BYTE brings technology to the classroom

Laura Shantora Nelles, Central Plains Herald-Leader

Portage Collegiate Institute was buzzing recently, but not with students. The local high school was the site of a teaching conference called BYTE, which stands for Build Your Teaching Experience.

"We're not just a technology conference, and not just coming together to do technological training; it's teachers working with other teachers, looking at new ways to use technology in the classroom," explained BYTE conference chairman Bill Wynn, on Feb. 26.

According to Wynn, the conference caters mostly to southwestern Manitoba, but there were some teachers from Winnipeg, as well.

The 2010 edition of BYTE marked its sixth anniversary, and the Portage conference took plenty of planning.

Two years ago, BYTE put out an invitiation for southwestern Manitoba school boards to send a member to join the planning conference. Cheryl Robinson is a tech consultant for the Portage School Division.

"We made the Portage connection through her," Wynn said.

Teacher Krystal Nichols, who teaches a variety of grades and subjects at the school in Langruth with the Pine Creek School Division was attending the converence and said she found it "very informative."

She noted it was her first time attending the BYTE conference and went to sessions detailing the use of electronic portfolios and digital photos. "We're hoping to make a yearbook," she explained.

"I came here looking for new ideas. We had PD today, but I probably would've come anyway. There's so much done on the computer now, so I try to stay one step ahead of the kids," she said with a laugh.

Nichols said integrating technology into the classroom "brings a connection from home into school. If they're doing it at home, they're excited about it, and if they're excited, they're likely to get more out of it."

Nichols also spoke of the environmental aspect of using more technology and less paper in the classroom. "We talk about recycling, and trees being cut down and urban expansion. They're aware that our actions reflect on the environment. We're starting to use less paper by putting assignments on file-sharing networks and the students can access that. It's valuable because it saves time and paper. I also sometimes have the students do assignments by e-mail, like e-mail me five facts about a topic."

Through assignments such as the e-mail fact assignment, not only is Nichols saving paper, she is also teaching students how to appropriately communicate online in a formal setting. "Obviously, they're aware of the Internet and text lingo, like lol, but they need to be aware of the appropriate time and place to use it. If they're sending in an assignment, they need to be aware that they're talking to an adult and make sure they're using proper grammar."

PCI vice-principal Bob Kriski took in the conference in February. One of the sessions he participated in dealt with technology and access to students.

"Things like BlackBerries and iPods, how they can be implemented," he explained. "It's always been something we've been looking at. We're on a trial basis right now, letting students use their cellphones in the school outside the classroom."

An example of this, he cited, was having students use the calendars on their phones to input important dates, such as those for tests, to improve organizational skills.

Kriski said the conference is important in that teachers are sharing information with other teachers. He described the day as "very positive. We got to hear other ideas, like using software for dubbing and recording, not just for music, but for reading or in social studies classes."

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