The term “wheelhouse” means different things to different people.
For the sports minded, the wheelhouse is the zone where the batsman likes to see a pitched ball, because the hitter knows he or she can drive it a long way.
For the nautically inclined, the wheelhouse is the area of a ship where the captain charts a course and steers the vessel.
Both are terms that conjure images of someone who is in charge, and seizing an opportunity, and both describe the new Wheelhouse program – another choice for students in grades 6 and 7 in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district, at Alouette elementary.
There are numerous activities that separate the Wheelhouse program, with its aims of producing students with strong leadership skills, and who value citizenship.
Julie Hearn, who developed the class and teaches it, typically starts a new week with Zen Time Mondays, where kids unwind from their busy weekends with quieter activities, such as making bracelets or other crafts.
But by the next day, they are ready to hit the road. Traveling Tuesdays is the hallmark of the Wheelhouse.
In early April, the students were at E-One Moli Energy, where they donned lab coats and safety glasses, and toured the plant in the Maple Ridge industrial park, where it conducts research and development on lithium ion batteries.
The kids watched the chemical and mechanical process by which batteries are made, and then assembled their own “coin” battery.
Hearn said she tries to focus trips on local facilities, and places in the students’ own backyard.
“They’re more connected to their community, and their place in the world,” she explained. “And they extend their learning beyond just me.”
Traveling Tuesdays also took them Maple Ridge municipal hall, where they toured the offices, met Mayor Ernie Daykin, and learned about municipal government.
And they toured a fish hatchery in Abbotsford, where they also cast lines and caught some trout.
Almost every Tuesday, they are on the road.
Hearn said she gets to know the students in a different way.
“They’re so different when they’re out,” said Hearn.
When they get out of their desks the kids are more eager to take on a rigorous challenge.
“When I make them work hard, it doesn’t feel like work to them.”
Learning outside the classroom brings more practical sense to the students, said Hearn. She had the students determine methods of how to measure the height of a lamppost – without climbing it with a measuring tape.
One of the girls said, by her own calculations, the post was 9.5 feet tall. She noted that a classmate was five feet tall, and the lamp post about “two Jordans” tall.
Her real world approach to solving the problem was gratifying for the teacher to see.
“I’m seeing a lot of curiosity in them that I did not anticipate,” said Hearn. “They’ve got a lot of persistence, and perseverance for learning.”
Another unique part of the class is Creative Play Thursdays. One session involved three rocks, a piece of string, and a piece of paper, and the kids decided how to creatively play with these items, which normally don’t inspire play. One group invented a board-style game, another did some explorations with weight-bearing paper airplanes, and one created a camping scene.
It’s a lot of new experiences, and the first Wheelhouse class is enjoying their year.
“I like it. It really brings out the creativity in you,” said Grade 7 Paige Hawkins.
“Right now we’re inventing our own board games, which is fun.
“Our is called ‘You Just Got Mapled.’ It’s a Canadian trivia game.”
Grade 6 Nathan Cantafio is also enjoying the Wheelhouse.
“We get to make our own choices a lot, and I like that,” he explained. “I like a lot of say in what I learn.”
Modern education pedagogy says most kids are like Cantafio. “Self-directed learning” is the buzz. Hearn gives her students that message right away.
“I’m not going to stand here and deliver your learning to you, you have to be part of it.”