Today our edci 336 Technology Innovation in Education class was lucky enough to be given a tour around the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry, guided by the founder and principal educator Jeff Hopkins. His experience as the previous superintendent of School District No.64 has given him a wealth of experience to create and operate an impressive school that focuses on personal learning paths based on the interests of each student. It is an Independent school with about 70 students and 6 full time teachers, and many community resources to help students engage in learning outside the classroom setting. The layout is a comfortable mix of collaborative rooms with group tables, quiet rooms, smaller rooms for smaller learning sessions, and the opportunity to go and work with other mentors and educators in the community or work from home – as long as the student informs the teaching staff where they will be and why it is beneficial, they can do it. They log in on a tablet upon entering the classroom so the teaching staff always knows where the students are working, on or off site, or on a lunch break. Beside the tablet the students are greeted by a visual schedule of seminars that will take place during the day based on various topics students have inquired about, and any student can join in on any of the sessions.
They follow the BC curriculum, but they rewrote the outcomes so that students can access them and understand exactly what they need to learn and what skills they will be developing.
The students group together based on interests, not grades, and are able to work on individual subjects and interests for as much or as little time as they like. Jeff stresses that student self regulation is a big part of the freedom to design their own schedule. If they feel like working on a subject for two days straight, they are allowed to do it, but will likely eventually get tired of the same project and move on to another subject area. Students have the freedom to take more time on a subject, or less, they design their own learning plans to suit their interests and schedules. He told us the story of a group of international students who are here in partnership with the Victoria School of Ballet. They were faced with overwhelming amounts of homework and were constantly playing catch up in their classes because they often had to leave school at 2:00 for dance class. As a solution, they enrolled at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry and it was no longer a problem because the school built dance into their schedule for the students. Since it was an interest for the students and it fit into the category of physical education, it was built into their personal learning path. Imagine that, they went from always having to catch up in school in order to pursue their interests, to being encouraged to dance and having it as a part of their daily schedule.
Jeff told us that his goal is for this school to be the norm of education, and with what I saw today – I wonder why hasn’t it already? The rooms we toured were buzzing with students who walked around freely to share what they were working on with their friends who were working on other interests, and all collaborated to create a truly special classroom environment. I saw a loom in the quiet room which a student was learning use, and weaving something beautiful.
There were students learning coding, to play instruments, to fly planes through a flight simulator, drawing on a tablet. I never thought I would see such a harmonious mix of diverse subjects, and students wholly invested because they chose what they’re working on themselves! Jeff told us the teachers find a way to tie student interests into deeper themes, such a student studying planes and also the inner structures of the flight industries in Canada. I feel so lucky that we got to tour this school because this type of inquiry should be involved in all classrooms. By witnessing an impressive school such as PSII, I was able to see how this process can work, and took away some critical ideas and inspiration of how I want to try to incorporate it into the elementary classroom in my future practice.
I urge you to check out their website and find out the amazing things they’re doing at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry to learn more about the inquiry process, and what they’re currently working on.