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SD43 unveils Inquiry Hub

Stephen Whiffin and Dave Truss, principal and vice-principal of Coquitlam Open Learning respectively, are looking forward to the new Inquiry Hub starting up at the old Millside elementary this fall after it was approved by the board of education trustees Tuesday. - SARAH PAYNE/THE TRI-CITY NEWS
Stephen Whiffin and Dave Truss, principal and vice-principal of Coquitlam Open Learning respectively, are looking forward to the new Inquiry Hub starting up at the old Millside elementary this fall after it was approved by the board of education trustees Tuesday.
— image credit: SARAH PAYNE/THE TRI-CITY NEWS

This September students in Grades 8 to 12 can sign up for a whole new way of learning at the Inquiry Hub.

An extension of Coquitlam Open Learning (COL), the Inquiry Hub will offer a full-time program of learning — without the regular class structure. Instead, students will pursue their own education based on a student-driven inquiry approach.

Stephen Whiffin, principal of Coquitlam Open Learning, said the program was developed in response to the growing numbers of families looking for an alternative to neighbourhood schools, such as the greater personal choice inherent in homeschooling or online courses, but that still offer a classroom environment.

“The framework for doing that is inquiry-based learning, where students choose their own theme,” Whiffin said.

Students at the Inquiry Hub will choose from three main areas: community and global issues; environmental sustainability; and media arts, design and technology.

Initially, students will spend a significant chunk of time simply learning how to go about this new way of learning.

“Depending on their age, their level of experience, they’re going to have varying abilities to ask the big questions that involve comprehensive learning,” Whiffin said.

Instead of taking individual core courses, such as English, social studies and math, students will pursue experiences based on their interests in one of the themes — and they’ll have to demonstrate their learning in each of these areas.

As an example, instead of reading To Kill a Mockingbird in a typical English class, an Inquiry Hub student focusing on climate change would meet their literature needs by reading books on that subject.

Students will work with teacher mentors to identify key competencies in various subjects, ensuring kids continue to stay on par with curriculum requirements.

Whiffin said parents will also play a significant role as mentors, helping to guide their child’s explorations. Eventually, as more students progress through the Inquiry Hub, there will also be peer mentors.

Students will also engage with fellow students, community members, subject area experts and students from around the world as they collaborate on their work.

The key, Whiffin emphasizes, is giving students a chance to explore big, important questions from a multitude of angles — and to share the results, whether it’s with the school, the city or the world, using various online tools.

There is already strong interest in the Inquiry Hub, Whiffin said. The initial intake is expected to be 50 to 60 students, with a maximum of 150.

The program will appeal to a broad range of students, he added, from gifted kids looking for greater challenges and those students who have a hard time focusing in a structured class for an hour.

“They may not be the highest performing student, but coming into this context gives them a chance to focus on what they’re interested in and meet their personal needs in terms of the pace they can work at,” Whiffin said.

Wherever students land on the spectrum, they’ll be assessed based on whether they’ve achieved the learning outcomes they identified with their mentors.

What it won’t be based on, Whiffin said, is one big, end-of-the-year essay.

“What we’re not going to see is a final project at the end of the year,” he added. “What I hope we’re going to see is students going out and changing the world.”

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