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Program puts learning into kids' own hands

Grant allows Burnaby independent school to launch a school-wide Learning in Depth program.

Students at a Burnaby independent school will start going deep next year thanks to an $8,000 government grant.

St. Michael’s Elementary School will launch a kindergarten to Grade 7 Learning in Depth program in September, after getting one of 15 Innovation Partnerships grants announced this month.

“I’m really grateful to the ministry for being able to find this money for schools to be able to really take risks and be innovative because otherwise it would have be very difficult for us,” principal Caterina Kennedy told the NOW. “Our pro-D budget is miniscule.”

Learning in Depth is the brainchild of SFU education professor Kieran Egan. Each student in the program is given a specific topic (“dust” or “skin” for example) to learn about for one hour a week through her or his whole school career – kindergarten to Grade 12.

“If you don’t know something in depth, you really never get an understanding of the nature of knowledge,” Egan told the NOW in a 2014 interview. “So what I was trying to do was invent a little program that would ensure that every child became an expert. What they actually learn is how little they know, so it generates a kind of humility about knowledge, but it also gives them a sense of how the other things they’re studying in school are all very superficial, and it gives them a desire to want to know more.”

St. Michael’s has piloted the project this year in one Grade 3 and one Grade 6 class, but, starting next school year, all students will spend an hour and a half each week learning about their topic – picked at random in September.

St. Michael’s is the second school in Burnaby to launch a Learning in Depth program schoolwide. University Highlands was the first in 2012.

Kennedy said she first learned about Learning in Depth while looking for ways the school could implement the new B.C. curriculum with its emphasis on creative and critical thinking, project-based learning and personalized learning.

“I love the philosophy behind it because it matches so well with the redesigned curriculum,” Kennedy said of Learning in Depth. “For me, it empowers them. It empowers their learning. We’re facilitators and coaches. We’re there to support them, but they’re actually taking their learning in their own hands.”

The government grant will help pay for miscellaneous program expenses and substitutes so teachers can get trained to implement the program.