I’ve been connected with Abbotsford Christian School (ACS) for a long time. My student teaching placement was in grade three at the Heritage Campus back when Steve and I were still dating. Soon after I graduated and got married, I was hired on to teach grade five for the next three years. Even after I quit teaching to start our family, I still found myself darkening their doors once in a while for special events as my youngest brother-in-law was at ACS. Just as he walked out the doors, I walked in again with a five year old in tow, nervously leading my oldest through the doors to his kindergarten classroom.
Some things haven’t changed much. Susan Dykshoorn was the face that greeted me as Caleb’s kindergarten teacher and she is still the face that greets me each morning when I drop Owen off in her grade one classroom. Mike Bakker was teaching grade five alongside me and now he’s the star in all the “Mr. Bakker” stories Aiden comes home with from his grade four classroom. I’m a creature of habit and I like the comfortable feeling I get walking the halls of ACS. I even became accustomed to the language used by teachers such as curriculum or IEPs.
New buzz words
But lately there are three new words buzzing around ACS. I hear them at the elementary, the middle and the high school and they just aren’t going away. Project Based Learning. They remind me of that annoying mosquito buzzing around your head in the middle of the night that you keep trying to swat at but you just can’t get rid of. Eventually you either go mental from the buzzing or you choose to ignore it and hope it goes away. But this is one persistent mosquito and it’s not going away!
As a parent, I hear the word “project” and my heart starts beating faster, my blood pressure rises and I start to sweat. All it really means is homework……for me! I’ve “assisted” with many projects over the years so when I hear that word, I envision the horrors of forcing non-artsy children to draw, messy penmanship to be erased and re-written, late nights, extra trips to town to purchase special items all while keeping the glue stick handy so it could be pasted to the ever popular poster board. Perhaps if you have a super motivated, creative, high achieving child, you’ve never experienced this phenomenon. Count yourself blessed. But for me…..well, this is why I’ve been swattin’ like a mad woman at that pesky mosquito.
Planning their outfits
However, recently I attended the POL (Presentation of learning) night at our middle and high school. Two of my boys were involved. I witnessed both of them working with enthusiasm in the weeks leading up to this event. Drew loved every minute of creating a costume for a medieval archer and spent hours researching and learning so that he could look the part. He learned so much more than I expect he ever could have learned by listening to a teacher’s lesson or by taking notes in preparation for a test. He was personally invested and an eager student.
The same can be said for Caleb. I witnessed my sport-focused, laid-back, care-free 16-year-old buckle down to create a French menu and display it off with pride. He and his buddies planned their outfits including a shirt and tie to look the part of the waiters. He even requested a pit stop at Walmart to spend his hard earned money to purchase real wine glasses just to enhance the atmosphere at his table for the French cafe. And all the hard work paid off as the parents were treated to a delicious meal (those Home Ec kids really know how to cook!) served by French waiters who not only looked the part but sounded the part as well.
My final experience was listening as Caleb presented an essay on “This I Believe.” I was struck at how personal his essay was and how well-spoken he was. I remember writing a huge paper in high school. I worked for weeks. I handed it in with pride only to receive it back covered in red ink and sporting a big D on the top. That D confirmed what I already suspected, that despite my love for putting ink on paper, I was simply not good at writing and could never hope to be.
Writing has never been Caleb’s favourite but Mrs. Dejong patiently worked with him, returning that essay to him many, many times before he got it right. The finished product was truly impressive. Presenting his essay alone could have been enough but he and a fellow Art student worked together, Caleb doing the writing while a truly gifted young artist created a beautiful piece of artwork. Their combined presentation was extraordinary and I truly was blown away.
A little less swatting
I left that evening amazed at the potential in my children and their classmates. I was impressed by the teachers who worked to empower my boys to learn, to present with confidence, to display creativity and to find pure enjoyment in learning. The creativity of French teachers teaming up with Home Ec teachers and English teachers collaborating with Art teachers. The patience of teachers who allow their students to learn by doing while making a complete disaster of their grade 8 classroom in the process. The encouragement of teachers who believe that even those who deem themselves “non-writers” can experience pride in their essay when given guidance and repeated opportunities to succeed. This is no ordinary way to learn.
So it’s possible the buzzing I’ve been hearing hasn’t been the annoying blood sucking mosquito I was picturing, wanting to drain me of all my “mom energy.” So if this is project-based learning, perhaps it’s time I do a little less swatting.
Sure, there was that one stop for wine glasses and the feather that had to be sewn on Drew’s hat but other than that, I didn’t have to buy a single poster board!!