The new K-9 school, Pembina North Community School, opened its doors in September of 2014. It was a long process of amalgamating three smaller schools into one. My new job: the Associate Principal of the Junior High as well as teacher of Social Studies and Options.
We decided to experiment in our new school with a flexible afternoon timetable and a student directed implementation of the new Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) curriculum.
How We Got Started (2014–2015)
I divided up the year into 10 blocks, each focused on a different National Occupational Cluster aligned with an existing CTS strand. We worked through the basics of project-based learning as a class. The students then had a month to design, do, and report on a project of their choice based on the field of study for that month.
Lessons focused on industry trends and careers. Guest speakers were brought in to talk about the industries they work in and the types of problems they solve on a day-to-day basis. By the end of the month, students were ready to report to peers and community members.
First Year Successes:
- Excellent interactions with community members and local businesses.
- Self-directed learning throughout the year.
- At least one very good project for most students.
- A great deal of learning about different digital presentation tools as students chose different ways to report their findings.
- Plenty of opportunities to learn about a wide range of careers from some very talented community members.
First Year Struggles:
We discovered our model also had many weaknesses. When students don’t have any interest in the topic, for instance, they struggle with their projects. In these situations, students had a hard time framing interesting questions that they wanted to explore.
I also quickly learned that the whole process required a great deal more scaffolding and communication than I had anticipated. Both the intent and the structure of the program was confusing to and frustrating for some parents.
We adjusted as we went along and dealt with problems as they arose. Our students showed remarkable resilience in adapting to an unfamiliar learning style, and they may have learned as much from our failures as they did from our successes.
Second Year (2015–2016) CTF Iterations
Our second year of the CTF experiment included some changes:
- More structure in the types of projects the students could choose.
- More hands-on activities.
In the middle of the 2015-2016 school year, parents suggested that a program review was needed. In response, the school and a parent group worked together through a process that resulted in a significant change in way the CTF program is offered. The school year is now divided into trimesters, and students are offered three different multi-grade option courses per trimester. Each option course runs for three months.
This new structure retains the CTF project-based focus but returns to a more familiar structure for option courses, which is more appealing to students, teachers, and parents.
Second Year Results:
Though I moved to a new school at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, the teachers currently teaching the CTF program at Pembina North tell me the adjustments we made to the program are working out well.
The students and parents are happy, are learning interesting things, and are sharing what they’ve learned with the community outside of the school. As for me, I’ve taken what I learned and applied it to my new junior high Social Studies teaching assignment at R.F. Staples Secondary School.
Taking a risk and trying something new made me a much better teacher and helped my students become better learners. I hope the core ideas that underpin the CTF curriculum are embedded in all the new programs of study in Alberta.
About the Author
Jason Wiks, Associate Principal, R.F. Staples Secondary School
Jason has been teaching for 23 years in various educational settings. He is currently teaching Grade 7 and 8 Social. He is trying to apply the CTF model to teaching a core subject. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.