If you’d been in the Johnston Heights Learning Commons Wednesday afternoon, you’d have seen a strange reversal. As you looked at the bustle of intent young faces working through mathematical puzzles, you would have asked “Who are the teachers here?” Another minute of looking would have made the answer clear – the students.
These grade 8 students in Ms. Nagra’s class, led by their student teacher Ms. Venkataya, have been working on a project in their math class where they take math puzzles (all the way from Sudoku type number games to logic and geometry), and recast them as real world type problems with cars, pyramids, biospheres, and so forth. A field trip to Science World provided the real life example of how to create puzzle stations. So far it seems like a solid class project, with real life connections and hands on work, helping to bring math to life.
But they didn’t stop there.
In the Learning Commons Wednesday, what I also saw was several classes of Grade 7 students from our family of schools, being guided and led through the activities and challenges set by our grade 8 students. The students and their teacher had made arrangements to invite both younger students from grade 7 and older students from grade 11 to try their hand at the problems set by the grade 8’s. The grade 11’s would not have had an easy time either. At least I hope not! Both Ms. Hammond and myself had our brains challenged by the mathematical puzzles developed by Ms. Venkataya’s students. They worked hard to make the puzzles both real and really difficult!
At the beginning of this year, we articulated the principles of what we called “The Learning Project”, with three principles:
1. Learning should be transparent and shared
2. Adult learning improves student learning and engagement
3. Curriculum from various areas is integrated
This project is a wonderful demonstration of the Learning Project principles because it:
– makes the math content real and concrete
– engages other curricular areas (science)
– has students making significant decisions about how they share their learning with others outside the classroom – a real audience
– involves adults learning from each other – first, Ms. Nagra and Ms. Venkataya, the teachers of the grade 7 teachers, then Ms. Hammond and myself, and the other JH teachers who visited.
For me, the reversal of roles from teacher to student was a little uncomfortable, but I could also see how much the students appreciated seeing us struggle through the challenges they set. How will students truly learn how to learn unless we model it too? As we look toward next year with the development of our new grade 8 program, Ms. Nagra and Ms. Venkataya have provided a great illustration of how projects and assignments might develop their students’ learning. So much to look forward to!