On his personal blog, Greg Miyanaga wrote this on a post about innovation:
For the last eighteen months, I have been investigating innovation in my school district. I interview teachers who are trying interesting things in their classrooms.
Greg is losing this part-time position due to some budget cuts that, in my opinion, have completely devastated Coquitlam’s Staff Development department. I hope that the Coquitlam School District ‘Bright Ideas Gallery’ will continue next year in some capacity.
The following was written by Greg Miyanaga on April 7, 2013:
Imagine a school built around inquiry-based learning. Imagine a school where students take control and drive learning. Imagine iHub.
Stephen Whiffin (then Principal of the Inquiry Hub, now District Manager of Information Systems for SD43) took me through a day at the Inquiry Hub (or iHub). There are 3 distinct parts of the day at the iHub:
- Teacher-Directed Classroom time
- Learning Commons time
- Dedicated Inquiry time
1. Teacher-Directed Classroom time
The first part of the morning is dedicated to teacher-directed classroom time. This is the time when students get teacher-directed seminars in Science, Math, Social Studies, and Language Arts. At the iHub, language happens everywhere, and reading and writing are embedded in everything. They try to make learning about topics, not discrete subject areas, and try to connect learning all together.
Al Soiseth, a teacher at the iHub, described one of the assignments students did. Students blogged using wiki spaces about a road trip across Canada. This combined creative writing with Social Studies by mixing the processes of first-person narrative writing and blogging with the context of Canadian geography.
2. Learning Commons time
In the second part of the morning, the iHub becomes a giant learning centre. Students work on their online course material. Each student has a laptop and there are desktop computers available. Students break out to different areas to fit the context of their learning. There are two teachers available for support.
The benefits of online course work is that it has flexibility to meet the needs of students who are in grades 9 to 11, but the courses are structured enough to meet the learning outcomes for each grade. That way, students’ work can be self-paced. The iHub uses already-existing COL (Coquitlam Online Learning) courses which save teachers from having to develop several courses for three grades.
I talked to Kim Cuellar (Academic Advisor and Spanish Instructor for Coquitlam Open Learning and iHub) about the online component. She believes that community is a part of learning, so for her online courses, she creates an online community using Blackboard Collaborate. In the internet class, students can connect with each other. There is a shared whiteboard on which the teacher can demonstrate concepts, and the teacher can also create separate rooms and video conference with students. In this environment, students learn to balance inquiry with online courses, and the teachers provide layers of support by, for instance, helping students with their weekly plans.
3. Dedicated Inquiry time
The afternoons are used for self-directed, inquiry-based learning. This is the time when students develop their own inquiry projects based on their own interests. The projects generally run for about a month at a time and as time goes on, the projects change in scope.
In one project, a student wrote a proposal for investigating sustainable gardens and received a $5000 grant. In the year-long project, students will experiment with soil conditions and fertilizers, and then measure germination. They will build outdoor planters, and measure light, orientation, and soil conditions. The learning is authentic because it uses real-life applications based on the passions and interests of the students. Not only will they learn about the science of horticulture and sustainable gardens, but they learned the life skills of writing a (successful) proposal.
Another example of an inquiry project is some students are investigating robotics systems. They are learning about digital and analog input and output, and are building and programming computers from the ground up.
In the “layers of support” that Kim described earlier, teachers negotiate with students to see how their inquiry fits in with the curriculum. This way, students can eliminate parts of on-line courses by fulfilling the learning outcomes through their inquiry. Al agrees. He gives kids control of their learning, and works on the bigger questions. Sometimes he will give a test for content knowledge, but the emphasis is on application.
In terms of assessment, Al goes over the students’ projects with them in an interview. Al tracks each student’s progress with learning outcomes, and together he and the students verify outcomes while going through the project or portfolio. (Al is experimenting with provincial assessment documents for use in the iHub context. He has re-tweaked the provincial documents to create Portfolio Audit Inventories and iHub Standards of Achievement for English and Social Studies 9 to 11. He shares these beta documents, seeking feedback and for others to edit, adapt, use, and improve. You can find the assessment documents here).
To prepare them for inquiry, students took two “mandatory electives”: Applications of Digital Media and Foundations of Inquiry. In Applications of Digital Media, students learned to gather digital information critically and to use digital media to present their understanding. The learning was embedded in inquiry projects, not stand alone. Foundations of Inquiry, developed with Staff Development coordinator Jill Reid, taught students the processes of inquiry. For example, students learned how to develop a question, use a planning template, etc.
What does the future hold for the iHub? Vice-Principal Dave Truss foresees building further relationships with the parents and the community, and providing mentorship opportunities. iHub looks to expand their learning horizons by connecting with more experts in the community, and globally through social networks and connections, providing even more real-world experiences. Or as Dave says, “to provide students with opportunities to do stuff that really matters.” The students have expansion goals of their own. Three students who are investigating urban gardening have been planning through to their grade 12 year. They are not sure when within the next four years, but they envision working with elementary school students, educating the public about urban gardening, and are even planning field trips to visit some world-class gardens in the US.
There is a real excitement of what is happening at iHub, and Stephen and Dave are proud of what the school has accomplished in a short time, especially building a community of learning. Stephen says, “Deep learning does not happen on our own.” The students at the iHub go deeper and make connections with people with common interests, but also find new interests by working with others. Students present learning that is important to themselves and to the world.
Thanks to Greg for his great work with the Bright Ideas Gallery, for his time spent learning about the Inquiry Hub, and for permitting me to share this article on my blog.