Saturday, February 13, 2016

Teaching in Beta at SAIL

This year I am teaching at a new district program with Surrey Schools called SAIL - Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning.  This is the "beta" year for the program so there is a lot more unknown than known as we create this unique learning opportunity for our students.  The students who are in my class are there because of a personal decision by their parents to find a program that hopefully better meets their child's needs at this time.  For some it's to get their child excited about coming to school again and for others it's to support their passion for science, technology, engineering, math and art. There are many other reasons why parents have chosen to take a chance and learn with us at SAIL. I feel honoured to be given such a responsibility.

SAIL is a home/school blended program and falls under the distributed learning mandate.  My students are in the building with me four days a week with some flexibility around start and end times.  In some cases the children are the building less than four days a week.  But because school is not just being done in a "brick and mortar" school I am also responsible for ensuring my students have "school work" to do with their families in their homes. It allows for the parents of my students to have a much more active role in their child's learning since they are uncovering 20% (or more) of the curriculum with them directly.  There is an important, on-going relationship between  myself, my students, and their families.

SAIL is also  multi-aged classes.   I am the official K-3 classroom teacher.  For the first few months of  school  I had quite a unique multi-aged class with students in grade one and students in grade three. Yes, you read that correct, I had a one/three without the grade twos.  Because I was missing the 'bridge" between the grades there were times that things were a bit more challenging to best meet every ones needs.  But the beauty of missing the bridge is that it really made me focus on what my students need in spite of what grade they  are officially in.  I think that's one of the beauties of teaching a multi-aged class. As much as government issued curriculum is always something I need to keep in mind, I worry far less about what "grade" each child is in and  I focus more on who they are as learners.

The slight glitch to all of this is that I do, as the teacher, have mandated curriculum that needs to be covered and so I need to find ways to uncover this curriculum in ways that work for my students.  This isn't always an easy task, particularly when uncovering content for three grade levels at once, but with the new BC curriculum, and the curricular competencies which can apply to most of my students passions, it provides me with the opportunity to uncover the curricular content in new and hopefully exciting ways.

One of the struggles I have with this home/blended learning piece is that each week I need to design home learning plans for my students that will be engaging for them, and that their families can help with  as necessary.  I also need to be mindful of the required curriculum because the reality is 20% of my students' learning is done in their own environment. (Okay that line makes me laugh because I know my students do a lot  more than 20% of their learning at home, but in terms of the BC Curriculum and what needs to be uncovered I am leading 80% in the building, and planning for the other 20% to be done in the student's home).  Each week it takes me a while to come up with ideas that are meaningful to my students and tie back to my students' learning.  I will admit some weeks I do a better job at that than others.

A couple of the more recent successful home learning plans that stick out are when we were learning about sound, and when we were learning about trout.  During out sound inquiry  one of the activities for the home learning plan involved them creating an instrument from items they found in their home, and then being able to share their instrument, and where/how the sound was made with their classmates on Monday.  It tied in with both the hands on nature of our class, the science content (for my grade one students), and the science curricular competencies for all of my students.  Click the image below to hear them play their instruments. (Or here if the image link doesn't work)

We were then able to extend the use of these instruments through classroom discussions, in music class, and with reflection.  It was an activity that went beyond the home.

A second home learning activity that made me smile was when we were studying trout in preparation to a visit to a trout hatchery. For  home learning my students were encouraged to design a habitat for a trout to show me what they had learned through our inquiry on trout, and in preparation for our field trip to a local trout hatchery.  As usual the expectations were quite open ended and the children were able to create in ways that worked best for them.  I still smile when I think of the products my students created.  Some took the time to build a trout habitat in minecraft, and explain each of the areas they built.  Others used paper and coloured pencils to draw a trout habitat.  Another used modelling clay to design their habitat.  One even programmed Dash to travel up a river and back to the home where the trout would lay its eggs.  The acceptance of these different ways of showing learning is what I believe is one of the greatest strengths of our program.  As much as I cover mandated curriculum, my focus is on my students, and finding ways to help them learn in ways they are excited about.

The program is also built around a maker mindset where I believe my students have more hands on opportunities for their learning. My students make bread most weeks and have documented the process through images, blog posts, digital books, and coding adventures.  During Valentine's Day they were expected to create their own Valentine folder's. Those folders had to hold their valentines, have their name clearly written, and have a moving part.  I'm always inspired by the way their brains work and what they are able to create.

The SAIL  program  provides me with some innovative freedoms that aren't always available in other environments. The past few years I have been innovative with my teaching when  I felt it better met my students needs.  But my innovative ideas weren't always welcomed by parents who see school in the more traditional way.  So I'm extremely fortunate to be working with children and families who are excited about new ways of teaching and learning.

 While we are still in the BETA year and our numbers are low at the moment the registration forms keep coming in for the new school year. Who knows where we'll be a year from now! #excitingtimesarehere

Curious to learn more? Check out the SAIL website.