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Exploring new horizons

Inspiring Innovation Through Self-Directed Learning

Minds Set Free

Inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s principles, Grades 7 and 8 Havergal students are taking part in an innovative new Middle School initiative to exercise their imagination and ingenuity through a series of in self-directed learning opportunities.

Over the past year, each girl was given time to work on a special project of her own choosing, with the freedom to explore, build and create in a supportive, structured environment.

Led by Social Sciences teacher and Institute Program Manager Gordon Grisé and the Form teachers, the initiative known as the Middle School Form Challenge is in its second year running. Blocks of time were carved into the schedule to allow for eight, 40-minute work sessions throughout the year, which would otherwise be devoted to House and Form-related activities.

“The Form Challenge allows students to focus on the journey by gaining not only valuable insights, but also reflecting on lessons learned.”


“The girls were encouraged to choose a topic that was both personal and impactful,” Mr. Grisé says. “The fact that they are not being graded gives them the ability to explore their true passions, without worrying about being assessed.”

The girls were invited to present their projects to parents, peers and staff, focusing on the overall learning experience rather than the outcome. Guest speaker and Havergal Old Girl Natalie Green (Class of 1992), Google Canada’s Industry Lead for Food, Beverages and Restaurants, visited the school to address the girls on the value of innovation, thinking big and accepting failure as a possible outcome. Havergal’s Form Challenge was modelled after Genius Hour programs running throughout North America and inspired by Google’s 20% Time initiative for their employees. The Form Challenge was a way for The Institute to encourage Middle School students to ponder about what matters to them and work on anything and everything they were fascinated with. The exercise allows students to focus on the journey by gaining not only valuable insights, but also reflecting on lessons learned.

More structure was added to the program this year, based on feedback from students, faculty and staff, explains Mr. Grisé. “Students were tasked with taking an original idea, testing it, refining it and then testing it again, ultimately improving with each step. The method is similar to the concept of ‘Design Thinking’, which is about the process rather than the final result,” he says.

One team invented a stress-relieving “slime,” experimenting with different materials and testing for consistency. With an entrepreneurial spirit, they sold their product to classmates and donated the proceeds to charity. “Many of the girls were really interested in helping each other out,” says Mr. Grisé.

The project has also given Form teachers more opportunities for meaningful interactions with students. “Going from girl to girl throughout the work period, they’ve enjoyed getting to know their students as individuals, outside of subject groups,” says Mr. Grisé.