BOW VALLEY – The world is constantly changing, and schools need to continually change to ensure students are ready for what the future holds.
To that end, the Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) held a Community Education Network session to focus on strengthening innovative programming.
Out of the session, initial plans have been put in place to offer an expansion of course offerings at Canmore Collegiate High School (CCHS) and Banff Community High School.
“It is important that we have authentic learning for our students. There needs to be connections to what they are learning in the classroom and real-world applications,” said Chris Rogers, principal of CCHS. “What we are doing is making sure the learning in the classroom is relevant not just so the students can make a connection in the real world, but so they can make pathways moving forward.”
The courses and programs offered will focus on environmental stewardship and help further student learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as well as science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). Other courses that are new or being enhanced include applied design, cosmetology, design thinking and synthetic biology.
“We had a presentation at one of our board meetings where we had about four or five students from CCHS that are involved in the synthetic biology club,” said Chris MacPhee, superintendent of CRPS. “It has grown to such a point now that it will be offered as a course at CCHS.”
Two teachers have been hired to accommodate the new courses. Spencer Kenney is a mechanical engineer with 10 years of experience in education and has developed curriculums for a wide variety of STEAM courses. Josh Ouellet is a geoscientist who has spent most of his teaching career developing scientific, mathematical, coding, and outdoor education activities for gifted students.
“We have two young teachers who are coming into our system who are extremely talented in the areas of STEM and STEAM, which are extremely important moving into the future,” MacPhee said.
The new courses will result in changes in the curriculums at the high schools, by integrating various subjects together for a deeper learning experience.
“We have combined the science and math with STEM and made it a full year. That has allowed us to find where those natural way-spaces are for things to come together,” said Rogers. “Teachers are looking for connections that may be relevant for students. It is an ongoing process. It is not simple to take two different curriculums to bring them together. It takes time to develop that.”
The combination of curriculums is relatively unique in the province as there is no STEM curriculum offered by the province. Math and science are delivered separately. As a result, with learning activities and projects combining math and science into one project, students get marks for both separately, even though they are working on one project using both.
“The idea is to try and build a more cross-curricular approach. You are bringing these different fields together to have a practical approach,” Rogers said. “When you start in some of your core courses like chemistry, biology or physics, that is when you tie in some of the environmental stewardship, which is your STEM component.”
The process to get to this point began years ago for the school division when the two high schools became aligned in their courses and timeframes. This has allowed the division to offer a more robust offering because it can do so between two facilities and two sets of staff.
“It increases the options our students have three-fold, which is extremely important to us,” MacPhee said.
The Community Education Network sessions are typically held every two or three years and can focus on a variety of topics. This most recent session included 37 community members.
“When we start to determine there is an area of importance that we want to gather information, our community, staff and parents as a whole give us a knowledge base to work from where we start to plan what is best for our children in the valley,” MacPhee said.
Moving forward, the school division will look at how the courses are received by parents and students.
“We are always reflective of practice,” Rogers said. “We always have ongoing conversations with our families and students to look and see what is working well and what can be approved on.”
These changes and the sessions between staff and the community, in the end, are about ensuring students have what they need to begin their post-secondary careers.
“It is enhancing their programs to engage them in learning. It is also making sure they have what they need to be able to move forward with their post-secondary dreams,” said Debbie McKibbin, deputy superintendent at CRPS. “Sometimes kids don’t know what they want, but if they can have these meaningful opportunities at the high school, it will allow them to choose a post-secondary path that suits their passions, interests and skillsets.”