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St. Mary's School staff members take in Deep Learning conference in Ottawa

Staff shared their take-aways and insights from visiting schools in Ottawa for Deep Learning conference.
Holy Family board-8655
The Holy Family board of trustees heard details of a trip by two staff members to the Deep Learning conference in Ottawa recently.

WEYBURN – Two staff members from St. Mary’s School in Estevan were able to spend two very packed days with their counterparts in Ottawa to see what they do for Deep Learning, and what they could bring home for use in the Holy Family school division.

Ryan Jutras, principal, and teacher Agnes Garrioch spoke to the board of Holy Family trustees via Zoom on Wednesday evening of their experience with the much-larger Ottawa Catholic School Board.

Both school boards are part of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning or NPDL organization, and Jutras and Garrioch were able to share what they do in regards to Deep Learning, and they observed how four Ottawa-area schools have integrated Deep Learning into their daily operations.

Ottawa hosted a conference for the NPDL group, with representatives from Newfoundland, Ontario and Manitoba, and internationally from France, Mexico, Spain and Peru. The pair from St. Mary’s were the only representatives from Saskatchewan to attend.

On their first day, they had a tour of an elementary school and a high school, and they saw two more on their second day, with student leads taking them around on both days, said Jutras.

He noted one of the high schools had a population of 2,400 students, and the administration included three vice-principals, one of whom was wholly dedicated to deep learning at the school.

“They demonstrated very similar levels of understanding as we have,” said Jutras. “Like us, Ottawa Catholic has many staff at different stages in deep learning.”

He noted this school division has 80,000 students in 90 schools, with a leadership team of some 200 staff, compared to Holy Family’s 1,300 students in five schools, and 11 members of the leadership team.

“What I thought was most impressive, regardless of the size difference, is we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them with everything that they do in deep learning, and with the success we have with NPDL,” said Jutras.

He noted that the students voice in their schools is a key component in good teaching and good learning.

One example they saw was a Grade 1 class that partnered up with a local entrepreneur, and they learned about how to develop and operate a business from the entrepreneur while the teacher observed at the side.

Jutras noted one Grade 1 student came out and asked, “why are we even doing this?”, and without hesitation, the entrepreneur explained the purpose of what they were doing and why giving was important. The class also had a discussion about where they should donate the money they earned from their venture.

In sharing what his take-away was, he noted as a principal, academics are extremely important to him, but he said that in deep learning, “it can’t just focus on academics. It’s important but it will not carry the day.”

Garrioch added that her take-away from the two days is that schools are largely doing a reset and reimagining of their goals since emerging from the past two years of the pandemic.

She also pointed out that Holy Family was able to submit an exemplar to the conference on teacher collaborative discussions on deep learning, and noted they are connecting to other teachers and schools across Canada through the organization.

“We’re going to be sharing that with other schools. It’s so great to feel connected with other educators to give the best and richest education experiences possible,” she said.

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