Innovation Day exposed Durham students to technology
May 10, 2018
Technology is creating a new world of work and opportunities that will enable young people to perform in a much more interesting way than previous generations.
Durham District School Board (DDSB) elementary students got a glimpse of what that world looks like at an Innovation Day event last week hosted by Tech Spark in collaboration with the school board.
With financial support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation and Access Alliance, Tech Spark was launched in June 2015 as Canada’s first digital tech initiative offering programming, design, gaming and entrepreneurship skills to young people.
A total of 125 Grades five to seven DDSB students engaged in learning how to build robots, compose music and explore deep space through virtual reality and make apps, games and code.
The participating schools were hosts Bolton C Falby, Michaelle Jean, Carruthers Creek, Bayview Heights and Applecroft public schools.
Tamar Huggins, who founded Tech Spark whose programs are aligned with the Ontario school curriculum, said the reason her company chose to partner with the DDSB is because a high percentage of Black professionals reside in Durham which is home to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College.
“The opportunities are there for us to create that pipeline where students can move from engaging with technology to actually taking science and math classes and then looking at post-secondary education and then becoming part of technology from a career and entrepreneurial standpoint,” she said. “But the key is we want them to do that all in Durham because there’s a landscape here that’s allowing them to do that.”
The students finished the day by participating in a design thinking competition. Each school pitched a presentation to a judging panel on how they felt the robot could add value to their school.
Bayview Heights, the last school to present, emerged the winner and was the recipient of a $14,000 service robot. Tech Spark has a partnership with Rap Riderz Innovation Centre which sells robots.
“People think we are outdated,” the students said in their presentation. “The robot will help build bridges so we can connect to the virtual world.”
The students’ creative ideas grabbed the judges attention.
“We loved them all and it was hard to choose a winner,” Huggins, who also started Black Women Code, noted. “However, Bayview Heights followed the guidelines for the design lab. They felt their school is outdated and the robot could be a community engagement tool. The fact that they were able to make those connections and find a solution resonated with us.”
Huggins curiosity with technology started in Grade 10 when she and a friend spent hours in their neighbourhood library coding on BlackPlanet.com that is an African-American social networking forum for discussion on political and social issues among other things.
Coding is a list of instructions given to a computer in order for it to perform desired actions.
Bolton C Falby appreciated the honour to host the event.
“We are a school of great opportunity,” said first-year principal Conor Jinkinson. “For our board to be able to partner with Tech Spark to provide this opportunity for our students means they are exposed to career paths and opportunities that they would not have been afforded before.”
Ajax Wards three and four trustee Donna Edwards said the board didn’t hesitate to partner with Tech Spark.
“This is quite a phenomenal initiative,” she pointed out. “We at the board see technology as an equalizer. Students can use it in a way that we have never been able to do before. It gives them a heads up and basically offers them opportunities for jobs that we don’t even know exist. It also improves collaboration and problem-solving skills.”
Tech Spark has developed a partnership with the DDSB to offer 40 weeks of in-school programming to 400 students over the next three years.