Westview secondary is poised to become the technology leader of the school district.
More impressive, it has been chosen by Microsoft to be a school that showcases its technological innovations in education to educators around the world. And it has been invited by the software giant to join its Microsoft World Tour School Program.
There are just 150 such schools on the planet, only three in Canada, and Westview is the only public school in Canada involved.
“It’s very, very cool for us,” said principal Patricia Giesinger.
Other schools in the district have features that make them attractive to students – Maple Ridge secondary has French Immersion, as well as sports and band, while Thomas Haney has its self directed learning model, and Garibaldi is an international baccalaureate world school.
Westview has capacity for 1,200 students, but in 2013 had just 768 enrolled – so it is not even two-thirds full.
Giesinger believes that being the technology school in the district could make Westview a destination for students.
“I’m hoping so. It’s an identity, our school is looking for an identity,” she said. “We really want our kids well prepared, and to be able to walk out and deal with the 21st Century.”
Todd Goodman, a teacher who heads up the IT department at Westview, said the plan is off to a good start.
“There’s really good buzz around it – the students are talking about it, the parents are really excited, so I foresee it growing next year.”
Goodman runs the tech academy at the school, where students take Microsoft certification courses – similar to what one would take at BCIT. So far there are about 90 students enrolled.
He said they learn to use Word, Word Expert, Publisher, Outlook and a huge variety of programs. Goodman explained that while most people operating these programs use about five per cent of their capacity, his students learn to access the full “power” of the software. And, because many different programs operate off similar platforms, their overall digital literacy explodes.
One of his top students Nash Taylor, who loves fantasy football, and as an independent study is developing a smartphone application that can predict and optimize how many points his pool team should score each week.
Westview was selected to be a Microsoft World Tour based on the school using the cloud and mobile technology to transform the learning environment. Teachers will be using One Note Classroom Creator to digitize their classroom.
“You could say it’s a virtual classroom, but it doesn’t do any of the teaching for you,” explains Goodman.
But it does help teachers organize, and frees them up to do more one-on-one work with students.
Being a showcase school allows teachers at Westview to search a special database, sharing information between schools across the globe.
“Being a world tour school is about connecting educators with other educators around the world who are doing really unique things,” said Goodman. “It opens up our staff to tens of thousands of learning resources that other teachers have already tried in their classrooms.”
Educators know that technology will transform classrooms, but how will that happen? The showcase schools provide a possible answer.
“We really want our staff to look outward,” said Giesinger.
Microsoft is a U.S.-based multinational corporation forecast to generate $87 billion in revenue in 2014. Its founder, Bill Gates, is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Critics are cynical about the company’s motivation for getting involved in the school system – and Giesinger said students do make that observation.
But she said the software is a natural choice, because the world outside education is so ingrained in Microsoft. All the software is given to school districts free, and the programs dovetail well into real-world industry.
“Yes, I suppose you could see it as a Microsoft product, but what’s happened is Apple – which used to be the educational leader – has pulled right back, and out of the way,” said Giesinger. “So it’s not providing those opportunities anymore.”