Students collaborating in Google Docs, blogging in WordPress, creating in iMovie, posting on YouTube and programming in Scratch; the end of another tech-rich day at Alcuin College … phew!
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.
“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.
As 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
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:
- Students are engaged in their learning. Instruction is not transmission from the teacher.
- There is sustained inquiry for learning. This is a regular practice.
- 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.
- Assessment is timely and supportive.
- 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.
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