Recently, for example, grade nine students completing a unit on chemistry planned a visit to the Hintonberg Pottery. There they found practical applications for their studies as they learned about the elements and chemical bonds involved in the manufacture of ceramics. At the same time, they explored the artistry of the industry by constructing their own pottery piece.
Geography studies this fall led students to graph ice core data to understand the impact humans have had on the Earth’s climate in general and on specific geographic regions of Canada. Students then reviewed Canada’s involvement in international climate change agreements. After examining how specific foods they eat impact climate change, students researched which foods are most sustainable and then applied their knowledge to cook a meal low in carbon emissions to share with classmates.
Each week, five Element students from the grade 7 and 8 program take on the responsibility of preparing lunch for classmates. In the process, they utilize a variety of practical life skills as they create menus, budget and shop for groceries, follow a recipe, serve the lunch, and manage clean up. In preparing lunch for 50 people, three days per week, students learn to execute a multi-faceted activity, work together in cooperation, and refine many of the practical skills involved in the act of food preparation – all life skills.
Element students also engage each year in business studies. In a course called Entrepreneurship, teachers and parents with expertise in the business world collaborate as they teach students to create a business plan and launch their own business within the school community. This year, older students will run a conglomerate of four subsidiary businesses: event planning, a dinner service for parents, hydroponics gardening, and woodworking. Grade nine students receive Ontario Secondary School credits working as managers and mentors, as they guide younger students in running their first business. Throughout the entrepreneurship program, students form a fundamental understanding of business practices, while also making connections with local Ottawa businesses and charities.
Also in Grades 9 through 12, students participate in what The Element calls “AWOL”, or Authentic World of Learning. AWOL requires participation in self-chosen community service projects or internships. As adolescents develop the confidence to meet expectations and shoulder more responsibility, they demonstrate the strength and worthiness to contribute successfully to an activity recognized by the larger, adult world. Through AWOL, students stretch in character and confidence, taking another step forward in assuming their place in their world and culture. In the past, AWOL participants have grown through activities such as geology, astronomy and nutrition workshops, as well as teaching computer skills to adults and raising money for a local soup kitchen.
From its centrally located Lansdowne campus, students at The Element enjoy easy access to the resources and opportunities of the city. There they are guided by faculty as they self-direct, question and explore, while integrating classroom studies with real life experiences.