Fostering Innovation & Creativity Through Student Summits

Four years ago, the Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board started an annual professional development event that has become the day that I look forward to every year. This is my reflection on our professional learning journey.


I have attended many conferences over the years and I’ll admit, some have been pretty uneventful, even draining. However, I confidently recommend attending high-energy, educational technology events such as Bring IT Together or Google Summits. These gathering places are opportunities for educators and administrators to learn from colleagues outside of their regions, with people provincially, nationally, and in some cases internationally. Participants pool their excitement and explore new ideas to bring back to classrooms. There’s a palpable buzz in the building of excitement about what is new and possible.

Most educators attending these events return back to work energized and ready to pursue at least one new, exciting tool or skill to try or share. One of the biggest payoffs, though, is the feeling that you are a part of something bigger, a community of people striving to improve learning in their classrooms with technology.

Naturally, whenever we attend these conferences, many of us think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if students could be part of something like this?”

In The Beginning

In 2014, the Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board provided students and staff K-12 access to Google Apps for Education (now known as G Suite for Education). With any change there are many responses: excitement, fear of the unknown, questions, and a variety of concerns. I was trying to figure out how to show everyone how awesome this suite of tools really was for our students. We offered staff PD sessions, training and various levels of support. These resources were working well, but I didn’t think I was getting the uptake that I was hoping for.

Then, things changed a bit. My first impressions were understated since the change turned out to be game-changing for our organization.

The idea to host our own student-focused event came from a colleague and fellow Technology-Enabled Learning & Teaching Contact Katie DiBiagio and her team from Superior North CDSB four years ago. They were the first school board to ever host an actual Google Student Summit, which is exciting in its own right. However, what sold me on the idea of making our own student summit wasn’t solely showing them Google Apps. It was the importance for students to be offered these types of learning opportunities as well. As one teacher shared with me, Students are often the best teachers, if we let them be!”

The Event: Innovation & Creativity Student Summit

Peter with student helpers and presenters.

Approximately 100 Grade 5 and 6 students, 12 school teacher leads, six student helpers and six staff presenters participated in a fun day of learning. Session topics included G Suite for Education Apps, and anything else that presenters could share with students.

The day started out with a fun and interactive keynote session, followed by three blocks of sessions that they were able to register for ahead of time. The day ended with a consolidation session in the auditorium, where we facilitated a ‘demo-slam’, inviting students to come up and show something that they had learned. For example, one of the student helpers, Darius, provided a demonstration of how to narrate a slide presentation (which he had learned that day) via Screencast-o-matic (Screencastify is the Chrome/Chromebook alternative). He nailed it! Watch Darius’s end product here. This took him only a few minutes to publish!

Year after year, the summits are a success and the students love them. I think what makes them so powerful is its inclusion of students top to bottom. Every session has either a student co-presenter or a student assistant, answering questions from participants.

Unfortunately we can’t send all our of students, so there are usually five to eight students per class from each of our elementary schools attending with their classroom teacher. To help reach all students in Grades 5 and 6 every year, we ask them to go back to their classes and plan a presentation to their peers as a group based on what they have learned. This looks different depending on how they want to do this, from mini presentations on each topic to the students setting up centers so their peers rotate through various activities.

This video made about our first summit is an example of how we approached this initiative.

Lisa Floyd with a student participant during her keynote at our Student Summit 2.0.

After our first summit, staff and students wanted more! This is now an annual event, and every year we add something new. For example, Summit 2.0 in 2016 featured Lisa Floyd, Director of Research and Inquiry with Fair Chance Learning as a special guest for the day, who offered an interactive keynote, two coding sessions for students and one session solely for all school teacher leads. (Read Lisa’s blog post here).

Students made and then coded their own pedometers.

For our third summit, we continued with coding and computational thinking. Derek Tangredi, Director of Integrated STEAM Education with Fair Chance Learning, and David Moore, a Grade 12 student from St. Joseph-Scollard Hall Catholic Secondary School, acted as our keynote presenters and special guests. Session topics included overviews and hands-on sessions with Scratch, Micro:bits and Makey Makeys.

Peter with Student Summit 3.0 special guests Derek Tangredi and David Moore.

Here’s What They Are Saying:

The day was organized and engaging for both students and staff! All teachers and students should have the opportunity to learn.” – Grade 5/6 teacher

“I loved how you included the students in your presentations.” – Grade 6 student

“This presentation showed me all the possibilities that are possible for my students when creating presentations. I cannot wait to show this to the rest of my class and to have them begin using it.” – Grade 6 teacher

“I already used Google before but after doing the summit I just want to use it more! One of my favourite parts was the Google Slides part. I had so much fun learning how to link pictures and slides. I had such a good time, so thank you guys so much.”– Grade 6 student

“It was AMAZING I learned so much cool things about coding!” – Grade 5 student

School teams are greeted with a photo booth opportunity as they arrive in the morning.

Beyond Student Summits

Involving students in professional development has had such an impact that the Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board now includes students in professional development sessions alongside teachers, focusing on educational technology and others areas of the curriculum. This model provides an interactive avenue to receive feedback about the effectiveness of educational content, student engagement and comprehension and provides teachers, coordinators and administrators insight into otherwise unimaginable possibilities for classroom instruction. Teachers and educational leads now have the ability to see technology used in new ways, witnessing innovative thinking and provoking student leadership in unprecedented capacities.

Teachers and students working together in a new model of professional development.

Final Thoughts

I will never forget what Joe Sisco, another Technology Enabled Learning and Teaching contact, said in our conversation after our first Student Summit.“We could be onto something big here…”

Now that this is an annual event, I reflect on how we took the risk of treating students like confident, competent people attending an exciting conference-style event – opening the doors of innovation and creativity that are possible as they continue their educational journey. They stepped up and it was well worth it.

Peter Anello is a Technology-Enabled Learning Facilitator in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

By Peter Anello | September 7, 2018