Schools transition to new curriculum based on ‘big ideas’

Revelstoke Secondary School transitions to new curriculum that relies less on letter grade and and more on analysis.

  • Nov. 27, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Students at Revelstoke Secondary School are experiencing changes to the curriculum this year.

By Lachlan Labere, Black Press

They say it’s not the destination but the journey that matters.

This philosophy would appear to be at the heart of the new curriculum that’s been rolled out in public schools throughout B.C. According to the Ministry of Education, the curriculum redesign is intended to help teachers create learning environments that are both engaging and personalized for students. It has been in development over the past three years through a small number of schools, including Sicamous’ Eagle River Secondary in School District #83, and continues to be a work in progress. This year is considered an implementation period, while all B.C. public schools will be expected to transition to the redesigned curriculum for the 2016/17 school year.

Key to the new curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 9 students is a focus on the “big ideas.” Spelling this out in layman’s terms, School District #19 (Revelstoke) superintendent Mike Hooker (a passionate advocate of the changes ahead) says it’s about putting a greater emphasis on the development of what is called core competencies (skills): communication, thinking and personal/social. This, he explains, is to be done through a more cerebral process than looking something up on an electronic device (as has become the norm), memorizing “facts” and taking a test. Instead, students will be encouraged to explore and understand the context behind those facts.

“My social studies was colouring maps,” said Hooker. “Social studies now is understanding short- and longterm causes, unintended consequences of certain events, looking at different stakeholders in social issues.”

Offering her school’s experience, Eagle River Secondary principal Val Edgell says some students love the new approach, while for others, it’s a process of learning a new way of learning.

“It’s very different from learning just how to memorize something,” said Edgell. “We’re asking them to think harder, think deeper at a higher level. That’s taken a while for some kids to learn. I think we’re still working as a school to fine-tune things as they come up and be pro-active – because there’s nobody else in the province farther ahead than we are. So we’re solving some curricular issues as they come up and others are learning from us.”

Along with the curriculum redesign has been an exchange on the relevancy of the letter grade, and whether or not it provides an accurate reflection of what a student knows.

Eagle River Secondary principal Val Edgell says her Grade 8 and 9 students do not receive letter grades. Instead, they’re graded on the number of core competencies they’ve mastered.

New curriculum for students in Grade 10 to 12 just rolled out this September and is work in development.  Edgell says her Grades 10 to 12 students are graded on a mix of percentages and letter grades, as they still have to take provincial exams for core courses (English, Socials and Math).

Edgell and Hooker note discussions are occurring between the ministries of education and advanced education, however, about how these assessment practices look in the future.

“If reporting and assessment practices and processes don’t change, then it’s very difficult to have any meaningful change in curriculum,” said Hooker.

A particular benefit of the new curriculum for Eagle River is how it accommodates a timetable that offers students a wide range of paths to take to achieve educational outcomes.

“For us, the way we have designed the timetable with the core classes and the new curriculum, has given kids lots of options to take classes of interest to them. That’s worked really well,” said Edgell.

This is in line with what Hooker says about the focus of education shifting to honour the learning that’s taken place, to engage children by continuing to foster their inherent curiosity and interest in the world. He reflects on the experience parents face of helping their kids with homework to emphasize what schools are moving away from.

“Under current curriculum you’ll be pounding through something at home because your son is upset because he can’t quite understand it, and he’s got to understand it by tomorrow and you’ll be doing it, but you’ll be going, ‘Why are we doing this?’” said Hooker. “That’s what we need to get away from, that kind of learning that says you have to do this now, and if you don’t get it you’re a failure. Because that’s what the message is right now.”

For more information about the new curriculum, visit the Ministry of Education’s website.

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