Bridge Days connect students with the Real World
Given its proximity to a number of bodies of water and the escarpment that runs through the city, Hamilton is a place of many bridges. These bridges—whose attractiveness has long been noticed by visitors to Hamilton, as well as residents—help travelers move across challenging obstacles.
Building Bridge Days
A number of years ago, Hamilton District Christian High began developing ‘bridges’ of its own. Since 2009, the HDCH program has included a number of ‘Bridge Days’ each semester, which are specially designed to encourage students to take on more authentic challenges and problems, and make significant connections between their learning and ‘real world’ situations. Bridge Days are based on adjusted scheduling that creates an entire morning or afternoon class session. Like the bridges that span many of the waterways and hillsides of Hamilton, HDCH Bridge Days allow our students to ‘bridge the gap’ and provide venues for in-depth learning on campus as well as an opportunity to venture into our wider community or explore more complex problems.
Connecting with the Real World
When first introduced in 2009, the purpose of Bridge Days was to allow teachers to design special lessons that would include a variety of ingredients including a Project Based Learning (PBL) challenge, often using a multi-disciplinary approach, which would encourage collaboration and allow students to connect learning with the ‘real world.’ One of the key goals was to provide students with learning activities that would allow students to see connections across course disciplines, and between classroom learning and real world situations.
Bridge Day activities have included a wide range of experiences including field trips to learning venues, off campus research sessions, simulations and specially-designed problem based math or science labs. In some ways, Bridge Days have been stepping stones to a number of the PBL projects that have been designed in the past two to three years.
Some of my own favourite Bridge Day experiences with my classes have included:
- Taking a Law class to the GTAA’s Pearson Airport to learn about how the security teams from the Canada Border Service Agency use technology and tactics to screen incoming passengers
- Challenging Economics students to design proposals for a new development venue for the Waterfront Trust Center property at Pier 8 on the Hamilton Harbour
- Touring Steelcare’s Plant 19, a LEEDS designed and automated steel warehousing facility, to see how innovative robotics is changing the workplace
- Getting a detailed panoramic guided tour of both the urban decay and signs of renewal in Hamilton’s downtown from the 21st floor of the Stelco Tower in Jackson Square
- Having students visit Hamilton locations to get advice from the website design company FactorE, and researchers at Cardus, about creating their own website and publishing our Philosophy class’ writings with professional expertise
- Turning a Law class into a courtroom and arguing a Mock Trial murder case before an actual lawyer
Other Bridge activities and projects over the past several years at HDCH have seen students tackle a wide variety of challenging problems, including:
- Creating and maintaining a community garden to grow food for Neighbour 2 Neighbour
- Preparing and serving warm, full-course meals at the Olive Branch
- Experiencing aspects of trench warfare in a recreated World War 1 battlefield
- Doing downtown service projects at local missions
- Creating videos to promote a classroom project or increase awareness about a social issue
- Using math formulas to figure out how to create an optimal popcorn container
- Interviewing people in Gore Park to learn about key events in their lives
- Creating, displaying and presenting an official museum exhibition
- Building and installing birdhouses at a local A Rocha environmental stewardship center
And these are just a small sample of many more intriguing and valuable experiences.
Connecting with our community
Now in their fifth year, HDCH’s Bridge Days have developed from early beginnings to play a key role in our program. While it is sometimes challenging to design Bridge Day activities, when they are successful they allow us to break down the walls between our school and our community. They have allowed teachers to think more deeply about questions like, “How does the wider community shape our learning as a class?” and students to ask, “How can our learning shape the wider community?”
Bustling with activity
On many Bridge Days, the school hallways and common spaces are alive with activity as students work at recording videos, creating models, or delving into other aspects of their tasks. Bridge Days will likely continue to grow and develop to look different over time, but it is clear that they continue to make an important impact on the learning that happens at Hamilton District Christian High.