On Friday we visited the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII), a high school located here in Victoria. Jeff Hopkins started it after witnessing the current education system as a teacher, principle, and Superintendent. The school is based on some of the same ideas of that are used at High Tech High located in California. The different subjects are all interconnected; one inquiry might involve two or three subjects. For example one girl was growing her own fabric, which was then spun before being used in a sewing project. This one inquiry involved research on what is required to grow fabric, chemistry to actually try different chemical mixtures to make different colours and consistency fibers, then more research to learn how to spin the fibers into fabric. All these different skills can fall under different subjects and different learning outcomes. The student might expand the project by writing a history paper about spinning sheep’s wool into usable material. Soon one inquiry involves chemistry, history, textiles, and basic research skills. Each student covers the curriculum outcomes but does it through their individual inquiries and projects that interest them. Usually the students will have two or three different inquiries going on at the same time and will work on different projects within the multiple inquiries throughout the day.
The students are not controlled by a bell but by a plan made by the student and the teacher for the week. They set their goals for the week for each inquiry and project within the inquiry. They then build a schedule around what they are going to do and when. They might spend two hours on one part of an inquiry then one hour on another inquiry or they might spend the entire day on one inquiry and then spend the next day working on a different inquiry. It just sort of depends on what they are doing or working on. The flexibility in scheduling works well for a group of students who are part of the Victoria Dance Company who come from overseas. The flexibility allows them to leave school around lunch to dance without missing lecture time like they would in a traditional style high school. The only thing that is set is their lunch hour. The students are allowed to continue working although the teachers and staff encourage the students to take a break and to do something else. For PE they use the YMCA that is located just down the street. Since they have memberships the students sometimes go before school or during lunch to hang out and play some sort of sport.
PSII offers a completely different school system then that of a regular school. It allows the students to have freedom to explore what they find interesting while still meeting all the learning outcomes. Visiting this school reminded me not to limit my students. Within the school there were students who had developed their own makeup line, another who was in charge of advertisement for a company. All this while in high school, getting credit for high school courses doing what interests them. It was a great reminder to look beyond the textbook to see other ways of teaching a subject.