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A Different Kind of Competition at Grand Erie’s First Coding Faire

A male student wearing glasses types on a computer keyboard

Caption: Anas, a Grade 6 student from Walter Gretzky Elementary School, works with his team to program a robot.

On Saturday, May 12, the gymnasium at North Park Collegiate and Vocational School was the site of a very different kind of competition. Instead of shooting hoops or setting up volleyball spikes, students gathered around tables, each with a computer, intent on winning Grand Erie’s first Coding Faire. The players of the day were the remote-control cars the students were tasked with programming through a series of challenges.

“The idea behind today is to challenge students to think differently when it comes to solving problems,” said Christopher Bates, itinerant teacher of educational technology, who organized the Coding Faire. “If we want the car to make it through an obstacle course, for example, we have to break down the steps logically and sequentially, maybe telling it to turn right first then increase the speed. Maybe the car goes too fast and bumps into something, so we find a better way.”

Ten elementary school teams took part, made up of members of Ed Tech Student Crews. Student Crews are a unique way of learning, composed of students who show an aptitude and interest in technology, and are then trained to support teachers using educational technology tools in the classroom.

“The students teach me about technology, for sure,” said Stephanie Stemmler, teacher at Central Public School, which formed an Ed Tech Student Crew two years ago. “We’re building up our capacity, working with Microbits for the first time, and sharing resources, which is why it’s great to take part in something like the Coding Faire.”

What is a Microbit?

“A Microbit is a chip that you can code to do anything!” said Anas, a Grade 6 student at Walter Gretzky Elementary School as he works diligently on a device. “In general, I just love coding, and I’m extremely happy when I succeed.”

Bates organized the day with the support of Richard Humpartzoomian, teacher at North Park Collegiate and Vocational School, and secondary students from North Park and Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School who were completing co-op placements in the fields of coding and design. The team produced tutorial videos that helped schools prepare for the challenges that awaited them at the Coding Faire, and were on-hand to provide assistance, if needed. It began originally as an initiative for North Park feeder schools, but as schools across Grand Erie built their technology capacity, it made sense to open the invitation to any interested Ed Tech Student Crews.

Technology is at the fore in Grand Erie, included in the Board’s Multi-Year Plan as one of its six main indicators. One of the Technology goals is to provide learning opportunities and the technological infrastructure to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, empowering teachers and students alike.

“A lot of times teachers are nervous about diving in and using technology tools, but the Coding Faire is a way to share information for both students and teachers,” said Bates. “We’re all expanding our skills, and meeting people from other schools who are doing the same.”

For that reason, every student who took part in the first Coding Faire was a winner.