This year York House School, Crofton House School and Saint George’s School joined together to embark on something new at the secondary school level in Canada. These three independent schools came together to offer the first cross-collaborative, blended-learning Advanced Placement (AP) Statistics course. Something that York House has been wanting to introduce for quite some time but has been unable to offer in the regular timetable.
Recognising the need to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning has led to the exploration of blended learning models in schools and universities around the world. Broadly speaking, blended learning refers to any course that integrates learning both digitally as well as in a classroom environment. Students are neither working completely online nor completely reliant on traditional lecture-style teaching in the classroom. You could say that it is the best of both worlds.
If you look online, you will see examples of blended learning models from Harvard University, various city colleges in the US and even at the secondary school level at High Tech High (a collaborative partner with York House) in San Diego. But you will also soon see that there are many, many iterations and interpretations of this model.
The emphasis of the York House, Crofton and Saints’ AP Statistics course is very much on collaboration. Because it is the work of three schools coming together, the teachers are collaborating as much as the students are, both online and face-to-face. It is exactly this type of cross-collaboration that you simply don’t see often in academics. We might play sports together, but we typically don’t teach and learn together.
This course was about five years in the making according to York House Mathematics Department Head, Marianne Chang. Once the decision was made to move forward by the Heads of School, Marianne then met with Phil Stringer, Department Head of Mathematics in the Senior School at Crofton and Andrew Jones, Department Head of Mathematics in the Senior School at Saints, over an eight month period to determine what the course would look like.
Simply put, this course is a university-level course that introduces students to the major concepts and tools for collecting, analysing, and drawing conclusions from data. There are 17 boys from Saints, 11 girls from Crofton and 6 girls from York House taking the course which makes it a 50/50 split for boys and girls. A year-long course, individual classes are held throughout the week at each school for their respective students, every other week the three classes come together for two hours after school, and each school hosts these sessions five times throughout the year. Assessments are based on the student’s work and involvement in discussions, online forums, projects and tests.
Modelling a university-style course, students do a lot of independent reading before class, class time itself is reserved for questions and group presentations. Online, the focus is also on collaborating. Students are randomly put into groups of about three or four where they participate in an online forum to discuss solutions to various problems for 10% of their mark which is peer assessed. Another 10% of their mark is related to group projects. In-school discussions are self-assessed and represent 5% of their mark. The mandatory evening sessions are worth 25% of their mark and are also self-assessed. The remaining 50% of the marks come from individual assessments.
So far, the students have been exploring probability and simulation to examine a wide range of random phenomena such as how airlines oversell seats based on a certain number of cancellations or no shows; or determining the mean age of quarters in a given sample and trying to determine predictability.
Commenting on the progress the class has made so far, Marianne said, “AP Statistics lends itself well to a blended learning model. There are so many benefits to the students regardless of what they do in their university careers. It shows them how to make sense of data that is so applicable in life. Students have to be independent, and responsible for their own learning. They are also learning to work with others and communicate effectively. An added bonus is that it is very good socially. Boys and girls are working together and girls from other schools are also working very well together.”
For Marianne, the team-teaching model has also been new, but she has found that the positives far outweigh any challenges as they each bring different strengths to the table. Marianne’s focus on mathematics, combined with Andrew’s experience as a statistics teacher and Phil’s expertise in technology have resulted in what seems to be a very balanced model to this style of teaching. The magic seems to be that they all share the same work ethic and are all putting a great effort into delivering the course.
Marianne commented, “Of course, as this is the first time we are offering the course in this way, we are making tweaks as we go. The pace is challenging for students, but they seem to be enjoying both the format and the content.”
Offering a student’s perspective on the course, Grade 12 York House student Nicole said, “I have really enjoyed the backward classroom model where you prepare in advance and the classroom is reserved for problem solving and discussion. I think it is a really good introduction to university and I learned a lot. I even learned how to use Excel to calculate problems, and I am now an Excel wizard! It has also been good being able to work with boys which I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to do in my time at York House.”
In terms of challenges, Nicole adds that coordinating group projects when you are not physically at the same school was the most challenging. Surprisingly, she found that having classes outside of the school timetable was not as difficult as she had expected.
Grade 12 student Daniella added, “At first it was a bit challenging to keep up as there was a lot of new things to get used to. There is a lot of self-teaching. It can also be challenging to coordinate group projects when we are at different schools but the last project I worked on was quite successful as I knew the other students better. I find our classes at York House very helpful and if we want another class we simply ask Ms. Chang.”
This past October, Dr. Tom Matthews, Head of School at Saint George’s; Patricia Dawson, Head of School at Crofton House and our Head of School, Chantal Gionet, were asked to present this blended learning model at CAIS’ National Head’s Conference in Halifax. Commenting on the response they received, Chantal said, “We presented to Heads of School from across the country and they were all so impressed with what we are doing with this course. In spite of the extra work for both the teachers and the students, it is clear that this blended learning model is much more effective than online learning and is also wonderful preparation for our students for university and for life. The students become autonomous learners who are actively engaged in their learning. Our girls have the unique opportunity to learn collaboratively with students from two other independent schools, including boys. For the teachers, it has been a great opportunity for professional growth.”
We are only half way through the year, but overall, the consensus seems to be that this format creates more opportunities to have meaningful in-person interactions with faculty and other students where they can ask questions and solve problems together. In a world where learning to collaborate is key, looking at ways to apply this model for other courses could be invaluable.