Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom

KCS Outdoor ClassroomWe are very excited and proud when we talk about our new outdoor classroom at KCS.  Over the summer of 2014, there was a major transformation of one of our early learning playgrounds by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.  After consultation with staff members and administration, the aged climbing structure, artificial surface and cement stairway were all removed and replaced with a much more natural and inviting setting.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 05Surface for play and discovery was significantly increased by developing a previously unused upper portion of the playground. This unused area was replaced by a central, gently-sloping Durolawn-covered hill, shrubs, and several upright posts and saplings.  Students entering the playground from the spider gate, can choose to explore the upper tier beneath the mature pine tree and navigate its obstacle course of embedded logs and round, wooden slabs. Or they can choose to curl up in a log-carved chair or couch and wait for their friends to arrive. When they are ready to engage in more active play, students can follow the downward pathway defined by horizontal cedar logs, take the option of the embedded, double hill slide, or negotiate the rows of log seating in the adjoining amphitheater, using them as balance beams or hurdles.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 07The lower portion of the outdoor classroom is dominated by a very majestic-looking log fort. Here our students congregate to make plans, stop to catch their breath after running games, and to practise their skill of climbing.  Early in the year we discovered a cooperative game of rolling tennis balls over the very high roof and trying to catching them as they fall from the other side.  Teachers have been spotted having fun with this activity as well!

KCS Outdoor Classroom 04Next to the fort is a fabulous open sandpit complimented by an adjoining log tunnel, a mirrored wall, a large sunken stump table, and a portable water pump. Younger students spend extended periods of time digging holes, burying dinosaurs, making pails of “soup”, and creating sand castles.  Water from the pump helps to extend the activities even further as glorious mud adds a new dimension to play.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 08The southern perimeter facing Dundas West is defined with wooden panels, a huge chalkboard, mirrored panels, and some Plexiglas which embraces the action beyond the playground: a mature tree, a hedge (home for insects), and the bustle of vehicular traffic. The chalkboard is often the object of water painting which is a good way to clean the surface in a fun way and also to keep cool on a hot day.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 01The lowest section, hugging the walls of the school, is built on a surface to accommodate bouncing balls, a portable ball run, a staging area for the amphitheater, and a calmer creative area. Our students love to send multiple tennis balls down the ball run, watching as gravity does its work in a zigzag formation. Tucked in the corner, multiple stump tables and seats accommodate outdoor classroom activities, afternoon snacks, and creative work. 

KCS Outdoor Classroom 06Curriculum cabinets and shelving units have been placed in strategic locations to house accessories for the enhancement of play and discovery.  One cabinet houses dramatic play fabric, sand toys, sand accessories, paint brushes, paint trays, and chalk.  Another cabinet has been stocked with clipboards, paper, watercolours, paint brushes, pencil crayons, pencils, and assorted balls.  The shelving units in the upper discovery centre are stocked with seasonal bubbles, insect containers, magnifying glasses, measuring tapes, sandpaper, and cedar slabs. 

KCS Outdoor Classroom 02When the SKs were asked what they liked best about the outdoor classroom, many of them highlighted the space to run, the wonderful sandbox, and the amazing fort. They thanked Adam Bienenstock, CEO and principal designer of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, in personal letters for this exciting space where they can have fun in so many ways while interacting with nature and learning in this enriched landscape!

We look forward to many more new adventures during the winter season.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

E is for our Early Learning Program

Early Learning ProgramA is for the alphabet, which we learn every which way.

B is for building campsites, castles, “Bad Guy Alarms”, and whatever else our imaginations want to build. It’s also for birds enjoying our feeders in the Outdoor Classroom.

C is for counting everything. And caterpillars, in the classroom.

D is for dressing up, decoding words and drawing at our desks.

E is for eyes, and how earnestly we lock ours with yours as we tell you what we’re doing.

F is for our fish Gill and Goldy Antonio. It’s also for learning to be good friends.

G is for the magnifying glasses we use to look for bugs.

