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Forget math, let’s get cooking and building

Monday, 13 November 2017. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Forget math, let’s get cooking and building

Whether learning to produce every aspect of a fancy dinner party, getting down and dirty building new jumps at the bike park, or trying any of the other offerings during Experiential Learning Week, Matthew Halton students had the opportunity to hone new skills and reap the rewards of their efforts.   Photos by Shannon Robison

Forget math, let’s get cooking and building

By Caitlin Clow

Inquisitive teens were provided with numerous opportunities to study something a little more hands-on, and perhaps even more interesting than their regular curriculum, during Experiential Learning Week at Matthew Halton High School in Pincher Creek.

Groups spent a week in October customizing cars to survive a zombie apocalypse, preparing meals that even Gordon Ramsay would be proud of to compete in the dinner wars, crafted skits and sketches channelling the spirit of Saturday Night Live, and much more.

The students left their pencils and books behind as they picked up spatulas and screw drivers. And assistant principal Greg Freer says it’s all worth it.

“It’s about student choice and student engagement,” he says. “Kids don’t choose to take math or social studies or English — they have to take those. The hands-on learning gets them out there and engaged.

“We’re always looking at what comes after the diploma. We want to provide authentic learning experiences for the kids that will translate into something later in life.”

Teachers and students alike come up with a variety of ideas for courses and projects to participate in during the week. Mr. Freer says staff and students never fail to surprise him with their creativity.

A small group of students, for instance, proposed to take their ELW to the town’s bike park, where they improved jumps and maintained the grounds, while sneaking in a few last runs before snowfall.

“Those students got together, came up with the idea and presented it to us,” Mr. Freer says. “They said it was something they really needed and it was something they were passionate about, so we supported it.”

Another student, curious about the dentistry profession, used her connections to shadow a dentist for the week.

“We really encourage kids to do their own projects as well,” Mr. Freer says.

Although students were away from their desks, they earned credit for the projects in a variety of core courses, including career and technology studies. They also gained a myriad of life skills.

The ELW program is unique to Matthew Halton, Mr. Freer says, but he would like to see it grow.

“It started here, and I think every school in this province — heck, even the country — should be doing this for at least one week.”

The school has presented its findings from the ELW program at teaching conferences, but he says that because the word “rural” is often attached, many schools — especially from cities — skip out on the presentations.

“It’s a little disheartening because we know we have something really great going on here,” he says.

He would like to see media from Lethbridge take note as well.

“We want to see it get out to the province,” he says.

However, Matthew Halton’s work has piqued the interest of Palliser Regional Schools, which has sent administrators and staff to look at the ELW program, among other things.

In May, the spring rotation of ELW courses will take place. Through a partnership with Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge, students will once again have the option to stay in residence and take college- and university-level classes.

“It allows them to take a dry run of the college experience before spending the big bucks,” Mr. Freer says.

Other schools have taken notice of the working relationship between Matthew Halton and post-secondary institutions in Lethbridge and have signed up as well.

“It will be business as usual,” Mr. Freer says. “Our feedback comes very strong and it’s high student engagement. They always look forward to the next one.”

He says all students — and staff, as well — look forward to Christmas holidays, spring break and long weekends, but based on the response they’ve received, students are eagerly awaiting another rotation of ELW.

“It’s a nice mental break for the kids,” he says.

Not to mention, practical and educational.

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20171027 Experiential Learning Dinner Party 1

20171027 Experiential Learning Dinner Party 2

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Photo by Clair Hockley