It is always interesting to visit schools and pick up on the trends. One can often see ideas that are spreading from one class or one school and quickly to all schools. One of the challenges in a district position is trying to capture the growing areas, and help support them to grow even further – looking at questions around how do we expand these great opportunities to not just some students in some schools but more students in more schools.
Much of the discussion in British Columbia is currently dominated by the refreshed curriculum. While there are conversations that start about the content – what is the stuff being covered in each subject and each grade, these conversations are often moving to the pedagogy and assessment needed as part of this process. And when we look deeper at the differences, I see the greatest shift over the last two years is likely in the work around Aboriginal education. As I have written here different times in different ways, we see Aboriginal understandings across grades and subjects.
I am always curious to see the words and ideas that are growing. It was from individual classrooms and schools that ideas around self-regulation, inquiry and digital access have exploded. I have also written before about the growth of outdoor learning among other trends that are taking hold. It is sometimes hard to track their growth – it comes from students, teachers, parents and the community and when they stick – they become the new normal.
The two ideas this fall that I would add to the list and I think are just beginning to blossom are coding and robotics. When I look at the growth plans of staff, or the inquiry questions of our Innovation teams, or listen to the interests of parents, these ideas are coming up more and more.
Coding is not new, and it is part of the ICT 9-12 curriculum. In part driven by the global Hour of Code initiative, there are efforts to expose all students to the possibilities around coding not just those who select it as a secondary school elective. More and more we are hearing from students, teachers and parents that we want to engage younger learners with these skills. Cari Wilson has done a wonderful job leading the Hour of Code initiative in our district – getting into elementary and secondary classrooms. Given the Star Wars theme this year I am sure students in classrooms and at kitchen tables across our community will be engaging with coding.
It was interesting to read recently that there may be a “significant decline” in IT literacy in our tablet / smartphone era. Given the seemingly continued importance of these skills, projects like Hour of Code may be even more important. And we are trying to figure out how to move beyond this initial exposure and build in regular opportunities for young people with a passion for this type of learning in their elementary years to engage with activities as part of their school program.
Robotics has a somewhat similar story.
I had the chance to visit several schools in Delhi, India two years ago. And in one particular school, in a community of immense poverty, where the power went out three times while we visited, and nobody reacted as that was typical, where there were sparse resources, there were students building robots. It was stunning what I saw . . . .
Students were working together building robots. As the Principal reported, this is the future.
Fast forward ahead to this fall, and I am seeing the same curiosity and excitement around robotics in our schools. We have had a number of staff working with robotics over the last several years. It really has been a natural progression from makerspaces, digital access and trying to connect students in relevant ways to our world. This fall Todd Ablett, a past winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence joined our district and he has begun to infect (in a good way) our district with his passion for mechatronics and robotics. For now he is running a club at West Vancouver Secondary and doing guest lessons with every grade 6 and 7 classroom in the district. The plan is to continue to grow the program – hopefully into a secondary school Academy Program next fall, and also a grade 6/7 program. As I watched student-built robots shoot balls across the Board Room at last week’s Board Meeting as everyone in the Gallery took out their phones to record the moment – one could feel the excitement.
The structures are a work in progress but we have an unwavering commitment to ensuring our schools are relevant and connected to the world our kids are participating in – the world that I heard Todd describe where self-driving cars are just the beginning of what the future may hold. I often wince when asked “what’s new” in our school district. The truth is most of what we are doing is about going deeper and getting better at what we already do. We are also trying to keep our eyes open and look around the corner at what is coming next. If you want to look for two things I think you will hear about and see far more in 2018 than you do in 2015 – I think coding and robotics are good bets.