H is for our Handwriting Without Tears workbooks and exercises.

I is for initiative and imagination, developed through play. I is also for iPads, used every day.

J is for jewelry. We make friendship bracelets and necklaces as a way to teach patterns.

K is for kinesthetic learning – creating 3D shapes with Play Dough, building words out of letter tiles, making letters with pebbles, and tracing numbers in salt.

L is for listening to teachers and friends. It’s also for our older Learning Buddies.

M is for magic potions made at the water table, mystery readers, and math games. It’s also for learning from mistakes.

N is for noisy, because that’s how it should be when language learning happens all the time.

O is for our beloved new Outdoor Classroom.

P is for self-portraits, painting, and learning through play.

Q is for the Habit ‘Question and Be Curious’, so evident among young students. May it last forever.

R is for reading, and being read to. It’s also for resilience when times are tough, because sometimes they are.

S is for the slime made on Halloween, ‘Stinky Pig’, snack, and using all of our senses to learn.

T is for the Three School Rules, and trips to the farm, theatre and the symphony. It’s also for the team of ELP teachers who make this ABC story come true.

U is for upset tummies. Unfortunately anxiety is starting younger and younger, so we strive to create a warm and welcoming environment that encourages positive risk taking.

V is for visualizing numbers in different ways (dots on dice, ten frames, manipulatives, stones).

W is for ‘Whole Body Listening’, because listening with your ears isn’t enough.

X is for, you guessed it, the xylophone. Happily, that’s an instrument we play in the ELP.

Y is for young authors – exploring the foundations of storytelling by drawing 3-panel comics (beginning/middle/end)

Z is for zippers. “The bane of our existence.”

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Getting Out

I love this wonderful corner of Toronto. Living and working here, and spending my days with those who do the same, is one of my greatest good fortunes in life.

A recent field trip reminded me of the blessings of getting out.

This past Friday, the grade 8s, Ms Gaudet and I went to Variety Village, where 240 special athletes arrived to participate in the Four Corners provincial-qualifying track and field meet organized by Special Olympics Ontario. James Noronha, Youth Group Leader at St. Georges-on-the-Hill Church as well as Manager of Program Services at Special Olympics Ontario, gave our grade 8s the opportunity to be marshalls, timers and ambassadors at the event.

Whether demonstrating shotput, enticing reluctant long jumpers, announcing race starts, timing runners, or cheering on their adopted school teams, our students demonstrated exuberance, patience, kindness, adaptability, clarity in communication, focus on task and unlimited appreciation for these exceptional athletes. In return, we were all inspired by many athletes’ undeniable skill, and all athletes’ determination to try their best, pride in participation, and willingness to take the leap, throw the shotput, and run the race, especially when for some it was new and unsettling. When I asked some of our students what stood out most for them, they shared it was the athletes’ smiles. They noticed that regardless of how an athlete did, each ended their event with a smile so immense it felt they grabbed our hearts as they raised their fists in victory.

My words can’t quite describe how beautiful a day it was, and how different a day it was. It’s good for everyone to get out of their usual stomping grounds for many reasons, of course. How fortunate we were that we got out, and that our reason was to be at Variety Village, spending the day with special athletes and Special Olympics. May we all get out more often.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

The ‘H’ Word

“I’ve never overseen homework in my house. My kids know to settle down and get it done.” — A KCS parent

I’ve long envied that mother, as I know first-hand that homework doesn’t always work like that. In fact, based on everything I’ve heard and read over many years, it’s clear that the homework experience can range from the sublime to the ridiculous. While a common element in schools throughout the world, there’s little that’s common about how it plays out at home.

If there were a one-size-fits-all solution to homework, rest assured, we would have embraced it. In its absence, KCS offers what we believe is the next best thing – a balanced approach that respects individual students and families; that has value, while also respecting the value of free time, particularly in childhood; and that directly asks students and parents to let us know when homework gets out of hand. Every October, KCS teachers ask parents how homework is going. Every May, we ask parents in our annual Family Satisfaction Survey if they agree with our guidelines of approximately ten minutes per grade (e.g. grade 3 x 10 minutes = 30 minutes) and with minimal need for adult support. We also ask if parents are satisfied with their child’s ability to complete homework within these guidelines.

