The junior high school, which had its new location unveiled at SQJHS on Nov. 24, will support what people are calling an innovative teaching and learning style. That is, project-based learning.
The school will be the first in Nova Scotia aimed to support this style of learning.
“This school will be designed with more open-concept teaching spaces where students can work collaboratively on projects with close access to resources,” said Vicki Conrad, when she announced the new school is going to be where the old building is.
“Students will be able to move easily between resource areas, such as family studies, technology innovation, visual arts, a multi-purpose science lab and library, as they complete a broad range of project work.”
Conrad said the new school plans to provide for the needs of students in the 21st century.
She thanked the South Shore Regional School Board, Region of Queens, Department of Education, Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, and their design consultants for moving the project forward.
Conrad also thanked the Student Advisory Council and the new School Steering Team, which includes student representatives.
“I certainly look forward to being here in 2013 when this new, exciting school opens,” she said.
Jeff DeWolfe, the coordinator of student services for the South Shore Regional School Board, says the idea of project-based or inquiry-based learning is to engage students with a well-planned teaching method.
“It culminates in a project (or) presentation, something that is meaningful to the students,” he says.
This way, says DeWolfe, students are doing more than passing their work to the teachers for grades.
DeWolfe says this style of teaching and learning has been promoted for about the last 40 years.
“The whole thought is that you get a lot more investment from the student,” he says.
There are now some skills students need to acquire that they may not have needed some years ago. Inquiry-based learning helps students gain these proficiencies.
Some of these skills include working in teams, communicating verbally and in writing, gathering and applying information, thinking critically, and being creative.
“There’s a whole lot of research out there on the importance of creativity and creative thinking,” says DeWolfe.
DeWolfe emphasizes the fact project-based learning does not simply involve doing activities.
He says it’s also deep learning, meaning students are building skills to solve problems, understand information and communicate it to others, and apply information to new situations.
Every classroom has aspects of inquiry-based learning, says DeWolfe.
“What we’re saying is it should really be the primary pedagogy that we’re using,” he says.
DeWolfe says the idea of project-based learning is becoming more popular because of how technology is changing the world.
Project-based learning in practice
On Nov. 18, parents and friends of students at SQJHS went to see what students did in their modules.
As part of project-based learning, Grade 9 students at the junior high school were offered a choice of 27 modules in September.
Terry Metcalfe, the school’s vice principal, ran a module called pole to pole, in which students chose a country and then researched that country.
“During our module presentations, the kids would talk about Germany, for example,” says Leo Campbell, principal of SQJHS.
Students talked about the country and how it related to them compared to what’s in Canada.
Another module, taught by Warren Dobson, was songwriting 101. Students not only composed and wrote songs but also performed the music.
“That was fantastic,” says Campbell.
Teacher Sonya Cook led a module in which students built and designed a skate park. They presented the skate park to the municipal council.
“They talked to the municipal councillors about the importance of having a skate park, where it should be located, all that kind of stuff,” says the principal.
New this term is an architectural module, in which students will help with the design of the new school.
Campbell says the majority of feedback concerning project-based learning has been positive.
He says he and the vice principal have collected data showing that afternoon attendance has gone up
“Our Grade 9 referrals to the office have declined sharply,” adds Campbell.
Since it’s a pilot project, people are learning as they go, so the feedback isn’t 100 per cent positive. But Campbell emphasized students are still taking an hour of math and an hour of English each day. Science and social studies are every second day. French immersion students are continuing to get their 70 per cent French instruction to meet certificate requirements.
He says one of the concerns from parents who aren’t on board is: are students being prepared for high school?
Campbell says he told a parent that when he taught at the high school there was a term reserved for students to do projects.
Project-based learning is not challenge free, says Campbell.
Students are “used to being taught a certain way since forever, and it’s hard for them now to take ownership of their learning,” he says.
He says some students are having no problems with the concept.
“Some of them are still having struggles with, ‘I have a task that I have to complete, and it’s important that there’s a deadline to be met, and my part is a part of a whole,’” says Campbell. “That’s something we’re going to keep working on.”
Campbell taught a module and says one of the challenges he encountered was seeing some students not making adequate effort.
Education hasn’t changed a lot in 150 years, but the world has, says Campbell. He says if education does not keep up, it’s going to be left behind.
“We still believe in the importance of the basics,” says Campbell. “You still need numeracy. You still need literacy. You still have to operate as part of a school culture down here. We’re just trying to educate them in a different way.”