Just as no one size of school uniform fits all, so education should be custom tailored to the student, says the founding director of Kells Academy, Irene Woods.
Learning has always been a very personal matter at the Westmount Learning Centre she founded in 1978, which later expanded into Kells Academy. Class sizes are kept small, and the focus has been on supporting each learner’s uniqueness. “Now we’re taking this approach, which works so well, to the next level — finding new ways to keep students active and engaged.”
This fall, Kells high school is expanding two popular initiatives launched last year: Flex scheduling, which allows students to hand-pick elective subjects, and the innovative use of digital technology.
The Flex program complements the school’s wide range of extracurricular activities. In the 2014-15 school year, it garnered rave reviews from students who leaped at the chance to select a course of special interest each semester. Building on this, Woods and her team have included options beyond the arts and sports programs for which the school is known. Students can select from a dozen subjects that range from jiu-jitsu to dance to calculus to music.
While in Grade 9 last year, Jason Papagiannis, 15, took advantage of two Flex courses: law in one semester, philosophy in the next. His father, George, whose 18-year-old daughter Christina also attended Kells, said “Jason kept saying how he enjoyed the discussions and the camaraderie that developed” in the Flex courses. He also had the opportunity to mingle with students of different ages, since the program’s courses are open to all grade levels.
“My son has also greatly benefited from the way technology is used at Kells, and the way it has been integrated into the curriculum,” Papagiannis added. “Jason learned important digital life skills and would not have achieved the same level of success at school without them.
“The use of technology has definitely made the parents’ job easier,” he said, echoing the sentiments of many of the parents. “My wife and I both appreciate many aspects, including daily online access to our kid’s homework and class notes.”
The introduction of digital technology to the classroom has been a game-changer for students and teachers. Kells has embraced it fully and finds that it permits teachers to offer instruction that reaches every learner, changing the classroom dynamics. In-class innovations include the “flipped classroom” and “Learning Response Systems.” Both are already used in educational circles and employ digital technology to promote active learning. Kells has adapted them to create approaches unique enough to be recognized at a conference for educators held at McGill University in May 2015.
The flipped classroom reverses the usual teaching model, with lessons given at night, homework during class time. Students watch videotaped lectures or lessons at home, communicating with each other or their teachers via online discussions. “In-class time is used for discussion, activities and more one-on-one time with the teacher,” Woods said.
Learning Response Systems refers to an interactive presentation system adapted for the classroom. The teacher poses questions verbally or on a so-called smartboard, a high-tech whiteboard. Students then provide their answers using remote transmitters such as an iPad, a process that keeps everyone in the class engaged. The system instantly collects the results, which the teacher can view and then give immediate feedback.
The innovation in teaching programs and methods at Kells Academy is progressive and never ceases. A number of other programs are in the plans as the school continuously strives to build better learning methods that prepare their students with skills that will be essential in tomorrow’s world.
Visit www.kells.ca to learn more.