Grade 6 students Kate Hanson (left) and Emma Davies work on the board game they invented in the X Block program at Len Wood Middle School in Armstrong.

Grade 6 students Kate Hanson (left) and Emma Davies work on the board game they invented in the X Block program at Len Wood Middle School in Armstrong.

Raves for X Block

Len Wood Middle School students get the chance to check out a variety of courses to explore their many interests

The students at Len Wood Middle School are eager to take part in the award-winning program that allows them to follow their individual interests in classes they design with teachers. The X Block took first place among schools across Canada for the Canadian Education Association Ken Spencer Award recognizing school programs for excellence in education.

The students, in Grades 6 to 8, can choose three subjects, one each term which take place twice a week with all grades together in extended afternoon classes. The courses were designed to  use teacher expertise and student interest. Students and teachers set goals at the beginning of each course and do assessments together at the end.

Logan Shillington, Grade 7, has taken karate, rugby and comic book design.

“It’s great because you get to pick and try things you might not get a chance to do. I’m keeping up the comic book design on my own and making up my own comic book and I’m going to keep up the rugby,” he said.

There are 301 students taking part in the X Block this school year.

“At first I couldn’t decide what to try, there was so much choice. I really like the board game design, it’s the best. Our teacher is really awesome,” said Emma Davies, who with Kate Hanson, also in Grade 6, designed a game, Tropical Treasure Island, which can be played at various levels from pre-school to adult.

“I really like the time to have the freedom to choose and my family likes playing the game we made,” said Kate.

Teacher Gregg Nicholson teaches special PE and board game design.

“The kids are amazing, they use so many skills to put their games together and they produce high quality work. They love playing each other’s games. We do that at the end of term,” he said.

Teacher Kathy Severson is pleased to be able to share her personal interests with students. Last term she taught karate and this term she’s teaching sewing.

“The students tell us what they want to learn and we are able to provide the skills they need. If it’s an interest for them now, it’s likely to be an interest in the future. It’s a chance to try things and see what they like and want to follow up on.”

The Spanish classroom is full of colourful pinatas under construction and plans to go to eat Mexican food at Azteca in Vernon.

“It so great for the school to have this advantage for us. I don’t think I would learn Spanish without it,” said Grade 6 student Jackie Beauregard.

Matthew Dolinar, Grade 8, said he is also enjoying the class and the other subjects he has taken in X Block — PE and cooking. “You can explore a lot of things and it has helped me with choosing my high school courses.”

In the cooking class, Laureen Klaila, Grade 8, and her classmates are enjoying the fruit salad and cinnamon tortilla chips they made.

“The company is great and we try different things each time. The students bring the recipes. It’s a great experience and I am cooking for my family now,” she said.

X Block started two years ago as a way to get students more engaged in learning by providing subjects they were really interested in but which might be outside of the regular school curriculum.

“We asked the students what they were interested in and looked at teacher skills,” said principal Glen Overgaard. “We have a talented staff. We found we could offer band, art design, leadership, outdoor pursuits, photography, technical projects, web page skills and more. If students want to work on an individual project teachers will work with them.

“The teachers put in extra work to design the courses, which are in line with the new Ministry of Education curriculum and coordinate with other courses. The (North Okanagan Shuswap School District) school board has been supportive and encouraging and has provided some of the funding.”

Schools across Canada submitted projects for the Ken Spencer Award which honours Canadian educators for innovation in teaching and learning. The award was presented Tuesday and the $7,000 for first place will go towards funding to continue the X Block program.