Grade 2 Science teachers may be teaching their students about the life cycle of a snake or scorpion rather than the traditional lesson of the butterfly.
The province has given teachers the freedom to play around with new curriculum introduced this year in Kindergarten through Grade 9 with full implementation rolled out next year with grades 10-12 on board.
“Despite the fact that for some there will be angst, and there will be grieving because we’re letting go of the old system, I think in our district we’re well positioned to take this work on,” said Bill Ford, School District 20’s assistant superintendent.
School districts across the province started rolling out the Ministry of Education’s new education plan in September. The new curriculum is considered flexible, said Ford, because it prescribes less learning outcomes and rather focuses on core competencies, skills and knowledge students need to succeed in the 21st century.
“Employers have been telling the government for years that they’re looking for students that have the ability to be a creative thinker, to be able to collaborate, to be able to problem-solve, to communicate, to be able to take information and make sense of it and do something with it,” said Ford. “They’re not looking for the system to produce the kinds of kids that are like a factory model.”
Personalized learning plays into this concept, too. The life cycle is still an important teaching note, for instance, but now kids can choose a subject of their choice so long as there is the same learning outcome. The new expectation holds that the life cycle is a “big idea” but how the message is delivered is open ended. Teachers do, however, have to weave “core competencies” like communication and critical thinking into lessons.
“Now it’s a formal piece of the curriculum so as the teacher is thinking about the life cycle work that kids will engage in, they will now look at the competencies and say, ‘I’m going to put this as a group project’ – collaboration- ‘and the other competency I want to see is communication,’” explained Ford. “They’re going to communicate their learning in a variety of different ways; it could be a diorama, poster or a web page.”
So what does this change mean for School District 20?
Within the traditional class setting, parents can expect to hear more about collaboration that may even span between classrooms.
Nicola Kuhn is the teacher-librarian at Rossland Summit School, who also teaches Humanities 7/8/9. She said she’s been working with the new model since 2014 as it lends itself well to her teaching approach.
As teacher-librarian, Kuhn is collaborating with other teachers at her school and across the district, this work includes an immigration unit that focuses on the experience in Canada.
Students will be examining immigration through poetry, picture books, and non-fictions; they’ll also write poems, create a collaborative piece of art to raise money for the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees and an illustrated children’s books. The unit will also look at immigration through the lens of math and science and ultimately teach young learners about empathy, acceptance and tolerance of diversity.
“We’ve invited a community member to come and speak to the students about her work through the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and working with adolescent refugees,” she added. “It also brings in Rossland’s rich history, as students will be visiting the museum and learning more about immigration in the late 1800s in the Kootenays.”
Moving away from the old curriculum is exciting but also a little scary for some. The Board of Education has struck a community engagement committee to look at ways of informing the public about the switch over, and SD20 will schedule two additional professional development days this school year to support teachers with the change. The school district has also invited Dr. Leyton Schnellert, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, to work with local educators on approaching the new curriculum.
“This is a big shift for us, and this is going to drive change and it’s not going to happen overnight and teachers need to be supported through all of this,” said Ford.
But the timing is right, he said. The information age has changed the role of the teacher in the classroom. “Teachers are not the sage on the stage, they’re the guide on the side,” added Ford. Just as kids have adapted to the modern classroom so too should curriculum.
“I hope that a decade from now, a generation from now, that this is well enhanced and that we challenged the status quo,” said Ford. “That we’ve got kids who are really involved in what they’re learning and that we’ve got flexibility built into a school day to allow for that to happen.
“I hope that we haven’t lost sight of the core learning but because the core learning has shrunk and we’re attending to all of these competencies that we’ve got the flexibility to meet the kids’ needs and the teachers’ needs in a way that it keeps the system healthy and vibrant.”
Kuhn greets the change with open arms but still waits for assessment to follow suit. Moving away from textbook learning is beneficial to the students but new resources need to be developed to match the new curriculum, she adds.
The new curriculum for grades 10-12 is now in draft form at https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca, where this year’s roll out is also described in detail and broken down by grade and subject.