That’s because they’re working on a special project using new media to explore and document the roots of their community. The 11 and 12-year-olds are producing podcasts about the history of landmark sites in their borough of St-Leonard. Sonia Marotta is the principal of Honoré Mercier school. She says the students are involved in every aspect of the project – from selecting the locations, to researching the history of the sites, to the audio editing of the podcasts. “Our vision as 21st century educators is to have the kids
contribute to their learning. We’re trying to steer away from the teacher standing in front of the classroom and just giving the students information. Here, the kids are leading the learning in the classroom,” explains Marotta. “Our kids are changing, and this is a way to integrate technology into the curriculum while teaching them how to contribute to their community and their world.”
From left: Vice-principal Christina Voggas, principal Sonia Marotta and information technology consultant at the English Montreal School Board
The 45-second audio capsules will be accessible to the public via Quick Response (QR) codes embedded on plaques placed on the various landmarks. Visitors will be able to listen to the podcasts by scanning the QR codes with their smart phones. The sixth grade students have chosen 12 landmarks in and around St-Leonard to feature in their podcasts. Marotta estimates that about 95% of her students are of Italian origin, so many of the selected locations are important beacons for the city's Italian community. The places that made the cut include the Leonardo DaVinci Center, Pasticceria Alati and Café Milano. “I grew up in St-Leonard so I know how essential the Italian culture is to our students and our community. It was very important for us to mirror that in these podcasts,” says Marotta, 40. “And all of the podcasts are either bilingual or trilingual. Some are in English and French and others in English, French and Italian.”
Honoré Mercier is a fully bilingual elementary school, and principal Marotta says many of the students also take Italian language classes during their lunch hour. Kish Gué is an information technology consultant at the English Montreal School Board. He’s been helping the students navigate the digital aspects of putting together a podcast. Gué says he is astonished at how quickly the kids are soaking up all the new information being thrown at them and how proud the students are of their new-found knowledge and skills. “What really touched me is how the students felt about contributing to something that is tangible in the community. They’re understanding that they have a place in the society and can do something that even adults can benefit from,” explains Gué. “It’s a great seed that were are planting and I hope it gives them a goal for the future.”
Michael Migliara is one of the grade six students who helped put together the podcast about Café Milano. He says he didn’t even know the iconic cafe existed until he began working on this project. “I was so happy and excited to be learning something new,” explains the 12-year-old. “Café Milano has been around for almost 50 years. I always thought it was just a regular coffee place but now I learned so many fascinating facts about it.”
Principal Marotta says the students were very proactive in their research, using online tools as well as visiting the actual locations and talking to the people that run them. “It was so exciting because they were doing this with their families on their own time. They’re really invested in it,” beams Marotta. Besides having a lot of fun, Marotta says the students are learning social studies, history and perfecting their language skills because they are tasked with translating all the podcasts from English to French.
The students at Honoré Mercier are not the only ones doing the learning – their teachers are picking up some new knowledge as well. Elisa Infusini teaches grade six at Honoré Mercier: “I’m learning a lot about the history of certain buildings and important landmarks. I think I’m learning just as much as my students,” she admits. “It was nice to see the kids get out there and speak to people and make connections in the community. It’s something you can’t get in a text book.”
The students and staff at Honoré Mercier will officially inaugurate their podcast project in June. The plaques featuring the QR codes will be placed on the selected locations early this summer for the public to enjoy.