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Teaching differently to train the workers of tomorrow

Posted on Friday November 19, 2021

Teaching differently to train the workers of tomorrow

Interview with Eric Levesque, Isabelle Chenard, William Duncan and Carole Boucher, forward-thinking, passionate and inspiring teachers!

What makes the academic journey of Grade 8 students at École Samuel-de-Champlain in Saint John different? In fact, it is the "learning centre 8", an initiative of four teachers who have joined forces to offer their students an extraordinary year of learning. The unique model they are proposing could very well revolutionize the school of tomorrow.

Entrepreneurship at the heart of the school environment

The adventure began in 2013, when the Grade 8 teachers integrated an entrepreneurial component into their school curriculum. Their students were invited to invest in a personal project and participate in its expansion. However, the centre took on a whole new dimension two years ago, when the administration shared a statistic with the teachers that shook them: the students' motivation rate, despite all their efforts, was just 22%.

"Every human being has a thirst for knowledge, but ironically, the further the students' academic path progresses, the more demotivating the education system becomes for them. We had to change that," explains Eric Levesque. Their way of doing so was to break down the walls of the classroom, both literally and figuratively.

Passi8ns Workshop: Decompartmentalizing classes and personalizing learning

This 22% figure came at the same time as another bombshell in the school community: COVID-19. The faculty foursome made the most of the situation. "From March to June 2020, while schools were closed, we took the opportunity to do a lot of research. We read, we shared, we discussed. Every day, the four of us met in front of our computer to debate and compare our ideas," says French teacher Isabelle Chenard. "When we came back to school in September, we were ready to take the plunge."

The partitions between the Grade 8 classrooms were taken down to form a huge room in which all the furniture was on wheels, allowing students to move around as they pleased to form groups and work on their projects. There is a creation centre, and spaces are devoted to robotics and woodworking. At the far end, a kitchen is being built. This is the Passi8ns Workshop.

"We want our students to be able to personalize their learning through projects that address a need in the community. For example, one of the projects is to make meals that will then be distributed around the city to the homeless." Freed from the rigid structure of classes, the four teachers circulate among the teams and pass on their subject material, which then takes on a tangible, concrete dimension in the eyes of the students. "In life, if you work for an organization, it's hard to isolate math from French, English and science. Everything is included within the project."

Autonomy, time management, confidence: skills for life

So what benefits are young people getting from this year that is, to say the least, different from anything they have experienced before? "For some, it's a shock when they start school. But we're taking it slowly so that everyone can get used to how we operate. We've received some wonderful testimonials, such as that from a mother who told us that her daughter had never been as independent, responsible and committed as she's been since being in our class," says Isabelle Chenard.

For many students," says William Duncan, "it's an opportunity to develop good time management and personal control over what they do and how they do it. We give a lot of flexibility and choice." As Carole Boucher states, it's also the perfect opportunity for students to discover what fires them up. "Many explore things they've never tried before and learn about workplaces they didn't even know existed. They discover new interests, and it gives them goals to achieve. Because we connect them with community organizations, I notice that they're aware of societal issues."

By focusing on real-world skills and learning, the teachers hope to develop the workers and citizens of tomorrow. "Students are immersed in problem solving, communication and collaboration. It goes beyond the curriculum. They're learning skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives."

Donations that make a real difference

Such a project would not be possible without funding partners. With a $30,000 donation to the creation centre, UNI gave the organization a solid start. "That was the kick-off, the first donation we received. It gave us confidence and put the wind in our sails. UNI is a co-op that gives back to the community, and it gives to us so we can give back to the community, as well. We kind of see ourselves as the embodiment of that cooperative value. It connects with us 100%.” 

A project that is there to last

Little by little, the passion and work of the four teachers is snowballing. Other grades are following their lead, so that students finishing Grade 8 will not be out of place when they move on to Grade 9, 10, 11 and 12. "The other grades are slowly following suit. Our job is to inspire. We may not have THE answer, but we have to try. We don't have a choice. We really feel like we're changing lives. There are students who come in here seeing things in a dark way and come out totally different: strong, empowered and confident in their ability to solve problems. And that's what we need in our young people, in our citizens of tomorrow."

Not only has the centre broken down the walls inside its classroom, but it is also breaking down the walls between the school and the community. In the end, everyone benefits from this extraordinary initiative, which UNI is very proud to be a part of and which is sure to play a role in the future of our education system!

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