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Innovation: The Cornerstone of a FMPSD Education

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There’s a reason Snigdha Doraj wants to be a Robotics Engineer - and that’s - Fort McMurray Public School District (FMPSD). A grade seven student at Westwood Community High School, Snigdha fell in love with Robotics in grade five at Walter and Gladys Hill Public School.

“That’s what makes Walter and Gladys Hill so unique. I had so many opportunities to try Robotics. And, it’s thanks to FMPSD for hosting many awesome events like the Robotics Tournament, Inventor & Innovator Fair, and the Coding Competition. I won first place with my team last year at a few events, and it has kept me motivated,” shares Snigdha, 12.

This motivation wrapped up in an innovative curriculum, and programs is what makes an FMPSD education unique. Our history with Robotics goes back eight years. Ali Syed, Director, FMPSD Technology, remembers.

“It started with a coffee conversation between the Superintendent and me on how to make Robotics a reality in the District. Initially, the goal was to gauge interest in the program. We started with three schools: Islamic School, École Dickinsfield and Westview Public featuring 30 students. More than 300 people showed up to watch the first tournament. We knew then it was going to be a big hit in the region.”

By next year Syed and his team had six schools on board and the introduction of both a junior high and high school program.

“Westwood High and Ecole McTavish Robotics staff were so excited and supportive. They had an amazing can-do attitude and within their first-year debuts, these teams were winning on local, provincial and national levels,” added Syed, who has been with FMPSD for over 10 years.

Today, there are more than 400 students in our District’s Robotics programs. And, FMPSD is proud to host one of the largest Robotics tournament in Alberta with over 500 students and 50 teams competing annually, thanks to our Tech department.

Preceding the exponential growth of FMPSD Robotics, Tech-Trades Academy is another one of our award-winning innovative programs - started in 2014. Launched at the request of parents, who were impressed by the District’s then spring and summer tech camps, and wanted an after-school program, Tech-Trades Academy is open to all students in grades four to nine, and features two streams of interest: Pre-Engineering and Multimedia.

Pre-Engineering focuses on Robotics, Electrical Design, Computer-Aided Design (CAD), computer sciences including Coding. Multimedia studies focus on Photography, Movie-Making, Sound Editing and Art Design. The program won the coveted Alberta School Boards Association’s (ASBA) 2017 School Board Innovation and Excellence Award.

“The academy is supported by local industry and business with major input on its focus and direction. We thank everyone for making this sought-after program happen,” adds Syed, who is FMPSD’s Innovative Leadership Award winner (2016). The coveted honour is given to a staff member, who leads an innovation which results in higher achievement or production.

Speaking of sought-after initiatives, Coding is growing by leaps and bound at FMPSD. Said El Mejdani, Computer Science teacher at Westwood Community High School, and also an Innovative Leadership Award winner (2016) - is one of the District leaders for growing Coding.

For the uninitiated, Coding is the process of using computer languages to develop/create  apps, websites, software for gaming, Virtual Reality, etc. FMPSD first began it in 2014 when a student asked El Mejdani for help, and the Coding Club was born at Westwood.

“Raj wanted me to teach him C++ to make an app. I asked him to come after school so I could teach him Coding with C++. He wasn’t alone; there were 15 students with him asking for the same thing. We started the Coding Club using four old computers, which we refurbished. Then I spoke to the principal about starting a Coding Club.”

And, you’ve guessed what came next. The Coding Club grew to over 70 students, who won  competitions across the nation. Two years ago Westwood began offering the first Coding class as an option. By the fall of 2017, this turned into seven options classes, and six options in Robotics 3D Printing and Digital Design, thus making Coding the largest course option at the school.

“We developed our courses with ‘product based learning,’ model where the student would take an option class knowing that they have a specific product to make - like apps,” El Mejdani continues.

All of this was noticed by the District’s senior leadership. El Mejdani and his Coding Club students were asked to promote Coding in other schools, and the result was YouthComputing, a student-led initiative, which began educating and inspiring computational literacy across the city. They also organised the first hackathon in the region, which was very well-received.

“I’m so proud of my YouthComputing students, who are now working with Keyano College, Brain Stem Alliance, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, and Mayor’s Advisory Council on Youth (MACOY). Dhruv Patel, one of the group’s co-founders went on to win the $100,000 Loran Scholarship.”

“In the last three years, Coding students have received amazing awards. Dhvani Patel, scored 74 out of 75 at the Canadian Computing Competition - the second highest mark in Canada. This year Nicholas Maodus and Ethan Josey received the Distinction Award for the Java competition. We had student receiving medals in Canada Wide Science Fair with technology based projects using Coding as a major component (Linda Guo, Dhrumil Shah, Dhvani Patel, Dhruv Patel, etc.). We have students with apps on Apple Store, and Google Play Store. Truly there is much to celebrate when it comes to FMPSD’s innovation.”

Indeed, we have celebrated numerous milestones in the last year alone when it comes to innovation at FMPSD. Just ask our students.


Doing What’s Best for Kids at the Fort McMurray Public School District. For more information on any of our 16 schools, visit For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD @DougNicholls2 and like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School District. We are also on Instagram @FMPSD.


Photo: Snigdha designed a robotic arm controlled by her iPAD for the inaugural Inventor & Innovator Fair last year.
YouthComputing group at the first ever Community Code Day/Hackathon. Said El Mejdani is in the middle - fourth from left


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.