GEODES: more than meets the eye

HMW incorporate vertical integration into our schedule to promote student engagement and enhance teaching practice?

I hoped to experiment with the vertical integration concept in December by having my grade 10 English class join forces with the grade 12 World Issues class on a mini-unit around the concept of agency. While we ended up downscaling from a mini-unit to a single lesson, we were able to have a meaningful discussion in which most of the students from both classes participated. I don’t feel as though this was a large enough experiment to have provided much new insight to inform my action plan, but it is fair to say anecdotally that the grade 10’s rose to the challenge of having meaningful discussion with senior students, and that both groups were able to broaden their views of agency, as it related to their respective classes, based on input from their peers.

While I was a bit disappointed that the mini-unit plan couldn’t work this semester, I also know that I really don’t need to be. What’s the hurry? There is lots of time to work on this plan. In fact, there is a way to gain some insight into my action plan coming down the pipe that I am *SUPER EXCITED* about!

For the second semester, we are working towards the development of an integrated program for our grade nines. Now, their courses are still all individually blocked in our semester two schedule, but we are planning to double or triple or quadruple up regularly, and will be framing all of our courses with the same Big Questions. We’re calling our integrated course group GEODES (for GEography, OutDoor ed, English, and Science—credit to @gvogt‘s wife Tia for the acronym!) Did I mention that I am *STOKED* for this?

As is characteristic of geodes, there’s more to this than meets the eye. There’s a twinkling, gemmy, beautiful surprise inside.

That surprise is this: beyond incorporating cross-subject integration GEODES will also provide an opportunity to think creatively and adaptably about scheduling, and welcome in other class groups, thus offering more regular—and possibly longer-term—chances for mixed-grade learning. This is not just a fun project that is pedagogically sound; it is also a chance to experience on a smaller scale some of the scheduling and curriculum pieces that will be key to addressing my HMW. 


The Magic Number

(c) Thomas Hawk

I didn’t quite follow the instructions. BUT! I felt a little bit of magic in the air, followed it, and am pretty excited to see where it leads.

GUT—with school size and sphere of influence in mind, I took a broader approach to identifying areas of need at our school. We’re small (~110 students), open to innovation, and—as a member of the Leadership Team—I’ve got a seat at the table from which larger program initiatives need to be explored. My gut initially went to some kind of integrated approach to learning: perhaps in terms of ecological perspectives, skills-based assessment, or balance and holistic development. However, these are all things that we are already trying to focus on at RLC. So, I shifted focus to how we might make change at a program level that supports the great things we are already doing, and opens the door to additional possibilities. I am currently exploring the potential for vertical integration/multi-age programming as a means to enhance our academic program offerings, student learning, and teacher development.

(Fun fact: 3 is a commonly used year spread for vertically integrated/mixed-age learning communities.)

HUNCH—in order to collect info from stakeholders to inform this idea, I created an open-ended Google form for faculty, and a multiple-choice form for students. I am not confident I asked good questions; I wanted to get some general perspectives about the topic, without making my own position clear, and found I struggled to decide how to do so. I think this is a good first step regardless, and one that I can build upon as I speak to individuals in more detail.

LEARNING—so far, it is clear that there is existing experience and interest in vertical integration among RLC faculty, but that there is also some confusion around what it entails. Moving forward, I need to ensure that the community understands that what we are looking at is more than a split-grade or combined class, and is not based on a “stronger young kids with weaker older ones” model, but rather a true mix. It’s also evident that students of all ages are fairly stuck in the mindset that younger teens don’t have anything to teach older ones, which is something I’m hoping this kind of action plan could debunk. Framing and frontloading will be important as I continue to explore options. Finally, I am optimistic that this could be a platform through which some other cool ideas, such as cross-curricular learning, leadership development, movement towards a skills-based mindset from a grades-based one, etc, could be developed. With a little help from my friends, I’ve begun to talk through this idea with my action plan in mind, and I am excited to dig deeper. Rather than go into too much detail on that front, here is what the inside of my brain looks like when it thinks about breaking and rebuilding the system:

(I promise that this is my “thinking writing” and I am more legible when necessary!)

Moving Forward—

i. I will have more specific conversations with individuals or groups of faculty/students to garner more of an understanding of how vertically integrated programming could be implemented in a way that meets their needs, and the goals that I am striving for.

ii. I will explore the systemic limitations that might exist on this sort of model. For instance, when and how can students “reach ahead” in a vertically integrated course? Are there time requirements and ways around them? How much of role can prior learning assessment play?

iii. I will explore the factors within RLC as an institution that may govern how, and to what extent, something like this could be done. How will it be scheduled? What integration of options will be presented? For what grade ranges?

I don’t know what this will look like—yet—but it is exciting to think about the possibilities!

Ah. And as proof that I can sometimes write legibly, and because it makes sense to include it, here is my “placemat” in its current form: