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Electives as Community Learning

Written on January 16th, 2017

Students at Timothy Christian School (TCS) in Williamsburg will be putting away their notebooks and moving their desks out of the way to make room for a different kind of learning this Friday. For the first time at TCS, students in grades 3-8 will be participating in hands-on learning opportunities of their choice—cooking French cuisine, cross-country skiing, or building remote control cars—as part of the school’s winter electives program.

“I’m excited about the electives,” shared Micah, a grade three student at TCS. I like being able to go outside and can’t wait to learn how to do snowboarding and skiing and other things that we don’t usually get to do at school!”

Sam, another grade three student, is equally excited about the chance to be a part of an elective that is hands-on. “I love building things, and I am looking forward to being able to play the drum,” he shared.

The excitement of the students heading into the electives suggests that the winter electives program is more than just a break from routine—it’s a way for students to explore their gifts and learn new skills in a variety of engaging contexts.

 

“Students learn in a number of different ways,” shared TCS principal designate Heidi Blokland. “The workshops that are being offered will give the students the opportunity to dig deeper into a number of community-led, interactive workshops and to explore areas of interest that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to do during the regular school year.”

The electives are being offered to students for five consecutive Friday afternoons this month and students were asked to choose one of six available workshops. One group of students will be learning to cook a variety of French foods, creating a different recipe each week, sampling foods, and putting together a recipe book for their family and friends to demonstrate their amazing new culinary skills. A second group will learn basic woodworking skills such as measuring, cutting, and sanding wood and will be creating a handcrafted game called “Passe Trap”—a fast paced, mini version of shuffleboard. The grade three/four teacher at TCS will be leading an outdoor education workshop and plans to take his group snowshoeing, snowboarding, and skiing, as well as teaching them to build fires and make some great outdoor food. A former graduate of TCS will be returning to the school to lead an electives workshop on building a Cajon, or Box Drum, and then hopes to teach the students simple rhythm and beats to play on it. As well, a retired Electronic Engineering Technologist will be leading another group of students in a workshop elective that combines technical knowledge with creativity using electronic building blocks to invent things such as remote-controlled cars or smart home devices. The final group will be learning different styles of dance and how they can use dance as a way to worship!

Ms. Blokland believes there are several benefits of holding the winter electives program, from a leadership perspective. “The obvious benefit, from the start, is that it creates excitement for students who are coming back to school after the long holiday break,” she shared. As well, Ms. Blokland values the fact that the electives experience gives students the opportunity to work with others from different grade levels in a way that fosters multi-grade interactions and collaboration.

In addition, Ms. Blokland recognizes that the electives program fosters an invitation for members of the community to be a part of the learning that happens for the students in a more hands-on way. “Several of the workshop leaders have already shared that it is a great thing for them to see the interest in and the excitement from students about learning a skill that they have acquired and honed over the years,” she shared.

“This is the first time I’m assisting students in an elective,” shared Peter Bylsma, a volunteer workshop leader from the TCS community. “As a retired Electronic Engineering Technologist, I have some time to help the next generation understand what electronics are about and how it can serve humanity for the good of mankind.” Mr. Bylsma is excited at the opportunity to develop a sense of awe and wonder of God’s creation and to help students to understand that technology must serve them, not the other way around.

Dave Verburg, a former TCS graduate and an uncle to students currently attending TCS, also shared his excitement at the opportunity to share his passion with students. Mr. Verburg has been drumming for over twenty years and attributes the drums to the strength of his current faith. “The drums were the thing that got me to, and kept me involved in, youth group as a teen, and that involvement brought my relationship with God to where it is today,” he shared.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to teach students and pass on the skills that I’ve learned to a new generation,” he added, “and hopefully to show them a new and deeper way to worship.”

Overall, Ms. Blokland is thrilled at the opportunities that the winter electives program will bring to students, teachers, and community members of TCS. “Overlapping the electives workshops with more traditional courses over the winter months will create a richer learning experience for students, while helping to break up every-day routines,” she shared.  “In addition, the electives program offers options that allow students to seek out interests and help them discover hidden talents or passions in a multi-grade learning environment.”

The winter electives program at TCS has drawn the students and their community together in learning. “The program gives others the chance to get into the school and to be involved in the learning that’s going on for our students in a way that others can’t,” shared Ms. Blokland. “By inviting community members into the classroom to share their expertise—parents, grandparents, uncles, former graduates, and others—we are sharing our role as educators, giving them the opportunity to bring lessons and learning to life for students and to model to the students how their learning can also influence their future.”

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