Watson Lake principal earns national recognition

Take a moment to think back on your adolescence and the years you spent at high school: the rigid schedules, the anxiety caused by exams and the awkward hair.

Take a moment to think back on your adolescence and the years you spent at high school: the rigid schedules, the anxiety caused by exams and the awkward hair.

At Watson Lake Secondary School, principal Jean MacLean can’t do anything about your hairstyle but she’s set up a self-learning system where students thrive at their own pace.

The blended learning model, which is designed to offer the best of homeschooling and traditional teaching, has been so successful that MacLean was recently named one of Canada’s top 40 principals by The Learning Partnership.

MacLean said the idea began taking shape four years ago when she became principal at the high school. She realized that scheduling conflicts were forcing students to take required courses over electives that they were interested in.

“At F.H. Collins or Porter Creek Secondary the reason their kids can take elective classes is because they are offering the courses so many times a year,” she said.

“In rural high schools, it’s more challenging because staffing numbers are smaller, and it seems like those electives are the ones that get put to the side.”

MacLean started talking to people at the Department of Education and finally settled on Moodle, an online learning platform that is commonly used at universities. Content available includes videos, lectures and quizzes. Most of the school’s required classes such as math, history and English are also available.

As MacLean explains it, this way, you can have a classroom with students working on Grade 10, 11 and 12 English with a teacher present to answer any questions.

The students work at their own pace, set their own exam times and develop time management skills.

“When you’re teaching a large classroom, you have students who already know the material and students who don’t,” she said.

“This allows the best of both worlds. It takes away the pressure and anxiety of having to take an exam when they’re not ready for it.

“It’s all about personal goal setting and staying on track, and those are the skills I believe they need for 21st century learning.”

Grade 9 students are introduced to Moodle during their last semester, which makes the transition into Grade 10 easier.

When speaking to homeschoolers, MacLean heard the same complaint – it sometimes took days for a teacher to answer their questions.

By the time they did, it often wasn’t helpful because they couldn’t remember what the problem was.

In this system, if students get stuck on a particularly tough math problem, for example, the teacher can take the time to explain it to the entire classroom.

The results speak for themselves.

Attendance has shot up in the year and a half since the new model was implemented, and so have course completion rates, MacLean said. School morale is at an all-time high, too.

“We haven’t had a single vandalized laptop in a year and a half, and that’s because they’re proud of it,” MacLean said.

“These are courses they’ve actually chosen. It makes group work much better because everyone wants to be there, and it’s something that has really improved the climate at the school.”

Another benefit is that students who need to travel to hockey tournaments, or go hunting, no longer fall behind if they spend time away from school.

When they come back they just pick up where they left off, she said.

The notion of failing a course is a thing of the past, too.

Students just continue a class until it’s completed – it might take five or seven months, but it makes them more prepared for the exam at the end, MacLean said.

If students finish the course earlier, it gives them more time to spend on other classes.

A dozen older students in the community are also taking advantage of the Moodle courses to complete their high school credits.

“Those students couldn’t come to our school before because they were too busy,” she said.

“Maybe they’re full-time moms or they have full-time jobs. Some of them come on their day off.”

In addition to the self-paced learning program, MacLean also suspects student turnout has been improved by the free breakfast and lunch program introduced three years ago.

MacLean will be honoured at the 11th annual Canada’s Outstanding Principals gala on Feb. 24 in Toronto.

She will also take part in five days of executive leadership training at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3-hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council will vote on the second reading of the Official Community Plan amendment on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Future area of Whistle Bend considered by council

Members set to vote on second reading for OCP change

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Most Read