[caption id=”attachment_11855” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] Engineering Block students go scuba diving as part of their unit on Fluid Dynamics[/caption]
Two students carried hockey bags and sticks as they squeezed through the front doors of Toronto District Christian High School (TDChristian) in Woodbridge this past Wednesday morning. Another student entered sporting a suit and tie. A group of students to the left juggled containers of baked goods that smelled of cinnamon. Each student that entered the building seemed to be bringing something different: sandpaper, old photo albums filled with black and white photographs, video cameras, warm coats and scarves, bags of canned goods to donate, and musical instruments. The hallway was an array of sights, sounds, and smells that have become common on FOCUS days at TDChristian.
What is a FOCUS Day, you might ask? FOCUS Days are scheduled days throughout the semester in which students have one class for the entire school day. Quite literally, students “focus” on one subject area and are able to take an entire day to either work on a project, go on a field trip, or complete any number of different activities related to their subject.
[caption id=”attachment_11851” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] Students wire a house as part of their Electricity unit in Grade 9 Science.[/caption]
The possibilities become endless when a class period is extended for an entire day. This past Wednesday, for example, senior Phys.Ed students took a bus to a local arena in Toronto to play ice hockey, the Grade 11 Law class traveled to the Court House to experience a trial first-hand, and the Grade 9 French students studying multiculturalism in Canada created presentations designed to give their classmates a glimpse of their own family’s culture, such as a favorite food dish or sporting event. Other past FOCUS day activities have included tree planting, community service projects, scuba diving, war reenactments, a trip to Queen’s park, and many other educational activities.
Students look forward to the variety that FOCUS days bring to their regular learning schedules. Laura VanLuyk, a grade 10 Environmental Block student at TDChristian, loves the change of pace. “FOCUS days are really great because you get out of the regular day of classes and you always have something exciting to do and to learn in a more hands-on way.”
[caption id=”attachment_11875” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] Grade 10 students plant trees as part of their Environmental Block course[/caption]
This is the third year that teachers at TDChristian have been incorporating FOCUS days into their schedules. The transition to having FOCUS days once a month has had its challenges, and teachers have had to learn along with students in the process. Each time they plan for a full day of class with one group of students, the teachers build upon their experiences from the last time—both positive and negative—a process that mirrors the pattern of using critique and multiple drafts to move their students toward excellence.
When asked where the idea of FOCUS days originated, TDChristian principal William Groot explains, “We first heard about this idea being practiced in a Christian high school in Abbotsford, British Columbia. There, they also have entire days blocked off for a single subject, called ‘Big Audacious Blocks’.” Audacious, by definition means “extremely original or inventive; unrestrained by existing ideas or conventions”—a fitting description for these single-subject school days, since the concept is neither familiar to many educational systems nor restrictive in nature.
“We love that students are able to focus entirely on one subject area, and that they can dive into a project or activity without having to worry about the clock,” adds principal Groot. “It gives students and teachers the opportunity to spread out, dig in, learn, be creative, and often complete an entire project by the end of the day.”
[caption id=”attachment_11842” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] Grade 10 History students take part in a World War One reenactment exercise[/caption]
FOCUS days also offer the opportunity for students to go out into the community to get involved in service projects. This past week, the senior music class shared their talents with two very different groups of people. The first group were seniors at Holland Christian Homes in Brampton. From there, they went to a nearby elementary school, Kleinberg Christian Academy, to help younger students with their music program for the afternoon.
“It’s a win-win, really,” says Groot. “Our students benefit from going out into the community to share the things they are learning in the classroom, or to gain more first-hand experience, and people in the community get to see and hear about what is going on in our school.”
[caption id=”attachment_11853” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] Grade 9 students sort and package food at the Scott Mission in Toronto[/caption]
Derek Biersteker, a grade 12 leadership student at TDChristian, adds: “FOCUS days really make a lot of sense, because when you want to be involved in activities that take longer than a normal class period, it makes it a lot harder for students to catch up on the other classes that they miss. This way, you can finish it all in one day without having to worry about other classes, and you can really focus on the one thing you want to accomplish.”
“And also,” Van Luyk adds, “It just makes learning a lot of fun!”