What do they tell us? Year after year, and for every grade, the majority of parents are satisfied with our guidelines. Overall, 81% of parents in last year’s survey stated they support our guidelines. Among those who don’t, 8% said the guidelines represent too much homework and 13% said they represent too little homework. Regarding the homework experience, 75% of parents are satisfied with their child’s ability to complete homework within the guidelines and with minimal adult assistance. Homework can be a difficult habit to establish for many children. While it’s clear a number of students are still working on becoming efficient and independent, it’s encouraging to see that the majority of our students are managing homework well.

A telling trend emerges when looking at the results from year-to-year. In fact, what’s ‘telling’ is the lack of a trend. Since we started asking about homework a number of years ago, there is considerable variability within grades year over year. Where one year the parents with children in a given grade may be close to 100% in support of our guidelines, the next year’s results may reveal that only 70% of parents support the guidelines for that grade. The following year, it may be high again. Consistent consensus on homework is nowhere to be found.

What’s a school to do? First, schools need to do their own homework on how to best design, assign and support it. A few years ago, KCS undertook this challenge and you can find the results in the report “Homework at KCS”. Second, schools need to reach out to parents. Parents know best how homework is going in their household. The same homework assigned to a class may take one child five minutes and another 50. The same assignment may be readily done by some children without parents’ help, while other students may be entirely unable to begin without an adult by their side. Finally, schools need to be prepared to make individual adjustments to homework where needed. Multiple hours of homework each night is as unhealthy as it is unwise. While we can’t promise it will always be sublime, it should never be ridiculous.

Hopefully, homework isn’t a bad word in your home. Because we know it has the potential, we’re doing our best to make it the best it can be. For that, we need your help. In this one way, we step away from our guidelines. For us to do our homework, we need you by our side.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Thankful

Around The WorldI spent the majority of my Thanksgiving weekend in Montreal with my son whose soccer team was playing in the Quebec-Ontario Cup. Watching competitive soccer while experiencing the culture and food of La Belle Province — what a great time!  The Ontario victory in the two game series, by a combined score of 4-0, made the chore of getting out of Toronto… on the eastbound 401… on a Friday night… of a long weekend… much more worthwhile.

But what happened on the weekend that made it really special and memorable happened on Saturday night. A number of the dads and coaches and I went out for the evening. During our conversations, I learned that all were newcomers to Canada in the last twenty years: Carlos (Portugal), Danny (Jamaica), David (Guyana), Johnny (Iran), and Mike (Poland). They all left much behind when they immigrated, but did so in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Many of their stories sounded much like those my grandparents had when they immigrated from England.

These dads and coaches were all appreciative of the chance to create opportunity for themselves in Canada over the last couple of decades. I was thankful to learn of their stories and to be reminded of what a blessing it is to be Canadian.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Toy Hacking, Tinkering and Other Great Pastimes

GirlBuildsPCSmallRemember the nasty kid next door in the movie, Toy Story? It turns out he was on to something.

There’s something wonderful gaining steam throughout the world. It’s a marriage of the old and new, the practical and whimsical, small-scale pleasure and make-the-world-better possibility. It includes programmable clothing, ‘reconfigured’ toys, books that conduct electricity, and an experience in creation that truly has no bounds. It’s called the Maker Movement, it’s for ordinary folk ages 3 to 103, and it’s an exercise in learning that’s worth learning about.

