Chemistry!

I thought I’d write a quick post about Chemistry. I know that a lot of people are wondering how we get some of the more difficult subjects done at PSII. This year I’m doing Chem 11, and it’s going pretty well so far.

Jessica (our Science and Math-based teacher) mentioned that about a third of Chem 11 is work we’ve already done in Science 10. Next week we’re going to bring in some of our science work from last year and go over it. We’re also going to have a conversation with Jessica about what we remember from last year and what we might need to re-learn or go over again this year.

One other thing that’s different about chemistry at PSII is that we do lots of experiments. If a student thinks up an experiment and we have the materials to get it done, it happens. Of course we talk about the science of it beforehand, during, and afterward. This way we can relate it to the real world much better, so we know it isn’t all just theory.

Every week or so we have an actual chemistry lesson, which is very important. It’s easy to learn because there are about five of us in total who are taking Chem 11, so we get to ask lots of questions if we need to.

So that’s Chemistry at PSII. The part I like the most about it is definitely the experiments!

Over a Month In! and Rod Allen’s Visit

I’m going to try to post about twice a week from now on, probably one at the beginning of the week and one at the end. The posts might be slightly shorter from now on.

So, we’re over a month in now! Honestly, I’m still trying to grasp how everything works, but I think that’s to be expected for everyone. We’ve learned one way our whole lives and changing it isn’t easy. That being said, I’m probably enjoying school more than I ever have – it’s quite liberating, being able to structure your own time.

Last week Rod Allen, the Superintendent of the Ministry of Education’s Learning Division, came to talk to us all about the way the curriculum and school system in BC is changing. We all had a lot of questions for him. I’m very interested in the way the school system is changing, so I was excited to hear what he had to say about it.

Basically what he told us is that they’re in the midst of re-organizing and re-writing the curriculum for all grades, but that they also need to get the post-secondary schools on board with this new way of dealing with education.

It’s exciting to be a part of the change in education in the province of BC. I really hope that the first year of PSII is a success.

Keeping on Track

This last week went pretty well. I’ve been working on all my projects and getting to know the teachers and students. Because there are under 50 students and only six teachers, it’s easier to form a welcoming community.

Okay, so some of you may have been wondering how exactly PSII works. It seems like a really chaotic way of learning. In reality, there is structure. Traditional learning is extremely structured and organized, but PSII isn’t completely abstract. I feel like it’s right in the sweet spot. We have several things that keep our learning on track – and keep us all sane.

Project Meetings

At the beginning of each project, we meet with a teacher and discuss what courses are going to be involved, what outcomes we’re going to meet, and what resources we’ll need to complete the project. We meet with the teacher periodically along the way to talk about how the project is going. Once we’ve completed a project, we meet again to do the assessment.

Personal Learning Plans

Our Personal Learning Plans (PLP’s) are where we keep all the information we need for all of our projects. It’s an overview of everything we’re doing, and it’s extremely helpful. We use Google Drive for this so that all the teachers can have access to our planning. In our PLP’s we put the project title, courses the project will encompass, different outcomes it will meet within the courses, as well as a couple other things about the project.

Subject Meetings

Some subjects have a lot of raw material to get through, for example Math or French. For those courses we generally have a weekly meeting in which we do a lesson or just talk about how things are going. If there’s something we don’t understand, the teacher explains it.

All of these things are important to keep us feeling grounded and like we’re going somewhere. The teachers are doing an amazing job of keeping us organized but also being free to go down whichever path we wish to.

Transitioning Into Inquiry-Based Learning (and Course Credit)

The first week of school was slightly chaotic. The transition into project-based learning can be difficult and I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of it – although I think I’m nearly there. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but there are a couple phases I went through during the first week at PSII.

At the beginning (the first couple days), I felt like I could do anything. I felt that, because we could choose our own courses and projects, anything could be done. My reaction to that was to do as many things as possible. I tried to start a lot of projects. It was nice for a little while, but when you’re stuck in this phase for too long, it gets really overwhelming.

