There are two sets of numbers that St. Michael’s College School goes by: the four pillars of deep thinking and the six C’s of education.
The former consists of students, teachers, community and leveraging digital technology. Though the digital aspect has always been in the subtext of the curriculum, vice principal David Lee says the school is bringing more to the forefront.
“It’s always been a part of what we’re doing here at the school,” he says. “We’re just making it more explicit and more common across the board in terms of the way we’re approaching it.
“The key thing is acknowledging technology is just a tool. It doesn’t take the place of education. It’s just a tool to develop those other skills.”
In an age where whatever is in a textbook can easily be found on the Internet, the challenge is adjusting what is taught in the classroom to be useful when students move on to university or the working world.
That means students are provided iPads in Grade 9, and in the instance of St. Mike’s Deep Thinking program, mentors from various career paths are brought in via Skype or Google Hangouts to show the students what they do.
Some plans include surgeons from St. Michael’s Hospital showing students open-heart surgery, lawyers, and accountants. It’s an effort to “try to give them access to the people who can’t come into the building and meet with them through traditional means,” Lee says.
The emphasis these days is on soft skills, and the six C’s focus on those: character, citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.
When it comes to implementing digital technology in that 21st-century skill set, it’s all about the tools.
“The key thing is acknowledging technology is just a tool,” Lee notes. “It doesn’t take the place of education. We’re trying to make sure students connect and learn better, to develop the skills to help them in the future.
Of course, 20 to 30 years ago, it was just students sitting in a classroom having content shot at them and they were expected to memorize it and answer back accordingly.
Now with the Internet being in full view, the emphasis has shifted to being to suss out the right information, which plays on the critical thinking aspect of the six C’s.
It’s a matter of “trying to teach them it’s a focus on what’s accurate and how you can evaluate if it’s legitimate or if it’s just Johnny’s website,” Lee says.
That means an open dialogue between teachers as well. They will engage with students and often not share with colleagues what they are doing or what’s been successful for them.
“People are doing wonderful things in their classrooms and they just don’t get a chance to share what they’re doing with each other,” Lee notes. “The other element, of course, is trying to connect our students with the community – reaching outside of the school to get our boys to connect.”
So, that citizenship aspect plays well into the new curriculum.
There is an emphasis on students getting out into the community to volunteer at soup kitchens, women’s shelters and other charitable organizations.
The last touchstone for 21st-century education at St. Mike’s is the holistic approach of a Basilian education. Body and soul are treated well, but what of mind. Well, that’s the most important, Lee underscores.
Mental health has played such a key role in academic spheres and in keeping with educating the entire body, St. Mike’s keeps in tune with the mind.
“One of the obvious things for any school and the government is mental health,” he says. “When people are happy and they are coming to school, they’re likely to be in a better state of mental health.
“We feel by promoting this kind of thing, it’s going to help with student engagement and motivation.”