B.C. curriculum re-design supports students in learning vital competencies
“Traditionally if you’d asked kids what they are learning, they would have named content or coverage. So they might say, ‘I’m learning about the war of 1812.’ But what the students are naming now that they are learning is different. They can name the skills that they are developing while they are learning and that is something that I haven’t heard kids name so directly before.” – Colleen Minnabarriet, Principal
Something interesting is happening in Ashcroft, B.C.
Desert Sands Community School (DSCS), a K-12 public school in a small town one hour west of Kamloops, has launched a student-driven interdisciplinary learning program to engage its students. School looks a little different for students here, roughly 40% of whom identify as Indigenous.
No subject-based classes
Middle years students at DSCS do not have subject-based classes, but instead learn through integrated inquiry projects. Students spend their mornings working either independently or in groups on inquiry projects that may centre on a theme (e.g. Empathetic Design), be choice based (e.g. Canadian Animals), or be more open. Students are responsible for developing an inquiry question, a learning plan, and determining how they will share their learning once they are finished the project.
New curriculum includes core competencies
In September 2015, British Columbia introduced its redesigned curriculum, with a pared down list of ‘curricular competencies’ replacing ‘prescribed learning outcomes’ in previous versions. The curriculum also features ‘core competencies’ in areas like creative thinking, positive personal and cultural identity, and social responsibility which span all grades and subjects.
The redesigned BC curriculum is well-aligned with People for Education’s push to broaden the definition of ‘success’ in Ontario’s schools, and focus on “the new basics” – competencies in citizenship, creativity, health, and social-emotional learning that are vital for long-term student success.
The DSCS teachers, with support from their district and researchers from the University of British Columbia, have used the revised curriculum and the focus on competencies as an opportunity to change the way they work.
In the first year of student-centred interdisciplinary learning, teachers noted that students were more independent, more academically engaged, able to identify the skills they are developing, and making more connections between what they learned and the world beyond the school walls. More than this, inquiry learning has disrupted the relationship between academic success and social status.
“We have also seen huge shifts in social and intellectual capital in the cohort: a multi-age cohort combined with personal inquiry has dramatically flattened the hierarchy of academic success, and it is difficult to walk into the space and identify those students who require additional support.” – University of British Columbia, Small Secondary Schools Think Tank 2016 – Desert Sands Community School
Supporting new generations for success
Around the world, there is agreement that the next generation will need competencies beyond the skills in the 3Rs. However, implementing changes to curriculum has challenges, and according to a 2017 British Columbia Teacher Federation survey, teachers report needing more time, more support and more accessible resources to support the changes. These competencies are the new basics in education and Desert Sands Community School provides an example of how it can be done, and the impact on students.
Read more about DSCS.