KCS gets IT

Electives - Computer ProgrammingWe might get it around here but we can now say that we get I.T. around here – as in information technology… software development. Thanks to one elective and the help of the students learning to code more quickly than me, I’m increasingly getting IT too.

Elementary schooling isn’t what it used to be. Sure, there are a number of things we do that you would recognize. But, appropriately, our students and teachers are also learning what we couldn’t even conceive of learning in grade school when we were young. And we’re loving it.

A group of grade 7 and 8 students and I are learning how to use the coding language Visual Basic to create our own video game. We have an instructor from Real Programming 4 Kids who is walking us through the steps of creating the necessary bits and bytes of a simple annihilation game. You know those ants that bedevil you at the back door or the cottage? They’re lucky they won’t meet our game AntKill!

I love learning side-by-side with the students. Teens in their element are a sight to behold. They’re helpful, respectful, attentive and persistent. If they’re not listening when they should be, it’s because they’re reading ahead in the notes, eager to build their program. And they’re mighty proud of their growing skills.

Electives fall in the category of Learning for the Love of It, something we directly strive to provide. That means time when students are learning not what the teacher tells them to, not what the Ministry or their parents say they should, and nothing that will be marked. Including clubs and teams of course, student-driven leadership and learning projects, YAKCS and more, it’s learning rooted in student choice and driven by interest and the desire to stare down challenge.

I am learning for the love of it too. And with all the good learning skills that step up when passion is involved, one day I know I’ll join the few in fully getting IT.

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

It’s popular, it’s anonymous, it’s the new social media

anonymous_childFacebook and Twitter are household names. Instagram and Snapchat are becoming increasingly popular with our grades 5-8 students as they focus on sharing photos instead of text. The latest social networking sites gaining in popularity over the past year are those that allow anonymous questions and answers.

These websites encourage users to create an account or login via an existing Facebook or Twitter account. Anyone can post comments, questions and answers to anyone else’s profile, anonymously. Herein lies the opportunity to engage in negative, inappropriate and potentially abusive online behavior.

Ask.fm is the most popular example. Others include spring.me, Whisper, Secret, Wut and Sneeky. Has your child come across any of these? The best course of action is to engage in regular conversations about technology. Share new apps, favourite apps, by-gone apps, funny online photos (cats seem popular) and even ask your child to teach you something about social media and online privacy. Your child may eventually feel comfortable sharing information you may not be aware of. Give it a try!

Stacy Marcynuk
Director of IT, Curriculum

Further Reading:
The Economist - Anonymous social networking, Secrets and lies
Anonymous social networking apps: What parents can do about them
Safety Beyond Facebook: 11 Social Media Apps Every Parent Should Know About
Common Sense Media – 11 Sites and Apps Kids Are Heading to After Facebook

Fish 1 and Fish 2: A JK Dream Come True!

FishName02It all started with a kindergarten app designed to teach sight words, numbers, letters, addition and subtraction.  For every three correct answers, students receive a coin.  With these coins, children buy items to complete an aquarium including several varieties of fish, fish food, plants, gravel, sand, and décor.  The fish swim about darting towards the digital-fed food and hide if the iPad screen is tapped.  It is intriguing, engaging, and most of all FUN, even for certain teachers!

This led to a discussion of an appropriate classroom pet and how to keep it alive and healthy. Our class PBL (Project Based Learning) was launched with its many key elements: significant academic content with 21st century skills, a driving question, a need to know, student voice and choice, in-depth inquiry, revision and reflection, and a public audience.

Naming our fishThe list included a dog, a cat, an ant, a snail, a fish, a whale, a butterfly, a worm, and a rabbit. It was decided that ants might tickle, and they would be hard to find at this time of year.  A worm might be too squiggly, and a snail might be too slimy.  A whale would be too big to fit through the door, and how would we transport it to school?  A rabbit would just jump everywhere!  Who would walk the dog?  Who would clean up the messes left by the animals; no one put up their hands.  It was suggested that the teachers could look after the animals on the weekend!  Some children have allergies to certain animals, and some were afraid that they would bite.

A vote was taken and the majority ruled that an aquarium would be the best idea.  We talked about the needs of a fish to keep this living thing alive and healthy.  The children concluded that the fish needed clean water, a tank and food to eat. Some decorations would be nice.  Everyone offered to help feed the fish and to keep the tank clean.

