Sunday, September 16, 2012

Language and Landscape Project

A few months ago, I broached the subject of a "Middle Earth" course at

While I have an educational and teaching background in both English and Geography, it did not occur to me until recently that an interesting combination of these two disciplines would be possible. I think the milieu for curricular experiments has opened up (or come around again), and with support for "project exploration" from students, teachers, and administration, I'd like to offer a course next year at my school (D.P. Todd) that blends BC's English 11 and Geography 12 and takes place in two blocks during one semester.  The course will address all corresponding PLOs and a "hook" to the course will involve literary and geographical examples drawn from Tolkien's Middle Earth, albeit as a point of departure rather than a destination.

A special dimension to this course offering is the blended learning delivery model.  One of the two blocks for which the students sign up will look much like a traditional classroom with expectations for regular attendance, direct instruction from the teacher, and so on.  The second block will be "flipped" -- this is project-based learning time, tutorial, independent work, seminar and small group sessions for the teacher and students.  In designing a course this way I am attempting to respond, interpret, and interrogate the BCEd Plan and "personalized learning" in a way that makes sense to me, our students, and our school.  At a practical level, it allows students create some personal designs around their own learning without losing the guidance offered from a well-planned program of study and a committed teacher they interact with daily.

I would like to involve others with some of the early planning and feedback, as this course offering will affect the 2013-2014 teaching timetable for our school and will not look the same as a regular course. I would like to see the work my students and I do as part of the continuum of language, literacy, and communication goals that are common within the English and Social Studies department at my school.

The course will be a "program" in the sense of how our "Socials 90 program" at D.P. Todd combines two courses and requires some special commitments. This project is tentatively titled Language & Landscape 11. As a new offering, it may simply be a double-registration in English 11 and Geography 12, although we are open to this being a pilot program and containing a unique stand-alone Gr. 12 credit (board-authorized). Sorting this out is part of the "project exploration" to ensure access, quality, and funding consistent with other courses and programs.

For more detailed information, please follow the project as it develops at I've attempted to anticipate and address a range of inquiries that are likely to be on the minds of stakeholders in a project like this.

If you are interested, please let me know what you think in person, by email, twitter, or a comment below, preferably some time in the next month. I covet your feedback and opportunities to collaborate on this project. Specifically, I would appreciate links and suggestions for blended delivery, crossovers lesson topics between English/Language Arts and Geography/Environmental education, and PBL ideas that make sense in the tradition of Middle Earth studies and both academic disciplines. I've got my own ideas on to make a go of this, but I also know that others would like to contribute. General comments, warnings, laughs, and questions are welcome too!


Sarah said...

Is it too late to go back to school to take this course? Not sure what sort of feedback you're looking for at this time. ;)

Thielmann said...

I'm curious what parents think about their kids' ability to learn independently. How much responsibility can students take for their own design for learning? Our school system is not really set up to dial up or down the amount of "personalized" learning each student takes on, so what level of "ownership" should we set as a baseline? We know that distributed (distance) learning only works for a few very self-motivated students, but we also hear about how the "factory model" doesn't cut it for others, so what might a blended model offer to fulfill a need, or is there really a need? I've got my own ideas about this, but I'd like to hear others.

Sarah said...

My eldest is in grade 6, so I'm interested in watching how this process plays out as well. As far as I can tell, the more interested the student is in something, the more independent learning takes place. I would assume that there's no way of filtering students to the class based on their current level of commitment to Tolkien, via an online quiz or something? ;)

How much dialing up and down can you feasibly do for personalized learning?

Oh, and "There and Back Again" as a title works so well for both the English and Geography parts...

Thielmann said...

I think students will require a some faith that I/we can facilitate an engaging learning experience that yields 2 course credits... and some faith in their own ability to be self-reliant. If they can commit to this, I won't be concerned about their Tolkien credentials. I think Middle Earth will be a starting point, a source for case studies and literary examples, and Tolkien himself as a particular (and peculiar) model of a learner, but we'll branch off to real-world (and other-world) pathways as well. I love "There and Back Again" as title... I must build this in somewhere.

I've had an inquiry from a friend at Royal Roads, asking if I'd design a shorter online version of all this for adult online learners, so maybe I don;t have to stick to just one course title!

"Personalized" is a funny term. At times it is a politically loaded term, often associated with the privatization/corporatization as well as a reduction of standards in public education. It is possible, though, to realize that "identity" is the real curriculum, and that anything "unpersonal" is essentially coercive social engineering. By this I mean that developing aspects of personal identity and individuation (e.g. personal responsibility, sense of irony, civic agency, a community ethos) is the important but -- what we teach is just a means of getting there. So... I'd like to teach a course where students figure out which activities, projects, and rabbit-holes will help them access the skills, learning outcomes, and behaviours that undergird the course (and their lives). Maybe this looks like an assessment matrix, something visual for students to use as a map for their "personalized" journey through the course. Sorry, I'm just tossing out ideas here but hopefully some of that makes sense.

Thielmann said...

... finishing the thought: an assessment matrix would essentially be a chart that students would use to match what they learned or did to a place on the chart where a suggested activity intersects with a desired skill, outcomes, or accomplishment. Similar goals, different pathways. That's about as fas as I can wrap my head around "personalized learning."