: started school in January) or 15 years (eg: have students here at the school and also off in university). We also hope that when we say we are going to do something (phone you every month, prepare your child for post-secondary education, etc.), you not only see that we follow through on those promises but also know that from the teacher all the way up to Mr. Macdonald, we will listen to your concerns if you feel that we are not keeping up our end of the bargain.


pythonThere is an old Monty Python skit called “The Four Yorkshiremen” and during high school, a friend and I had it memorized line for line. For those who haven’t heard it, the members of the comedy troupe are sitting in a lounge with glasses of champagne and expensive cigars talking about how “we had it rough when we were young”. Following the Paul Davis seminar on Tuesday evening and learning about all the challenges that parents and their children face regarding online safety, I mused with a similarly-aged (eg: old) colleague about whether or not life was easier when we were kids.

I think every generation changes its mind about this. I lived in the country and complained that our TV antenna only got three channels but I remember my parents reminding me that they never had a TV when they were my age. I am sure that when they whined to their parents that they didn’t have a TV they were reminded that when THEY were kids they didn’t even have a radio. I am sure I could go back even further and hear my ancestors as teenagers complain that they didn’t have a car, electricity, indoor plumbing, etc..

When Davis informed our Grade 5/6 students that they were not legally able to have Facebook, Instagram or accounts (and 30% of them do!), I thought about what I did at that age to keep myself busy at home. My parents ensured that I had lots of household chores and my Mom had a rule that we had to play outside for one hour (with or without our friends) after coming home from school. If I had ever become an NHL star, my Dad could have sold our dented garage door on eBay! My version of “tech” was making graphs of my hockey card collection (sorted by team, which player represented most, etc.). Exciting stuff, right?

I am not sure when the argument “they should be teaching this in the schools” came up but I know that when it came to safety, we blazed down snowy hills on our crazy carpets and skated around the outdoor ice rinks without wearing helmets whether we were at home or at school. When it comes to online safety today, the school can control the internet access of its students while studying but once the school day is over, this responsibility falls to us as parents.

Paul Davis believes that most of us are failing our kids because we are too trusting as parents. He pointed out that 90% of all cyber-bullying and age-inappropriate internet activity takes place when kids are using technology in their bedroom (and has not had any of the police groups who have heard him speak tell him otherwise). He also noted that whenever schools learn that there are online problems between students, it started with kids being able to say and do things online in the privacy of their room and with little or no restriction to the internet.

Is growing up today better than we were kids? Mr. Davis would probably say that it depends on the parents; if you are giving similar rules and freedoms to your kids as your parents gave to you, then they probably have it better.

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School