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New program breaks out of traditional learning mould

By Agnieszka Krawczynski
The B.C. Catholic

06/07/2017

MAPLE RIDGE (CCN) — The Grade 2 classroom is buzzing as students rummage through pipe cleaners and cardstock, pore over hand drawn maps, and capture the process of building tiny cities using iPads.

“We’re building houses for our city,” said Carisa at St. Patrick’s Elementary in Maple Ridge. “It’s fun and it’s a lot of work.”

This unique cross-curricular project is part of a new program at St. Patrick’s aimed at teaching children from K-7 about creativity, design, and the use of technology.

“It’s learning a process whereby they don’t give up. They persist. They try new things,” said teacher Erick Walters.

St. Patrick’s gave him the brand-new role of applied design skills and technology teacher last September, a job description that didn’t exist at the school. Walters, who also teaches French, said the new program brings with it a massive shift from traditional learning.

“School is so often broken into 45-minute chunks of a subject, then they have to move on to another subject. In (design class), teachers reschedule things so they have a whole morning. And students still aren’t finished . . . they are engaged fully for that whole period of time. It’s made a huge difference for the kids’ engagement and they love it.”

He said longer lessons, which might incorporate math, science, or social studies, as well as design and technology, teach in a way that shorter classroom periods can’t.

“If they just do a project that ends after an hour, they don’t really get that repetitive activity where they can fix it the second time around, and fix it some more the third time around, and learn from mistakes,” he said.

Activities fit the students’ age level. In kindergarten, children create clay creatures and shoebox habitats. Grade 1 students use simple Lego robotics machines, and those in Grade 2 do a bit of urban planning as they use foam board and paper to create small cities.

“It’s really fun,” said Hudson, a Grade 2 student drawing a map of his city. “You have to think about how much space you should have from the houses.”

In Grade 3, students build toothpick bridges design to withstand a heavy load. In higher grades, students move on to robotics, coding, and video editing.

The B.C. Ministry of Education suggested schools bring in such programs when it released its new curriculum in September 2015. The curriculum was made mandatory for all BC elementary schools this school year.

“I think the government was right on by adding this type of course,” Walters said.

Besides teaching students about creativity, technology, and perseverance, the program teaches government-mandated “core competencies” such as interpersonal and social skills.

Walters, who has taught for 20 years, has long felt the school learning process seriously lacked creativity. “There are a lot of students who would like to exercise that part of their brain more,” rather than having to “take information all the time. They want to make and create.”

As for Walters, “It’s been good. For me, the real joy comes when the kids realize they can do something that, an hour before, they didn’t realize they could do.”

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