Creating the time and space for self-directed, personalized, inquiry learning.

Background (Part 1 — Purpose)
 The following image and description were created for an application for an award. ‘Assignments’ like this are great because they force us (teachers John Sarte, Alan Soiseth and myself) to think about what it is we value, and strive towards as we build our program at Inquiry Hub Secondary School. Doing this has additional value to me in my role with Coquitlam Open Learning (the district’s online school), because I think that embedded in the descriptions of possible programs below, online course credits and blended learning course credits could compliment and enhance many of the ideas and program suggestions made.

Here are two student created videos. The first is specifically on inquiry time at our school and the second one is teacher John Sarte sharing a bit about Inquiry Hub Secondary School, inquiry learning, and some of the projects he has worked with students on.

Background (Part 2 — Design)
 If I were to distill the concepts shared below into 3 essential points they would be:

1. Create time, space and supports for students to be self-directed learners.

2. Blend courses by:

a) Creating cross-curricular, ‘big idea’ projects that also give students opportunities to follow their own related interests;
 b) Providing resources and supports online so that students don’t need a teacher in front of them for all the activities and assignments required in the course.

3. Students get credit for following their inquiry/passion projects: Develop or *borrow ‘local’ courses that are competency based, looking at ‘soft’ skills, which students can improve on regardless of the content of their inquiries.

* Here are two of our competency-based courses: Foundations of Inquiry 11 and Applications of Digital Learning.

Background (Part 3 — Implementation)
 How can you use this information? Here are a couple questions for you, depending on what level you teach/lead.
 High schools:
 The image and descriptions considered below, describe a typical 4-block semester schedule in a high school. It would not be hard to apply the same to a high school that runs full-year courses.
 Challenges:
 What is one unit in one course that you can transition from a more traditional model to an inquiry based learning model?
 Which of the formats below can you find colleagues/administrators to work with you to implement?

Middle/Junior High Schools:
 It would be fairly easy for middle school teams to implement many of these ideas into their program right away, and for Junior high schools to start thinking about offering combined courses to integrate learning through big themes and projects.
 Challenges:
 Which courses/subjects can be combined to create dynamic ‘big idea’ themes that students will find interesting to explore with inquiry-based learning?
 Are your students’ timetables designed to maximize flexible learning opportunities or can they be changed to provide more flexibility?

Elementary Schools:
 When you have your own students for most of the day, the potential to provide time and space for inquiry and cross-curricular activities is amazing, whereas it can often be challenging to find the time to work collaboratively with other teachers doing similar things… But collaboration time between teachers is a catalyst for great projects and for sharing innovative practices!
 Challenge:
 Which courses/subjects can be combined to create dynamic ‘big idea’ themes that students will find interesting to explore with inquiry-based learning?
 Who can you collaborate/connect with to help you?

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Here are 2 versions of the (infographic-styled) DCL image:

Creating Inquiry Time to Dream Create Learn — PDF, and

Creating Inquiry Time to Dream-Create-Learn JPG.

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Below you will find the image broken into smaller sections, with greater detail provided after each image, then the full image is shared after a few final thoughts.

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‘DCL’ at Inquiry Hub — Time to Dream, Create, and Learn

~ Creating the time and space for self-directed, personalized, inquiry learning..

At Inquiry Hub Secondary School we have embedded time for students to Dream, Create, and Learn (DCL) for greater than 30%, and up to as much as 50%, of their school day. During DCL, students have time to work on: assignments given to them by teachers, online-blended components of their courses, or inquiry projects that they design or co-develop with teachers.

Students get course credit for their self-directed inquiries and passion projects. By implementing so much time in a students’ schedule to DCL, teachers must redesign their program to create time and space for students to work independently. When teachers plan their teaching time with students it necessarily needs to shift to include assignments that connect to, facilitate and support learning happening during DCL time. By also explicitly teaching inquiry learning as a course (Foundations of Inquiry), we create space for students to work on projects of their choice, assessing competencies of core skills rather than on content they are learning, which can vary based in their passions and interests.

Here is a look at a continuum, starting with individual teachers implementing more DCL time in a specific class, and moving to a model of entire system change, designed to provide students more time to Dream, Create, and Learn as a significant part of what they do at school, rather than something that is added on to their schedule. The final section “Flexible School Schedule Designed Around Time to Dream, Create, Learn” describes a model that disrupts the typical one-block-per-class schedule seen in most high schools today. While Inquiry Hub Secondary is a stand-alone small program today, it has the potential to be a fully developed system in a much larger school with a redesigned schedule where every student is given time to Dream, Create, and Learn.

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Adding DCL time to a single class

~ No change to traditional timetable, single teacher, single class adaptation.

On an individual basis, teachers can implement varying degrees of self-directed, personalized learning within a single class. The limitations of this include challenges around integrating subject matter, when there is only one course being taught, and limited flexibility in creating the time for students to explore what they want to explore. While Genius Hour is an excellent example of how a teacher can implement self-directed, passion projects, there is no need for any real change to the traditional school timetable, and a change in teaching approach beyond the dedicated time allotted is completely teacher based.

Advantages: No system change required. Easy for a single teacher to implement.

Disadvantages: Not systematic, teacher dependent, limited flexibility.

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Combining classes to create more opportunity for DCL

~ Little or no change to traditional timetable, potential for teacher collaboration.

