My EDtech class had the opportunity on Tuesday to visit the Pacific School of Inquiry and Innovation or PSII (they pronounce it sigh). An independent school with 85 students, it is nestled into an office building on Douglas St. in downtown Victoria. Founded by Jeff Hopkins in 2013, PSII offers an alternate learning structure with a personalized inquiry based curriculum model. Victoria’s newest highschool (grades 9 – 12) still meets BC graduation requirements for a Dogwood Certificate. Check out Jeff’s TEDx talk below!
So how is the inquiry model practiced at PSII different from other mainstream public and private schools?
- Curriculum is co-created by student and teacher
- Learning path is curiosity driven
- Learners are grouped according to what makes sense, whether thats by interests, similarities or differences. Grouping is fluid and students from all grade levels interact
- School consists of many micro-environments ranging from a quiet sensory room to a wide open study space with the constant murmur of voices much like a coffee shop atmosphere
- Learners encouraged to develop projects based on their own inquiries
- Learners encouraged to access mentorship and contribute to society outside of the school walls
- A combination of face-to-face and virtual learning experiences
- Learners develop their own Physical Health Education plan and have the opportunity to walk over to the YMCA for a supervised workout daily.
We spent the first part of our tour learning about how PSII operates, each student has their own online portfolio, a compilation of their learning goals and achievements. Teachers, students and parents all have access to this e-portfolio.
Along with the curricular competencies outlined in the BC curriculum PSII has their own set of competencies for their learners. Below is a picture of a poster with PSII’s competencies that can be found at various places around the school.
The second part of our tour was spent independently exploring the school and talking with the students. I had the opportunity to talk with two students and one teacher.
The students showed me what they were currently working on as well as the weekly schedule. PSII offers direct instruction once a week for subjects like math. Each student also meets with their support teacher once a week to go over their progress and set new learning objectives for the next week, the student to teacher ratio is about 15:1 with no support staff.
The students that I chatted with told me that they spend the majority of their days on their computers (which are included in tuition), sitting in small groups of 4 or 5 or alone in the silent study area. There are also students that spend the majority of their days off the computer creating in the art/music studios. It all depends on the personalized learning path of the student. I only talked with two students but they both referred to mainstream public school as “scary”, there was an overarching feeling of calmness throughout the school and I can see how this model would work well with teens that struggle with both generalized and social anxiety.
The two students also preferred to call PSII an independent school rather than a private school as it made it sound “elitist”, I think that this goes with seeing PSII as a test model for inquiry based education. Seeing it as the education method of the 21st century. Not elitist, just ahead of its time.
I think that Inquiry based learning should be an option for any student in public schools. For some students direct instruction may work better and for some the inquiry model, no two students are alike so why have only one learning model? I guess that is what PSII is, an attempt to accommodate every learner based on interests, learning needs and pace.
As an elementary teacher how can I prepare my students to be independent thinkers capable of true independent inquiry? This is a question I will continue to ask as a teacher candidate and beyond.