Tank01The children contributed to a class shopping list recorded by pictures and words using inventive spelling, and guesses of cost for each item.  We then put forth a budget as children guesstimated how much money we would request from administration. The requests varied anywhere from 1 cent to 100 dollars.  On Thursday, March 6th we headed to the office of Madame Fanjoy and presented our budget.  Madame Fanjoy loved our idea of the fish tank and agreed to give us funding for a project that she deemed worthwhile and exciting.

Tank02The children “read” lots of books, examined colourful plastic fish, and visited wonderful places like Ripley’s Aquarium and pet stores.  In response to a request for a possible family guest speaker with aquarium experience, one of our parents approached us with an amazing proposal.  She had a client in the pet products industry eager to donate the needed supplies to set up our class aquarium and to provide a specialist to assist and educate us.

Tank03On April 3rd, Jae Hovius, Ontario Aquatic Specialist for Rolf C Hagen Inc., gave the JK class a captivating, informative, and hands-on session.  He truly enjoyed the experience as much as the JK children did. On April 8th, we excitedly welcomed our two goldfish, and the children aptly named them Gill and Goldie-Antonio.  Our much loved pets seem to have settled in well despite all the attention of the many inquisitive, beautiful faces peering at them through the glass.

The learning does not stop here.  There will be so many observations to be performed, pictures to be drawn, photos to be taken, and responsibilities to be taken on.  We are very excited about this project and look forward to sharing its progress with our KCS families and friends.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
JK Teacher

When Good Enough is Best

Father and SonYesterday, I read an article that reproached me for the hours I spend working. Today, I read a different article that pointed out the psychological benefits of devoting time to a cause you believe in. Happily, those two are one in the same for me and I sit here on a Sunday morning, writing.

My reading is often like that: passionate, supported arguments for one notion, followed by equally passionate, supported arguments for the opposite. Parents and educators are like that too. Disparate notions for what’s best, fervently held, abound.  Navigating it all is a job I embrace.

I recently pored through Alex Russell’s book Drop the Worry Ball and immediately appreciated his message. Russell and many others argue that today’s parents are by-and-large ‘over-parenting’, excessively involved so our kids have maximum happiness in life. Russell argues that we need to let children experience more failure. But other books and articles add relevant nuance. Letting children experience failure has value, but not all experiences of failure are good. Letting children forge their own path in the external world is important; knowing when and how to step in is equally so. Overprotecting our children from harm has significant downsides; blindly putting our children in harm’s way clearly has its own. Having a close and loving relationship with our children is a positive thing; but good parenting can lead to those crushing words, “I hate you!”

Most adults inherently recognize the complexity in raising children, and nothing will stop us from wanting what’s best for ours. That’s why we cling tightly to the Worry Ball. A recent article in The Atlantic, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, however, brings a welcome message to this cacophony of parenting perspectives. It’s our desire to be great parents that’s the problem. Aim to be a “good enough” parent. And then step back. Wendy Mogul, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee reassuringly adds that children even “need to think it’s a tragedy of earth shattering proportion that they’ve been born into the wrong family at some point.” Phew!

That takes us back to Russell’s message. Your children are well loved, served and protected. Amid the competing perspectives on raising children there emerges a sage middle ground. If you’re like most of us today, try to relax, step back and let their lives unfold on their own a bit more. When the unpleasant happens, ask, “Am I needed here?” Arguably, this is one part of life where being good enough is in fact doing what’s best.

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

Alex Russell is speaking at KCS Monday, April 14, 2014 at 7 p.m. All are welcome and admission is free. His book Drop the Worry Ball will be available for sale at the event.

The Art of Parenting in a World of Worry

WorriedEighteen years ago, expecting our first, I remember saying that I intended to have a different learning activity ready at home for every day of my child’s youngest years.

That was the first of countless parenting notions that didn’t go at all as planned.

It’s easy to laugh at some of what my husband and I thought before the reality of parenting hit. Many assumptions were thoroughly throttled when it became clear our boys were their own individuals, with their own minds (funny we didn’t assume they’d get that from us!).

What isn’t funny is the worry that comes with parenting these days. Media and much of society suggests that there’s plenty to worry about; the threat of future unemployment, mixing with the wrong crowd, bullying, drugs, excessive online gaming, online predators, ‘failure-to-launch’ from home and more lurk in the dark edges of our minds. These potential threats are alarming, to be sure. They are worthy of our watchful eye, and intervention when needed. But Alex Russell, clinical psychologist and author of Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement, suggests that the more alarming and widespread problem is how many of us are responding to the threats.

