At the start of this year, the Academy embarked on a mission to incorporate cross-curricular learning experiences into students’ educational journeys. Many, if not all things in life can be seen and analysed through multiple lenses. Baking cookies can be explored through the lenses of food and nutrition, chemistry, business, entrepreneurship, English, maths, and multiple other subjects. Exploring problems, issues, or topics from multiple perspectives is exactly what cross-curricular learning is all about. Instead of learning one subject at a time, cross-curricular learning aims to solve real world problems, issues or topics from two or more different disciplines.
In order to incorporate cross-curricular learning opportunities into the curriculum, the Academy adopted a new schedule that had students focus on two instead of four subjects per day and added a half day cross-curricular block on Friday afternoons to afford students time to explore various themes (Black History, Peace, Mental Health, Women’s History) or other class projects decided upon by two or more different courses merging together. To help teachers plan these cross-curricular experiences, we had the luck and pleasure of enlisting the guidance and mentorship of Pam Moran and Ira Socal for three professional development sessions throughout the year.
Pam and Ira are authors of the book Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools. Pam, a retired superintendent, former principal and teacher, and Ira, a former Chief Technology and Innovation Officer in Virginia schools, have many decades of experience between them. They have led the development of some of the most contemporary learning spaces in the United States, and we were lucky to have them give their time to help us in better understanding how to incorporate cross-curricular learning into our school in a way that was engaging, relevant and fun for both students and teachers alike. One of the major outcomes of our professional development sessions was the idea to have a cross-curricular week where students worked on a single cross-curricular project for multiple days. Below is an account of what ended up transpiring.
From Wednesday June 1st to Friday June 3rd, 2022, students at the Academy embarked on four different cross-curricular projects they had previously signed up for weeks earlier. Three of the projects were on-site at the Academy while one was two hours away in the wilderness at Camp Pine Crest. The four projects students had options to pursue were as follows:
Project 1: Choose Your Own Adventure Coding
In this project students explored the ins and outs of the design process of a Choose your own adventure story/game. Groups explored aspects of game design as well as the writing process, including flowcharting, project management, and other planning practices. The end goal was to create a short choose your own adventure “game” or “story”. Using free and open source applications such as Piskel, Twine, and Diagrams.org students prototyped, created, and playtested their own unique ‘choose your own adventure’ games. Students worked on creating their own pixel art (and animations), stories, and embedded music into their games using HTML and CSS (The basic coding languages of the web).
The project encompassed traditional storytelling as well as HTML and CSS styles to further immerse readers into the story. Over three days, students created short choose your adventure stories that were colourful and engaging (to the point where students from the other projects asked to have access to them for their personal entertainment).
These basic games ranged from the surreal, to a zombie apocalypse game. Students not only worked on concrete skills such as coding, writing, and workflow management but also cooperation, teamwork, time management, and creative expression/problem solving. By the end of the three days, teams were very proud of their work, as were we as well.
Project 2: Hyperbolic Crochet
Have you ever paused to admire and wonder about the patterns in nature that surround us? Did you know corals grow in hyperbolic planes? Even if you’ve never heard about hyperbolic planes, you can learn to crochet them! Over the course of three days, students in this group made connections to science, maths, art, and various topics while learning to crochet wild and beautiful creations that mimicked the shapes and patterns found in the ocean’s own art: the glorious but endangered coral reefs. This creative and collaborative project was a fascinating sensory journey that soothed the minds of both students and teachers all while stimulating their imagination.
Project 3: Pinecrest Canoe Trip
This alternative project was an outdoor orientation event run by the YMCA Academy and Camp Pinecrest in beautiful Muskoka where students went on a canoe trip. Over three days, students experienced sleeping in tents and cooking outdoors. They learned the basics of canoeing and wilderness camping skills. This was also the perfect setting for storytelling, campfires, environmental awareness, swimming and games.
Project 4: Rocketry
Groups of students in this project built stomp rockets and measured how high they flew. Each group reflected on their launch and evaluated and explored how to change various aspects of their rocket to make it fly higher and built further prototypes which they proceeded to launch. Aside from building and testing rockets, students also explored the challenges associated with space exploration, the technologies developed for space exploration via space shuttles, Canadian contributions to space exploration, and the environmental and societal impacts of rocketry.
At the end of the last day, students presented their projects to other groups, discussing what they did, and what they learned throughout their experiences. For a first attempt, the experience was memorable for everyone who took part. We are hopeful that we can build on this experience in order to offer students more cross-curricular experiences in the future with the desire to make future experiences ones that are constructed and designed with student input. Life is multifaceted and collaborative, and so too should education.