BY JAKE CRESSY MAR 26, 2019
RancheView School teacher Bill Belsey continues to cement his legacy as an “internet pioneer” with his bold take on the role of technology in schools.
“It’s an amplifier. It amplifies the very best of us as human beings and, unfortunately, some of our worst traits,” said Belsey.
His classroom is run with that idea in mind as many traditional school projects are given a new tech-based spin.
“I enjoy being in Mr. Belsey’s class because he makes everything more exciting and fun,” said Alexis, one of Belsey’s current students.
The classic book report has been revamped for the digital age by having kids not only write a report, but also record and release a short audio podcast of the report.
The digital side of the project has increased students’ investment in their work.
“When they know it’s gone live on the internet then there’s this intrinsic motivation,” said Belsey.
Several of these podcasts have reached the ears of the authors they cover and the organizations associated with them.
“The Roald Dahl museum [in Great Missenden, England]actually listened to podcasts from my students,” said Belsey.
“That is the power of the internet.”
Belsey isn’t looking to throw out the old ways and fully replace them with tech.
“With technology it’s not ‘either or’,” said Belsey.
Some projects even promote analog activities, such as the book trailers – short videos promoting books – that Belsey assigned to his class.
“They use technology to make one to two-minute book trailers to celebrate literacy.”
The projects are showcased online at the Cool Class website run by Belsey and they cover a wide variety of activities.
“In Mr. Belsey’s class we do baking, hiking, field trips like snow-shoeing, computer coding, singing songs when he plays his guitar, reading fun books, making animations, podcasts, web pages, and videos and creating puppet shows,” said Kaitlyn, another student of Belsey’s.
Belsey’s tech-forward stance in the classroom stands in direct contrast to the growing movement against phones in the classroom.
Many schools are moving to restrict and ban cellphone usage in the classroom. The Ontario provincial government has recently ordered a ban on the devices to be put in full effect by September of this year.
“You don’t teach them how to moderate by banning and blocking,” said Belsey.
“Kids are much more likely to adopt behaviours that they see adults modeling in front of them. The best thing teachers can do is adopt and model the various information technologies.”
Belsey points to online interactions as a negative example of kids adopting adult behaviours.
“Look at the way adults use technology and berate each other online,” said Belsey.
“Sometimes you are emboldened to say things online that you’d never say in real life.”
Belsey has students write blogs and comment on each other’s and he then moderates these comments to help kids think critically about what they say to others online.
“I’ll ask ‘do you really want to write that?’ Do you really want your mom or grandma to [be able to]see that?’,” said Belsey.
“You can bring them back from the brink.”
Belsey’s class learns not only how to connect with people online through technology, but with people in the real world as well.
Students were tasked with building a website to honour the life of a senior citizen.
The kids interviewed seniors at a retirement home about their lives and afterwards they helped the seniors work with computers.
“This melding of generations was facilitated through technology,” said Belsey.
Beyond technological knowhow and online etiquette, Belsey believes moderation is one of the most important lessons to be learned about technology.
“We have to model good technology behaviour,” said Belsey.
“These tools are going to become part of their reality for the rest of their lives.”