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Innovative Toronto school sparks smiles in teens

Written on January 19th, 2011

[caption id=”attachment_1089” align=”aligncenter” width=”348”]INGELBERT.NET_0300FS All computers are accessible at TDChristian. While the school has two computer labs, neither is “behind lock and key,” says principal Ren Siebenga. Above, a school hallway that has been transformed into a learning space.[/caption]

Toronto District Christian High School (TDChristian) has introduced a number of innovations, from unique learning spaces to a different sort of learning approach to an innovative “green” classroom.

Asked how these and other initiatives are or could enhance outcomes at the school, Siebenga says they have the potential to generate smiles from the students who attend.

“Smiles on the faces of children who are sometimes in their cynical years,” Siebenga tells OACS News.

“I think if you can make that an experience that’s happy, that’s fruitful, that’s empowering and engaging, and allows their creativity and imagination to flourish, you have their passion, their heart and their excitement,” he says.

Siebenga says he defines innovation as something that sets you apart.

“Innovation is the thing that you do that others shake their heads at and say, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good, but we’re not sure we’d do it.’”

He contrasts it to improvement, which is “bringing something up to standard,” although he sees all innovations having “lots of improvement in them.”

The challenge with innovation is once other people start copying it, it loses that quality of being set apart, says Siebenga.

Asked about the most exciting innovations at TDChristian, the principal says the school’s physical space is what strikes people first. The school has the unique characteristic of having no hallways, no long corridors that are intended solely for traversing the building.

No hallways were designed into a recent new addition to the building, and two existing hallways have been transformed into learning spaces.

Along the entire wall of each of these corridors sits a line of flat-screen computers for students to conduct their work.

“Everywhere you go, you have learning space at the school,” he says.

“The classroom is about instruction, the classroom is about group work, and then the kids flow out into the hallways and do their research and their projects.”

On a side note, the school has made the decision twice not to have laptops, after visiting several laptop schools and seeing teachers instructing while students “played around on their laptops. They could be hundreds of miles away from where the teacher’s mind is, what the teacher is explaining,” says Siebenga.