Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut February 12, 2016 - 3:55 pm

Nunavut high school wins major technology grant

Funding allows Baker Lake high school to buy 60 e-readers

SARAH ROGERS
Jonah Amitnaaq high school  grade 9 students hold up the books they're currently reading; from left, Brianna Niego, teacher Bethany Guther, Crystal Haqpi, Sipporah Nukik, Hattie Amitnak, Carla Rose Kaayak, Dylan Nanooklook, Nanurluk Noah and Joseph Owingayak. Thanks to a new tech grant through Best Buy Canada, the Baker Lake high school will purchase 60 e-readers, which will give students better access to reading material. (PHOTO COURTESY OF G. KENNEDY)
Jonah Amitnaaq high school grade 9 students hold up the books they're currently reading; from left, Brianna Niego, teacher Bethany Guther, Crystal Haqpi, Sipporah Nukik, Hattie Amitnak, Carla Rose Kaayak, Dylan Nanooklook, Nanurluk Noah and Joseph Owingayak. Thanks to a new tech grant through Best Buy Canada, the Baker Lake high school will purchase 60 e-readers, which will give students better access to reading material. (PHOTO COURTESY OF G. KENNEDY)

What started as a simple classroom project to develop Internet literacy and critical thinking turned out to be a major windfall for a group of Nunavummiut high school students, who recently won a $19,000 grant to buy dozens of new electronic readers or e-readers.

A Grade 9 social studies class at Jonah Amitnaaq high school in Baker Lake stumbled upon a contest last year run by retailer Best Buy Canada, offering thousands of dollars in technology grants to Canadian classrooms.

“I saw an ad for this grant on Facebook, and honestly, my first reaction was that it had to be a scam,” said Bethany Guther, who teaches English and social studies at Jonah Amitnaaq. “It was too good to be true.”

Guther thought the contest could work well as the subject of an analysis, where her students could put their critical thinking skills to work and determine just how credible it was.

After analyzing the contest website and details, the class decided it looked like a good opportunity, and applied.

“It was never about winning, it was always just about an opportunity to practice being persuasive,” Guther said. “And it worked. It was a pretty big surprise for us.”

Jonah Amitnaaq was one of 14 schools, selected from 300 applicants across the country, securing a grant for $19,400 to help purchase new technology.

As part of its application process, Guther sat down with her Grade 9 students to ask them what would help enhance their classroom learning.

“A lot of students said ‘we read a lot,’” she said. “Reading is a huge part of our day.”

Guther thought back to one particular student who, a few months ago, had just finished the first book in a series.

“She was really into the series and she asked if we had book two or book three,” Guther said. “But the school didn’t.”

So Guther added the books to a list of materials to order and told the student it could be several weeks before the new books arrive.

“What if she forgets why she loved it so much?” Guther recalled thinking. “For emerging readers, that space between the first read and second one is a very tender spot and it can’t take too long.”

Guther says the school has also been affected by changes to Amazon.ca’s shipping rates to Nunavut, which make ordering some reading material more expensive. She often has to plan five months ahead of time to get the material she wants for her classroom.

“As a school, we’re really focused on literacy, so what kind of texts could we ask for that could make us better readers?” Guther asked.

“I want a Kobo,” piped up one student, referring to a brand of e-reader. Other students agreed right away.

And that’s what the class detailed in its grant application.

“It was very collaborative,” Guther said. “I don’t think they realized it would actually work.”

With confirmation of the grant, Guther estimates the school can purchase 60 e-readers, plus covers, a router and maybe a cabinet to store them in. The e-readers will be available to students from Grades 8 to 10 at Jonah Amitnaaq.

While Guther knows of other schools in Nunavut that have a laptop or iPad cart available to classrooms, having access to that many new e-readers makes Jonah Amitnaaq unique in the territory.

The school hopes to have the electronic readers by the end of March.

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