Learning in Depth

Information for Parents

THE BASIC IDEA
In the first week of schooling, each student will be assigned a random topic to learn in depth. The topics might include “birds,” “apples,” “the circus,” “railways,” “the solar system,” etc. Students will then study their assigned topics throughout their elementary and secondary education, along with the usual curriculum.

They will meet regularly with their supervising teachers (mainly Mr. Friesen this year) who will give guidance, suggestions, and help as students build personal portfolios on their topics. The aim of Learning in Depth is for each student, by the end of her or his schooling, to know as much about that topic as almost anyone on Earth.

The project proposes, and draws on what research is available to suggest, that this process of Learning in Depth has the potential to transform the schooling experience of nearly all children by transforming their relationship to, and understanding the nature of, knowledge.

WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE?
In grades 1 and 2, we’re going to be starting at a very basic level. For a student who has the topic “circus”, for example, she might draw a picture with circus animals, watch a short video about circuses, write a story about a clown, and so on. In the class, I’ll be working individually with students on their topics and working with the whole class on shared projects.

At the end of the year, I’d like to have a “learning fair” where students create posters illustrating what they’ve learned this year on their topic. Listen for news on this in June 2014!

We’ll be having class every day for a half-hour or a full hour. If there are any parent volunteers who want to come into the class to help with this project, I’d greatly appreciate it! You can email me at friesena@lrsd.ab.ca to let me know that you’re interested and to set up a time to do so.

AS A PARENT, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?
First, what you shouldn’t do is download everything you can find from the internet and give it to your child! It will be far too overwhelming, and at the beginning of this project they don’t need to worry about having dozens of printed sheets on their topic.

Once you know what your child’s topic is, try to make connexions between your everyday lives and your child’s topic. It doesn’t have to be in-depth or time consuming. If a child’s topic is “apple”, for instance, you could show them the variety of apples at Sobey’s, Co-op, and Wal-Mart. Maybe you could encourage your child to write down the prices of these apples throughout the year to see if they change. If you’re reading a storybook and you see a character eating an apple, point it out to your child (and maybe send the book to school so we can photocopy that page for their portfolio!)

You can engage with this topic as little or as much as you want. If you want to find books from a local library and read to your child, that’s okay, but be careful of overwhelming them! I want them to discover cool things about their topic on their own rather than adults giving them the answers.
You can also volunteer in the class. My email address is friesena@lrsd.ab.ca if you’re interested.

HOW WILL THIS BE ASSESSED? IS THIS A PART OF MY STUDENT’S MARK?
This project will not be formally assessed; there is no checklist, no rubric, no percentage or letter mark, even in senior high. This project is more for enrichment than purposeful fulfillment of curricular outcomes. There will be no report card mark, either. If you’d like to know how your child is doing, please send me an email–or, better yet, ask them what they’ve learned about their topic!

CAN MY CHILD CHANGE TOPICS?
No.

WHAT? WHY NOT?
I’ve struggled with this question for a few months, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I think that it’s best for students to stay with the topic they have. I don’t want students to think that they have “a way out” if they get bored with their topic. Instead, I want them to go deeper into their topics. Think about the topic “dust”. On the surface, it seems pretty boring: dust is dirt, right? Well, no: dust comes from soil, volcanic eruptions, and pollution. Right there we have three different avenues for students to explore. How does soil turn into dust? Why do volcanic eruptions create dust? Is there more dust in the air when pollution is higher? Dust in homes comes from pollen, human skin cells, paper products, burnt meteorite particles… wait, meteorites?

The deeper a child delves into a topic, the more avenues of research come up. I want students to see that the universe is a wonderful and fascinating place, and even mundane topics like dust are connected with interesting topics like volcanoes and meteorites. I want students to find these links and discover this awe for themselves. With an easy escape like changing a topic, I would be concerned that a student might scratch the surface of their topic, get bored, and move on to the surface of a different topic.

WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
I want students to be motivated learners. I believe that students aren’t motivated by grades–obviously this isn’t a problem in early elementary, but I see it all the time in senior high, my area of expertise. By going through a project like this from early elementary to senior high, I hope to show students that they can be excited and passionate about something in school!

I’m so passionate about this project that I’ve started this project with my own children at home: Blake has started working on “ancient ruins”, Amy on “special clothes”, and Anna on “musical instruments”. Anna, my daughter going into grade one, has started to express an interest in guitars, so that’s what she’ll be focusing on for the first part of her journey.

The bottom line is that I want to help to create life-long learners. This is a core belief of this project and I’m excited to see where it–and your child–can go!

WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS IDEA?
The Learning in Depth page is here.

Kieran Egan, the creator of this project, has written a book about it. You can pick up a paper copy from Chapters here, or see me for an electronic copy.