'Cutting-edge technology' to be implemented in school curriculums

Never during his five years teaching technology at Harrison Trimble High School in Moncton had Adam Binet seen his students so eager to work on a project as they were with the Blue Kits.

These starter kits teach students about cybersecurity and the internet of things, a concept that describes how more and more everyday objects are connected to the internet and enabled to send and receive data.

"This cutting edge technology gave [students] a different hands-on experience," said Binet.

The kits are part of a pilot project created by CyberNB, an initiative of Opportunities New Brunswick aimed at making the province the epicentre of cybersecurity, to increase the digital literacy of young New Brunswickers.

"A new focus is required on internet security because of our reliance on being connected," said Allen Dillon, managing director of CyberNB.

A tech company based in Fredericton called Blue Spurs created the Blue Kits in January of 2017 to help companies innovate and understand new technologies.

But with CyberNB and the Early Education Childhood Development program, Blue Spurs adapted the Blue Kit so high schools students and teachers could learn from it.

The pilot project took place with the Grade 11 students at Doaktown's Central New Brunswick Academy in October 2016 and Moncton's Harrison Trimble High School in April of this year. The schools were chosen by the EECD since both already had technology courses.

"The feedback from the pilots was positive and the department is considering how they could be used to enhance learning for students in other areas of the province," said Jean Bertin, communications officer at the EECD.

Dillon said pilot projects with the Blue Kit in other schools around the province will take place in September. He said the hope is to have more technology and cybersecurity education implemented in schools' curriculums soon.

What the kits are made of

The kits contain a computer board securely connected to the internet, touch, light, motion and temperature sensors and a buzzer, all of which are connected to the computer board.

To see the labs they're working on and facilitate learning, these parts of the kits are connected to a computer screen, provided by the schools.

"You had these students learning about IOT using the same technologies that maybe a BMW would use to connect their car to the cloud," said Michael LeBlanc, CEO and founder of Blue Spurs.

The hardware of each Blue Kit can vary from $100 to $5 but the overall price depends on what schools want it to contain.

How the lessons work

The kits have eight lessons and instructions suitable for Grade 11 students on how to complete each one. The lessons vary on degrees of complexity.

The first simply introduces students to IOT.

"Some hadn't even realized they were using it," said LeBlanc.

Another teaches students how to change the colours of a light that is hooked up to a kit.

"We wanted them to understanding the fundamentals of controlling a light with an application."

But there were other levels of difficulty.

Since the kit was connected to the internet, weather information could be downloaded. By typing in the name of a city, the colour of the light would change from red to blue depending on whether the city had hot or cold weather.

"Now we are working on controlling the kit's light with your voice. So I can say turn the light red. And the light turns red," said LeBlanc. "This helps them understand the fundamentals of IOT."

Binet taught 45 minutes of these lessons to his students every day for three weeks.

"The Blue Kit introduced me to the world of IOT. I think it could be helpful. It taught me and my friends a lot of things," said Scott Lewis, a 17-year-old student at the Harrison Trimble High School.

International recognition

"This is totally new. No one has done this before," said LeBlanc, referring to the Blue Kits that will educate students on IOT and cybersecurity.

The company just received a global innovation award from Amazon Web Services, one of the largest IOT companies.

With the feedback from students and teachers, the Blue Kit is going through more changes.

"Once you understand the fundamentals of IOT and how things connect, that gives you a good basis to start learning about why you should protect yourself. And become aware of how it can be hacked."

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