Building against Structure: Designing a Cross-grade Curricular Inquiry Project in a Small Canadian Rural Secondary School

By Peter Weeks, Barton Heine, Roger Doucet, Jeff Anderson and Brock Roberts.

Published by The International Journal of Pedagogy and Curriculum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Smaller rural schools, traditionally marginalized by geography and economies of scale, are using 21st century technologies to create new opportunities to participate in their world by designing exemplary, new multi-literate teaching and learning opportunities for students. Academic researchers, and business, political and community leaders alike have called for schools to embrace 21st century skill sets, to develop collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills in authentic real world contexts with community roots. The experience of many educators in schools at the secondary level, however, is that imposed structures, like the timetable and mandated social and academic curricula, combined with historical organizational attitudes and inertia serve to challenge efforts to create meaningful community engagement projects.
JT Foster School, a 200 student, grade 7 - 12 rural school in the Canadian province of Alberta, has embarked on a three year project based in action research, to engage students in developing the 21st century skills they will need to meet the social, academic, and mathematical demands they will face in the future. JT Foster School’s Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) project was designed to explore ways to improve students’ in-school mathematics practices to align with those needed and expected in the 21st century global community. In 2010 - 2011, the school community engaged in a self-reflective process to collaboratively develop themed-based units of study which would involve students from all grades 7 - 12 and include work in all academic disciplines. In describing the process of planning, teaching and reflection, this presentation will highlight how project-based, cross-curricular, cross-grade inquiry learning is allowing students traditionally disadvantaged by demographics and geography to learn to compete, cooperate, and collaborate in their world. It will also highlight the challenges faced in changing a school community culture in spite of structural demands.

Keywords: Multi-literacy, Inquiry-based Learning, Secondary School, Project-based Learning, Community, Educational Structure, Cross-curricular, Pedagogy, 21st Century Skills, Alberta Initiative for School Improvement

International Journal of Pedagogy and Curriculum, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp.201-212. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 5.756KB).

Peter Weeks

Principal, J.T. Foster School, Livingstone Range School Division #68, Nanton, Alberta, Canada

I am a former high school English teacher who has recently gone through a period as an elementary school principal to the principalship of a 7 - 12 school. I hold a BA in English and a BEd from the University of Calgary, and a MEd from the University of Alberta. I have been a co-author of 5 textbooks, currently in use in Canadian English and social studies classes, and a number of academic and professional articles. I was please to have co-presented a paper with Dr. Jill McClay at the Learning Conference in London and a paper on Botha School at the Learning Conference in Barcelona in 2009. I have presented on educational practices across Canada and in the United States. I am a former president of the English Language Arts Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and was honored to receive an Honorary Life Membership in that organization. In 2008, I was selected as one of 20 finalists in the Alberta Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Barton Heine

Associate Principal, AISI Coordinator, J.T. Foster School, Livingstone Range School Division, Nanton, AB, Canada

Roger Doucet

Teacher, J.T. Foster School, Livingstone Range School Division, Nanton, AB, Canada

Jeff Anderson

Teacher, J.T. Foster School, Livingstone Range School Division #68, Nanton, AB, Canada

Brock Roberts

University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada