Barbara O’Connor embraces digital resources
to connect with her 21st century learners.

“I wanted to become versed in the ways that I could communicate with today's kids. The digital resource package allows me to deliver Kinesiology more effectively for this generation of learners.”

Barbara O’Connor, H&PE Department Head, Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School

For Barbara O’Connor the journey to instituting 21st Century Learning in the classroom began 30 years ago when she first entered the education game. Constantly evolving as an educator has made up a great deal of Barb’s career, she is always the first to try something new, to see where it takes her and her students.

Barb spent part of her career as an educational consultant for the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB). During that time she developed a close relationship with Thompson Educational Publishing (TEP) and together helped bring physical literacy to her schools using the Functional Fitness Charts series. After 9 years, Barb decided to return to teaching.

“The dialogue has been very different this semester than any of the other semesters that I’ve taught. They’re not waiting for me to give them an answer as much as they’re waiting to explore an answer.”

Barbara O'Connor, Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School

Now Barb is back in the classroom as Department Head for Health and Physical Education and Athletic Director at Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School, where she is teaching the Grade 12 Introductory Kinesiology course. Since reentering the classroom she has been investigating new ways to incorporate 21st Century Learning into her department, which according to the Ontario Ministry of Education means, “raising expectations for valuable, higher-order skills like critical thinking, communication, innovation, creativity, collaboration, and entrepreneurship.” To Barb it meant entering the age of digital learning.

When the new Health and Physical Education curriculum was released in 2015, Barb started looking for a new resource for her Grade 12 Introductory Kinesiology course. The HCDSB had already implemented a rule that any new textbook purchases must come with a digital option so Barb decided to use TEP’s new digital Kinesiology resource package. Despite being a bit of a neophyte Barb approached her principal about going digital. “When I approached my principal he said ‘Yep, we’ve got the funding Barb I’ll get you [however many] licenses that you need.’

Barb was excited to get her principal’s buy-in, but didn’t know anything about using digital resources so she got in touch with the support team at TEP and made an appointment for an online live demo of the digital Kinesiology resource package. She was walked through every different feature of the digital resource and shown how to use it with her students. She even arranged for the support team to run a live webinar for her entire class.

To help her students personalize their learning experience, Barb encouraged them to use any digital device they wanted — laptop, smartphone, tablet. The students were walked through how to customize the digital Kinesiology student resource, which included highlighting and note taking features. They were also shown how to stay up-to-date on tests, quizzes, readings and assignments using the built-in online calendar.

As she continued to use the digital Kinesiology resource package, Barb steadily became more comfortable and confident. Part of that she attributes to the amazing support provided by the support team at TEP. “I have no qualms about calling up anyone at Thompson and saying, ‘Hey guys I’m stuck, what’s my next step?’ I have no apprehension that they will talk down to me.”

Using the digital Kinesiology resource package has allowed Barb to change some of her teaching pedagogy, specifically enabling her to take advantage of the “flipped lesson,” where students can review the lesson content online at home and then come to class ready to discuss what they’ve learned. To Barb it’s a great way to allow students to learn at their own pace. “The dialogue has been very different this semester than any of the other semesters that I’ve taught. They’re not waiting for me to give them an answer as much as they’re waiting to explore an answer.”

The result has been absolutely positive. Barb has seen a huge upswing in class participation, students are actively engaging. Even better, Barb has noticed a relative drop in anxiety. Because students can now easily access lessons, class information and assignments online, they no longer feel worried about missing class, whether it is to participate in extracurriculars or for appointments. The power is in their hands, or rather their laptops, smartphones or tablets.

Students are given the power to own their learning because it’s digitally there for them all of the time. “They’re not waiting for my handout, they’re not waiting for me to explain that handout, they know that they can come prepared and because it’s accessible to them…they can go back to it and apply it to whatever they want.” The digital Kinesiology resource also provides graduating students with a glimpse into what higher education is like. Helping to further assuage the anxiety that goes along with entering that next phase of their learning experience.

"This is now not about the content or the pedagogy, it’s about facilitating learning. Our students can learn anytime they want. It’s our responsibility and our obligation to facilitate their opportunities for learning, to engage them and impassion them that learning is life-long and it starts here."

Barbara O’Connor, H&PE Department Head, Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School