After the first couple of days had passed, I was feeling a little bit hopeless, to be honest. It was all getting to be too much and I didn’t feel like I had a firm grasp on anything I was working on. I reacted to this by slowing down. I didn’t do much in the last couple days because of the feeling of being so overwhelmed.

I’m now just starting to get out of this last phase. I had a conversation with Jeff today about all my courses and that really helped. I have more of a long-term plan and everything feels more doable. I’m going to try to get a good start to the day tomorrow and hopefully everything will start falling into place.

I’m trying to complete ten courses this year. I’m probably going to try to combine Social Justice 12, English Literature 12 and English 11 and 12. A lot of the outcomes for these courses are similar. I’m also going to combine Français 11 and 12 and Sciences Humaines (Social Studies) 11. Then I only have three more courses that I’m going to do separately: Photography (or a Music course, I’m not positive which one yet), Foundations of Math 11, and Chemistry 11. I’m also starting to learn Italian and I’m going to do a little bit of Psychology, but I’m not going to put too much emphasis on these subjects because of how much work I have to do already. I’m going to do them for fun and if I’m able to get credit for them that’ll be great.

Also, the teachers have told us about how to get credit for a course: we’re first going to determine the outcomes for each course. Once we know what these are, we’ll direct our inquiries towards the outcomes for the course. When all the outcomes have been explored, we’ll get credit for the course. I’m relieved to be able to see the big picture more clearly.

More Project Work and Thinking About the Big Picture

Today was a bit tiring, but overall a good day. We did a lot of planning on our Social Studies/French project. For this project we’re using Google Drive so that we can all access the same file and work on it whenever we want. The first video is going to be about World War I. As to the format, so far we think we’re going to put together a bunch of clips about the war and then do a voice over to explain what’s happening.

I also looked over the Français 12 curriculum with our French teacher, Sophia. The few of us that are taking this course are a little bit worried about the provincial exam, so we’ve decided to do lots of practice for it.

I took two books out from the library, one in French (Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran, by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt) and one in English (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman). I’ll hopefully have time to start reading them tomorrow and when I’m finished reading I might do a project for part of my English or French grade.

I am doing Foundations of Math 11 by distance. I think I’ll be able to go through it pretty quickly by working on my own. I did a little math today.

One thing that I’m wondering about is how to get all the curriculum in for each course. For example, I’m taking Social Justice 12 this year. I know that I could start a project in this subject whenever I wanted to, but my question is how much needs to be done so that I’m finished and I can have the credits for the course.

Also, I’m the kind of person that needs to see the big picture when I’m learning. The way I’m going about things right now, it’s more of a day-to-day schedule. I’m going to talk to one of the teachers tomorrow about mapping out my year a little bit better so that I know where I’m going on a more grand scale.

For future posts I’m not going to do a summary of my day anymore; things are getting a bit repetitive. I’m going to try to talk about the differences between public school and my school, what’s working for me and what isn’t, reflection on my learning, and/or surprising, fun and interesting events going on at school.

Day 3: Starting Our Projects

Day 3, again, was a bit of a whirlwind. We started projects and each of us had a one-on-one conversation with a teacher about our goals for the year, what we wanted to do after high school, etc. At lunchtime I was taught how to juggle by Jake (the teacher/performer) and a couple students made delicious cookies for everyone.

Here is a list of the projects I started:

Sciences Humaines/Français Video Project

There are a few French Immersion students at PSII. Social Studies is not a very popular subject, so we’ve found a way to zoom through it: we’re going to break up the curriculum into about 10 different sections and do a video for each section. Since there is a provincial exam for Sciences Humaines 11 (french Social Studies), we have to make sure to cover pretty much everything. Also, the videos are going to be in French, which will be a chunk of the Français 11 curriculum as well (speaking in the video, writing the script, reading in the research). There are three of us planning to do this and we might work with a few others concerning the Social Studies content.

Blog

I started writing on Day 2 and worked on it a little more on Day 3.

