March 4, 2019

Educators tackle challenges facing teachers today

Students and academics from across Canada exchanged ideas at WestCAST 2019 conference
A team of student volunteers and academics from the Werklund School came together to ensure the success of the 2019 Western Canadian Association for Student Teaching conference

Volunteers from Werklund for the 2019 Western Canadian Association for Student Teaching conference.

Cynthia Prasow

Recently, more than 300 students and academics from post-secondary institutions across Canada came to the University of Calgary campus for the 2019 WestCAST (Western Canadian Association for Student Teaching) conference.

Hosted by the Werklund School of Education, WestCAST offered participants the opportunity to engage with their colleagues on topics relevant in today’s world of teaching. Ideas for best practices were discussed, debated and workshopped, on issues such as curriculum development, assessment, design-based thinking, language, wellness, STEM, and Indigenous education.

To address the reality teachers face on a daily basis, organizers chose Inspire and Connect as the theme of this year’s three-day conference.

“Our theme was a direct reference to the interconnected nature of education today,” explains Dr. Amy Burns, PhD, associate dean of Undergraduate Programs in Education and conference academic co-chair. “In classrooms all over our country, teachers are connected to one another, to their students, to outside experts and to technologies and ideas that are designed to bring us together in innovative and inspiring ways. That is the very essence of WestCAST and that is what we wanted to highlight.”

Escape room opens doors to learning

Werklund School Bachelor of Education student Sue Mylde’s escape room experience was one of the more inspired workshops. Attendees explored the elements of a curriculum-based escape room, which, when applied in K-12 classrooms, allows students to develop problem-solving, information management, critical thinking, communication and collaboration skills, Mylde says.

“Escape rooms open a door for creative learning experiences within our classroom. Gamification in this way can be designed to cater to the different learners in the classroom, as well as engage students based on their interests.”

Whether the puzzles involve math, map reading, art, deciphering codes, language arts or science, Mylde believes the outcome outweighs the effort. “It is a highly rewarding experience, which may require some investment but I would say the student engagement payoff is well worth it.”

Diversity and student voice key to success

In addition to the inventive ideas shared during the conference, Burns says the success of WestCAST was due in great part to the diversity of participants.

“This year we welcomed post-secondary institutions from British Columbia through to Quebec as well school divisions and the Alberta Teachers’ Association. This broad representation is critical to the development of a shared understanding of what it means to engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning.”

Burns adds that what makes WestCAST unique is its focus on students. “This conference allows students to see themselves as valuable and important participants in the academic conversation taking place.”

Sam Sirianni, president of the Werklund School’s Education Students’ Association and member of the conference steering committee, believes that students experienced exactly that.

“Every session and every person who attended the conference brings a unique perspective to teaching and learning. It was inspiring to be able to connect with people from across the country and learn from them and hear their stories. Personally, I was able to make connections with students in other BEd programs and I took away many strategies that I look forward to implementing in my own classroom.”

WestCAST 2020

The conference now moves to the University of British Columbia for WestCAST: VISION 2020. John Yamamoto, practicum & field program coordinator with UBC’s Teacher Education Office, says planning is already underway.

“We’re excited about WestCAST coming to UBC next year. We are focusing on the innovative practices going on in Education and highlighting important topics such as reconciliation, mental health and inclusion.”

Yamamoto says the intent is to make the 2020 conference broad in scope in order to attract a wide range of contributors.

Learn more on the WestCAST: VISION 2020 website.