On Monday, I read a great post by Ira Socol: Question Everything. I love the Boeing 787 story, and the Guardian newspaper video commercial is one of those self-explanatory examples that I just know I’ll use in the future.
Ira reminded me of my post: Question Everything that I wrote, while still in China, to start off 2011.
Little did I know that within a year of writing this I would be part of the design and development team for a new school, the Inquiry Hub opening in September of 2012. Reading my post again, I am just thrilled to see that we truly are questioning everything! Here are my questions from the post, and a look at what we are working on with the Inquiry Hub:
Why fill a new classroom with individual student desks?
Why have a unidirectional ‘front’ of the room? Why not have everything on wheels?
We will have two primary learning commons rooms, one being the previous school’s library and the other a double-classroom with the false wall between them open. We also have some smaller conference rooms, and a kitchen/lounge that students can use. The entry to this school is also a unique space and we’ll be using it as a learning hub as well. I’m currently reading The Third Teacher and we know that the use of our learning spaces will be far from traditional.
Why have the whole day set up with classes in blocks?
We aren’t going to have structured blocks or classes. We will have seminars, some of which will include all students, some of which will only be for students doing a specific course, or studying a specific area of focus. It would be unlikely for a student to do more than 2 seminars in a day, and if they do participate in 2 seminars, that would account for 1.5 to 2.5 hours of their day.
Why design a teacher’s schedule based on instructional time?
Our teachers will be spending a lot of time conferencing with students, rather than ‘in the front of the room’.
Why have the whole day divided by age-grouped classes?
Students will often work in groups around themes of interest and not their grade level. Also, some students will work through online/blended sections of different subjects faster than others and it is highly likely that even in the first year we will have students across grades working on the same subjects at the same levels.
Why a fixed curriculum in every subject? Why fixed subjects? Why textbooks?
We will be comprehensively examining the curriculum in the coming months. We will be figuring out what learning outcomes students can achieve through personal or team developed inquiries and what parts of the curriculum we should support through online/blended course instruction. Sometimes a course will occur over more than one school year, sometimes a course will be finished in less than a semester. Depending on the inquiry questions being asked, two students with the same course load could have a completely different curriculum, and yet meet most if not all of the same outcomes. We probably aren’t going to be textbook free, but textbooks will be digital, and hopefully less and less like a traditional textbook. I’m excited about the possibility that digital textbooks can be tailor made, interactive, and most importantly, responsive to learning needs… See #3 in my post: The future of education will be open and distributed.
Why grade all subjects? Why grade at all?
Why a focus on testing? How best do we ‘test’ a student’s understanding?
We are currently developing two ‘requisite’ courses that all students will take: Principles of Inquiry and Applications of Digital Learning. It is likely that these will be Pass/Fail courses and all feedback will be anecdotal. It is necessary to have final grades for most courses, since we do not want to put our students at a disadvantage when applying to universities. That said, assessment practices will not be primarily test-based and a lot of what we do will be portfolio driven.
How do we un-school schools?
How do we give students appropriate credit for things done outside of school and classes?
How do we shift to be focused primarily on learning?
I think the best way to un-school school is to: a) Have students develop their own questions around their own interests and passions; and, b) “Blur the lines between living and learning”, (a great quote from my Principal, Stephen Whiffin). We are going to be working with parents and community groups to see how we can make the work students do meaningful within the community. With no block schedules, there is a lot of potential for a student to be ‘out there’ in the community doing ‘stuff that matters’ and getting credit for it too. Also, the best way to keep a focus on learning is to have our staff focus on learning too. We are working with local universities to see what kind of research grants we can get. We aren’t pretending that we have all the answers, we are digging in and learning as we go too.
How do we integrate technology meaningfully? What’s coming up next? How do we prepare for this?
This is an excellent example of where we are continuing to explore and learn. What is the best learning platform for us? What will student portfolios and teacher dashboards that monitor student progress look like? We are still exploring possibilities and invite you to share your thoughts with us! One decision we have made is that students will bring laptops. They are invited to bring in other devices, but we think a laptop is still a necessary tool. (More on this in a future post.)
Where is school being done ‘right’? What models are working? Who should we be paying attention to?
We have been examining Neil Stephenson‘s research and work at the Calgary Science School; Reading about and watching interesting videos on models like SCIL in Australia; And, embracing the ideas in great resources out of High Tech High. We have been looking into Reggio and even have a Reggio school opening in our district. Also, I’ve been looking at innovative, blended learning models and curating links on my ‘Shifting Learning’ Scoop.It. There are many great programs to explore and learn from! So we aren’t starting from scratch, but rather we are looking to the future and adding our own flavour to existing models that we think exemplify 21st Century, student-inquiry centred learning.
What will you question about your practice or the practice of schools in 2011?
Not in a million years would I have guessed when I wrote “Question Everything” that within a year I would be doing so to such an extreme… not just on my blog, but in developing a new, innovative school. And we are also having discussions with teachers in our district who are excited about brining inquiry-based learning into their schools. We are just beginning to learn of where this is already happening in classrooms within our district, and our province.
The learning curve has been huge. I’ve had to question a lot of my own assumptions and have even found barriers in my own beliefs about what school ‘should’ or ‘needs to’ look like. It has been humbling, challenging, fascinating and engaging. The interesting thing is that much of what I’ve been learning can happen in most every school, and I find that very exciting.
PS. If you happen to have a course program with specific Learning Outcomes around Applications of Digital Learning or Digital Literacy, please share them with me… I too promise to share what we come up with!
Please share your thoughts on any of these questions and let us know what insights you have come up with. Thank you!