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 1)

A road less travelled: the realities of education that we are not yet facing

I have been pondering on this blog post for a number of months now; not due to the uncertainty of ‘what’ to say; but rather ‘what not’ to say. The raison d’être of this blog has always been to serve as a sounding board for innovative initiatives in learning and teaching, and the last thing I want is to alienate our dedicated contributors and followers. While restraint might be the best policy; many will agree that “enough is enough”.

Facilitating the ultimate success of our students (as all teachers strive to do), the collective patience is being stretched beyond reasonable limits. How much longer are students, teachers and parents to endure the political platitudes of certain senior administrators and educational glitterati who claim that, after all has been said and done, ‘our system’ (emphasis on ‘system’) is not flawed after all? They proudly proclaim that, apart from a few minor adjustments to alleviate pedagogical constraints such as report cards or “to provide more fun”(!), the current approach to education is actually one of the best in the world. How do we know this? Well, because they tell us so … Ironically, such claims are often based on the results of the exact standardised testing that bears the brunt of their criticism. In all fairness, it is hard to quantify ‘engagement’ and ‘love of learning’, but still …

The one notion that all seem to agree upon is that ‘personalisation’ lies at the very heart of successful learning. Given the vast extremities between current mainstream systems of education and authentic learning, there can be very few grey areas … minor adjustments will not suffice (and superficial changes in curriculum are just downright insulting). As teachers have been stating for what seems to be ages, the fundamental issues revolve around student/teacher ratios and subsequent imbalances. Over the coming weeks and months, my goal is to look at a number of those issues.

As you may have noticed, I am going to wade in beyond ankle deep …Personalisation

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.

“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

Sir Ken Robinson: The Learning Revolution continues …

“The reason I think we need a revolution [in education] is really captured in a phrase you hear politicians often misuse. They talk about the need to ‘get back to basics’ in education; and, I think, we should. The problem, I think, is that many politicians, when they say “get back to basics”, seem to believe the basics are a group of subjects that they did when they were at school; and in particular, they tend to emphasise literacy and numeracy and science. Well, of course, they are fantastically important; but the basics of education are not a group of subjects. The basics in education are fundamental purposes …”

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Welcome to the iGeneration: Make Learning Real

The current generation of learners is often classified as the “Millennial Generation”, or the “Net Generation” on account of their co-existence with the web and their indispensable online presence. As the current demographic group encompasses so much more than mere www-residency, I prefer the descriptor “iGeneration1..  Apart from describing these compeers’ need for personalisation

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A better way of learning …

Research clearly indicates that students learn best when the interaction in the classroom setting shifts, purposefully, from ‘teacher-the-sage lectures’ to one of ‘collaboration and independent practice’.  This is not surprising, as anyone who has ever sat through a boring lecture will tell you!

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