National Post (Latest Edition)
INSPIRED BY ELECTIVES
Creative outlets help motivate students.
Creative electives can inspire kids to reach beyond the norm to discover something new and exciting, whether they are in grade school or high school.
At Kingsway College School (KCS) in Etobicoke, Ont., electives are mandatory for students in grades six to eight. These classes are about learning for the love of it rather than for credit, says Andrea Fanjoy, assistant head of academics. For 10 consecutive weeks, students spend a double lesson participating in subjects that range from cooking, invention and the battlefields of Europe to entrepreneurship, wearable technology and even hip-hop dance.
KCS sees many benefits in offering these types of broader learning opportunities to students. “It’s about developing life-long learners who are intrinsically motivated and fuelled by passion for a particular topic,” says Fanjoy. “Our electives program gives students the chance to choose what they want to learn and enjoy freedom from the external assessment typically found at school.”
The creative electives approach does not only benefit students. Teachers at KCS are invited to introduce, risk-free, a subject of their choice. That experimentation can often lead to an elective becoming a permanent part of the school’s curriculum. Cricket is one such example. “As part of the elective, participating students had to teach the sport to a younger grade, which resulted in an authentic learning experience for everyone. Now, cricket is a regular component of the physical education program,” explains Fanjoy.
Cooking for a Cause, one of the most popular electives at KCS, sees student go to a local cooking academy to prepare meals for a youth shelter in the area. “Anything foodrelated is always over-subscribed. The children just love to get their hands into it,” says Fanjoy. “It is also an activity that helps build community outside the school grounds.”
One of the more unusual electives at KCS is a recently introduced pilot project called Go Ahead: Lead Your Learning. Go Ahead is set up using a design-thinking model to which students bring their big ideas. Some of those ideas can be startling or extremely challenging, such as building a rocket launcher or motorized go-kart. Nonetheless, the school works with each student to help them try to ‘figure it out’ and brings in outside expertise as needed.
“The Go Ahead pilot has been a very positive and rewarding experience for all involved,” says Fanjoy. “We have created an environment where we are teaching our students the 21st century skills they will need throughout life such as creativity, responsible risk-taking and dealing with pressure.”
Pressure of another kind is one of the factors grade 12 students at the all-girls Trafalgar Castle School (TCS) in Whitby, Ont. are contending with in the school’s unique university-level project management elective. Introduced in the 2017/18 school year, the course incorporates Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) that helps students consolidate the skills needed to problem-solve, design, specify and build underwater robots for ocean application. It is also helping to break down barriers for girls in STEM-related subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
The six-month build period for the program allows for ongoing prototyping, testing and learning as students work toward developing such skills as computer programming and engineering, says Chris Huxter, a mathematics and physics teacher at TCS. That said, it is no easy task. “It would not be an exaggeration to say there have been a thousand lessons learned about the complexities of building an underwater vehicle,” says Huxter. “The students have learned to be highly adaptable and flexible in order to navigate the challenges. Separate groups work on the frame, chassis, coding and electronics. There is a lot of interdependency, which is what you see in the workplace.”
At an end-of-year competition with other students from around the globe, the 10-member TCS team engineer their aquatic robot and morph into a company to manufacture, market and ‘sell’ their product.
The project management elective is not the only avenue through which TCS girls are learning the intricacies of robots, however. “We run robotics programs from grades five to 12,” notes Huxter. “In grades five and six it is taught in the classroom; grades seven and eight through extracurricular activities; and grades nine to 12 through extracurricular activities, robotics programming, and as an embedded part of other courses at the school.”
OUR ELECTIVES PROGRAM GIVES STUDENTS THE CHANCE TO CHOOSE WHAT THEY WANT TO LEARN AND ENJOY FREEDOM FROM THE EXTERNAL ASSESSMENT TYPICALLY FOUND AT SCHOOL. — ANDREA FANJOY, KINGSWAY COLLEGE SCHOOL
WE ARE TEACHING THE 21ST-CENTURY SKILLS