Short Story

This isn’t really a plan, it’s more of a vague idea because I love writing. Hopefully I’ll be doing several short stories throughout the year.

Smoke Bomb Lab

Another student got the idea to make a smoke bomb. This sounded like an awesome experiment and he invited me to work with him. I’ll be getting some Chemistry in (I’m taking Chem 11) as well as some English in the write-up.

Photography Group

There are many students interested in Photography, so we’ve formed a group. We’re not quite sure yet what this is going to look like, but I think we’re planning to go on trip up Mt. Tolmie to take photos sometime next week.

Psychopath Project

This project derived from the question “Is being a psychopath beneficial in our society?” Psychology seems to be an interesting topic for many, including myself, so we’re planning on exploring it. We’re not sure of the format yet.

Those are all the projects I’m involved in already. It’s funny how fast things got moving when the teachers let go of the reins and we started.

Okay, this seems like a long post already, but I have one last important thing to say. I was walking to the bus stop after school and I found myself genuinely excited about all of these projects. And then I thought, what if everyone felt this way about school? Honestly, at my old school, 85% of students disliked being there. And it’s a great school. The only problem was that no one was allowed to learn what they wanted to learn. Or even how they wanted to learn. And now I have the unique opportunity to decide these things for myself. I can already tell that the difference is pretty powerful.

Days 1 and 2: Learning How Things Work

Today is Saturday. I wasn’t in school yesterday because I’m travelling to Winnipeg to attend a family wedding. Today I’m going to post about my first two days at PSII and tomorrow I’m going to post about the third day. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up the posting daily (at least until things get repetitive).

DAY 1

PSII gets going at 9:30 in the morning and we went until 12:30 on Day 1 (we normally finish at 3:30). We got there and then all muddled around while we waited for everyone to arrive. There are about 50 students attending this year. After everyone was there the teachers and students sat in a circle and went around and said names. Then that the teachers did little presentations so that we got to know them and their backgrounds a little better. These ranged from knife-juggling(!) to reading poetry. Jeff (our founder/principal) also spoke a little bit about how the year was going to work, but he said he would get into it more on Day 2. It was a pretty short day but for me it was slightly overwhelming. It’s a new environment with fifty new students to get to know, as well as new teachers and a new system of education. All in all, it felt like a full day.

DAY 2

On the second day we got into more detail about the way our learning is going to be structured throughout the year. In the morning we all sat down at tables and Jeff did a sample inquiry. An inquiry is basically a question designed to facilitate discussion. The inquiry was this: say you own a restaurant. Would disposable plates or reusable plates be better? This may sound like a bit of a boring topic (it did to me at first) but we were able to get so in depth that we touched on many different subjects – psychology, entrepreneurship, environmental conservation, ethical dilemmas, and more.

After we were all done exploring the sample inquiry, Jeff invited us to start on our own inquiries. Most of us used mind maps, but there were some drawings and lists, as well as other formats. I took a while to get going but after some help I decided to start with a question that stemmed from my interest in psychology: “Why do different people behave in different ways?” I put “nature” on one side and “nurture” on the other and just kept going from there.

When we were all done with our inquiries we put them up on the walls and everyone walked around and looked at other students’ work. If we were interested in someone’s inquiry, we wrote our name on a sticky note and stuck it on their page. When we were done, we all got into groups of four and tried to come up with a project that could include our four topics.

In my group we had my topic, which was behaviour, and then there was communism, ethics, and neurology. After some thought we started talking about the dictatorship of North Korea and the leadership role of Kim Jong-un. I had a suggestion that we do a case study on his life, which could incorporate all of our inquiries. From there we branched out and came up with a whole bunch of other questions, such as “Why do humans crave power?” and we ended up with “Are humans innately good or bad?” Both opinions were voiced in our group. We thought that maybe this would be a good topic for a debate.

We were then given our laptops, which was an exciting end to the day. Jeff said that the next day we were going to start planning some projects, which would likely be done in smaller groups.