A school with a program that will focus on innovation, science, technology, engineering and mathematics begins to take shape.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

April 30th, 2018



It was an idea that came out of the contentious Program Accommodation Review last June that resulted in the Halton District School Board trustees deciding to close two of the seven Burlington high schools; both south of the QEW.

During that process almost every high school was at risk of being closed. Central high school was recommended for closure along with Lester B. Pearson.

Central got saved and Bateman was set up for closure instead.

Aldershot high school, which had extremely low student population, was a natural for closure but it was kept open.  Somewhere along the way during the PAR discussion someone suggested there was an opportunity to try something different with Aldershot high school.

Maybe an incubator school; maybe a school with a specialized course offering; could it be called a magnet school? Ideas were tossed around but at the time the issue was the closing of different schools and no one paid all that much attention to the Aldershot situation.

Hammil + Miller

Director of Education Miller with a classroom teacher during one of the Robotics events.

Director of Education Stuart Miller stayed with the idea and worked it up into a proposal that he put before the trustees; they bought into it and Senior Staff, along with parents who were close to desperate to do whatever it took to keep their community high school open.

A team made up of Superintendents Blackwell, Truffen and Huntley-Gibbons put their heads together and looked for ways to fully involve a very willing group of Aldershot parents who were interested in a progressive, vibrant program for their school that was not only different but more in tune with progressive educational thinking.

The community came up with some surprising ideas – there were the usual – an arts school, a school with an Environmental focus and maybe a school with a High Performance Athletic program. What wasn’t expected was an Alternative calendar school; a school with a Health and Wellness focus; Post Secondary Partnership Opportunities; Social Justice/Social entrepreneurship and a school for students who learn differently.

The intention was to create a program within the high school that would continue to offer the standard curriculum offering.

Blackwell + Tuffen as a team

Superintendents Blackwell and Truffen during a presentation to the Board of Trustees.

The team developing the concept took it to the trustees who heartily supported the idea of going forward and doing what was needed to have the first class of what were going to be school with an iStem program. iStem is the acronym for innovative, science technology, engineering and mathematics.

The objective is to have students in classrooms for September of 2019. They had their work cut out for themselves.

Earlier in the month more than 75 people including educators, community leaders and people from industry met for a full day in A Think Tank format to collaborate on what the future might look like at Aldershot High School. The new program, beginning in September 2019 for Grade 9 students, will foster innovation and incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education.

design workshopThe iStem  program will equip students with global competencies, also known as transferable skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, self-directed learning, collaboration, communication and citizenship. Project-based learning, design thinking, entrepreneurial thinking and experiential learning opportunities through community and post-secondary partnerships will be essential elements of the program to enhance learning opportunities for students.

The day-long event encouraged brainstorming, collaboration and creativity in support of student learning. The discussions were set out under six subject areas:

Marketing/Branding Ideas
What will people want to know about the course offering? How might we communicate? Who might help us?
How knowledgeable are parents about STEM learning in school? How well informed are parents about the importance of STEM for career opportunities?

Learning: Taking Learning Outside and Inviting Learning Inside
What is the role of industry in providing support in education and career connections? How do we broker partnerships and engage in a meaningful way?
How can we establish and nurture strong relationships with partners outside the education system?
How can the community and local business be selectively engaged in education?
To what extent are STEM stakeholders outside the education system (e.g. community organizations, industry) collaborating to improve STEM education? Where are the gaps?

Competencies and Skillsets vs. Credentials
What are the post-secondary institution discussions about appropriate entry requirements for our future society and economy?
How might post-secondary institutions actively partner with schools in support of STEM learning?
How might we align post-secondary entry requirements with K-12 education evolution?

Learning through STEM
To what extent has K-12 STEM education integrated?
competency-based approaches?
relevant issues-based approaches?
interdisciplinary approaches?
new technologies to support learning?
How can we integrate experiential learning and interdisciplinary learning into STEM learning?

Innovation Hubs
Today’s hubs are no longer just tech-business incubators—they’re dynamic spaces where entrepreneurs in industries like education, social enterprise, and communications technology can access incubation services, use co-working and lab spaces, and make crucial connections. Hubs have the freedom to curate its tenants, develop unique programs and partnerships, and build networks in support of student learning.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review sets out four dimensions of an innovation hub:

1. Hubs build collaborative communities with entrepreneurial individuals at the centre
2. Hubs attract diverse members with heterogeneous knowledge
3. Hubs facilitate creativity and collaboration in physical and digital space
4. Hubs localize global entrepreneurial culture

Why? What if…? How might we…?
Innovative STEM education requires the engagement of multiple stakeholders: governments, educators, parents, community organizations, the science and technology research community, post-secondary institutions and businesses.

How do we collectively support attitudes, values and knowledge?
Participants explored how the I-STEM program could be designed to:
Ensure students have multiple experiential learning opportunities
Foster partnerships between students, post-secondary institutes, government and local organizations
Provide increased exposure to STEM fields

“We have a game-changing opportunity here,” said Bonnie Schmidt, President of Let’s Talk Science, a national organization involved with the Canada 2067 discussion on the future of STEM education to prepare students to “live, learn and contribute to their communities in the economies and societies of the future.”

With technological change, shifting demographics, and increased globalization being the key forces shaping the future of work, participants discussed how these factors can be considered when preparing students for their future.


Superintendent Blackwell.

Terri Blackwell, Superintendent of Education said: “In a world of continual change with evolving science, technology and innovation, we have the opportunity to develop global citizens who contribute to solving complex economic, social and environmental problems.”  “The Think Tank event provided an opportunity to build a vision for learning in the iStem program, share ideas for the future of learning, and build community and post-secondary partnerships.”

concept symbolNext steps in the development of the iStem program will be to analyze the feedback and ideas generated at the event and establish a professional learning plan with staff.

If done right, and there is every reason to believe that the team creating the iStem program will get it right, the Aldershot high school could become the school to get into and the place where teachers who go above and beyond with their students every day will want to teach,

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