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Sheridan professor Dr. Joel Lopata presents during the workshop

T.A. Blakelock high school students collaborating with Sheridan to better support older adults

Newsroom authorby Jon KuiperijFeb 29, 2024

Members of Oakville's younger generation are helping Sheridan address challenges faced by the community's oldest residents.

Nearly 120 Grade 9 students from Thomas A. Blakelock High School will spend the next two months exploring creative and innovative ways to support Sheridan Centre for Elder Research (CER)'s work to enhance remote health monitoring, address food insecurity and improve workplace well-being for staff in long-term care facilities. The project is part of T.A. Blakelock's collaboration with Sheridan through I-STEM, a four-year initiative that develops design thinking, entrepreneurial skills and global competencies in secondary school students.

"The main skill we want our students to gain from this experience is empathy," Jason Murray, Blakelock mathematics head and co-lead of the school's I-STEM program, said during a workshop event Friday at the Sheridan Conference Centre. "It's very important for our young students to think about the issues that are facing older adults — and if they can come up with solutions that are implementable, imagine how proud they'll be of that and what a boost it will be to their confidence."

T.A. Blakelock high school students sit in the Sheridan Conference Centre listening to a presentation by Dr. Joel Lopata

The workshop was led by psychology and creativity professor Dr. Joel Lopata, coordinator of Sheridan's new Applied Creativity and Innovation graduate certificate program, who had introduced the group of Grade 9 students to convergent and divergent thinking processes during a similar workshop last fall. In this session, Lopata built on that learning by engaging participants with a reverse brainstorming exercise imagining ways to make a bathtub worse, then using those ideas to inspire creative ways to improve the tub.

“In our graduate certificate program, we aim to enhance creative performance by challenging students to think differently,” said Lopata. “In our partnership with Blakelock (which has also included a pair of professional development workshops for the school's teachers and administrators, exploring ways educators can integrate creativity concepts into their curriculum), we’re aiming to cultivate this aptitude as well.”

The warm-up exercise was followed by a presentation by CER Director Dr. Lia Tsotsos, who provided statistics about Canada's aging population, explained age-related changes and discussed how ageism is a tolerated and normalized form of discrimination. Tsotsos then provided details about the three CER research projects the high school students would be tasked with supporting:

A picture of a laptop with ChatGPT prompts on it as students used the technology to simulate a conversation with an older adultStudents spent the rest of the workshop brainstorming ways to advance the three projects, including potentially narrowing the scope and focus to support older adults who are visually impaired, hard of hearing or experiencing issues with mobility. They also practised conducting empathy interviews — a design thinking method used in the early stages of innovation development — through interactions with ChatGPT, which was prompted to respond as an older adult. “This is another technique we use in our graduate certificate program, where we’re always looking for novel ways to use emerging technologies,” Lopata said. “Hopefully, the Blakelock students gained some insights into the challenges faced by older adults that can inform their work.”

"I really value this partnership. Collaborating with Sheridan has already given us many things that we can take back to our classroom," added Murray, who anticipates Blakelock students will begin building prototypes within a few weeks and have products to share before the end of April. "Based on what I've seen our students do in other I-STEM design challenges, I guarantee there will be teams in this group who come back with a fantastic solution or innovation for these CER projects."

Learn more about Sheridan’s Applied Creativity and Innovation graduate certificate.

— Photos courtesy of Michael Rochus and Jason Murray, T.A. Blakelock staff 

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