Locals had a chance to get a better understanding of the plans Rossland Secondary School is moving towards in 21st Century Learning Sunday.
The message was if any school is the perfect trial for the concept, it’s RSS.
Visions for Small Schools Society and the Neighbourhood of Learning Committee had an info session at the Alpine Grind to get a bit more information circulating in the community.
Jennifer Ellis, president of both committees, said Visions for Small Schools is interested in 21st Century Learning for a number of reasons, which she called push-pull factors.
“Some of the push factors are globally, current education models aren’t working as well as they once did. They were created in a different time, for a different population of people, and so they’re good in many ways but foster more rote learning, learning that stifles creativity and learning that’s also been described as dangerously irrelevant.”
Locally some of the push factors are the declining enrolment in RSS, which makes the current eight-block timetable much more difficult to deliver.
Ellis said the pull factors are the opportunity to prepare our children better for the 21st century and the opportunity to teach them to learn in new ways.
There’s also a global movement toward this type of learning, highlighted by the B.C. Ministry of Education’s move towards this with their new education plan and a greater focus on personalized learning.
“If it is going to be successful at RSS and within the school district, it has to be based on community acceptance and community support on new educational models,” she said. “Because part of the new model for 21st Century Learning is more community engagement, more social responsibility and students engaging the community as part of their learning.”
RSS vice-principal Mike Vanness talked about where the school currently is at.
Vanness said they started by taking input from students and teachers, as well as looking at the facilities RSS already has. They also met with parents.
“By the end of June, we had a fairly solid document. It was a combination of all those things,” Vanness said. “When we had a staff meeting in August we put this out to all the teachers and said this is where we are.”
They then made the document a public Google Doc that can be edited by anyone without the address.
Vanness said they have been challenging their teachers to connect with other faculties in the school and professionals outside the school.
“What we’ve noticed since then, two months in, is the teachers seem fired up, they’re doing things they haven’t done before,” he said. “A lot of them are genuinely excited about what we’re doing.”
Vanness said, for instance, the foods teacher and science teacher are collaborating on different aspects of one project.
Nicola Kuhn, RSS’s teacher librarian, gave an example of a project that Grade 7s did on child poverty.
Kuhn said the teacher did a lot of background work before allowing the students to delve into an inquiry.
“She didn’t just say, ‘go do a project on child poverty,’” Kuhn explained. “They read a novel, made videos, looked at poetry, looked at the cost of their T-shirts.”
Kuhn said the new program doesn’t leave curriculum behind and is still connected.
“When we say personalized learning, it doesn’t mean studying whatever you want,” she said.
With personalized learning, she said students, even at the lower grades, were having very intelligent conversations and really immersing themselves in the work.
“Go into a biology classroom, you’ll see them with a laptop, beakers and they’re talking about school, about what they’re learning and what they’re teaching each other — really high level conversations,” she said. “I think that’s where the teacher buy-in comes from, because they see kids talking to each other about what they’re learning and it’s a deeper learning.”
Some of the inquiries students have come up with are: Why is money more important than children? Are genetically modified foods harming the human race? Are sports schools helping families educate their children?
“You cannot look these up online and just get an answer, and that’s what we want,” she said. “Developing a central question is the most difficult thing for a students to do.”
Then the student goes on to research the question. Kuhn said this is where she comes in and works with teachers to give the students information literacy skills, like how to use databases and web searches effectively.
Another aspect is using experts in the community to give students more hands on learning. Kuhn said a misconception is that the school will be having teachers sit back and relax while experts from the field teach the class.
“That’s not what we’re looking at,” she said, explaining it will be more like a recent field trip to study water.
RSS’s Grade 8s began the trip at Topping Creek to test the water purity, then went to the water treatment plant. There they met Darrell who Kuhn said is one of the city’s resources because of his vast knowledge of water.
“This is what we mean when we talk about community resources,” she added.