It’s a big world at Alcuin College

G6 in Stanley ParkOn any given school day, Alcuin College students can be found out in the community, inquiring, exploring, experiencing, discussing and reflecting.

Students are frequently off site, learning from the real world, in the real world. We collaborate with businesses and professionals who voluntarily share their knowledge and skills to educate our students in situ. This provides context and skills in ways a classroom cannot, and enriches our academic programs.

We are fortunate to have many opportunities readily at hand in the Lower Mainland for students to truly engage with their learning in a variety of environments. Teachers actively seek destinations where students can engage intellectually, emotionally and physically to further their learning in a highly personal way. Recent activities include our grade 5/6 students participating in a wilderness survival program at Stanley Park, as part of an interdisciplinary unit tying together elements of studies in literature, science, outdoor education and aboriginal culture. [pullquote]On any given school day, Alcuin College students can be found out in the community, inquiring, exploring, experiencing, discussing and reflecting.[/pullquote]Under the umbrella of Habitats, our grade 3/4 students travelled to the Wildlife Rescue Association to experience the impact that society has had upon local animal habitats, and to speak with people who are passionate about their mission. Grade 7 students visited a game development studio as part of their literature study of Heir Apparent, a science fiction/fantasy novel. Investigating deep sea environments and robotics, students from grades 3 to 11 toured Nuytco Research to hear first-hand from lead scientists who shared their excitement about their projects. In all field experiences, students are encouraged to pose questions, construct meaning and reflect, to personally synthesize their learning.

Going beyond the four walls of our school is integral to the educational program at Alcuin College. Student interest helps guide our teachers in seeking authentic learning experiences both locally and abroad. We are looking forward to our next destination!

Dialogue: Challenges and Change in Education

I have the great privilege to work with a forward-thinking organization, Action Canada.  A leadership program for young Canadians, Action Canada explores topics of national interest and investigates ways to make improvements for Canada’s future.  This year, their theme is:  Does Canada have the education systems it needs to meet the economic and societal challenges of the future?

Today, at the Wosk Centre, Action Canada presented a Public Dialogue on Challenges and Change in Canada’s Education Systems.  The task forces brought together panels of experts to spark conversation on three topics:

  • Standardized Testing in Canada
  • Teaching Questions Not Answers
  • Who Cares About Young Caregivers?

Fortunately, I was able to take part in the second session:  Teaching Questions Not Answers.

This particular task force explored the subject of adapting Canada’s education system for the 21st century.  At the end of September, the Fellows had come to St Alcuin College, a liberal arts K-12 school offering a 21st century skills-based program.  They were especially interested to experience firsthand our unique learning environment, and how that was different from mainstream education.  After speaking to the faculty and students about what it meant to be living the learning revolution, one Fellow observed that at St Alcuin, changing education was a movement.  We can attest that education reform is a movement that requires intense energy, as stated today by Mr Rod Allen, Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division.

It was not a surprise to hear that the panellists were espousing the principles upon which we are founded at St Alcuin:  highly personalized education, community partnerships and an emergent curriculum.  One question posed to the panel was why it was not easy to implement this educational reform in schools across Canada.  One of the panellists, Dr. Roland Case, executive director and co-founder of The Critical Thinking Consortium, identified five “winning conditions” for educational reform.  As I understood them, they are:

  1. Students are engaged in their learning.  Instruction is not transmission from the teacher.
  2. There is sustained inquiry for learning.  This is a regular practice.
  3. Students have self-regulated control of tools.  They don’t just produce the action when required by a teacher, but know how and when to use the skill.
  4. Assessment is timely and supportive.
  5. Learning is digitally enhanced.

At St Alcuin College, in keeping with our studies in Big History, we recognize that these are the five ‘Goldilocks conditions’ to educational change.  These are our guiding principles in our daily teaching.

Thank you to Action Canada and the Fellows for bringing us together to discuss Canada’s education systems and the challenges to change.  It is a subject that so many are passionate about, and it is this passion that continually drives us to create these ‘Goldilocks conditions’ at St Alcuin College.

Realising the Revolution: Walk the Chalk

“You won’t believe it, but my mom told me that I can go on the New York trip.  She said that since this was my passion, they would support it.”

A grade 10 student recently shared this exciting news with her friends in the hallway outside my office.  What was thrilling for me was to hear the words “my passion” and “support”.  It had been one year since we had the privilege of hearing Sir Ken Robinson speak about the importance of finding our element, that unique place where our passions and our talents combine.  He urged students, parents and educators to re-think education and to re-define models of schooling that had become antiquated.  His powerful message has been well-received.  The usage of the vocabulary necessary to reform education is becoming more common in schools and in boards of education.  One needs only to look at the buzz created by the release of British Columbia’s Education Plan by the Ministry of Education.

The Plan identifies five main features for change:

  1. Personalised learning for every student
  2. Quality teaching and learning
  3. Flexibility and choice
  4. High standards
  5. Learning empowered by technology

These elements may be somewhat obvious, but their articulation is significant because it provides a framework to guide the change that is necessary in the way that schools function.  As Sir Ken has pointed out, we cannot continue to have an educational system that was built in the age of the Industrial Revolution.  The challenge, as put out by Sir Ken and the Ministry of Education, is:  What are you doing to change the way we educate our children?

At the time of Minister of Education George Abbott’s announcement of the newly launched education plan website, I was sitting in a forum hosted by UBC on the future of education in Canada.  The Canadian Council of Learning had released their report and the President of CCL, Dr. Paul Cappon, was speaking along with a panel of educators.  While that report is a topic for a separate blog in itself, there were some key points that I took away, among which were:

  • An important piece of personalisation is individualisation of assessment and feedback; teachers play a critical role here.
  • The lack of ability to secure apprenticeships is creating a bottleneck.

So, what are the first changes that I am going to make as an educator and an administrator?  I will actively work with teaching professionals to implement tools and systems that improve the individualisation of assessment and feedback.  No longer should we tolerate standardised testing methods in our classrooms as the primary source of grading and reporting.  Let’s provide our teachers with the resources and the time to communicate ongoing and effectively with their students.

Furthermore, I will seek meaningful internship opportunities.  We need the private sector to come forward and personally invest in the learning of our students.  I would like to see apprenticeship experiences in edutainment, the creative arts, global service, sustainability and resource management, as well as in the trades and in the service industries.  These are but two of the areas in which I want to make change happen.

It is important to think outside of the box, but it is even more imperative now that we act outside of the box.  What will you do to improve the way we educate?