Said El Mejdani: surviving and thriving in remote northern community

Transcription – Said El Mejdani, Prime Minister's Award recipient

[Black screen fades up to a white background, with the following words appearing, line by line: Prime Minister's Awards. Music playing. Transition to a white and grey screen with medium shot of man, smiling, on the left side of the screen, with the following words appearing, line by line, on the right and voice over: Said El Mejdani, Westwood Community School, Fort McMurray, Alberta.]

[Fade to black and then to photos, with voice over. Photos: Said smiling, holding a drill; Said explaining a concept to a group of students gathered around a device; Said and a student looking at something on a laptop screen; Said working at a computer with a student behind him looking on; Said and students discussing how to control the watering of a tower garden; Said smiling, in front of a robot; Said and a group of students showing off a model tank; Said showing a group of students a frayed wire; Said at the front of a classroom teaching students sitting at computers; Said and three colleagues standing in front of the school.]

With a passion for disruptive technology and innovation, Said El Mejdani embraces students uninterested in academics and provides an avenue for them to experience success. Responding to student interest in coding with a dedicated class, he then went on to build the school's computer science program from scratch, creating all the courses, and writing the curriculum. He helped students organize Fort McMurray's first community computer science events, including a hackathon. His summer digital skills academy links students with industry and social enterprises to see how they can use their technological knowledge once they leave school.

[Fade to black and then up white and grey screen with medium shot of man, smiling, on the left side of the screen, with the following words appearing, line by line, on the right: Said El Mejdani, Westwood Community School, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Voice over: Said El Mejdani.]

[Fade to white, with the Government of Canada FIP and then the Canada Wordmark appearing in black.]

Year: 2019 – Province: Alberta

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Said El Mejdani

Junior High and Advanced Placement Computer Science, Coding, 3D Graphics and
Games, E-Sports, Phone Apps, grades 7 to 12
Westwood Community High School, Fort McMurray, Alberta

"Mr. Said is everything a student could want. He taught me beyond the curriculum and has fostered skills such as problem solving and creativity. With that, he also taught me to keep community and compassion at the centre of my life."
— Former student

Said El Mejdani, who is fluent in four languages, started out teaching math in French. Then, a student asked him hold a coding session and brought 15 friends with him. This led to one coding course, and another and another. Now, families with children as young as four seek out his programs.

Teaching approach

With a passion for disruptive technology and innovation, Said embraces students uninterested in academics and provides an avenue for them to experience success. He knows every student can thrive when they drive their own learning, so he coaches students to think critically to reach their goals.

In the classroom

  • Involves students in the community to make real-world connections: helped students create youth computing group and partnered with organizations to organize the first community computer science events, including a hackathon, and an entrepreneurial conference and pitch competition.
  • Prepares students for technology-related jobs with hands-on projects (e.g. an app that displays live bus travel times) and a summer digital skills academy that links students with industry and social enterprises to see how they can use their technological knowledge once they leave school.
  • Capitalizes on students' interest in one area of technology, such as gaming, and then introduces them to the broader technological world, such as animation, virtual reality and 3D modelling; has led some students with significant attendance problems to come to class regularly.
  • Creates digital learning opportunities for students of every age: high school students mentor elementary children in afterschool programs; weekend camps intrigue young learners about coding and STEM, leading one Grade 4 girl to create a coding club at her school.

Outstanding achievements

  • Built school's computer science program from scratch, with no budget initially; created a suite of 12 courses, including writing curriculum to fill gaps he perceived in provincial requirements.
  • Responded to overwhelming demand for technology-related courses at a growing school by working with other teachers to integrate technology learning into their subject areas.
  • Student achievement is very high: some have had perfect scores on national coding competitions, other have placed high in the Canada Wide Science Fair; still others have won prestigious scholarships.
  • Honoured twice by school district, for leadership in coding and for after-school coding program.
Transcription – Said El Mejdani - 2019 Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence

[Black screen fades up to close-up of man in interview setting against a white background. Music playing.]

"Sometimes, people tell to somebody else, 'You make my day.' I would tell to my students, 'You make my life.'"

[Fade to black and then up to white with medium shot of man, smiling, on the right side of the screen, with the following words appearing, line by line, on the left: Said El Mejdani, Westwood Community School, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Fade to black and then up to close-up of Said in the interview setting.]

"Kids learn coding but they learn coding to make phone apps either for Android or for iPhone, but they come here with the clear idea that …"

[Cut to photos, with voice over. Photos: Said explaining a concept to a group of students gathered around a device; Said and a student looking at something on a laptop screen; Said and a group of students showing off a model tank; Said and students discussing how to control the watering of a tower garden.]

"… in the end of the tunnel, they need have to something made as a phone application or virtual reality or information security."

[Cut back to close-up of Said in the interview setting.]

"It's all specific, targeted, product-oriented learning."

[Cut to longer shot of Said in the interview setting.]

"Our community, for example, doesn't have a bus system phone application. I am having students who are working towards that, and the city just agreed that they are going to keep the contract for that to the students to make the phone application, when people could see at real time where is the bus and when is it going to be in the station. And, that's ideas that kids bring and try to solve—making it all the time connected to the business world; also connected to the community and trying to solve something very specific and that the community needs."

[Cut to photos with voice over. Photos: Said with Paul Thompson, Associate Deputy Minister, Innovation, Science and Economic Development, having received his Prime Minister's Awards pin; Said taking a selfie with a Mountie in dress uniform on Parliament Hill]

"The nomination could go through, could not go through. It doesn't matter, but just being nominated, for me, that was the best thing that has happened to me in my career as teacher."
[Cut back to Said in the interview setting.]

"And, especially I was nominated by a former student. Years after they were in my class, they were still thinking about the impact that this class had on them. And, for me, it means a lot."

[Cut to photos with voice over. Photos: Said gesturing during his presentation to fellow recipients on best practices in his classroom; Said speaking with a fellow recipient; Said explaining a concept to fellow recipients by drawing it on paper; Said speaking behind a podium during his best practices presentation.]

"I think everything was amazing, but the most amazing things for me was connecting with those amazing teachers and learning from everybody's story."

[Cut back to Said in the interview setting.]

"For me, it was something that you could not value. It's just amazing."

[Fade to black and then back to Said in interview setting.]

"The most important [thing] I tell to my students all the time: 'The smartest in the room is nobody individually. It's the room. When you work together, we become smarter than any individual.'"

[Fade to black, with the Government of Canada FIP and then the Canada Wordmark appearing in white.]

Get in touch!

Westwood Community High School
221 Tundra Drive
Fort McMurray T9H 4Z7
780-791-1986
https://westwood.fmpsdschools.ca
Twitter: @Wwhighschool, @WestwoodCoders

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