A more flexible curriculum that prescribes less and enables more, for both teachers and students and a system focused on the core competencies, skills and knowledge that students need to succeed in the 21st century.
A year of consultation over, the BC Ministry of Education has released the ‘follow up’ to support their Education Plan. What they have put forward is a way of doing – one that recognizes that educators need to have more freedom to design, improve on and share learning experiences that will stretch their students’ thinking skills. It calls for the extension of standard-based instruction to emphasize the following: communication, critical thinking, creative thinking and innovation, personal responsibility / well-being and social responsibility.
In Transforming BC’s Curriculum, the premise behind the plan is succinctly stated: “the greater value of education for every student is not in learning the information but in learning the skills they need to successfully find, consume, think about and apply in their lives.” (This statement alone is worthy of front-page news!) The benefits to students will be profound:
With the improved curriculum, students will have increased opportunities to gain the essential learning and life skills necessary to live and work successfully in a complex, interconnected, and rapidly changing world. [They] will focus on acquiring skills to help them use knowledge critically and creatively, to solve problems ethically and collaboratively, and to make the decisions necessary to succeed in our increasingly globalized world.
Ultimately, teachers will be “placed in the position of thinking about what they can add to curriculum to personalize it and make it more relevant to learners, not questioning how they can possibly cover it all.” It is an approach that will “minimize the prescribed learning to maximize the possibilities for innovation, personalization, creative thinking, and collaboration based on the needs of diverse learners in diverse contexts.”
Now, hopefully, we no longer have to view a provincial exam as an albatross around our necks (“I have to teach to the exam even if it’s only worth 20% of the final mark”). No longer will students need to fill in the blanks with the names and dates of long forgotten battles. Now, perhaps, we can replace scantron with a different two-syllable word: goodbye.
What we are focusing upon is a type of learning that:
- Asks us to blend content acquisition (which is a static pursuit) with skill development (on-going and evolving in nature);
- Recognizes the fact that students are becoming not only better thinkers, but also makers, doers and problem solvers;
- Creates innovative learning experiences that are built on educational strategies emphasizing inquiry, collaboration and active engagement;
- Teaches students how to frame problems, generate ideas, refine solutions, collaborate with experts (locally and globally), and share results;
- Facilitates a problem-solving process that, as a learning process, is content neutral and so lends itself to cross-curricular partnerships and exploration.
I reflect on this new type of learning, this transformation, and can’t help but see the connection to and the flourishing of project-based learning:
- Start with a compelling, open-ended question
- Learn through research
- Brainstorm solutions (moving from obvious to creative)
- Develop a final product
- Present scale models to an authentic audience
Project-based learning does not mean mayhem or classroom chaos or personalized education run amok. To borrow from Suzie Boss, project based learning and the concomitant process is not random:
PBL is not random projects. They start deliberately, with a considered approach to providing more relevant learning opportunities. They give students the chance to learn and apply core academic concepts, providing real-world contexts for standards based content. They incorporate authentic assessment, challenging students to demonstrate what they know or can do as a result of their learning experience . . . and consciously link innovations to learning outcomes.
Over the next few weeks, I will share with you stories from across Vancouver where the
transformation has begun and other stories of how we are co-creating a new normal: an approach to learning that affords educators opportunities to be innovators while also empowering our students to thrive in their changing world.