Grade 4 Teacher
For YIS 4th grade teacher, Flynn McCreath, hands-on learning is more than just an educational buzzword. It's an authentic part of Flynn himself. Before teaching Flynn worked in the maritime industry, piloting a wide range of vessels up and down the coast of British Columbia, from tug-boats to mega-yachts, pleasure crafts to water-taxis. Flynn's everyday included building and carpentry, navigating -- from reading the stars to nautical charts -- using electronics and engineering to repair the boats while out to sea; what Flynn describes as "a lot of problem-solving." It also involved great natural beauty, as Flynn explains, "it was awe-inspiring, with beautiful scenery and travel, amazing sunsets, watching killer whales jumping out of the water or bald eagles flying overhead, and inevitably, sometimes dangerous weather." Eventually, Flynn wanted a job where "I could go home every night, and my wife and grandmother wouldn't be so worried about me."
Teaching was a natural choice. Flynn's wife, Jacquie, currently teaching grade 2 at YIS, was then teaching in the British Columbia French immersion program in local middle schools, and Flynn's father is an international school educator after teaching in the Ontario public schools while Flynn was growing up near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Flynn returned to university for his teaching degree and immediately after graduating, took his first overseas posting when he and Jacquie accepted positions in Singapore. While teaching middle school science and maths, Flynn naturally took a hands-on approach. "I've always had success with students building models, from constructing models of cells, the solar system or a chemical model to study chemistry. I find students really understand things with a hands-on physical experience that allows them to make those connections in their brains, opening up learning to the kinesthetic and visual learners."
Coming to YIS, Flynn brought this active approach to his fourth-grade classroom, and last year started "PIC Time" with his students. Inspired by a visit to another school where he observed the "genius hour" model of 20% of creative time a week for students based on Google's famous corporate initiative, Flynn brought the idea to his class and proposed: "what would a free creation time look like for us? I wanted an element of play in it, because play is important for students in the classroom as they really learn through play. We brainstormed together, things that they could do with this time, words that are associated with creation, and they came up with the three words, play, inspire, create. We realized we could rearrange them into an acronym that also means choice, so that's how we got PIC Time."
Flynn credits the YIS administration for getting behind the idea: "I was blown away by the amount of support I had to start something like this. I think it's really great our administration values these ideas of student play and free inquiry, and supported me both ideologically and through material resources so that I could set up something like this in the classroom and devote time for PIC every week." Flynn adds, "Not only is it good for the students, not just a Friday Free Time where the kids play board games, but it's a real opportunity to construct something meaningful to them while exploring themselves, learning to work together, following their curiosity. It's also good for me as a teacher because it gives me a lot of information about what skills my students need. Maybe it's a mathematical skill of measuring, maybe it's developing ratios when creating a plan, maybe it's measuring angles; but it's also the planning skills I can observe in progress. When students are researching materials and ideas, there are so many different things that can be taught implicitly through the process of free inquiry."