Drop the Worry Ball is an account of how our generation of parents has saved our children from failure, to the unhealthy end that they’re unable to deal with failure on their own. Our well-intended efforts to ensure their lives unfold as desired have left them ill-prepared to face the obstacles, the “non-catastrophic failures”, inherent in a life fully-lived.  Be resilient is one of our KCS Habits because it’s an attribute that’s both a necessary yet under-appreciated part of success. Where children used to learn resilience, today they’re experiencing crippling anxiety or engaging in avoidance behaviours (endless gaming being one example) to alarming degrees. Many feel entitled to getting their way, and have become deft at manipulating parents to make it so. Messing up and not getting what we want is unpleasant, sometimes deeply so. That being said, they’re a powerful way, and arguably the only way, to learn how to pick oneself up, learn from mistakes, and face life undaunted. They’re a whole lot better than a life unlived.

I don’t know if my parents worried as much as I worry about my boys. I do know they let me face life with a great deal of freedom, and my fair share of non-catastrophic failures. They kept their worry in check so that I might become the adult I am today. If my husband and I can keep Russell’s message in mind, our boys will also become self-reliant adults, as my husband and I assumed they would be.

It just may not unfold as planned.

Alex Russell is speaking at KCS Monday, April 14th at 7 p.m. All are welcome and admission is free. His book Drop the Worry Ball will be available for sale at the event.

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

A New Definition of Cool

GraphOne reward for getting older is no longer caring about looking cool. Surrounded by tweens and teens at home and school, I’m often reminded of the lengths I went at their age to not look uncool. (Do sneakers in the snow sound familiar to anyone else?)

Gratefully, I wear warm winter boots now. I also get to witness and share the unbridled excitement that comes from, yes, data. Jumping out of our skin for numbers and charts won’t register on the typical ‘cool’ list of things to do, but it’s an unforgettable sight I’ve been grateful to witness a number of times now.

Two years ago, a significant area of focus for the school was reading. Since then, we’ve invested in a series of Direct Instruction programs, including Reading Mastery and other companion resources, that ensure all students pick up the skills needed to be thoroughly successful readers, from phonemic awareness to making inferences. All reading teachers from JK to grade 6 have received extensive training to deliver the program. Leveraging the small-group instruction time in our Super Skills and Workshop classes, we now deliver an intense, research-based, aligned effort to teach this most critical skill. Assessment happens frequently to monitor student progress. We also use a comprehensive standardized assessment to capture baseline data at the start of the year, mid-year and at the end with our youngest students, just to double-check.

That’s the data that’s got us beaming like giddy teens. Seeing the extent to which our students are growing in their reading skills is gratifying beyond words.

Teachers join the profession to make a difference. That difference is rarely quick and rarely rooted in one effort, no matter how significant that effort is. The complexity of meeting the needs of all students, to the greatest extent possible, is typically just too great.

Getting our kicks out of data may be considered uncool. So be it. But making a difference is what these teachers are about. Our excitement at doing so is irrepressible. And we’re not afraid to show it.

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


Olympics Women's Hockey Gold - Sochi 2014Today we had the Women’s Gold Medal game playing on our televisions in the lobby and in various classrooms throughout the school.  We all wanted to be in Canada Hall to witness this game today to recreate the feeling of ’72 that some of us can still remember; I was six and have a vague recollection of sitting in my school gym.  However, we are in the midst of setting up for our annual musical next week and so we watched all around the school.

As we know, things didn’t look great for the Canadians with ten minutes left.  But by now we know the memorable finish.  Standing with the students and staff in our upper lobby and experiencing the energy was awesome.

I think Paul “Bear” Bryant, the former Alabama football coach had it right when he said about sports and its ability to bring people together, “It’s kind of hard to rally around a math class.”  Let’s hope our men’s team can re-create the feeling again tomorrow in their game against the Americans.  Maybe 20 years from now our students will remember where they were on February 20th, 2014, when we won Gold.

Derek Logan
Head of School


Canadian flagWith so much being said about the Olympics these days, I will refrain from adding to the pile.  There are many wonderful stories coming out of the Games that are being written about elsewhere by much better writers than me.  However, I do want to mention something about the country we live in.  This week I met with a prospective family who were looking at our Early Learning Program.  They had moved to Canada six months ago.

