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FACE TO FACE: ‘Radical’ ideas to improve learning in SD37
What’s new in the Delta school district this year? The short answer is, quite a bit.
Pose the question to superintendent Dianne Turner, and you’ll hear all about integrating technology, an aboriginal curriculum, social-emotional learning, and more - the initiatives are as numerous as they are varied.
One possibly “radical” idea, says Turner, is eliminating letter grades, something that will be tried for the first time in some classrooms at Ladner’s Neilson Grove Elementary.
The idea came about through discussions on how to reduce student anxiety. Last year the district created “coordinators of inquiry” at each of its schools, teachers who devote some time to look at best teaching practices and how to better engage and prepare students for the future. The process culminated in an Inquiry Celebration at the end of the school year where teachers and students present their findings.
The same inquiry process produced the new Strive program at South Delta Secondary. Grade 10 students have the option of enrolling in the program which replaces four traditional blocks with a day-long “integrated curriculum approach” that combines English, social studies, science and phys ed.
“So what they have is a whole day out of the ‘day one, day two’ schedule to those students being involved in project learning and getting outside of the traditional timeline of block learning,” Turner explains, adding it also creates time for field trips and guest speakers.
The inquiry process has been “very exciting” and is quite unique to Delta, Turner says.
“Other districts are now starting to copy us. It’s very flattering. They think that our vision process and our inquiry process is definitely the right way to approach education.”
Integrating technology into the curriculum has also become “a very integral part of what we’re doing,” says Turner, which led to hiring a Principal of Inquiry and Innovation to help schools do just that.
“One thing that we’ve always thought about technology in the district is it shouldn’t be a standalone. So you don’t just teach about technology, you integrate the technology into the curriculum, therefore you’re teaching them about technology while their working on a project or whatever.”
Part of that is providing students in Kindergarten through Grade 3 with access to iPads, building on the Laptops for Learning project which provided shared laptops for Grades 4 through 7.
The district has also created two websites to encourage better communication between teachers, students and parents.
One is Deltalearns.ca, part of which is open to the public and part of which is privacy protected for teachers, students and parents who set up accounts; the other is a collaborative blog called “180 Days of Learning,” which featured submissions from teachers and sometimes students.
“It was very successful last year,’ says Turner. “It really highlighted the learning of the teachers, the things they were experiencing in their classrooms.”
This year, Turner says they hope to encourage more submissions from students.
Another district initiative involves building on the social-emotional learning that has been a focus at the elementary school level to Delta’s secondary schools, as part of the district’s mission to nurture caring relationships and a sense of belonging to both local and global communities. Yet another involves developing an Aboriginal curriculum for all students, not just the district’s Aboriginal ones.
The district hired a new Vice Principal of Aboriginal Education this year, with the goal of starting with one grade but eventually developing the curriculum for all students.
“The real need is for all students to have more knowledge about Aboriginal culture, history and traditions,” Turner says.