While adult examples can be pretty sophisticated, here’s an example of how it can work with children. Let’s say a 10-year-old has a stuffed dog. It’s a fine toy and much loved. But let’s say that child has had the chance to play with microcontrollers, LED lights, and sensors. Maybe she’s been introduced to electronics and simple programming languages designed for neophytes of all ages. Maybe she’s witnessed others inventing weird and wonderful contraptions using everything from computer programming, 3D printing, sewing, woodworking, electronics and any number of strategically-chosen odds and ends. That 10-year-old might decide to write some code, set up a microcontroller with LEDs and sensors, upload the code, open up the dog, embed the hardware, stitch him up, and enjoy a dog whose eyes now light up when it’s ‘owner’ picks him up. How’s that for learning?

Thanks to the Maker Movement, this is happening. And we’re taking steps to make it happen at KCS. Anyone wanting to see this in action with children and youth is encouraged to check out MakerKids in West Toronto. To see “big kids” in the Maker Movement, you might want to visit the Toronto Mini Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library November 22nd and 23rd.

The Mini Maker Faire is in my calendar. And unleashing the Maker Movement at KCS is on my to-do list. Let the tinkering begin.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Nervous for Nothing

Starting a new job is not easy. In fact, it is often nerve-racking. Like those “minor-niner” days in high school, you’re beginning a new chapter in your life, one that you’ve been preparing for, but still feel completely unfamiliar with. A number of thoughts run through your head: “Will I make new friends?” “I hope I don’t get lost!” “Am I going to embarrass myself?”

I have always been a nervous person. In school, when I had to do a presentation, I would shake so much that eventually the notes in my hands would become useless. I can assure you that these feelings didn’t subside as I grew older. All this being said, I’m sure you can imagine the state I was in leading up to my first day at KCS.

I will tell you now that all those nerves were unnecessary.

I was told how great KCS was before I started. This is not surprising as they wanted me to join their community. Imagine my surprise when all those amazing things I had heard turned out to be true and not just a clever ploy to get me to say yes.

Every staff member has been so welcoming and supportive, and they’ve done this in a way that doesn’t emphasize the fact that I’m new. If I didn’t know any better I would think I had been here for a couple years, not a couple weeks. The students, although many of them are not familiar with my face, have been nothing but polite and respectful. I think we all know how impressive this is. We were all students once, and likely ready to test the new/substitute teachers.

I can honestly say looking back at all the jobs that I’ve had that  I have never felt more comfortable, more welcomed, more appreciated, and more excited to wake up in the morning than I have at KCS. This school is special, and I am so excited to be a part of the community!

Diana Bowes
Teacher, Early Learning Program

Recess Duty

Batman and RobynsEarlier this week, I happened to be reading my email around 12:15 p.m. when one of our teachers sent a message to the staff asking for someone to take her outdoor lunch duty as she was not feeling well.  I read the email, checked my calendar to see if I was free, and given that the majority of our teachers would not have a chance to read this in time to help out, I replied that I would do it.  My day, up to this point, consisted of back-to-back meetings so this was definitely an incentive to get outside, enjoy the sunshine and talk with the students.  I was surprised by the reception.

Since I was “officially” on duty, and not just wandering around the field as I do a couple of times a week (especially when the weather has been as great as it has been this week!), I felt it was important that I put on one of our orange vests – or as I call it, my “orange cape”. Our teachers wear these at recess so that they are easily identifiable to the students.  I want to point out, it clashed with my red tie and candy cane striped socks (gift from the in-laws), but I did it anyway.  I now have a better understanding of the fashion faux pas each of our teachers are required to make while on duty.

My assignment was near the play structure, so for most of the time, I was surrounded by grades 1-3 students.  I had the following interactions:

