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!

Why our kids have lost faith in school (Part 3)

Well-intended initiatives that fail (over and over … again)

Anxiety in school

The extent of stress, anxiety and depression among students has reached alarming levels.

It goes without saying that schools have to be environments that foster the well-being of our children.  Thankfully, in most schools, this holds true: teachers tend to take their role of ensuring the wellbeing, safety and health of their students ‘in loco parentis’ very seriously.  In my experience of ensuring my own students’ wellbeing, ‘prevention’ has proven to be better than ‘cure’.  I refer particularly to the widely-prevalent bullying-prevention programs, which often try to mitigate the damage of bullying after the fact.  Far more effective are the numerous preventative approaches which are intrinsically tied to the core of education, and serve as invaluable components of it: physical education and training, health and career courses, driver safety programs, and service initiatives, to name but a few.

The rationale of such preventative programs are to provide students, teachers and  parents with the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to be able to make healthy and safe choices. Such initiatives provides opportunities to:

  • think critically about a variety of health and safety issues;
  • acquire strategies to facilitate sound decision-making and goal-setting;
  • develop pro-active attitudes in ensuring personal and communal health;
  • allow students to become knowledgeable of their personal skills, abilities and interests, and of how these can relate to a variety of contexts; in school and beyond;
  • acquire the skills necessary to develop and maintain healthy relationships; and
  • become aware of the sources of assistance that are available to students, teachers and parents on education, health, and safety issues.

A broad-based education therefore endeavours to allow teachers to assist students and parents in identifying possibilities/issues (intellectual, human, social, health- and safety-related), to maintain and reinforce healthy habits, and to develop the necessary management skills to deal with complex, ongoing change.

Unfortunately, we seem to fail in achieving a number of these goals, mainly due to the fact that preventative programs often lack dynamism and  can be tedious, are boring and one-dimensional, or sometimes don’t even exist at all.  Essentially, in being ineffective, they fail to serve those entrusted into our care.

“How do you know this?”, you may ask.  Well, I ask and students tell me …

The importance of asking students for their honest responses, enabling them to do so safely and discreetly, cannot be over emphasised.  In fact, the very first points raised by the National Institute of Mental Health in helping children and adolescents deal with trauma is “listen to them” and “Accept/do not argue about their feelings”.

Unfortunately, very few schools (none that I know of) actually survey their constituents on these issues; nor do they conduct a longitudinal study of any nature to determine whether preventative programs actually have the desired effect.  Over the past 20 years, I have made a point to talk to students and parents about these issues, both conversationally and in surveys (even if lacking in scientific approach and data).  I have found, on the whole, that the main concerns from the students’ perspective are: a lack of activity (P.E. excluded); the lack of effective threat assessment; and measures to ensure personal safety, including ergonomics of daily functioning (e.g. ‘The chairs make my back hurt.’) and the necessities of mental health and well-being.  More importantly, students seem to feel that the situation is not improving.

While our focus on personalisation is justified, it is important that we remain aware of the ‘other’ concerns that students are facing.  Even more importantly, we should begin to devise plans of action that actually address the issues with a degree of success.

The first example that probably comes to mind would be bullying prevention (so-called ‘anti-bullying’) programs, which requires various ongoing and engaging initiatives to be successful.  Trying to anti-bully after the fact does only limited good; let us instead build physical and social skills into various classes, and develop a personal environment in which teachers actually listen to what their students say, and act upon it.  A community that works like this will probably not need an anti-bullying program; for a community that works like this roots out the anxieties, distrust and imbalances from which bullying springs in the first place.  Indeed, dynamic preventive programs on the whole (and programs that address anxiety and ergonomics in particular) need and deserve much more attention than we have yet given them, so that we can better ensure the wellbeing, health and safety of our students.

Making it real

As we were at the point of founding a new independent school that embraces experiential learning, discussions on ‘authentic education’ abounded in our home. My daughter (then in grade 8 at a local public school) was a silent observer of these intense pedagogical deliberations, but she clearly had insightful contributions to make! Betsie articulated her thoughts to me in writing at that time and, as the school started taking shape, her comments continued to resonate in my thinking. Two years later, as Alcuin College is nearing its ultimate target enrolment, her views are more poignant than ever. While I clearly should have done so long ago, I am happy to share them with you now.
edteach3r

“The opinion of how a school, or even learning, can be improved has been discussed by adults for many long hours; but, instead, they ought to just ask the kids.

Robotics_082013As a student, most of my favourite subjects are when my hands and my mind can work together with different mediums or materials, and when I am in an interesting environment. Examples of these are woodshop, sewing and art. For me, it is not the product that comes from these courses, but rather the process and hard work that is involved. I suppose you could call me a kinesthetic learner. Others learn differently. They may prefer to learn by listening or writing things down. Schools that don’t have woodshop or sewing (or that lessen the time for art) are missing the point of education. Art (this also applies to other courses such as woodshop or sewing) is not only for people who want to become artists; it is also for those kids who dislike working with their hands or dread every art class. Art is not so much about how your project or painting ends up, but about your attitude towards the subject and the things that you learned in the course; whether it was through problem-solving when difficulties arise, or even how you socialised with your peers and made new friends.

I believe that we can improve many classes where we typically sit at our desks and listen and write. I would like to get out of my desk and participate in activities that would help me understand the topic and subject we are studying. For example, if a class is learning about the law and how a court of law usually works, why not act it out? Kids can do most of the research and will be having fun while learning more intensely than they would have from any textbook. Another way that some teachers of younger grades keep children interested is a change of environment. Changing the posters or artwork frequently, or adapting the class environment to suit different activities keep the students wondering what the class will look like the next day, making them more excited about going to class.

I don’t think these things are hard to achieve, so I don’t always understand why classes sometimes are so boring. Make no mistake, I love my school and my teachers, but I think learning could be even better if the schools just became more ‘real’.” Betsie49

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:  … Continue reading

On the British Proposal of bringing the Armed Services into the School-system

In their article of 9 July in The Telegraph, the British shadow ministers for education and defence put forward the idea that the military (especially its veterans and reservists) ought to have a stronger role in the British education system. While this … Continue reading

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 … Continue reading

Sir Ken Robinson: Making progressive education mainstream

At TEDx London, Sir Ken Robinson concluded the day’s conference with a poignant reminder: “The reason why today’s conversation is so important is that we are living in revolutionary times; that’s why we need a revolution in education”.

He identifies two major drivers of change, population growth and technology, both of which are changing exponentially …

“And that rate of change is going to accelerate; it’s not going to decrease …”

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