Hands-on Learning with MegaBloc

MegaBloc Hands-on Learning

Award-winning MegaBloc is designed for hands-on learning, drawing out beautiful work from students, and to foster a stronger sense of community among grade 9 learners.

MegaBloc is a new Grade 9 Design Block Course at Hamilton District Christian High School, that combines Communication Technology, Manufacturing Technology, and Technological Design. The course was born out of a desire to emphasize hands-on learning, draw out beautiful work from students, and foster a stronger sense of community among grade 9 learners.

Five teachers from vastly different areas of expertise needed to work together to plan, develop, and implement MegaBloc. The team consisted of Kasia Konstanty, a trained musician, Eric Brink, a technology and humanities expert, Richard VanderWier, a skilled shop teacher, Jonathan Devries, an art teacher with a technical flare for design, and MegaBloc leader, Harry Blyleven, an educator with expertise in Math, Business, IT, and Project Based Learning.

Related: MegaBloc Innovators win John Rozema Award for Teaching Excellence

Under the guidance of this diverse group of passionate educators, grade 9 students flourished in unexpected ways: They built pumpkin launching trebuchets, produced their own creations using 3D printers, designed their dream homes with the help of a program called Sketch-up and collaborated online using Google Docs.

Although students were invited to learn a variety of skills throughout the process, they also had the chance to go deeper into a particular area of interest, during a nine-day phase of the course called Elective Blocks, and later, through their Capstone projects. For some, that meant becoming immersed in the world of technical drawings or photography. For others, it was a time to delve into hands-on learning in video editing or environmental design. Final projects were assessed using a rubric that emphasized Hamilton District Christian High’s Habits of a Graduate rubric: competence, reflection, compassion, resilience, and creativity.

The Capstone Project was by far my favorite thing in the program. I liked it because we could choose the things that we really enjoyed and wanted to get better at. I decided to show off God’s wonderful creation through pictures.

- Grade 9 student

During MegaBloc, students were frequently invited to engage in rigorous planning. As they moved through the various phases of the hands-on learning trebuchet project, students learned how to refine their work from each stage in order to improve on the next. The gears of MegaBloc were oiled by teamwork, and dependent on healthy interpersonal relationships. This dimension of the course was meant to “cultivate character through learning”—a key part of the HDCH mission statement.

Related: Grade 9 Design Block

MegaBloc gave students the chance to build character by supporting each other through the giving and receiving of constructive feedback during each project. Meeting regularly for shared devotions each week was also a part of ongoing character formation—the kind that can only happen in a community. A sense of unity among grade 9 classes grew with each passing day since students knew they were all taking part in Megabloc at the same time, experiencing similar interdisciplinary challenges.

Opportunities for MegaBloc students to serve others within and beyond school walls were plentiful too. Whether they were developing presentations about how to use technology in a responsible way, helping out at food banks downtown, or contributing to a culture of academic excellence at their school through artfully designed projects, students were invited to maximize their potential for the public good.

As the teachers behind Megabloc coached students through the process—each one pulling from a different area of expertise—they were creating a community of innovators and culture makers.

“What started as a dream to have all students engage in the design process, to develop the Habits of a Graduate and to learn technical skills, has turned into a community building, exceptional learning experience,” reflected Hamilton District Christian High Principal, Nathan Siebenga. “And all of this is possible because of the incredible delivered this experience.”

Article contributed by: Laura Konyndyk
Photographs by: Hayley Blackwell Photography