Where students take charge of what and how they want to learn
St. Jerome Catholic Elementary School (York Catholic District School Board)
IN A NUTSHELL
SPLICE Projects are an opportunity for students in Grades 7 and 8 to engage in a week-long self-directed, inquiry-driven project of their choosing. Students opt to work alone or with partners on an intense inquiry that is not bound by the constraints of subject periods or any one school subject. Teachers act as mentors rather than instructors, and as the final products are not evaluated, students are encouraged to take risks and stretch themselves. Students are marked on their process, documentation and reflection of learning as shared in their final presentations.
THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
St. Jerome Catholic Elementary School, in Aurora, Ont., comprises 522 students from Kindergarten to Grade 8. The Grade 7/8 classes include students with exceptionalities such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning disabilities and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, English Language Learners, and students with various social and emotional vulnerabilities (anxiety, depression, etc.). SPLICE Projects, with their very individualized nature, support equity by allowing for multiple entry points and engaging all learners in personally meaningful inquiry.
Origin of the project
Historically, Intermediate students were required to research, write and deliver a speech on a topic of their choosing. With each passing year, staff noticed that the engagement of the students with this speech assignment dwindled further.
When the former principal and a teacher from St. Jerome attended a symposium at Bishop Strachan Independent School in Toronto, they learned about an initiative that gave students a week without subject periods to focus on a collective project. They returned inspired by the idea of students being free to learn outside of the regular school-day subject divisions.
Back at St. Jerome, staff began work on developing their own SPLICE Week. As they brainstormed potential collective projects, there was no shortage of ideas – but they kept coming back to one challenge: how could they inspire and engage the interests of all our students? Then they asked themselves: What would happen if students were given the opportunity to lead their own learning? That question quickly led to the current SPLICE Projects format, which allows students to pursue any project, in any discipline of their choosing.
- Prior to SPLICE Week, students decide on a project that they would like to spend a week focused on. They are free to explore disciplines beyond their current school subjects. Students have pursued projects in building and construction, culinary arts, coding, visual arts, creative writing, film, engineering, and more.
- They decide whether they will work alone, with a partner, or in a group of three.
- They submit a project proposal, using the Design Thinking Model, for approval by their teachers. On their proposal form they are asked to elicit feedback from their peers and teachers, and to be reflective of that feedback.
- Students are paired with a mentor-teacher who can best support them, according to the project type and the teachers’ interests and expertise.
- They bring in needed materials, dive into their project and document their learning, including difficulties and problem-solving strategies, throughout the week.
- Finally, they prepare and give a 7-10 minute reflective presentation to their teachers and peers about their learning. They are asked to consider their learning journey, the importance of feedback, challenges and successes, as well as future pathways/connections to real-world contexts.
- Students are graded, not on the success or failure of their outcome, but on their learning process. This encourages them to take risks and try something new, and to consider the importance of feedback, challenges and successes as well as potential future pathways.
TEACHER AND STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
The SPLICE Projects promote engagement by transforming the traditional roles of both teachers and students.
Teachers have the opportunity to act as mentors and to observe their students in types of learning they don’t typically see in the course of an ordinary school day. Teachers can also use their personal talents and knowledge to support students and their projects. They are free to engage in critical dialogue and problem-solve together, as teachers are not constrained by evaluative demands.
Students are able to pursue projects that reflect their strengths and interests, and that do not have to be academically driven. They take on the role of self-teacher, leading their own learning and documenting their own learning process. They are asked to be reflective throughout the entire SPLICE process.
In this way, SPLICE projects remove the traditional power structure and allow for reciprocal learning between teachers and students.
INNOVATIVE VALUE OF PROJECT
SPLICE projects are innovative by design through:
- the removal of traditional subject periods to allow for self-directed, self-paced learning,
- the flexibility to engage in projects associated with any discipline
- the emphasis and value they place on the learning process rather than the final product,
- enabling educators to take on the role of mentors rather than gatekeepers.
The award applicants conclude: “We strongly believe that SPLICE Projects are what 21st century learning and competencies are all about. These types of pedagogical approaches should be threaded across all that we do within our learning contexts. SPLICE Projects provide a gateway to towards this greater goal.”
St. Jerome staff have been sharing their SPLICE Project initiative with other schools across their district. Last year they held the first-ever SPLICE Project Symposium at the school board, where students from participating schools were able to share their projects and teachers from each school engaged in professional dialogue about their experiences.
This year they received a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program grant to continue to visit other schools and share their learning, project resources and templates. They aspire to rent time at a local makerspace (STEM Minds) for their students to use during SPLICE Week and to begin creating their own makerspace on site to support future projects.