Teachers target new learning models

NANAIMO – Staff at Dover Bay Secondary School hope to take a different approach to learning at the school.

Staff at Dover Bay Secondary School hope to take a different approach to learning at the school.

In September, a new administrative team – Robyn Gray as principal and Bob Brooks and Margaret Olsen as vice-principals – took over the ropes at the school and started a conversation about contemporary educational research and innovative learning models.

“The three of us very much think alike in terms of what we think needs to happen in schools,” said Brooks. “At the beginning of the year, with the new team coming in, our focus has been on personalized learning and looking to develop a bit of a 21st century learning approach.”

Brooks describes personalized learning as tailoring education programs to each individual’s unique needs, requiring students to take more ownership of their learning, and 21st century learning as preparing students for future jobs.

Students have information readily available at their fingertips through their cellphones and laptops, he explained, and what the education system needs to do is focus less on memorizing facts and statistics and more on learning skills such as how to use technology, communicate effectively and collaborate with others.

Some of the teaching staff visited schools that employ different personalized/21st century learning techniques, such as a school in San Diego that uses the project-based learning model.

Project-based learning focuses on big picture ideas and connects what students learn in class with hands-on work.

Brooks said the model gets students collaborating to answer questions and problem solve – at the San Diego school, students worked with university-level researchers on a marine biodiversity survey that became of real value and significance to the community.

After seeing project-based learning in action, a group of about a dozen teachers at Dover formed a committee to look into incorporating this model at their own school.

Brooks said this change calls for a shift in the way people think about education and the idea is to raise awareness and try to build a community approach.

Educators presented the learning model to the school’s parent group and the discussion morphed into a series of talks to students, parents and interested community members this spring.

“It really has been about the partnership between our PAC and our district,” said Brooks, adding attendance has averaged around 30 people at the meetings. The goal is to set up a project-based learning at Dover by September 2014, he said.

“We’re going to take our time and come up with a model,” he said. “We don’t have it fleshed out. It might look a little bit like a whole grade. It’s like going to the moon – we’ve decided it would be a good idea to go and we’ve decided who wants to go. It’s a huge endeavour because a lot of people don’t know what it looks like.”