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We’re transforming education – starting with our mini-makers

Highlights of our Learning Journey 2017-2018

Mini-Makers: Design-thinking starts here…

Education is in the midst of a transformation in BC and New Westminster Schools is embracing the change.

When kindergarten kids across the district, for instance, take up hammers and drills to make boxes, benches, and birdhouses, they’re gaining not only practical skills, but problem-solving and design thinking skills too.

Gary Pattern is a Technical Education teacher; he has 30 mobile toolcarts that he’s been taking to elementary schools throughout the district this past year to introduce students to maker culture.

During his time with Lord Kelvin elementary school kids in November, he asked them to think about what it must be like for birds to go hungry in winter.

The children empathized with the challenge the birds faced, talked about the problem together, came up with some solutions, and drew up prototypes of what their ideas might look like.

In the process, they were shifting between abstract and concrete thinking, engaging in experimentation, and collaborating together  –  guided by what’s known as the “Stanford Design Thinking Process Model.”

The skills the students are learning in kindergarten will take them to Grade 12 and beyond.

Know, do, understand…

The hands-on approach to learning is key at the middle and high school levels too.

Technology in the form of robotics, 3D printers, green screens and digital media arts are just some of the tools giving students innovative and creative ways to demonstrate learning in any number of academic subjects.

Further, when middle or high school students are able to ask their own questions, engage in projects driven by their own ideas, learn through real-world experiences, and problem-solve using a growing array of technologies, they are in fact taking ownership of their own learning.

The “Know-Do-Understand” approach to learning is  part of  a larger shift from passive to active learning that takes students and teachers beyond a focus on facts,  information,  tests and learning by rote.

For students in all subjects, the focus is on developing three core competencies –  thinking critically to understand what they are learning; communicating to share information, experiences and ideas; and developing personal and social competency to understand themselves and others.

This transformation is guided by BC’s new redesigned curriculum – introduced in kindergarten to grade 9 in 2016/2017, ready for grade 10 in July 2018, and due to be fully implemented in grades 11 and 12 in the next school year.

Transformation in learning means a transformation in teaching too…

At New Westminster Schools, teachers are bringing innovation and creativity in the classroom to inspire learning that is relevant and engaging for all of our students.

Now in its third year, our “Innovation Grants” program allows teachers to ask key questions, conduct “action research” by introducing ideas into the classroom, and share their findings. Their teamwork as they explore new approaches – in technology, in social and emotional learning, in student empowerment and more – is truly inspiring.

And their work is having an impact as ideas that make a difference spread across the district – from the “Zones of Regulation” program helping children and adults to manage their emotions to better prepare for learning;  to Fresh Grade, a digital platform that is a dynamic way for students to share what they’re learning in school with parents.

For many teachers, it’s an exciting time of change can involve both reward and risk.

As New Westminster Secondary School social studies teacher Brenda Kwok observed: “You learn from failure; from what works and what doesn’t. And you have to believe in what you are doing.

“If you are excited and engaged, students will be too.”