Journey in Newfoundland [part 1] : Visiting Stephenville Elementary School

This March, I (Sajani) had the opportunity to accompany and support Dr. Andy Hargreaves on his second school visit to the CPSN schools. Our journey in Newfoundland was kicked off with our visit to the amazing Stephenville Elementary School.

Stephenville Elementary is a grade 4 and 5 school in a small community situated right in front of the sea. The scenic views outside the school were topped by the architecture of calmness and flexibility inside the school building which we were thrilled to be greeted with.  

With engagement at the forefront, Stephenville uses play as a way to keep their students interested, motivated, and excited to learn! 

Ocean right across from the school

The School 

We were welcomed by the school team; Principal Michele Dawson, Vice Principal Monique Alexander, Librarian Keshia Snook Hunt and Grade 4 teacher Ricki Hawco and taken on a school tour to see the ways in which playful practices are not just part of their project, but part of their whole school. The school included flexible seating options with beanbag chairs, tables with whiteboard material so students could draw on tables, and a separate calming room with low sensory lights and sounds for any student who needed a quiet space at any point during the school day. The teachers were incredibly understanding of student needs and diversity, and perhaps because of this reason, play was not a new concept to this team, rather a means to accept and nurture the diverse abilities in the school.  

Stephenville hosts a range of diverse abilities with some students with severe behavioral needs. There is also a large ESL community among students, with a significant portion of the school community struggling economically. Considering this, the school offers breakfast programs and cafeteria services to ensure each child is fed and healthy each day. The team prioritizes engagement and in conversation with the teachers, emphasized that their major goal is to have every student engaged in learning, especially coming back from the Covid-19 pandemic, and recognizing that learning is all around us, not just when you’re sitting at a desk with a pen and paper.  

School philosophies especially tying to their goal of engagement
Tables with whiteboard material)
Beanbags seating

The CPSN Project 

The team’s storytelling with Ozobots project was in full swing (for more details on the Stephenville Elementary School CPSN project, click here)! This project links digital and physical to create an opportunity for students to be a part of the many elements that come together in unison for the final product. Students have built teams for different tasks in the project, with one team working on the storyline, another creating a French song, a different team building 3D printed props, another doing the cinematography with a self-made green screen and the list goes on! Teachers use this as a vehicle for the curriculum by incorporating language arts into the story-lining, French language learning into the song, math into the building of props and coding for the Ozobots.  

Let’s say the student needs to build a house. They need to ask themselves, well, what does the house look like? What are the dimensions? What does a house need to look like that? Why does it need that? So there’s so much thinking and planning that goes into so many tiny elements.

Monique (Vice Principal)

The students had just completed their pilot project to see how everything could come together and a major learning point was that teams could not work in isolation. So from the learning that stemmed from the pilot, the team had an incredible foundation to springboard the rest of their project.  

The proportions of the props were all wrong. The trees were way too big and the houses were way too small.

Keshia (Librarian)

When asked why use digital elements, why not stick to a solely physical project, the team tied back to their goal of engagement. They noticed that students were using technology outside of school and at home, with the teachers laughing about how many students were so engrossed in a mindless game where the only goal was to tap the screen. They needed a way to show their students that technology can be used for so much more than just tapping a screen for points.  

Students were seeking digital entertainment and instant gratification. They were less entertained with their learning, which led them to being less engaged.

Michele (Principal)
3D printed fishing shack
Student creations for project
3D printed props
Student creations for project
Self-made green screen

1 Child; 2 Days of School 

The teachers made special reference to a student who was extremely disengaged with school and classwork. Due to their challenging home circumstances, the student would attend only two days a week. The team was motivated to find a way for this child to want to be a part of the school activities. With the CPSN project up and running, now, this student has found their motivation to join their peers and has even constructed a bridge for the storyline. Make sure to look out for their bridge and all the elements each student has built when you see their final project in June!

So, when the question is how do you make learning more entertaining and engaging? Play could be your answer!  

Watch as Keshia tells us about the incredible work their students are doing with 3D printing. 

Sajani Karunaweera is a graduate student from Sri Lanka, Sajani Karunaweera is deeply dedicated to the area of educational technologies and how digital tools can be used in critical, reflective, and accessible ways. Whether it is in the context of teaching, assessment or professional development, her work attempts to capture the use of technologies, not as a replacement for teaching, but as a tool for the discerning teacher. Her involvement in this network builds on her motivations to promote safe spaces for students to express, explore and expand their knowledge, albeit physically or digitally, through the power of play.