Ponsonby school receives $2,000 technology grant from CH2M Hill

Ponsonby Public School has received the go-ahead funds to become more tech savvy in the near future.

On Jan. 13 the school received a $2,000 grant from CH2M Hill that will go towards developing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in the school.

The grant will go towards the purchase of a Little Bits kit, which will provide students with a unique hands-on technology experience.

“Little Bits is a system of little pieces that can be put together, some are motor switches, fans, dimmer switches, LED lights, battery packs and they learn how to make circuits and take those different circuits to create different inventions,” explained Ponsonby teacher Jason Boyce.

“For example, they might create a hovercraft … because there’s a fan so you get the battery to turn the switch to run to the fan to make a hovercraft.”

Though Boyce and fellow teacher Michelle Swan were largely responsible for putting the proposal together, it was Ponsonby parent April Bates, a CH2M Hill employee, who brought the grant idea to the school.

“My company offers it up to their employees and they call it their Community Investment Opportunity and so I reached out to the school to offer it up as I know they’re interested in technology,” Bates said. “It’s supposed to be a STEM grant, so I know that’s something that I’m interested in for my kids as well as I know the school was interested in.”

Boyce agreed, “I’ve found, in the few years that I’ve been here, that the staff community is behind technology, the kids are really excited about it, the parent council has been super supportive of it, so it’s kind of just one of those things that’s morphing into the way it’s going to be.”

Teachers will use the Little Bits kit to incorporate hands-on learning into curriculum requirements in a way they haven’t yet been able to do.

“We might say for our wind unit … design a hovercraft that works or for the electricity unit design a house,” Boyce explained. “So they get the 20 bits and the materials they’d like and then they figure out how to put those components in so your house might have to have a light switch and a ceiling fan and a whatever – and they could use those components to make a wired house.”

Though it sounds complicated, Swan said the kit is perfect for elementary students.

“It’s suitable for the primary level because you just magnetize them together, rather than having to wire things together,” she explained.

And by having the kit available to most grades in the school, it gives students a kick-start to future learning.

“Had you, in Grade 1, been exposed to having the chance to just play around with them and see what happens, by the time you’re in Grade 5 you’d be able to do so much more than if you’d never had a chance to try anything like that,” Swan said.  

The Little Bits kit will be part of the school’s new maker space learning commons area in the library. The space is meant to be a technological hub in the school where teachers and students can integrate curriculum learning with new and old technology. The students are able to discover learning in a new way.

“Rather than demonstrating it for the kids they’re actually getting to create and invent and figure it out themselves,” Boyce said.

Though the kit is for children aged eight and up, Boyce said the school will make use of its learning buddy system to include younger students.

“My Grade 5 class, for example, is paired with a kindergarten class and instead of just doing traditional reading buddies, half reads with their buddies and then I take the other half and we’ve been on iPads and different things trying to learn technologies,” he said. “So we could do that within the buddying system … we’ll take half the buddies to the maker space and then the older kid is teaching the younger kid.”

Not only will the students be learning and using new technology, they’ll be developing problem-solving skills that could be used in numerous situations in their future.

“The ones that are in Grade 1, they’re six years old,” Swan said. “The jobs that they’re going to have quite likely hasn’t been invented yet. You can’t prepare them for a certain job because we don’t even know what it’s going to be, but if they know how to think for themselves and figure out how to do something, that’s the skill that they’re going to need.”

The school will be purchasing the kit in the near future.