Lake Cowichan students taking charge of their learning

A shift in learning: Lake Cowichan School moves toward inquiry-based and integrated teaching and learning

It’s a year of big changes at Lake Cowichan School, as the school has become a Grade 4-12 school.

There have been many physical changes to get the school ready for the younger students and the school name has even changed to reflect the fact that it isn’t just a secondary school.

But some of the biggest changes are in the way students are learning and in the way teachers are teaching.

This year, Grade 10 to 12 students at Lake Cowichan School are involved in a program called Integrated Studies, which is more projects-based and which aims to engage students more.

The biggest difference this year is that students in these grades see their teacher a limited number of times a week. Some courses — such as math and senior sciences — are five days a week, but others are three, two or one day a week, explained principal Nicole Boucher.

Besides these courses, students have to spend time in a humanities learning lab or a math/science learning lab, where there are teachers there to provide help and support.

“For example, if you see your teacher three times, you go to a learning lab two times,” said Boucher. “In class, students receive instruction and guidance on how to develop a project related to learning. When in the labs and on their own time, they’ll be doing their project-based work.

“The ultimate goal is to have students choose projects that are meaningful to them so they can meet learning outcomes while at the same time pursuing areas of interest or even passion.”

Eventually, staff would like to see a system where students do individual or group projects that meet learning outcomes in more than one subject at once, explained Boucher.

“What we’d love to see is students approaching teachers and going ‘I am thinking of this project, and this is how I see it fitting into your class’ and then going to another teacher and saying ‘this is how I see it fitting into your class,’” said Boucher. “Students can garner credit in more than one subject.”

This way of teaching puts the students in charge of their learning and gives them a lot more choice, explained Boucher.

“We want them to tell us what they want to do,” she said.

As part of this, LCS wants to involve the local community more by taking the students out into the community more and inviting community groups into the school.

This has already started. The CICV The Lake radio station has moved into the band room and will be working with students in various ways, while the Cowichan Lake and River Stewardship Society is working with LCS to develop a program called Lake Studies.

When students are devising projects, teachers want them to tackle them like they’re a question that needs to be answered, explained Boucher.

To transition younger students into this way of learning, staff at LCS developed a course called Intro to Inquiry for Grade 8 and 9 students.

“We’re talking a lot about learning, why we are here, why we are doing this shift,” said Boucher. “We’re asking ‘what kind of future are we preparing you for?’”

This all connects to LCS’s school goal, which is based on inquiry and student engagement.

“The goal we set as a school last year is ‘will students demonstrate a higher level of engagement if they are provided with opportunities to engage in learning through inquiry?’” said Boucher.

After the first week of school, Boucher said they’ve been dealing with getting students used to a new timetable and new setup.

“I’m really working on the accountability,” she said. “It’s not a free-for-all. Every single block of every day, there’s a place each student needs to be. So far, so good. [Vice-principal Dani Garner] and I have noticed every block of every day, students are in each block they need to be in, and they are engaged.”

Boucher feels all of the changes taking place this year make for an exciting and dynamic year.

“Our students seem excited about Integrated Studies,” she said, noting one of the outcomes has been the ability to offer a greater variety of programs this year. “Our teachers are all on the same page and are excited about engaging with students in this way.”