Grade 9 and 10 Students Learn about New Topics in Explorations

I-block is a newly created block for Grade 9 and 10 students to learn about topics that do not necessarily fit into subject areas. Explorations consist of three different quarters each dealing with different topics. Explorations were created based on students’ ideas of what they want to study about.

Exploration classes that UNIS offers include ‘Ceramics’, ‘Musical Theatre’, ‘Products with Impact’, ‘Movie Studio in Your Pocket’, ‘Learn a New Instrument’, ‘Black Mirror’, and ‘Hit Record’.

I-block is used for several types of classes that don’t fit into subject areas. One quarter of I-block is for Interdisciplinary Learning. It is graded against the Interdisciplinary criteria provided by IB, whereas Explorations are not.

“[Exploration] gives students a chance to really immerse themselves in one thing for that quarter and get a taster of a lot of different avenues you can take for the subjects,” said Kristen O Twynam-Perkins, who is teaching the ‘Musical Theatre’ Exploration for the first semester and will teach ‘Stage Makeup’ for the second semester.

Students set goals for what they want to earn from the classes according to their own standards in the beginning of the quarter. They strive to reach their goals using Approaches to Learning (ATL) skills which include communication, social, research, self-management, and thinking skills. After planning, they refine and reflect on their ATL skills as they make steps towards their goals. This helps students to solely focus on and develop skills on how to approach tasks and success criteria.

The important aspect of Explorations is that they are self-assessed. Students assess themselves against their own criteria, focusing more on what they feel is important to them than using the IB criteria.

“[Explorations] take away the pressure and the focus on getting good grades. It is important to leave explorations being ungraded because this truly allows the student to experience and learn about the topic without any constraints,” said Grade 9 student Nancy Park. “Personally, I am able to enjoy the class more and be more comfortable in the classroom environment when I know it is ungraded.”

Explorations may inspire some students to participate in an activity outside of the classroom. “I am hoping that both [the ‘Musical Theatre’ and ‘Stage Makeup’ Explorations] might ignite an interest in students to come out for the musical or sign up for the makeup team for the show and hopefully represent the co-curricular, the after-school arts program,” Twynam-Perkins said.

Teachers are trying to improve the diversity and quality of the Explorations to provide more opportunities for students to learn various topics. “We are hoping to continually develop into really current and engaging topics to explore. Whether it is learning specific skill based or digging deeper into something that is really current,” said Glenda Baker, HS Deputy Principal. She has been talking with the school librarian about bringing virtual reality (VR) as a theme for students to explore during Explorations since UNIS has VR equipment. The teachers are working together to make the best out of what UNIS currently has.

Baker and HS Principal Scott Schaffner would like students to suggest ideas for Exploration classes. “You can study anything you are passionate about or interested in,” Schaffner said.