There are two key variations to this model, with a significant difference. The first variation is simply to provide a single teacher with a double block of time to teach two integrated subjects. The second variation is to have two teachers teaching at least two courses, integrated with subject matter being provided through integrated assignments and embedded DCL time. A double block of time is given to students, ideally providing prep time in alternate blocks for the teachers during the shared class. In this second variation a teacher benefits from collaboration and teamwork with another teacher. If the teacher schedule is backed with prep time for the teacher not scheduled to teach during a specific block, there can be significant scheduling advantages with one teacher being able to take students longer for one day, and the other teacher doing same on another day. Furthermore, when students have their DCL time, teachers can co-support students and/or use the time to collaborate.

When courses are combined, and inquiry projects as well as online supports are developed, there is potential to provide more than 2 courses in the same time normally provided for just the 2 courses: Additional courses like Work Experience, Leadership, Digital Literacy, and Independent Directed Studies, or the new Career Life Connections 12 can be provided. This can further increase the prep and collaboration time of teachers since one of these 2 teachers can have an additional unscheduled block of time in their schedule to support these additional course, or a third teacher can be included into the teaching mix (responsible for integrating this third course into the student schedule, supported with online materials in a blended learning environment).

This could be an excellent ‘entry level’ approach to creating DCL time because it encourages flexible cross-curricular learning, provides built in teacher collaboration time, and combining two or more courses encourages thematic projects that can allow for student directed interests.

Advantages: Minimal or no system change. Easy for a small group of teachers to implement.

Disadvantages: More challenging to schedule in a block timetable. Enrollment in a double course can be a ‘hard sell’ for students, since it isn’t a full program.

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Flex Block Model

~ Timetable adapted to provide clearly defined time for students to be self-directed.

In this model, students are provided flex time in their schedule, ideally to provide them self-direct learning (DCL) time to follow their passions and interests. The schedule can have flex block time every day, or there could be just one or two flex blocks provided each week. In addition to DCL time, flex block can also be used for students to catch up on school work, meet with teachers, get support for their current courses, work in teams on projects, or to extended class projects. Flex time can also be provided to integrate learning connected to specific courses for additional credit, such as Independent Directed Studies. Students do not necessarily need to connect with the specific teacher in their previous block before the flex block, but credit for work on self-directed projects would have an assigned teacher-mentor.

Advantages: This model can help a teaching staff find value in creating more self-directed time for students. It can provide teaching staff with opportunities to share their own passions and interests with students.

Disadvantages: Flex block compartmentalizes DCL time, limiting the overall flexibility to provide self-directed time beyond the time allotted daily or weekly.

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Partial Program — Implementing DCL within a ½ Day or ½ Year Program

~ Teaching teams provide students with a 1/2 time, flexible, cross-curricular program.

Students dedicate a semester, or half a semester for a full year, to a program which provides student self-directed time and collaborative teaching time. Blended, cross-curricular courses in the schedule could allow more choice and flexibility during the program. As in all of these examples, explicitly teaching a course like Foundations of Inquiry, and/or Digital Literacy, can go a long way in creating opportunities for DCL time, where students are self-directed and doing inquiry-based learning.

Advantage: A more fully immersive opportunity for students. Flexibility for DCL time to be meaningfully integrated into the schedule. Students experience two different kinds of schooling.

Disadvantages: A specific program selection process needs to be implemented. Support for students in a program different from the block scheduling can be challenging.

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DCL — A School Within A School Model

~ Students are removed from the traditional schedule.

A full program that can run completely independently of the regular timetable but can also take advantage of courses such as electives, which are challenging to provide in a smaller program, if

it were run independently, like the Inquiry Hub is currently being run. Teachers can be fully dedicated to the program, or they can be scheduled to support this program while also having courses in the regular schedule as well.

Advantage: A completely immersive opportunity for students. Opportunities to extend learning beyond the school become much easier with full student scheduling.

Disadvantages: A specific program selection process needs to be implemented. Support for students in a program different from the block scheduling can be challenging. Can produce scheduling challenges that make the model more expensive to support than a traditional model.

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Flexible School Schedule Designed Around Time to Dream, Create, Learn

~ An entire school designed to support flexible, self-directed, cross-curricular learning.

A student does not have a program defined by courses in a traditional block schedule. Students might still be grouped into teams or school-within-a-school programs around their interests, but not necessarily by their grade levels. Elective teachers would have scheduled times when they would support passion projects and theme-based learning challenges designed by students and teachers in different content areas. Learning commons provide support in different content areas. Students get support developing not just content related competencies, but also core competencies.

Advantage: A completely immersive opportunity for students. DCL time is scheduled as part of every student’s schedule. Done properly, no additional resources needed to implement. All structures and student supports are focused around meeting the needs of students in a self-directed, inquiry-based school.

Disadvantages: Very challenging to schedule, unless teams are created to have students cycle through elective and content areas. Support structures needed for students during DCL time. Considerable collaboration time is essential for teachers to support student needs.

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Final Thoughts

I’d love to see a public K-12 school implement a Montessori style elementary (with a focus on self-directed, exploratory, inquiry-based learning), followed by an IB Middle Years style program where teachers teach interdisciplinary and thematically (but without being an IB school), followed by an Inquiry Hub style high school, where students have the freedom to do epic projects that can impact their community and the world. But for now, I hope the options I suggest can provide educators with an opportunity to increase the time students get to Dream, Create and Learn, during their school day. When we provide opportunities for students to explore the world through inquiry learning, (whether those opportunities are teacher-guided or self-directed), we create an environment where relevance amplifies learning, and our students will develop projects that they will remember beyond their years at school.

How will you help your students Dream, Create, Learn?

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