09/12/2016 10:38 EDT | Updated 09/13/2016 10:34 EDT

B.C.'s Redesigned Inquiry-Based Curriculum: A Wonder-Inducing Teaching Method

Officially launching this year for kindergarten to grade 9 students, the B.C. Ministry of Education is redesigning the K-12 curricula under a common 21st-century learning framework. This approach emphasizes a more student-initiated, self-directed, inquiry-based learning model.

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Schoolchildren and their teacher in a science clas

When the more than half a million children in B.C. head back to school on September 6, they will be implementing the province's redesigned inquiry-based curriculum. Teachers have been experimenting with draft versions and providing input over the past year.

Officially launching this year for kindergarten to grade 9 students, the B.C. Ministry of Education is redesigning the K-12 curricula under a common 21st century learning framework. This approach emphasizes a more student-initiated, self-directed, inquiry-based learning model.

Inquiry-rich learning

At Science World, we see this as an enormous positive for B.C.'s budding scientists. Science learning is at its best when it is hands-on and motivated by genuine curiosity. The redesigned science curriculum encourages teachers and students to learn about fundamental scientific ideas, by asking and answering their own questions. This curriculum includes less content, with more of a focus on process. This leaves space for teachers to recognize and adjust lesson content, allowing them to capture a student's interest and giving them the flexibility to dive more deeply into topics, issues and ideas.

Science is part of every aspect of our lives and the redesigned curriculum asks teachers and students to relate the science they learn to their local environments and communities. The 21st century learning framework prioritizes the skills and competencies students will need to be life-long learners, such as critical and creative thinking, social responsibility and effective communication.

A classroom environment rich in inquiry opportunities will allow teachers and students to take a more integrated approach to understanding the world around them. I hope this will inspire the next generation of science leaders in our province.

Scientific knowledge is more important than ever for students in our growing science- and technology-based economy. Only last month, business leaders from 18 of BC's high-tech companies, including Hootsuite, Electronic Arts and Visions Critical, published an open letter to Premier Christy Clark asking for a long-term solution to the shortage of technology and computer science graduates. The evolution of BC's economy continues to demonstrate the increasing need for students to be educated and interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-based disciplines.

The challenge will be to ensure that educators are well supported and have access to the resources they need to champion and lead inquiry-based STEM learning.

Support from our STEM community

As the Ministry of Education rolls out this redesigned curriculum, we believe that the STEM community has an important role to play in supporting our educators and in guiding the growth of BC's knowledge-based culture and economy. To help facilitate this, Science World has been working with educators to better understand their needs and has collaborated with community STEM organizations to begin to build long-term connections and support. Our BC STEM community is well connected through the BC Science Charter network. The Charter organizations are committed to promoting science and technology, and understand their importance as drivers for a vibrant future for British Columbia.

In particular, an organization focused on STEM learning, like Science World, is in a great position to support and work with teachers, as they implement more inquiry-based learning in their classrooms.

Starting in the fall of 2014, Science World began a comprehensive study to identify teachers' current practices, needs and wishes. We held a province-wide survey as teachers learned about the curriculum changes. Over 325 teachers and education stakeholders participated in the survey and another 150 teachers participated in face-to-face workshops and focus groups.

The survey and focus groups identified specific types of support that Science World could offer teachers and schools, including professional development, resources for teachers and mentorship and leadership opportunities. Participants also recognized the value in Science World's school field trips and outreach, which have already been updated to reflect inquiry-based learning.

In response to the survey feedback, Science World has developed four professional development workshops that specifically address the goals of the redesigned curriculum. Three of these workshops focus on implementing and assessing inquiry in the classroom and the fourth focuses on culturally-responsive and place-based science learning. Teachers throughout BC have been participating in these workshops for the last year.

In July, we hosted a four-day summer institute on inquiry-based science, specifically for elementary teachers. We also provided ongoing support for a collaborative group of teachers implementing inquiry-based learning in the Chilliwack School District, last school year. The participants in these programs have offered valuable feedback, which we're using to inform more professional development opportunities.

As the requests for more resources increased, we updated our website to include more than 300 free, downloadable, curriculum-linked activities, tested by students, teachers and parents. We are also focusing significant attention to recruiting and preparing volunteer STEM professionals to share their expertise and passions in BC classrooms, through the Scientists and Innovators in the Schools program. This program brings students, teachers and volunteers together in a fun environment, with an engaging approach to learning.

Our BC Green Games initiative is an example of collaboration between students and local organizations. This program is a digital eco-storytelling contest that promotes place-based environmental education and is a resource for high school teachers, who want to enter teams to compete for the greenest achievement.

We have recently forged deep community partnerships with organizations beyond our Vancouver home base. Example partner organizations include the Exploration Place in Prince George, the Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society on Vancouver Island and the EcoDairy in Abbottsford. We continue to explore creative ways to work collaboratively with other committed groups, to more fully support schools in all corners of the province.

The future

Many organizations are already taking a leadership role in helping to promote and support the implementation of the redesigned curriculum in areas like STEM and place-based education. These organizations include: the BC Science Teachers' Association; the Environmental Educators' Provincial Specialist Association (EEPSA); the Walking the Talk Society for Sustainability Education; Wild BC; the Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN); BC Hydro; Metro Vancouver; and Metro Vancouver Parks. However, educators will continue to need access to and support from community partners like Science World and we encourage more STEM-based organizations to do the same, to ensure our budding scientists reach their full potential.

I am excited to see how the redesigned curriculum will transform not only classrooms but individual students, into lifelong learners, curious about the world around them.

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