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.

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 may seem a rather radical idea, it does make some degree of sense. As the shadow ministers (equivalent to the critics in Canadian legislatures) point out, reservists already use civilian skills to do good in military contexts; surely ‘the reverse should also be true’. The armed services are built on the ‘values of responsibility, comradeship, hard work and a respect for public service’, ideals which are essential in helping children to become active citizens in our modern age. Other virtues of the armed services that make them well-suited to being involved in education, but which are not mentioned in the article, are their discipline, their respect for tradition, their custom of rewarding excellence and achievement, and, of course, their strong emphasis on physical fitness.

Whatever one’s thoughts on having soldiers teaching and interacting with children, the principle behind the idea is sound. As has been said on this blog and elsewhere, the time has come to search for creative ways to teach our children. Perhaps the military ideals of discipline and loyalty toward one’s peers and one’s superiors (e.g. the teachers) are just what some schools need to help to serve their students better. As with any model, however, it will not be appropriate for every school.

I myself was at first rather alarmed by the idea of having soldiers in schools, but as I’ve thought things through, the idea has grown on me; though, of course, I would not tolerate the presence of any firearms, or even the wearing of battledress. I do think, however, that, in underprivileged communities (which were particularly on the shadow ministers’ mind when they conceived the plan), the presence of authority in a nurturing role, rather than a law-enforcing one, coupled with the promise, almost unique to the military, of promotion through the ranks for those who work hard, could be precisely what’s needed to help students to rise to their full potential.

The shadow ministers’ suggestion, while creative, is controversial: one particularly impassioned  user on The Telegraph’s website went so far as to say that it was a ‘fascist [and] authoritarian’ proposal. What are your thoughts on this? Is it a troubling recommendation that would militarise our schools and society? Or is it a worthwhile, innovative idea that could help to improve education? Have your say in the comments section below!

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