Janadi Gonzales-Lord, a teacher at Bishop Anstey East, along with her Form One pupils, recently placed first in the category "Innovation in Difficult Circumstances" in Microsoft's Partners in Learning (PiL) project.
Their winning project, with the theme 'The Solar System: Reaching for the Stars', was a creative science project that allowed students not only to learn about the solar system, but to understand and appreciate the differently-abled (in this case, hearing impaired).
Microsoft's annual PiL Global Forum, hosted in Prague in November 2012, was the culmination of national and regional forums that recognise innovative educators and school leaders.
The forum brought together more than 500 of the most innovative teachers, education leaders and government officials from 80 countries.
Teachers who attend the forum are global finalists who have made it through a progressively selective competition that started with more than 250,000 participants at national events. They competed for one of 18 Partners in Learning Global Forum Educator Awards.
Gonzales-Lord, a chemistry and integrated science teacher at Bishop Anstey East, was elated with her well-deserved achievements. The project not only places Bishop Anstey East and its students in winners' row but gave this country recognition as pioneers in educative and innovative technology.
Gonzales-Lord said through the project and the lives of her students have been impacted forever.
She said that she is inspired by the energy and unique approaches of the students who demonstrated the infinite possibilities that technology can create to improve learning opportunities and meet the needs of today's generation of students.
Her PiL project, in collaboration with members of the deaf community and her Form One pupils, created games and a tour of a planetarium for deaf, hearing and hearing-impaired students. Students also created video journals of their journey. "At the end of it," Gonzalez said, "They were able to communicate with ease in sign language, they had a better understanding of deaf culture, and they came away with their minds changed."
She continued, "The children did something that is bigger than themselves. It was an amazing achievement. The project got bigger than we thought. We are hoping to do more projects like this," she said. Gonzales-Lord said students are living in an information age, so they already have knowledge which is easily available to them. She said classroom education should go a step further to include problem solving skills which will provide students with the ability to identify and solve problems by applying appropriate skills.
The problem solving process she explained, involves overcoming obstacles by generating hypotheses, testing those predictions and arriving at satisfactory solutions.
"Problem solving should be a very real part of the curriculum. Education is not what is used to be. Children already have knowledge at their fingertips through the internet, so education should go further than passing on knowledge. Education is also about helping them solve problems; solving problems in the school and society. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking."
She said: "The students were able to solve a real life problem which the deaf community is faced with. They were able to solve how we can make education equal for both the hearing and the hearing impaired without having to segregate them. The children took up the challenge and delved into something they knew very little about. These students will never forget the problems people with disabilities face.
The competition called for teachers to have some form of collaboration they asked you as well to use (Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in a new and interesting way. They wanted to see how innovative the teacher could be and how they could present students with a problem and help them to solve it."
Gonzales-Lord, a Chemistry and Integrated Science teacher, said not enough is being done to successfully integrate children with varying disabilities into mainstream schools. She noted that there are only seven secondary schools that are fully equipped to help the deaf and hearing impaired in this country.
"My students didn't know this and when they found out they could not believe it. This was when they understood that their project has far reaching consequences. They knew they were solving a real life problem that many students face every day. I think it made them try even harder; they stayed up nights, they had to go over and beyond studying from a book to make this a reality. If I told them to go and memorise the planets they would do that but it would mean nothing to them. But they will never forget this project—it was more than just learning about the solar system. This was about making changes."
The teacher/student group teamed up with the Cascade School for the Deaf and created a game that could teach hearing impaired as well as hearing students about the solar system. Gonzales-Lord wanted the children at the Cascade school to critique the game so she sent a proposal to the school and they said it was too advanced for the students.
"We also used software that would assess how much we learnt by letting them do an online assessment. The software corrected their assessment automatically. I also contacted the Touch of Christ Community for the Deaf and asked them about sign language lessons so we could experience how the deaf communicate. For the five form one classes that participated it turned out to be less sign language and more about learning about the deaf culture. In designing the video games they took that into consideration. We are talking about the average 12-year-old."
Using Microsoft Worldwide Telescope, the group focused on the planetarium tour to create an overview of the solar system. The children also did video journals about how they felt about their journey and experience.
The teacher said it was amazing to see her pupils work on the project.
"They had to think logically and relay the information. They also took into consideration that it incorporated the hearing audience."