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Reimagining the Future of Education in the 21st century

At the end of last school year, the Grade 8 Humanities team (Rachelle Savoie and David Scott) and their students embarked on a project examining the question:
If schools got it right for adolescent learners, what would they look like?
To prepare students to respond to this question, we looked at various resources that provided context around traditional approaches to education and the history of schools in North America.
This exploration included the following references:
Where do schools come from? (Dr. Sharon Friesen’s Perspective:)
Where schools have gone wrong: The Residential School Experience (Muffins for Granny: and Lorna Crowshoe as guest presenter)
Do schools kill creativity? (Ken Robinson Ted Talk:)
Once students gained a basic understanding of the history, evolution, and shortcomings of schools today, they were given the opportunity to choose one of five areas of interest including the following: 1) learning spaces; 2) relationships between members of a school community; 3) the relationship of the school to the greater community; 4) curriculum/school purpose; 5) ideal assessment practice, and finally 6) a section asking students to design their own inquiry unit. Based on their areas of interest, students were then divided into groups where they were paired with students from other grade 8 classes outside of their pods.
We then further supplemented their background knowledge as to the history of schools, with resources related to thinking about what schools need to look like in the future:
What should a 21st century learner look like (Dr. Garry McKinnon as guest presenter on 21st century skills)
Performance-Based Assessment (Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond)
Designing 21st Century Schools (Randall Fielding)
Once students had a broad understanding of some of the big ideas circulating as to how schools need to change, we provided them with a framework of questions specific to their topic area to help guide their research . For example, for the group exploring the purpose or curriculum of an ideal school, they were asked to specifically consider:
What is worth learning/knowing/doing in a 21st century school?
How should this be assessed/evaluated?
As a final part of the project, students were asked to, within their topic area, create a product or presentation to showcase what schools would look like if they got it right for 21st century learners. Using various mediums unique to each presentation, students were then linked with individuals and groups invested in education in our community today as authentic audiences to whom they would present their interpretations/findings. These presentations included the following:
  • A learning spaces group created a model of the ideal school and presented this to the school architect who has worked on a number of plans for schools in Calgary including the IAC extension at Calgary Science School.
  • A group looking at curriculum translated the current inquiry rubric at CSS into language accessible to kids and then documented what each criteria of the rubric looks like in an ideal classroom. The group presented their iMovie creation to the entire staff and administration of CSS.
  • One group looking at curriculum used Dan Meyer’s talk outlining the problem with textbooks to create a sample of the Grade 8 Social Studies textbook transformed into a digital textbook more in tune with 21st century learning. This group presented a PowerPoint outlining their work to a group of prominent educators visiting the school including Dr. Dennis Samara, Dean of Education at the University of Calgary and the head of The Galileo Institute, Dr. Sharon Friesen.

Overall Student Findings:

Emerging from this study were a wide range of findings that students translated into recommendations for Calgary School Science School. Some highlights of student recommendations are as follows:
  • More fitness resources and education on healthy lifestyles.
  • Every morning before starting core classes, students should undergo 30 minutes of rigorous exercise. Consequently DPA should be changed to the morning.
  • The incorporation of greater student voice into decisions that effect students at CSS. This would also include more voice in classroom decisions.
  • Greater clarity as to what inquiry learning means and greater coherency and collective action towards how we as a school understand, enact, and envision inquiry learning.
  • More hands-on experiential learning where students have the opportunity to do experiments and activities related to what they are studying.
  • The replacement of ultra-violet lights in classroom spaces with more efficient lighting systems that resemble natural lights. As well, classrooms colours should be changed from an institutional white to colours such as blues and greens that encourage creativity and calmness.
Implications to the Calgary Science School:
The staff, and particularly the administration at CSS have shown a great willingness to listen to and respond to student recommendations that emerged from this study. As a result of this project, there were a number of concrete initiatives that the school has adopted. These include:
  • A healthy school initiative spearheaded by Dean Schmeichel that is encouraging students and staff to incorporate fitness training and nutritious meals into their everyday lives.
  • Time allotted to service learning where, in collaboration with their homeroom teachers, students have the opportunity to choose an initiative that would enhance the quality of life in the community.
  • A proposal for greater mentorship opportunities among and between grades. For example, the Humanities department is working on a common writing rubric that would allow older students to peer edit and provide feedback on younger students’ writing.
  • A number of teachers have posted the student friendly inquiry rubric in their classrooms and are using it to explain the nature of inquiry at CSS.
  • Led by Principal Lonsberry, a conversation has begun around updating the classroom lighting system at CSS and examining how much it would cost to repaint classrooms with more vivifying colours.
These initiatives attest to the openness and willingness of staff and the administration at CSS to incorporate student voice into decisions that affect the school community. Ideally, we would continue this conversation with students, staff, and administration at CSS.
Examples of Student Work:
One of the groups conducted a series of interviews and survey about inquiry-based learning at the Calgary Science School. This group summarized their findings into a presentation to CSS administration and teachers. One of the interesting key findings of their work was there isn't a consistent understanding of inquiry-based learning amongst the staff. They created this video on Inquiry-Based Learning and this poster to help inquiry-based teaching and learning be more consistent among CSS classrooms.

As with all our projects - we welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions in the comment box below.

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