Technology, learning go hand-in-hand at St. Columban

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At St. Columban School, the idea of 21st century learning has taken on a whole new meaning as each and every student is now certified to use a suite of educational software to aid in and enhance the learning process, both in and outside the classroom.

On Jan. 21, the parents of students at both St. Columban School and St. Patrick’s School in Dublin were invited to St. Columban to learn about how the school board has been integrating technology into the learning process over the past year.

“Tonight we’ve got a family tech night and we’ve invited families from both St. Columban and St. Patrick’s Schools to come this evening to see what their children are doing in terms of digital technology at school,” explained John McCarroll, principal of both schools. “Our parent council has been very generous in supplying technology to the schools so we want (students) to show off what they’ve been doing with it. We are also in partnership with the (Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board), so the board is training the kids in a three-level summit series.”

In the gym, the families of students were told that each student at both St. Columban and St. Patrick’s had been certified this year as a Level 1 Digital Student, which means they are all proficient in using the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board’s (HPCDSB) e-Toolkit.

Sean McDade, the coordinator of 21st century learning for the HPCDSB, explained why the school board began implementing their e-Toolkit in schools this year before describing each of the programs students have been using from that e-Toolkit.

“Last year we decided to find out what happens if we train every student in the class on a suite of tools and how does that impact communication, collaboration and differentiation,” McDade said. “We tested that in 14 classes around our Huron-Perth district. The results of that research study were so promising that the district made it available to every class this year. We’ve already trained 60 classrooms on the suite of tools – that’s over 1,200 students. In fact, in this school, every grade has already been trained in that suite of tools.”

Students across the board now know how to use a suite of seven online tools, all of which McDade says are targeted at the point of instruction, which means the technology does not determine the learning, but instead, what the students are learning determines which device and e-tool they can use to enhance those lessons.

The first tool students are using, McDade explained, is Google Drive, which he says works as sort of a virtual pencil case for students.

“From Google Drive, we have Google Read and Write. I call Google Read and Write the personal assistant or the personal researcher. This is another set of tools that allows for speech to text, text to speech, it’s a reading assistant, it’s a vocabulary builder, and what we like to say is, if there’s any obstacle to the learner Google Read and Write will provide a tool to overcome it,” McDade said.

The next tool is called Mindomo, which McDade says is like a virtual canvas that allows students to pin videos, pictures and websites to it to turn it into an interactive bulletin board that can also be used for class presentations.

“Desire 2 Learn or Writespace, it is our digital classroom. So this is where students are able to chat, they’re able to access materials, they’re able to interact with their peers on assignments, it’s the gradebook, it’s a virtual classroom,” McDade continued. “When you think about a single characteristic in a classroom, there will be a digital version of that in the Desire 2 Learn classroom.”

The fifth tool students have been trained in is called Snapverter, which allows students to use their phones to take pictures of assignments after which the program reads the text of their assignments back to the students to prevent reading from becoming a barrier to students’ comprehension of the tasks they have been set.

Sixth on list is a program called Homework Help which provides students in Grades 7 to 10 with free online tutoring Sunday nights through to Thursday nights by an Ontario licensed teacher.

“The last one that we have there is myBlueprint. Every child in Ontario has to have a digital portfolio. We’re providing two choices for teachers to choose to do the digital portfolio. They can do the digital portfolio in Google Drive because it’s such a powerful place to park student work, videos and photos, but the other option is myBlueprint, where kids can create their whole digital portfolio,” he said.

“MyBlueprint is also the software that our Grade 8 students use to schedule courses in high school and all the high school students schedule their courses.”

This year the Catholic board has ensured that every student has access to all seven of these e-Tools and that they have received introductory training on each of them. Parents can also learn more about these tools by visiting

“Through this digital certification we decided that just receiving introductory training is not enough, so we’ve created a program where students can become digital experts and we’ve created innovative pilot projects that promote coding, video conferencing and blogging and podcasts,” McDade said. “There’s going to be other opportunities for schools to send students to learn how to do those things so they can bring that knowledge back to their school.

“We’re also creating a program where students can be recognized as digital leaders in their school, and that’s going to be something that will be rolled out this spring.”

After McDade finished speaking, parents had the chance to visit their student’s classroom to see first-hand demonstrations of how students are using these seven tools to aid and enhance the learning process.