Mississauga teacher wins Prime Minister award for creative use of robots in the classroom

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Published October 19, 2022 at 1:28 pm

teacher daphne mcmenemy
Mississauga teacher Daphne McMenemy won the Prime Minister's award for Technology at the service of creativity this year.

Starting with children as young as kindergarteners, a Mississauga teacher uses robots and coding to engage students.

St. Christopher Separate School teacher Daphne McMenemy won the Prime Minister’s Award for “Teaching Excellence in STEM, Technology at the service of creativity” this year.

McMenemy, who attended Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Brampton, is now in her 18th year of teaching, and second year at St. Christopher in Mississauga.

Using robots in the classroom, McMenemy allows students to discover learning through computer science, she develops numeracy, literacy, and computational thinking skills through creative exploration and inquiry.

“Robots and coding are as much a part of my program as pencils and paper,” McMenemy tells insauga.com.

She currently teaches Grade 1 but has taught Kindergarten and starts teaching the basics of coding to these young students. It starts with robots and exploring how they can make them move.

“And through that conversation, we start to build the vocabulary that they need…they start to learn what an algorithm is, and they start to learn directional language and positional language,” she says. “And that allows them to understand how the robots work.”

In the last few years, computational skills were added to the Ontario curriculum but McMenemy started teaching the skills around six or seven years ago.

“I was working with a group of students one year who were somewhat disengaged in learning, and I was trying to find a way to hook them,” she says.

For that group of kids, technology was the hook but she didn’t want them staring at iPads all day. She introduced robots and it worked. It continues to be a way to stimulate exploratory learning.

“They can manipulate things right on the spot…they can create this algorithm, and then they can watch it come to life right in front of them with a robot,” she says.

She now has more than 10 robots in various shapes and difficulty levels.

McMenemy’s work in the classroom caught the attention of one of her peers who nominated her for the award. Her principal also appreciates McMenemy’s work.

“Daphne is an innovator and a creator; she is passionate about what she believes and knows about teaching and learning and works daily to embody that in her interactions with others,” said  St. Christopher Separate School Principal Andrea Milanetti.

“She provides support, direction, guidance, and learning opportunities wherever she can, which is the ultimate goal for all educators – to inspire others to be life-long learners, to discover new experiences and to build on individual strengths.”

Beyond the classroom, McMenemy supports her colleagues through professional development sessions during the school day, with after school workshops, and through weekend EdCamps.

This past year, she was the keynote speaker at Manitoba’s largest educational technology conference B.Y.T.E. (Build Your Teaching Experience).

Her latest venture provides her with an extensive creative outlet as managing director of Code Breaker Inc. where she illustrates and edits books written by educational thought leaders from across the country and the globe.

McMenemy says she is honoured to win the award.

“I’m so grateful to have had to be nominated and have that opportunity to showcase what I’ve been doing for a few years and have that recognition attached to it,” she says. “It’s pretty amazing.”

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