Almonte DHS Wins $3,000 Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning

by Mark Calder

 Almonte and District High School (ADHS) has placed second in a national contest recognizing innovative teaching practices that engage students and get them excited about school.

ADHS recently won a $3,000 Canadian Education Association Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning for its Living the Startup program. The program, run through the Grade 11 Interdisciplinary Studies course, allows students to experience a role reversal – advising teachers how to use today’s technology to instruct students in engaging ways. In addition, the course permits students to develop the entrepreneurial skills today’s businesses demand.

The class works with representatives of Agile Data Company, a local high-tech startup. Representatives of Agile visit the class to talk about the challenges of developing a startup, important skills and attributes such as the need to be creative, project management and other topics.

“Instead of the traditional class they learn the types of skills necessary to create a startup business by doing a project,” said ADHS Principal Ron Ferguson. “That project works in the school to bring new technology and its proper use into the classroom.

“They (entrepreneurs) give us a real-world perspective.”

A dozen students are currently identifying new and exciting apps and other technology teachers can use in a variety of subjects including: history apps that give students a virtual tour of Rome, apps to engage special education students, and apps students can use in technology class to design a house.

The course encourages students to host seminars for teachers showing them how to use teaching apps on iPads to improve their instruction. The students even create demonstration lessons for teachers.

Sam Quakenbush, a Grade 11 student enrolled in the course, said he enjoys the unique experiences and insights it brings.

“It’s an opportunity to get a different perspective on how education can be taught and it gives you some good life lessons,” said Quackenbush. “It’s also a chance to learn how to create a startup. You never know, maybe it would be something I’d like to do (in future).

“Also I’m not a big tech guy. I am a huge academic though and I have learned so many skills that can be used in my academics that I had no idea even existed.”

The course has also taught him about the different ways people learn and that traditional methods such as textbooks are more limiting than online because online lessons are updated constantly. Using iPads and online sources makes school a better place to learn, he said.

Local businesses involved with the program hope it will eventually create a “farm team” of young adults with the skillset needed to work for them. The hope is to stem the tide of young residents leaving the area because they can’t find work, said Ferguson.

The Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning was established with the generous contribution of Dr. Ken Spencer to recognize and publicize innovative work that is sustainable and has the potential of being taken up by others; to encourage a focus on transformative change in schools; and to provide profile for classroom innovation within school districts, schools, and the media. Founded in 1891, the Canadian Education Association (CEA)is a network of passionate educators advancing ideas for greater student and teacher engagement in public education.

The award will be officially presented to ADHS during a ceremony at the school this spring.