Neil Stephenson, district principal of inquiry and innovation for the Delta Manor Education Centre in Delta, B.C., talked to educators and parents about a concept SQJHS has recently begun to adopt.
Last September, Grade 9 students were offered a choice of 27 modules, and they took four each. Students began their second set of modules on Dec. 1.
The new junior high school, slated to open in September 2013, will be the first in Nova Scotia to support this style of learning.
One of the things Stephenson emphasized during his presentation was “it’s not an either or.”
“It often gets pitched as an either or,” he says. “Either students are going to learn facts or they’re going to do something engaging.”
He says he thinks the challenge is to bring the two together.
To demonstrate the inquiry-based model, Stephenson used examples from the Calgary Science School, a school for students from grades 4 to 9.
He says many of the inquiry projects done at the school were completed in pieces.
“It wasn’t, here’s the site. Come back in two weeks with your finished product,” says Stephenson.
Projects could include research, writing and video components, for example.
Jane Dunlop-Stevenson attended the meeting as a parent and asked whether, with project-based learning, students would be prepared for high school.
Stephenson says high schools and universities are slowly changing as well.
“We shouldn’t change what works just for high school,” he adds.
He says students who’ve gone from the Calgary Science School to high school have generally said high school has more work, easier work and work that is not as enjoyable.
“But they do quite well,” says Stephenson.
For others, he says the transition has been more difficult.
Another parent who went to the meeting addressed the question of how students are being evaluated. She says she’s hearing the same questions from other parents.
“If you don’t know how it’s being measured, than it doesn’t seem real for people,” she says.
Stephenson says teachers have to know what they want their students to understand.
He says the biggest problem, and one he relayed to SQJHS teachers during an in-service, is if the project is not thoughtfully designed.
“You need to really think through what you want students to learn, where you want to go with it and how you’re going to assess it,” he says.
If done properly, Stephenson emphasizes it’s not a “free-for-all.”
After Stephenson’s presentation, the parents and educators continued to discuss what had been addressed.
The educators who talked agreed their second modules have improved significantly. Terry Metcalfe, SQJHS’s vice principal, says attendance and classroom behaviour has been markedly better.