Toronto District School Board Summer Program goes virtual with goIT

 
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In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto District School Board offered students socially-distanced summer education by partnering with goIT’s new virtual program – reaching 600+ students with an exciting, engaging, and 100% virtual STEM development program.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) encompasses nearly 600 schools in the Toronto region – which makes it Canada’s largest school board, with more than 255,000 students in attendance. It’s mission is “to enable all students to reach high levels of achievement and to acquire the knowledge, skills, and values they need to become responsible members of a democratic society” – and it’s a mission that extends beyond the traditional school year.

Every summer, TDSB has traditionally offered summer learning opportunities for its students – knowing that providing this invaluable service can change the trajectory of some student’s grades, offer new and exciting learning opportunities for others, and serve to keep the learning going throughout year.

In 2020, however, TDSB joined school districts across North America in facing the shutdown of some schools and educational institutions. In addition to posing a challenge to students, educators, and parents during the academic year, it also posed a problem for students and parents who’d been planning to take advantage of TDSB’s summer learning opportunities.

Fortunately, the Toronto District School Board Summer School – which comprised 15 regional schools, and 634 students in Grades 3 through 8 – was still able to continue in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services’ goIT program.

goIT is a STEM development program provided for free to schools all over the world by Tata Consultancy Services. Traditionally, it was a hands-on design workshop taught by expert volunteers from TCS, in addition to experts from other partner companies and organizations.

Just like TDSB, the goIT program had been forced to pivot sharply to meet the needs of students and educations during the COVID-19 pandemic; shifting to an entirely virtual model in order to continue providing access to education to students looking for a nudge toward studying STEM subjects after school. Fortunately, this aligned perfectly with the needs of the TDSB Summer School.

The goIT program has already impacted nearly 30,000 students across North America and developed a reputation among parents and educators for its engaging content and fun, competitive element. All of these things remained in the all-virtual model – which kicked off for the 30 participating teachers with an hour-long virtual training webinar to introduce them to goIT, and how to provide it to their students through distance learning.

Because this was the first year that the TDSB Summer School had been 100% virtual, many teachers had been looking out for an engaging student program that aligned with their literacy and STEM curriculum – but initial reactions to goIT were mixed.

The concept of goIT is to challenge student participants to design an App concept or digital innovation intended to address one of the problems their community faces. Initially, many teachers were concerned that they didn’t have a coding background, or any idea how to teach coding to students.

Other concerns included keeping summer students engaged – especially when they found themselves coming into yet another virtual program after already having spent the previous three months struggling with distance learning. In the best of circumstances, summer school classes needed to be more energetic, engaging, and dynamic than students were used to during the academic year.

Finally, teachers were concerned about the challenge of ensuring participating students had access to the technology and resources needed to be able to participate every day.

Fortunately, the concerns of these teachers were met during the virtual kick-off event – during which a panel of TCS guest speakers explained that the concerns of the TDSB teachers were shared by many other educators bridging the education gap with goIT’s virtual model, or goIT@home, and the program had been developed to specifically address these needs.

Following the kick-off, teachers received online resources including a 2-week study plan – which empowered them to teach the workshop fundamentals to their students in alignment with their own individual teaching styles. Teachers also received access to goIT@home, which is version of the program specifically designed to be taught in circumstances like these.

Finally, each participating teacher had the opportunity to invite expert “virtual volunteers” from TCS to help coach students, challenge them to expand their ideas, and mentor them in bringing their concepts and designs to life.

Traditionally, one of the components of goIT is to challenge student participants to recognize problems facing their community and come up with potential solutions for them using technology. This summer, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the world-wide cry for social justice, the students were challenged to develop an innovation that aligned with the United Nations’ Sustained Development Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities.

Over the course of the following two weeks, the 600+ students worked individually, or in groups, to create their concepts. On the final day of the program, all the participating student groups had the opportunity to showcase their innovations. The top nine students from the board then went on to compete against each other in a competitive, Dragon’s Den-style ‘pitch’ that was delivered virtually to a panel of judges from TCS.

The winner was Nadine, who created an app concept called Female Force, which specifically targeted gender inequality and anonymously branched women from across the world to empower them in helping provide access to resources.

The TDSB Summer Program coincided with the goIT Monthly Challenge also focusing on United Nations’ Sustained Development Goal #10 – and inspired by the event, many of the TDSB student participants went on to hone their ideas further and ‘pitch’ them to a larger audience.

Remarkably – or perhaps not, given the strength of her entry – Nadine then went on to win July’s goIT Monthly Challenge, even in the face of fierce competition from other entries from across the United States and Canada.You can discover more about the goIT Monthly Challenge here: https://programs.tcsempowers.com/us/goIT/monthly-challenge

An ongoing initiative, the goIT Monthly Challenge partners with purpose-driven companies, organizations, non-profits and more in challenging students to come up with design concepts – picking a different Sustained Development Goal to focus on each month.

In addition to entering July’s goIT Monthly Challenge, many TDSB students expressed an interest in entering during the following months – driving the momentum of this rapidly growing competition.

Following the conclusion of the TDSB Summer School with goIT, many of the student participants expressed interest in studying STEM subjects further – with one teacher so impressed at the reaction that she told TCS: “This is why I teach! So great to see the work of all the participants, developing critical and creative thinkers.”

Other teachers highlighted how the “virtual volunteers” from TCS were so valuable to keeping the students engaged and motivated – and one of the TCS employees who’d volunteered expressed how impressed they’d been by the scope of the program.

“Last year, the in-person goIT training I’d participated in had around ten teachers taking part. This year we were able to work with thirty teachers.”

Remarkably, what was initially seen as a challenge to the growing success of goIT – the shutdown of schools and educational programs – has now allowed goIT to reach even more people; by leveraging TCS’ technological capital to provide access to this exciting STEM development program regardless of geographical limitations.