In one of the biggest education shake ups in B.C. in years, a new curriculum is being rolled out to help students sift through and make sense of the massive amounts of information that they have to process every day.
“They have so much access to information right now. So really, if they have the tools and the skills, they could go out and learn whatever they want to,” said Catherine Eagles, a new Grade 5/6 teacher at Suwilaawks Community School.
The new curriculum has “less textbook-worksheet type of work and more project-based learning,” she said, adding that it engages students and helps them learn more deeply and retain what they learn.
Eagles and Heidi Siebring, a Grade 5/6 teacher at Uplands Elementary, as well as Janet Meyer, director of instruction at the Coast Mountains School District, met with The Terrace Standard to explain the curriculum redesign and how it will affect students.
“Critical thinking is a big deal [in the redesign], and discernment,” Siebring said. “If I can have my students go away discerning at least some internet sites, and recognizing ‘oh yeah, that’s not that great,’ or ‘this is a good one to find information,’ then that is key.”
Critical thinking is one of the six skills, or “core competencies,” at the heart of the new curriculum. Everything is built around the goal of developing those abilities.
They are as follows: (1) critical thinking, (2) creative thinking, (3) personal and cultural identity, (4) personal awareness and responsibility, (5) social awareness and responsibility, and (6) communication.
The emphasis on developing those abilities is part of the reason that the new curriculum has fewer specific learning outcomes.
An education ministry website states that fewer required learning outcomes allows teachers to innovate and personalize learning for students, so students have more choice about what they study.
It is less about students learning and remembering details, more about the process, explained Meyer.
“So instead of knowing all the facts around the War of 1812, they will know how to get it if they need it, they will know the social implications of the war, and they will know what lessons were learned for society…
“Those are competencies that we are looking to further develop by going deeper instead of broader,” Meyer said.
SKILLS MORE THAN DATA
In a society of constant change, the new school curriculum focuses on teaching skills and thought processes, more than facts and details.
“We are preparing kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” said Janet Meyer from the school district.
“Take robotics or digital coding… we have no concept of what might exist [when some of these students graduate]… To prepare them from a content point of view, we can’t do that, but we can teach them the skills that they need to attack that problem or that situation when the time comes.”
Meyer said the new curriculum also incorporates trades opportunities starting in elementary.
Teacher Catherine Eagles said that is part of why there is less text book work and more project-based learning.
The idea is to teach students how to learn and the process that they go through to find answers to their questions. It’s called the process of inquiry, and Eagles says she plans to make that a foundation in her classroom.
Projects also provide different ways of learning for students who do not excel with reading and writing.
Teacher Heidi Siebring said she had her class do a project in science last year showing the parts of a neuron transmitter. They built models from what ever material they chose: some used welded metal, others macaroni or cardboard. Then they presented them to the class, and one student who struggles with written tests really excelled.
“He couldn’t wait to bring his project in, because it was something he could do and he understood it… When he presented it, he knew exactly where the parts were,” Siebring said. “That’s the beautiful thing: The kids who have various learning issues, it gives them an opportunity to say ‘hey, I can learn this,’ and ‘I can actually explore how I can show this in the classroom.’”
THREE KEY COMPONENTS:
1) KNOW – Each grade will have essential topics and information to cover.
2) DO – Students will do more projects so they develop skills (aka core competencies).
3) UNDERSTAND – Students will be taught why what they learn is important.
With our modern conveniences and entertainment-driven culture, teachers face a major challenge to engage students in their learning.
One way the new curriculum seeks to address this is by giving teachers flexibility to allow students options so that they can dig deeper into what interests them.
“Right now, the curriculum is so broad, and teachers feel so pressured to accomplish so many learning outcomes, that they never get to go deep with the learning,” says Janet Meyer from the school district.
In the new curriculum, “the number of learning outcomes will be narrowed, thereby allowing flexibility for educators to go deeper with student learning.”
Teacher Heidi Siebring said she has already appreciated that freedom.
“When I did the nervous system this year, the new curriculum allowed me to take off on that and go where the kids were interested, which was really cool,” she said.
“I went into emotional health, because there were some kids dealing with that. We did a little bit of the brain science of what depression looks like and what that has to do with the nervous system… how do you pull yourself out of sadness, what is the nerve science behind that?”
Siebring said it allows her to follow student interests more.
It also encourages teachers to allow students more options in that students have some choice to customize their learning with a concept or topic.
With young people facing constant over-stimulation and many who are dealing with social and emotional issues, the new curriculum incorporates a new focus on emotional education.
“Social emotional learning is a really important part of the new curriculum,” said teacher Heidi Siebring.
“These kids need to learn how to handle their emotions.”
One of the core competencies in the new curriculum is personal awareness and responsibility, which is about teaching students to recognize where they are at physically and emotionally and how they should respond appropriately.
School District 82 Director of Instruction Janet Meyer says stress is a good example: “You know what it feels like to get stressed, right? Do you recognize it in your body? Do you have healthy strategies that you use to deal with it?”
Meyer said self-regulation is about equipping students to recognize their emotions and how their emotions affect them, and then to learn strategies to deal with them.
Teacher Catherine Eagles added that not only does it equip students with ways of handling emotions, but it also makes for more a more productive classroom.
It makes students “better able to learn, because if they are blocked in the brain [by an emotion], then nothing much is really going to happen throughout the day,” she said.
She uses a mind app in her classroom to teach social-emotional learning and its benefits.
“It’s about what is actually going on in your brain when you get upset… and it provides tools like deep breathing to be able to calm your brain down, otherwise you can’t learn,” Eagles said.