An Ottawa-based elementary grade school teacher hopes an online interactive learning channel based on Web 2.0 concepts will motivate students to discover their individual talent and extend that to extracurricular activities beyond the classroom. 

Todd Saunders, a teacher at Vincent Massey Public School, participated in the beta program earlier this year for Wigup.tv (While I Grow Up), an online learning channel that seeks to educate, challenge and inspire students by allowing them to follow the feats of real people such as adventurers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

“This will kind of be a jumping off point for them,” said Saunders. “It will give them some ideas of what they are capable of doing, and that anybody can make a difference as long as you are willing to work hard and put yourself into the project.”

The pilot project had students follow in real time Canadian adventurer Elia Saikaly’s climb of Mount Everest. Students performed curriculum-based tasks including calculating his blood oxygen level, reading and responding to Saikaly’s blog entries, and communicating with him via Skype.

Saunders said the use of Web 2.0 concepts in the classroom provides today’s students with learning tools to which they can relate and enjoy using. “It really appeals to this generation,” he said. “They are the Internet generation. They love the visuals and they are very comfortable with the technology.”

Mark Chatel, co-founder and president of Wigup, said it’s important that the platform leverages Web 2.0 technologies for educational purposes to entice children to stay in school. “We’re not replacing school but we complement what is being taught in school through real stories, real people, real mentors,” said Chatel. “It’s not just about games and virtual worlds.”

Wigup.tv, launching on Friday following a summer of site construction, will have five themed pavilions: adventure, entrepreneur, sports, news and community. Chatel said each pavilion will provide opportunities to learn and be challenged through exposure to mentors in various fields.

The entrepreneur pavilion, for instance, has the students practicing an elevator pitch. The sports pavilion allows students to get creative by acting as sports commentators. “A real-life activity like this is extremely worthwhile in the classroom,” said Chatel.

Moving forward, Chatel plans to add more pavilions for humanitarian causes, art, science and technology.

Rishta Jahan, a Grade 7 student at Vincent Massey Public School who participated in the Wigup.tv beta, particularly liked the real-time access to different kinds of communication channels including video and blogs, and the ability to interact with mentors. “I think it’s great. It’s right at your fingertips. It’s on the computer,” said Jahan.

Witnessing the challenge of Saikaly’s Mount Everest journey was a lesson in perseverance for Jahan, who herself was motivated to train and compete in a regional cross-country run several months later. “It taught me a lot of good morals like perseverance,” said the 12-year-old.

Since using wigup.tv, Saunders has noticed many benefits extending beyond the classroom. Besides marked improvements in school attendance and homework completion, students have continued to participate in fundraising, started social action groups and, like Jahan, got involved in sports.

“The way we did that was to pair what Elia was going through on the mountain with their own lives and finding parallels and making them see that they’re not different than him and they just have to take on their own challenges,” said Saunders.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau



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