Community Papers

Personalized learning strikes chord in Inquiry Hub

Hannah Brown, Shauna Turner and Sophia Draper are  Grade 9 students enrolled in School District 43
Hannah Brown, Shauna Turner and Sophia Draper are Grade 9 students enrolled in School District 43's new Inquiry Hub in Coquitlam which provides a blend of online as well as face-to-face and project-based learning.
— image credit: DIANE STRANDBERG/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

School District 43 is piloting a new education program in which coming up with a question is as important as knowing the answer — and so far, the students seem to be loving it.

What's not to like about a high school that looks more like a lounge or a cafe than a typical classroom and where students set their own schedules for much of the day and work on projects mirroring their own interests?

The Inquiry Hub program, established in September as part of the district's own inquiry into what the much-vaunted "personalized learning" could look like, currently has 37 Grade 9 to 11 students enrolled. They hail from SD43 as well as Burnaby and New Westminster school districts.

Stephen Whiffin, who helped start the program, along with Dave Truss, the current lead administrator, said the Inquiry Hub is for any student who is passionate about investigating a subject and likes using technology to seek answers to their questions.

"The Inquiry Hub allows students to pursue learning projects of their own interest and allows them to get credit for core curriculum through their personal exploration," Whiffin said.

Students still have to complete the regular curriculum, plus the Foundation of Inquiry and Applications of Digital Media courses, but have a lot of flexibility within their 9 a.m.-to-3 p.m. school day because only the first hour and a half is taken up with a "topical workshop" on one of their core courses. The rest of the time, they can work on a project of inquiry or online coursework (plus they do physical education twice a week).

It's a new way of learning that appeals to students, at least those with whom The Tri-City News talked, who said they enjoy the flexibility of their day and being able to pick and choose what they wanted to work on.

STUDENTS WORK IN DIFFERENT WAYS

Inquiry Hub is not, however, a get-out-of-school-free card. The students said they still have assignments and projects to finish, and being organized takes work.

"You have to be motivated or else you will fall behind," said Shauna Turner.

In fact, the students said, there's a "steep learning curve" at first getting used to managing a flexible schedule.

But small classes, the ability to collaborate and using technology instead of pen and paper to write essays are among the other perks of the program.

"I like the technology — we're working online — and the flexibility in that you can do a project and also cover an academic," Sophia Draper said.

Hannah Brown said being able to switch tasks or topics whenever she wants helps her focus and learning online has helped her in math.

PROJECT-BASED LEARNING IS KEY

Coming up with an inquiry project is another important aspect of the Inquiry Hub and the students are working together on developing an urban garden outside the school. As part of their learning, they applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the World Wildlife Fund and are now working out the remaining details to get a garden up and running this spring, complete with a greenhouse and shed.

A walk through the new Inquiry Hub in Coquitlam is a bit like walking into a school of the future even through it's located in historic Maillardville and the school is more than 100 years old. There are few desks, and those there are on wheels. Project tables line walls topped with with fish tanks and bits of other projects, and kids sit together or work alone on laptop computers while listening to music on headphones.

While Inquiry Hub isn't for everyone, it is worth exploring for any student who is looking for a more self-directed style of learning.

LEARN MORE

• An Inquiry Hub introductory meeting set for Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Millside centre (1432 Brunette Avenue) will provide many of the details; you can also explore the program online at www.inquiryhub.org.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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