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Ryan Flanagan photo

Ryan Flanagan photo

Nine-year-old Madeline Cranston speaks Monday at Mobilize, a conference organized by Kitchener-based company Desire2Learn around themes of education and technology.

Conference explores new frontiers of education, technology

By Ryan Flanagan
Kitchener Post staff

More than 400 educators and students gathered at Bingemans on Monday for a workshop and conference hosted by Desire2Learn.

The event, called Mobilize, was a day-long affair designed around technology in the classroom.

Speakers and panelists included a cross-section of local educators, education technology experts and the local tech community, as well as keynote speaker and CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi.

“The main idea is about transformational learning through mobile. Mobile talks about how we have instructive technology, how we collaborate and how we’re able to bring student/teacher faculty to one stage and discuss the possibilities of how we mobilize our classrooms,” said Shawn McEwen, a business development manager with Kitchener-based Desire2Learn.

One of the morning’s featured speakers was Madeline Cranston, a nine-year-old from Waterloo. An advocate for saving the planet’s oceans and sharks, Cranston told the audience about her passion — but only after first thanking Canadian women’s rights pioneer Nellie McClung.

“If not for her, I might not be here today. She helped to change the world for the better,” she said.

Cranston spoke of her interest in sharks, her desire to be a marine biologist and the $250 she raised for her school’s Save the Sharks club last year with a bake sale, but also talked about the role technology has played in allowing her voice to be heard.

“If not for YouTube or my blog, none of you would have ever heard of me,” she said.

McEwen said he was “blown away” by Cranston’s enthusiasm and desire — and her embrace of technology.

“Seeing nine-year-olds using technology and tweeting is awesome,” he said.

An earlier speaker was Andrew Bieronski, a teacher at Huron Heights Secondary School. He told the audience about his “blended learning” approach to teaching, which has students focus on using technology to discover answers for themselves rather than through rote memorization of facts from textbooks.

“I’ve seen a huge transformation in my students,” he said.

“By bringing technology into my classroom, I have seen a huge improvement in their engagement.”

Bieronski, a civics teacher, explained that he didn’t want to teach his students about political parties and issues through his own filter, but wanted to see the students reach their own conclusions after doing their own research.

“The last thing I want to do as a teacher is give them my opinions on political parties,” he said.

So when his students asked him which would be the best political party to form government, Bieronski armed them with website addresses for political parties and Wikipedia, and set them loose.

The end result?

“They’re going through all these questions, finding all the information themselves, critically thinking about who is best to run the country and why,” he said.

Likewise, when the subject matter turned to economics, Bieronski used an online game in which users build their own communities to demonstrate basic tenets of supply and demand.

“It’s so much more engaging for them,” he said.

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