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Educators learn together at the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy

Written on August 26th, 2013

[caption id=”attachment_2151” align=”aligncenter” width=”516”]Teacher Academy Justin Cook, OACS Director of Learning, leads teachers from across Ontario in discussion during this summer’s Ontario Christian Teacher Academy.[/caption]

As Project Based Learning (PBL) becomes more popular in Ontario, the enthusiasm that surrounds its pedagogy seems somewhat contagious: during the 2012-2013 school year, the OACS eCurriculum’s PBL Discovery and Exploration Group grew to over two hundred.

Over the past few years, Nathan Siebenga, principal at Hamilton District Christian High School (HDCH) has seen the ways that project based learning can help unify a school’s learning mission. That was one of the reasons HDCH decided to host the Ontario Christian Teacher Academy (OCTA) this summer. The five-day event, spanning from August 19th to the 23rd, provided Christian educators from across Ontario with the chance to explore the connections between project based learning, worldview and restorative practices.

After watching participants learn together at the academy, Siebenga says that the depth and passion of teachers surpassed his expectations. One of the things he enjoyed most was seeing teachers personalize their theories into practical projects. During work periods, they worked collaboratively and independently to create engaging, usable projects designed to help students learn within a PBL framework.

Helen Ysselstein, a grade seven teacher at John Knox Christian School in Woodstock, created a “Why buy local?” project which will ask students to navigate the local market around Woodstock. As students get to know  nearby farmers and artisans, they will have the chance to learn about the environmental and health benefits that come with buying local. The hope is that local farmers, as well as the school’s community, will be able to learn from and use what the students create—whether that be through a poster, a video, or a presentation made with a web-based storytelling tool such as Prezi.

HDCH English teacher, Sarah Whetstone, created a project that she hopes will help students discover their own story as they study narrative form and function. The project will give students the chance to write their own five minute poem, paragraph or essay and present it to the class.

“What I want my students to come away with is that they have a story. Everybody has a story. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but everyone’s story has an impact, even if they don’t know what it is once they walk away,” says Whetstone.

Other teacher-designed projects involved making the school a hospitable place for the Special Olympics; finding creative solutions for icy walkways during the winter; and designing sustainable subdivision plans that might end up on the desks of urban planners and city council members.

After presenting their projects, teachers received constructive criticism from critical coaches and friends. For some, these protocols were a slightly more intimidating part of their creative process.

“A lot of this week has been about teachers being vulnerable with each other,” says Siebenga. “And one of the themes we’ve come back to a lot this week is the idea of vulnerability being the place where courage and fear meet.” Fortunately, the teachers he observed at the academy were willing to go there— not because they wanted to create projects that would make them look good as educators, but because they wanted to make learning the best it could be for their students.

To see examples of teacher designed projects, visit the eCurriculum’s PBL Discovery and Exploration group.