How Coding and Technology is Helping Build a Millennial Dream Education System

A few years ago the film team at Hemmings House joined tech entrepreneur David Alston and René Boudreau of the New Brunswick Council on Research and Innovation to Estonia and Finland. They were making a film that explored school systems that integrates coding and technology in primary and middle schools. The Code Kids documentary inspired the province of New Brunswick’s educators, entrepreneurs and politicians to work together to create a similar movement. The film kick started a new era for education in the Maritimes. This is critical part of the Millennial Dream.

The message shared resonated throughout New Brunswick communities and both the public and private sectors mobilized to support a grassroots movement to reintroduce coding, creativity, innovation, and an entrepreneurial spirit within our youth and our communities.

Founders meetings were held throughout New Brunswick to better understand the needs and interests of the province’s Francophone and Anglophone communities and with this information, the newly formed Brilliant Labs began a pilot project to promote coding for kids, support teachers who were interested in integrating coding within their classrooms, develop 7 makerspaces, one in each of the province’s school districts, and working with teachers to create hands on, inquiry based projects which allowed students to start creating with technology rather than simply consuming technology.

The demand has been overwhelming!  Brilliant Labs has offered over 75 coding workshops throughout the province, has worked with hundreds of schools, thousands of teachers, and has exposed over 10,000 New Brunswick children to coding, robotics, 3D printing, wearable technologies, drones, and much more in an attempt inspire innovation and spark an entrepreneurial spirit.  Students are getting more involved and engaged, they’re beginning to take ownership over their education.  We have students being exposed to coding through robotics and then signing up for engineering programs at UNB, others developing micro controller powered prosthetics, students and teachers developing Virtual Reality applications and games, kids coding i0S apps, even elementary students are getting involved with a 9 yr old, grade 4 student, from the Francophone community of Saint-Antoine developing a prototype and coding a shoe for the visually impaired.  We’ve also teamed up with UNB to host an annual Provincial Middle School Scratch Coding competition and year after year the entries are getting more and more impressive.

New Brunswick schools are embracing the movement.  Where the original pilot project set out to promote coding and create 7 makerspaces, educators, students, and parents are seeing the value and makerspaces are starting to sprout organically throughout the province.  We now have 36 public school makerspaces in operation with many more in the planning phases with a goal to reach 50 makerspaces across the province by the end of 2016.  Students have benefited from over 300 hands on project based learning opportunities and participated in innovation challenges designed to spark innovation and foster entrepreneurship.  We’ve been able to support passionate educators, some of which have created the country’s first high school droneography course where students learn about policies and regulations, various types and functionalities, possible career paths, and how to safely and responsibly operate drones.

A collaboration between Brilliant Labs, T4G, Wicked Ideas, and the Big Data Congress led to the development of the Student SuperPower challenge which asks high school students to create solutions to everyday problems through the creative use of technology.  Winners have included student projects to create energy efficient solar powered furnaces for low income housing and fishermen tracking bracelets which will one day help save lives.  Brilliant Labs supports many entrepreneurial student projects including Drain Power, a startup created by two grade 11 students from Moncton who went on to win our provincial Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge and will soon commercialize their product while simultaneously launching a socially responsible platform to engage and help youth realize their dreams.

New Brunswick has demonstrated a passion for exposing our youth to coding.  Over the last 2 years, we’ve averaged more participants per capita in the global movement, the Hour of Code, than any other province in Canada.  Encouragingly, New Brunswick’s Dept of Education has also recognized the great value for students and the importance for our province to integrate coding within our provincial curriculum and are actively working to develop a comprehensive solution which will accelerate our students’ abilities to be exposed to making, creating, computer science, coding, and the advantages and opportunities which come along with it.

CodeKids launched an incredible and transformative journey for our province and where we’ve only begun, the future is extremely promising.  In an always changing world, it is exciting to see our province experiencing a paradigm shift in education and actively developing a socially conscious entrepreneurial culture which will allow future generations to not only compete in a global community, but to lead the way towards a better tomorrow.