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Hamilton Catholic board implements virtual classroom pilot project

By Kathy Yanchus
REVIEW STAFF

The Hamilton Wentworth Catholic District School Board will be implementing a virtual classroom pilot project this year in a select group of full-day kindergarten classrooms.

“Right now, we’re looking at an exciting way of creating a password-protected portal that parents will be able to access via a secure password so they can, at their own leisure, enter into this virtual room and observe these rich samples of documentation of the children, thinking, learning and discovering throughout the course of the day and we’re going to be moving forward with that this year,” said Dean Younger, an early years consultant with the board, in an interview following the meeting of the Religion, Family Life and Instructional Committee last week.

The nine participating schools have yet to be announced but a series of professional development sessions have been established for full-day kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators to learn how to use the Ministry’s LMS (Learning Management System) electronic system, he said.

“It’s a very secure password-protected system because we’re always worried about confidentiality, about posting images and videos and actual comments about the children themselves so this is a very secure way and Ministry-based.”

Early years educators have been capturing “evidence of growth and development” as required by the Ministry of Education, since full-day kindergarten was implemented in 2010. This has been done through a variety of means including video and digital images as well as anecdotes of children’s conversations, utterances, questions and wonderings, he said.

The virtual classroom is yet another way of acquiring documentation, as well as enhancing the home/school partnership, said Younger.

“We’re always wanting to include the parent in this learning journey, especially from an early age so it’s serving three purposes, accountability, parent engagement, but most importantly, it’s making visible the thinking and learning of young children.

“In essence, it’s showing children, at a very young age, have a capacity for deep critical thinking and problem solving.”

Through this documentation, educators can dig deeper demonstrating that through play, children are engaged in deep inquiry involving literacy, numeracy, science, problem-solving and the design process, said Younger.

“Parents realize it’s not just play, that’s deep, deep thinking and it’s setting a firm foundation for later learning, in later years.”

Documentation is ‘non-evaluative’, he added, but a celebration of children in the process of critical thinking, exploring, investigating and problem-solving, linked to specific Ministry programs.

The virtual classroom will also allow parents and children to access board-recommended online sites and programs to continue learning in the home, he said.

Consent forms will be included in the process to ensure the board has the permission and collaboration of parents.

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