  • One girl in grade 2 asked me if I was on duty.  When I said yes she responded, “Do you know what to do?” A short time later this was followed by yet another girl asking if I knew what to do on duty. I said yes and explained that I was once a grade 7/8 teacher at KCS.  Her response, after a pause and a really puzzled look, was “Really?”
  • Two girls ran over to me giggling and asked, “Mr. Logan, can you keep a secret?”  I told them no.  Of course this didn’t matter as one of them told me that she really likes one of our grade 8 boys and is lucky enough to have him as her lunch time supervisor.  I had no response, except to let her parents know so that we could share a laugh.
  • Another student looked at me from the monkey bar platform, and told me, in a tiny voice, that she couldn’t climb across all the bars but she was going to try.  By the end of recess she had managed to hang from the bar and swing herself back to the platform.  She was quite proud and told me so as we were walking up the hill to go back into the school.
  • I watched a girl in grade 3 spend her entire recess swinging across the bars, the rings and everywhere else she could find so that she was not touching the ground.  This was the same student who took a tumble last week, which produced a goose egg on her forehead that she would sport in a wedding party on the weekend.  The goose egg is almost gone, the wedding went well, and this little girl was not afraid to get “back up on the horse” after her misadventure.  A lesson adults would do well to remember.
  • I also observed a boy who ended up with some sand in his eye as well as a grade 2 girl who showed me the scab on her hands at least four times.
  • I found a Batman umbrella owned by a grade 2 boy and decided we could get a great photo when we returned inside.  The photo that accompanies this blog should be captioned, Batman and Robyns.  You can probably guess why.

The surprises continued when I arrived back inside the school, this time from the teachers.  “How was your duty?” (at least eight or nine times) …  “When I read your response to the email, I thought it was a mistake.”…  “I thought it was joke.”…   “Are you going to do this again?”

I look forward to dawning the “orange cape” again at a future recess.  It sort of made me feel like Superman.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Math at KCS

MathYou’ve likely already noticed that math is a hot topic in mainstream media these days. While newsrooms haven’t always been following the subject, we have.

Monitoring the profession from a global perspective, and debating strengths and limitations of our current practice, are part of the day-to-day work at KCS. This determination to do our best for every student over the years has led to a number of initiatives, such as:

  • Constantly growing collection of tools for differentiating instruction in the classroom, so all students can learn what they need at the level that’s right for them
  • Introduction of math workshops (small-group dedicated instruction) in grades 6 to 8
  • Introduction of JUMP Math in grades 2 to 5, where we think it’s the best fit
  • Introduction of the online math program Math Help Services in grades 7 and 8, where we think it’s the best fit
  • The use of Khan Academy to help support differentiated instruction
  • Widespread participation in the Brock University Caribou Math Challenge
  • The use of the University of Waterloo Math Problem of the Week in multiple grades for rigorous problem-solving
  • Introduction of computer programming with Visual Basic through our electives program, a language that requires significant use of advanced math

These are on top of our longstanding commitment to ensuring students master their basic math facts; avoiding the use of calculators except when appropriate and in the oldest grades; having ample experience with problem-solving; and enjoying generous use of concrete materials in their youngest years.

In the Family Satisfaction survey, a number of parents asked about our math program, in particular math in our older grades. I’m happy to report that our Canadian Achievement Test scores from last year are the best ever in the school’s history, with our senior students on average achieving in the 91st percentile across Canada in math concepts, and the 93rd percentile in computation and estimation. In fact, from grades 3 to 7, the grades that undertake the CAT test, the average percentiles were all at their highest ever, ranging from the 84th to the 94th percentile. We regularly hear from alumni and their parents that our students do very well in grade 9. Any feedback to the contrary is explored to determine what, if anything, can be done better.

Our math teachers have worked tirelessly over the years to help every student master what they need to know. For students who can’t get enough math, we won’t stop looking for more to give. For students who find math a relatively daunting challenge? Attentive teachers, with multiple tools, some being online, is great news for them too. And when news media have moved on to other issues, we’ll still be learning, debating and improving what we do.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Can They Feel Their Brain Growing?

HeadandArrowssmallIt’s a tough habit to break. In a school full of students who impress in myriad ways, it’s hard not to hand out generous amounts of praise.

What’s the harm? Plenty. This recent article by Sal Khan “The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart” is a worthy reminder to tread carefully with praise. The possibilities are endless if we do.

(Parents and students wanting to stretch their brains might enjoy checking out Khan Academy and their large library of brief, instruction videos on a whole array of topics.)

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.