I’m sure that anyone who has been teaching for any length of time has had dreams of what their ideal school would look like. No school is perfect and the teaching situation we find ourselves in may need a few tweaks or a complete rebuild. For David Truss of Coquitlam, his dream has become reality.
The Inquiry Hub’s doors have been open since September and their first 24 students are now half way through their first year. The school is built around the idea that authentic inquiry is the most effective way to learn. A student’s natural curiosity should be nurtured and she should be encouraged to find her own answers to her own questions. There is time devoted each day to the students’ inquiry projects and all students, from grades 9-11 pursue their own inquiry.
Truss is proud of the fact that the school has been opened with almost no start-up cost. They have a strong relationship with the district’s online education wing and this allows them to share resources and piggy-back curriculum where necessary and a BYOD philosophy keeps IT costs at a minimum. For now, all core courses are run through the online education programme, but some of the same teachers that administer these course also teach the students at the Inquiry Hub. Wherever possible, units of instruction are taken from the online curriculum and approached in face to face classes. Currently all grades come together to study the same Shakespeare play. They are able to engage with the work in ways that can’t be done online. They have PE classes and a number of the other kinds of experiences that someone in a traditional high school would.
Where things differ are in their online course time and their inquiry time. Students are responsible for their own course work, to varying degrees, in the online environment. They allocate their time and report their accomplishments and become responsible for their own learning. This is a skill that I know many of my students lack as we have a tendency to hand-hold more than is perhaps good for them.
They also have daily inquiry time. One wall of their learning commons is given to inquiry questions. The students display their curiosity for a topic by writing their questions on the wall. It is an eraseable wall, and I’m sure that the questions get edited over time, but this allows students to feed off of each others’ ideas and come together in groups around common questions and interests. Plans are developed by the students to pursue these lines of inquiry and then they are cross-checked with course curriculum to see where the projects will intersect with existing curriculum and course credit can be given. This is a stark contrast to the common practice of the teacher taking curriculum points to develop hypothetical situations that first and foremost are relevant to checking off school curriculum rather than a student’s interests or a student’s life. The students then spend a couple of hours each day pursuing their line of inquiry. They develop plans, enact those plans and report the results to their teachers and community. While I was visiting, I had the opportunity to see students developing an experiment around the way slime mould travels through a maze and other students developing plans for the building of a sustainable and ornamental garden for their school. In each case, the students were responsible for their own pursuit. Truss remarked that, in the case of the garden project, the students had written and received a $5,000 grant and met with municipal officials around building regulations with almost no teacher assistance.
The school is in it’s infancy and Truss talks about many ideas for improving it in the future. I think that he would like to get further from the online curriculum and recognizes that over time, he would like to improve the methods for supporting the students in their learning of their self-management skills so that teacher interaction is continually more proactive than reactive. Having said that, he is extremely pleased with the work that the students and teachers have accomplished in the few short months of the schools existence. They are in a situation where there is no “this is the way we’ve always done it.” They’ve recently had an open house and are in the process of interviewing students for next year’s programme.
It must be truly exciting to be part of the building of a new school, especially one with a new approach. For David Truss, it is an opportunity to enact many ideas that he has about the way education should occur. For the students, it is an opportunity to learn in a very different way and to pursue interests that are relevant and meaningful to them. How many schools run under the mantra that curiosity is king?