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Delta School District ignites inspiration with innovative mini-conference

Speakers had five minutes each to present on topics including gender inclusivity and incorporating aboriginal heritage into the curriculum.
Teachers from across the Lower Mainland get set for an evening of inspiration and innovation at Delta School District's second annual Delta Ignite.

Delta Ignite, the school district’s TED Talk-style event for teachers, made a successful return last week as educators from across Metro Vancouver shared innovations about education.

A crowd of nearly 70 people turned out for the second annual event as servers swerved through the packed backroom at the River House Restaurant and Pub in Ladner.

Aside from the casual atmosphere, what makes the event unique among other lecture-style events is its speed. Presenters at Delta Ignite have just a few short minutes to share their ideas, unlike their counterparts at TED where talks can last up to 18 minutes.

Gender inclusivity and incorporating aboriginal heritage into the curriculum were a few of the topics discussed on Jan. 19, but Claire D’Aoust, primary learning coordinator for the Delta School District, wanted to start smaller at what she thinks is the building block of education: joy.

D’Aoust talked about the day she realized her beloved worksheets weren’t getting the job done anymore. She saw that her students just weren’t engaged by them and that something needed to change.

“I was really proud of my worksheets. They were beautiful and I really thought that they were great opportunities to show their learning,” she said. “[That changed with] that one student I talked about [who was] new to Canada. She could show so much learning that she could never show and represent on a worksheet,” she said.

D’Aoust admitted she still held onto binders stuffed with her beloved worksheets for a while; after all, she had so much fun making them. But, over time, D’Aoust came to understand that her joy in teaching didn’t always translate into a joy in learning for her students.

While the old syllabus measured progress by the amount of topics covered, under the new curriculum, D’Aoust said, “we don’t have to do that anymore. We’re focused more on process and deeper understanding, and I think that’s bringing more joy.”

Event organizer and vice principal at Delta Secondary School Dean Eichorn said Delta Ignite’s roots can be traced back to the so-called maker movement in California’s Silicon Valley, which emphasized the hands-on creation of technology and a learning-through-doing style of innovation.

“They’d spend a day making and at the end of the day they’d give a very quick presentation of what they made and how they made it. And so, the idea kind of caught on of it being 20 slides, 15 seconds each, [for a total length of] five minutes,” Eichorn said.

Eichorn said feedback on the events has been reassuringly positive, and organizers are already looking ahead to the event’s future.

“We talked about ‘Do we want to expand? Do we want to go to a banquet hall and fit in a couple hundred people instead of 85?’ And the answer to that, we decided, was no. We’d like to kind of keep it small because there’s just a tremendous energy in this room that we are afraid we might lose if we went to that bigger venue.”

Julie and Chanelle Tye (pictured) were two of the many teachers enjoying the evening and keeping their eyes open for any innovations they could possibly use in their own classes.

“Being from a different district, I really like the direction that Delta is going,” said Chanelle Tye, a teacher in the province’s Francophone school district. “I hear a lot of things from my wife so I was a little bit, not jealous, but curious how they were going to make this work,”

For Julie Tye, the freedom to customize her teaching plans is one of the reasons why she hopes to continue teaching in Delta.

“I haven’t really had to fight with anybody over implementing new or exciting things in my classroom.”