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Tech Class

Bits of Code and a Dose of Reality

Empathy and real-world issues anchor this Grade 3 teacher's technology lessons.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Sean Mani

Photo of Laura Kerpel, OCT, a Grade 3 teacher at Cedar Drive Junior Public School, smiling with students who are wearing award medals around their necks.
Laura Kerpel, OCT, and her Grade 3 students at the annual goIT Technology Summit.

THE CHALLENGE: Help students make the link between school learning and the real world.

THE SOLUTION: Take part in the goIT program. Have students develop mobile apps to address real-world challenges.

LESSONS LEARNED: Laura Kerpel, OCT, wanted to find a way to strengthen the link between her Grade 3 students' in-class learning with real-world experiences. So she took part in goIT, a program offered through the Toronto District School Board and in partnership with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a global technology company.

The program is a workshop wherein teachers learn about engineering design processes and come up with classroom activities to bolster concepts such as empathy, problem-solving and revision. She took this idea forward with her Grade 3s at Cedar Drive Junior Public School, in Scarborough, Ont., participating in a number of community-focused projects to help the students recognize real-world challenges and figure out practical solutions. Then she had the students think about problems they and their families faced at home, and imagine mobile-device apps to tackle those.

The students ran with it. One came up with an app that would let you take a picture of an infiltrating rodent and automatically contact an exterminator. Another student designed an app to pre-order veggies from the local food bank, guaranteeing access to produce before the stock is depleted.

Most students got as far as developing wireframes — drawings depicting how the apps would work. But a few went further and used the MIT App Inventor ( to transform their ideas into working programs.

Kerpel took her keenest students to the goIT Technology Summit, an annual get-together for students to develop apps in relation to global issues such as pollution. The Cedar Drive crew won three awards: Creativity, Inquiry & Entrepreneurship, Citizenship & Character and Collaboration & Leadership.

OBSERVATIONS: Classroom management is always somewhat challenging, but Kerpel says that part of her work was less problematic when it came to the goIT-derived activities. "They need little to no behaviour management because the students are so focused."

The students did fortify the connection between what they're learning in school and how it applies to the real world, which was just what Kerpel hoped they would do. But what's more, they expanded their ideas about technology and its relation to reality.

HELPFUL HINT: Laura Kerpel, OCT, challenged her Grade 3s to develop apps, and the students more than managed. "People think coding or robotics or apps are for older kids," she says. "My students are eight years old, many are English Language Learners, and many don't have computers at home. Yet, they were able to do it."

The College's professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media — Updated ( guides members' professional judgment in the use of technology.