Breaking the mould of schooling to customize Grade 6 learning
Max Aitken Academy (Anglophone North School District)
IN A NUTSHELL
Rearranging the traditional teaching schedule in order to set aside a weekly “Project Period” time has allowed a small but mighty team of teachers to collaborate in planning a series of meaningful, cross-curricular learning projects. The Project Periods allow their Grade 6 students to fully engage with these personalized learning projects. The scheduling flexibility and team-teaching approach has transformed structured classrooms to more free, fluid, and open learning communities. This program has included elaborate mock election campaigns, inventors’ workshops, and a young entrepreneurs’ holiday market – exciting real-world, hands-on learning experiences made possible by rearranging the traditional teaching schedule and evaluation method.
THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
Max Aitken Academy is a K-8 school in a small city in rural northern New Brunswick. Students in the school range across the spectrum of need, ability, and socio-economic status. The 54 Grade 6 students are divided into three classes: two French Immersion classes (Grade 3 entry-point and Grade 6 entry-point) and one English class. Our teaching team teaches each class in the core subject areas, and brings them together for the collaborative, cross-curricular projects that are the focus of the new Project Periods.
This program responds to the district’s call to prioritize global competencies and focus on customized learning for students. Knowing that a drop-off in student engagement is a key issue in Intermediate education, the team planned to pilot this project with the Grade 6 cohort, to build engagement before levels began to fall. The project aims to increase engagement and personalize learning to match students’ needs, while allowing students to work both independently and in collaboration with each other, the teaching team, and members of the school and local community.
Several components go into making this program work:
- Flexible scheduling to create a weekly Project Period
- Each project is further supported by instruction and work time during relevant subject-based periods.
- Quarterly release days are provided by the school district to allow the teaching team to plan and work together.
- Projects have real-world relevance
- Through each project, students work towards developing a “Beautiful Product” that demonstrates their learning and hard work.
The first project was inspired by the New Brunswick provincial election. Students created their own political parties and chose platform priorities based on common interests and research. They became passionate about social and institutional change, taking up issues such as community accessibility, inclusion, and the environment. An afternoon Q&A with Miramichi’s mayor and in-depth conversations with local politicians helped them express their concerns effectively.
The second project, underway at the time of grant application, explores growth and the entrepreneurial mindset through the PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs program. They each came up with a product to sell in a Holiday Market held at the school and attended by members of the community as well as the school. Students demonstrated a high degree of engagement and autonomy in their preparation for this event, in which every single participant sold out their product and made a profit. Each student chose to donate ten percent of their profits to the local SPCA, following through on a priority many groups had expressed during the mock election project.
Planned projects include a STEM-inspired “Inventors’ Workshop” and, for the final project of the year, students will work on a project of reconciliation in partnership with local Indigenous Elders . They will become caretakers of a local ecosystem, while exploring Mi’kmaq and Acadian culture, history and ecology.
This program recognizes that 21st-century learners need opportunities to move beyond the 19th-century model of learning subjects in silos. In the past, members of the teaching team have set out to provide cross-curricular opportunities to their students, but have not been able to incorporate them as fluidly as they would like. Having time set aside for collaboration has allowed the teachers to shift their teaching to a more free, fluid and open teaching style where they can truly facilitate rather than act as gatekeepers of knowledge.
The real-world stakes of the projects chosen have given students access to resources in the community, including local politicians. Students are building relationships within the community and can see that there are resources both within and without the school to support their growth. Through this program, students have developed their independence, critical thinking, self-direction, and social engagement.
This project is easily scalable through the rest of the school and by other schools, as long as cross-curricular time is built into the school schedule and teachers are given support in the form of planning and work time. Two similar pilot projects are now in progress within the district. The teachers involved in the Max Aitken program are passionate about its value and seeking opportunities to share their experiences with other district educators at the annual Opening Day events, and with the rest of the province during province-wide Subject Council Days and Summer Institute sessions.
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