Their faces ‘light up with their hunger for learning and knowledge’

WATCH | Clarendon girls look to the future at new discovery centre

“This is so cool,” beamed Grade 5 Clarendon Primary School pupil Aisha Mxokozeli as she walked into the school’s new discovery centre on Tuesday morning.

The recently-completed addition to the school’s premises is equipped with innovative technology, including Sphero robots and a 3D printer.

A collaborative Lego wall, shelves stacked high with books, bright bean bags and an impressive green screen video recording room also feature in the nifty knowledge hub.

Clarendon Primary's Discovery Centre

For the past week, Grades 4 to 7 have taken turns in experiencing this colourful, engaging environment.

“A lot of thought went into creating this centre. We wanted it to be a flexible environment, because our girls don’t sit in rows and parrot-learn. They explore, create and discover things together,” said Clarendon Primary IT head and EdTech coach Emma Fourie.

The centre is divided into six zones: innovate, exchange, discover, create, collaborate and present.

Each zone is represented by different activities within the unconventional classroom.

Pupils are able to scribble ideas on “write and wipe” tables and window panes, use tablets to research and present their projects via a mobile screen, read an array of books from the library section, build solar-powered mini robots and code Spheros, all in one room.

From robotics to reading, each class has the chance to get lost in learning for an hour every week.

“Our six zones represent all the 21st century skills we want our girls to master by the time they leave the school. We have to prepare our girls for the fourth industrial revolution and a world that is constantly changing so our teaching and learning methods have to keep changing too,” Fourie said.

She said the space allowed the girls to play, discover, ask questions and persevere to find answers. “We want our girls to think outside the box so we encourage questions and encourage them to pull stuff apart and figure out how it works.

“There’s no set syllabus in Genius Hour – it unfolds as we go along,” Fourie said.

School principal Dr Melanie Drake said giving pupils an interactive learning space was extremely important in preparing and equipping youngsters, especially young girls.

“Girls are not often represented in male-dominated areas such as engineering, digital engineering and AI [artificial intelligence] and we need to turn this around.

“These girls could be our engineers of the future so we want to give them every opportunity available,” Drake said.

“We’re not the first school to have a centre similar to this one, but I think what makes Clarendon different is that we’re not calling this a ‘Google centre’ or a ‘robotics centre’; it’s a place where girls can learn about anything they are interested in.

“It’s completely open-ended and will unfold as the future depicts what our girls need to know.”

While the school functions on a one-to-one iPad system and technology is integrated in almost all syllabus subjects, the centre and school’s vision is not device-driven.

“IT and computers aren’t taught separately anymore. They are integrated into the different subjects, so what we do here in the centre is happening in every classroom already,” said Fourie.

“But we don’t replace pen and paper with an iPad.

“It’s not about the device or the technology, it’s about the learning and how we can enhance it. We do things on the iPads that cannot be done on paper.”

While the discovery centre is only a week old, both Fourie and Drake have already noticed a huge difference in the girls’ approach to learning.

“The girls love it. They are so excited and engaged; It’s amazing to see their faces light up with their hunger for learning and knowledge,” said Drake.