Starting in second grade, children will be placed in an “interest stream” — the arts, scientific inquiry, sports, humanitarian/environment — at an Alberta elementary school, reports The National Post. Surveys in kindergarten and first grade and input from parents and teachers will determine the grouping. Students will be taught the provincial curriculum through the “lens” of their “stream.”
For the humanitarian/environment stream, for example, Grade 3 teacher Carla Pierce, plans to teach graphing from a humanitarian perspective by having students chart various countries’ wealth. A math class might involve an assignment in which kids calculate waste accumulation, while a big-picture view will be provided by such guest speakers as the social-change organization Me to We.
Hawkey Elementary School Principal Dan Hoch hopes to engage students by capitalizing on their interests. “Wayne Gretzky was skating when he was three years old.”
The concept is loosely guided by Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of providing early opportunities to develop an area of expertise. In 2008’s Outliers: The Story of Success, the bestselling author concluded that in order to be a high achiever in any field, some 10,000 hours of related practice are required. It’s also informed by educational reform ideas from scholar Ken Robinson.
“It sounds faddish if it’s being inspired by Malcolm Gladwell,” said Dr. Paul Bennett, director of Schoolhouse Consulting. “Experiments like this are valuable if the initiators have their goal of raising standards, but if it’s just more of the same, watering-down the curriculum and making it more palatable to students, it’s probably not going to produce much of a change.”
University of Calgary researchers, who will evaluate the program, hope to see improved achievement and and drops in absenteeism and discipline problems.
Parents and teachers are skeptical about the idea, the Post reports.
“Between the age of six and 10 I don’t think I even knew how to tie my shoes or make a sandwich, let alone figure out my future humanitarian endeavours or how to apply for a patent after my grandiose scientific invention,” wrote Scott Mitchell, the Airdrie Echo newspaper editor, in an editorial.
I can’t say I was much of a humanitarian when I was seven. I had no particular interest in the arts, science or sports either. I liked to read fantasy, adventure and history, averaging a book a day for many years. My friend Janice and I wrote a newspaper, The Wednesday Report, from second through fifth grade. Was I an outlier? I guess so. Schools can’t cater to true outliers, except by leaving them alone. My teachers let me read in class, discreetly.