Canada Qingdao Secondary School

Here is a description of the preparation for a WSP in this school with a Canadian curriculum in Qingdao, China. The principal, Yvan Zebroff, has sent a description of the work they have been doing:

The topic

Before the winter break (2011), I met with colleagues to discuss WSP. The reception to the idea was positive. Teachers could see potential benefits for the school, particularly in terms of exposing students to activities and interests otherwise inaccessible to them. As expected, teachers of academic subjects expressed a bit of apprehension about fitting a WSP into the curriculum (i.e., given the perceived need to complete the textbook, unit exams, and prepare for provincial exams, etc.). But all agreed to incorporate a WSP into their courses when possible/ applicable.

During our meeting, we brainstormed potential areas of study and narrowed these down to three topics: a) Canada, b) the school garden, and c) the flora of Qingdao. We failed to reach a consensus during the meeting. I volunteered to take some time over the winter holidays to select a topic (i.e., that addresses the needs presented in the meeting, and meets the criteria set out in the ms.).

I have opted for a natural world topic, as the natural world is most glaringly absent from much of the curriculum, and from students’ experience in general. Knowledge of flora, when presented in the science curriculum, is distant and abstract. Plants are missing in a physical sense as well (i.e., one would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful on campus). Even the plants students consume at lunch are usually altered beyond recognition. In short, I hoped such a natural world topic might help create a relationship that is currently lacking.

I decided that the school garden is fine as a product, but lacks the complexity necessary for a WSP topic. On the other hand, exploring all the flora of Qingdao would be a vast undertaking. As an alternative, I settled on “Garden plants of Qingdao”. I feel this topic could capture the narrative of human-plant interaction over time. Importantly, the focus would be on the plants (and their stories) rather than the economic benefit they proffer (though this too would surely be explored).

The topic is sufficiently complex. Indeed, it is complex enough to be broken down into various sub-topics: medicinal herbs, spices, flowers, ground crops, etc. Various disciplines/ forms of knowledge could be used in exploring these topics: e.g., math, biology, botany, history, anthropology, literature, fine arts, etc. Undoubtedly, many PLOs could be addressed.

Products

This WSP will have two final products. By July 2014, the school will develop a school garden that includes a variety of indigenous and domesticated plants, including: flowers, medicinal herbs, spices, ground crops, and vines. In addition to this we will publish a book documenting the experience and demonstrating the various understandings gained about these plants. All participants (students and teachers) will receive the book following the final presentation to community leaders and parents. I hope that both the garden and book could have a lasting value for our school community.

Of course, various other (subject-specific) products will be created over the three-year period. In producing the website and the book, students will utilize and develop I.E. cognitive tools (i.e., in Grade 10, Romantic tools of understanding; in Grade 11 a combination of Romantic and Philosophic; and in Grade 12, primarily Philosophic tools). I.E.E. tools will also be utilized and developed.

In the first year, newsletters and webpages will be used to document the project’s progress. By the end of the second year, we should have in place a complete website dedicated to the project. In addition to these Internet tools, students will prepare year-end presentations about the project.

Planning 10

I am teaching Planning 10 this year. Through the planning curriculum students learn about vocational ‘focus areas’. By Grade 12, they are to select one of these and create a graduation transitions portfolio. In short, students decide what they would like to study after graduation and begin preparing for this. In practice, the curriculum does not evoke a great deal of enthusiasm (on the part of teacher or students). I sense the WSP as an opportunity to ‘invigorate’ learning in this course.

In Grade 10, I will offer students an opportunity to use a variety of focus areas (e.g., art and design, media, humanities, technology, science and applied science, health, foods, recreation) in exploring the WSP topic. Individual work produced for the WSP can be added to students’ graduation transitions portfolios.

By grade 11, students will need to choose one focus area to develop in greater detail. For example a student might develop general skills of art and design through their work on the WSP. By Grade 12, students should develop expertise within their focus area. Hence, the artist might work specifically with watercolors (e.g., painting various medicinal herbs).

Importantly, as students gain expertise, they will share their understandings with others. Such interaction will occur within and across grade levels (e.g., the media group might run a workshop on creating a short film about the domestication of rice; scientists might give a lesson on utilizing the scientific method to assess various weeding methods, etc.).

Progress report, April 2012:

The ‘Plants of Qingdao’ whole school project is up and running. It took a bit of arm-twisting but we (i.e., a few student representatives and I) finally convinced the local school board to do a bit of excavating. The garden area we had selected happened to contain some rather sizeable boulders, as well as various construction materials buried under the surface. In any case, all of this was eventually removed and suitable soil brought in.

That was the tough part. The rest has been good fun. The kids and I have begun researching and planting/sowing in earnest. Trees and grass came first. Now we have started with some of the flowers and herbs. We will begin planting some of the vegetables later this week (Qingdao is remarkably cool this spring, so everything is a bit late). Grapes will come last.  Students have taken on various roles (i.e., managers, artists, reporters, scientists, writers) and each is busy on particular projects that will later be used for the website. Many of these projects focus on particular cognitive tools.

I have been able to do much of this in planning class, as the vocational component fits in nicely with ‘graduation transitions’ outcomes. My colleagues’ participation has thus far been limited by an ongoing struggle to complete the prescribed curricula. I am optimistic that this is a short-term difficulty. Indeed, at our last staff meeting, all teachers expressed interest in helping plant the vegetable beds. Since then, groups of students have asked particular teachers to act as sponsors. I am hopeful this will lead to further involvement.

This year we should have a small, rudimentary garden up and running. We should also have a basic website highlighting the learning that takes place.

This one was taken shortly after the maple and sakura (Japanese cherry) were planted. Grass was also sown and covered with straw. (Ivan Zebroff)