Empowering our students to cook up a storm

This is not like all those other cooking shows on which they make all the food ahead of time and then just display it at the end of the episode. We’re really cooking here. 
- Emeril Lagasse, U.S. celebrity chef and restaurateur


In the high school, we, as a school, deliberately make more time to help students develop the skills - independent study and self-directed learning - needed in order to achieve success by giving them opportunities for more responsibilities and growth.


The Harbour School’s seven Learner Goals, which are observed throughout the school from the Prep years to Grade 12, are our effort to pull together the range of skills that we feel are important for lifelong success both at school and beyond. In our world today, success in university  and at work will require students to arrive with more responsibility and to work with more autonomy. Having the answers for the questions in the textbook is no longer the most important thing that professors and employers want to see. Being a successful adult demands that our students develop the ability to self-regulate, develop more resilience, and more understanding. We believe growth in these areas is important and we understand that a formal classroom is not the only place to develop these abilities. To this effect, we have created additional learning environments to give them room to grow. The Independent Study Module (ISM) at THS high school is this space.


Independent study and self-directed learning are exciting elements of the high school academic program. We have highly accomplished subject teachers and specialists at the school who are able to facilitate stimulating learner experiences for our students. In addition to important core subjects and knowledge that students will need to master, just as important, we feel are soft skills that will prepare our students for life beyond THS. Highlighting this out-of-class learning that is core to our curriculum, the most viewed TED talk ever is about the importance of the development of creativity in becoming a successful adult.


Appreciating that it is not always easy to understand what happens in a class without a teacher, let us pull back the curtain on exactly what we are doing in these classes. So, let us talk about cooking.


Yes, cooking.


Everybody loves to eat. Everybody has that dish that instantly transports them to their happy place. For me, it is cake. I am always amazed at how flour, fats, eggs, and creativity can turn a motley crew of disparate dry, savoury, salty, bitter, fatty ingredients into heavenly dessert. Every time!


And every time, I am reminded of how learning takes place. Learning, not teaching. We can teach how to make eggs. We can teach how to mix a salad. We can teach how to grill a pineapple. Seeing the main ingredients and playing with the patterns is important. We all need to be able to recognize the patterns and repeat them. It is the first step.


The real fun begins when we start seeing how to take the information and the patterns and go in completely different directions. Things become special when plans meet creativity...this is when transformation happens. Innovation that is personal and authentic and learning that is real when it is personal.


One of our HS students is baking every week. It is just as it sounds. Think of a recipe, learn it, experiment, bake and serve. That is it. We are really cooking here. Our students and staff who get to taste the work every week can attest to it. Another student started working out. He developed a workout plan, created a meal plan, followed through on them, and see results. That is it. The mentoring SEA coaches recognize the results of the work that was put in.


ISM is also deliberate planning and a structured way to develop an authentic product. It is a facilitated way to invite feedback and to incorporate this feedback into a revised product. It is a consistent forum to meet critics and defend one’s work. It is developing essential life skills using tools from seemingly unconnected subjects. It is real learning. It is personal learning. It is self-directed. We are really cooking here. Success in the workplace is more likely because this student will be able to engage more assertively and constructively with their colleagues.


It is also a place to practice focus and attention to detail. It is a place for honest self-evaluation. It promotes self-reflection and self-care. It is working towards personal goals using all the tools available. It is real learning. It is personal learning. It is self-directed. We are really cooking here. Success in university is more likely because this student will make and execute the self-improvement plans to get back on top of classes when university becomes more difficult.


We have flour, fats, eggs, and creativity. We have the scientific method, mathematics, language skills, sociology, and creativity. In addition to creativity, our students’ projects also give them a chance to embrace failure and learn from it, to build resilience in the face of setbacks, and to grow to meet new demands. Our students are leading their learning independently and the learning is personal and authentic.


The most popular TED talk ever, on the value of focusing on more than academics


The Washington Post on why students who do well in high school bomb in college

Forbes on Teaching 21st Century Skills For 21st Century Success 


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