In areas surrounding York University, low income and recently-immigrated students continue to radically underachieve in schools. These students are labelled as ‘at-risk’ by their teachers, who anticipate that they may not graduate secondary school if left to their own devices. At-risk students are typically disengaged from school and find little support in community efforts. As technical skills are increasingly becoming as basic a need as functional literacy, these kids lag behind, becoming frustrated and increasingly challenged in a world where their peers are increasingly labeled as "digitally native." Increased technological skills and literacies increase student achievement, likelihood of graduation and success in higher education later on. “Serious Play” will approach this achievement gap through technological literacy and the medium of digital game design, programming and production for students in low-income schools with a focus on the education of girls in this area.
This project aims to address the gap between these students and their more affluent peers, as well as between boys and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Our innovative approach will help build and cultivate engaged, “hands-on” STEM skill development opportunities in two local schools for 50 grade 6/7 and grade 9/10 students. “Serious Play” will combine this approach with near-peer /peer mentoring and for the first time, simultaneous skill development for students, teachers and trainee teachers. Approaching technological skill development and literacy through a near-peer mentoring program engages both students, teachers and teachers-in-training in service-learning and through the development of technological productions that can be used to broach issues of diversity as well as socioeconomic/ gender differences in STEM fields.
Our intended outcomes address the well-documented needs of girls and boys in low-income schools and communities, particularly in relation to their access to and development of 21st century skills.
As this integrated training approach is unique in the Greater Toronto Area, we will continually monitor impact, program design and outcomes to refine a replicable model.