We had a pleasant conversation about KCS and education.  As we were nearing the end of our discussion I asked them why they moved to Canada.  Usually I hear stories about job relocation, moving to be with other members of a family, etc.  Their response was wholly different and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since they said it to me.  To paraphrase, they said they moved to Canada because they wanted to live in a safe environment for their daughter; one in which they could take her to a park and not worry.  I look forward to this family joining the KCS community next year and being reminded by them of what we are so fortunate to have in our country.

Derek Logan
Head of School

A Groundswell of Gratitude

Our students have much to be thankful for. What’s nice is that they are thankful, and make no secret of it. Here are just of few of the ways our students express their gratitude.

Gratitude Journals
Our grade 3s are keeping gratitude journals. Messages of gratitude also cover their walls. They recently all prepared lunches for a local Out of the Cold program, and included heartfelt messages that will warm hearts as much as the lunches will fill bellies. I stopped by their class the other day to pick up the lunches and had the pleasure of hearing them share what they had just written in their journals. One was grateful for the fact his mother spent her time registering him for lacrosse. Another was grateful that his father coached his hockey team. A third was grateful for his guinea pig’s delight when he came home from school every day.

100 Reasons Why We Love KCS
100 Reasons Why We Love KCSOne of our SK teachers recently created a 100-days-of-school mural, composed of 100 hearts completed by our JK, SK and grade 1 students, as well as some teachers and administrators. In each heart we wrote a message of what we love about KCS. The messages include:

“I love using numbers and counters.”
“I like going to the library.”
“We get to play chess.”
“The teachers are very funny.”

Compliment Friday
Each end of week assembly includes Compliment Friday where students are invited to share a public thank you in front of the whole school. Last week’s assembly included compliments to teachers for their support during exams, a guest teacher for jumping in when their teacher was away, friends and classmates for generally being awesome.

Class Meetings
Class meetings at KCS start with an around-the-room sharing of compliments or expressions of thanks. Last week I had an unexpected opportunity to join a class meeting dedicated to a student facing an exceptional personal challenge. Each of the other 41 grade 6 students gave a compliment to their classmate. This student was praised for being resilient, being brave, being funny, having a positive attitude and being a great friend.

One of our KCS Habits is Make the World Better. One way to do so is to express gratitude. Our students’ obvious gratitude makes our little part of the world much better. For that, I’m grateful.

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

Big Steps with our Little Ones

LearningIt’s been almost six months since KCS’s first-ever PK, JK and SK classes began. You may recall that when you’re that young, six months is a very long time. Between everything our youngest students have learned and all that their teachers have accomplished, it’s time to step back, take note and celebrate.

All good teaching starts with learning. Discussions on how to align the Early Learning Program (PK-SK classes) with grades 1 to 8 began in January 2013. These discussions were promptly fuelled by external professional development throughout the spring and summer at a kindergarten conference, a reading institute and at workshops on play-based learning.

Since September, professional development hasn’t let up. More external workshops, online courses, internal guidance on emergent curriculum and technology, iPad workshops, plus visits to observe and learn from kindergarten teachers at another independent school have also taken place. Without question, the newest members of our KCS faculty are exemplary models of our KCS Habit Embrace Learning. Commitment to ongoing learning and improvement is an inherent part of KCS from PK to grade 8.

Reading Mastery is a Direct Instruction program that is now established at KCS from JK to grade 6. First introduced at KCS two years ago, the small-group, research-based instruction is proving exceptionally effective in ensuring all students master the fundamentals of reading, from phonics to making inferences. Our kindergarten students get further opportunity in reading through take-home readers, regular get-togethers with KCS Reading Buddies, the excitement of guest Mystery Readers, teacher read-alouds and multiple other opportunities to learn the power of print.

Project-based learning (PBL) is another school-wide area of focus embraced by our kindergarten classes. PBL is a method of teaching that optimizes both learning about the world and also development of the KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action. Through a tantalizing question or challenge, curiosity is piqued, and students are ready to engage in a wide variety of learning related to the topic at hand. The Emergent Curriculum practised in our PK classes and play-based learning also practiced in kindergarten are the age-appropriate ‘cousins’ to PBL. This excellent foundation aligns with the learning that awaits in grades 1 to 8 and indeed, the rest of their lives.

Incoming young students can also look forward to much more. iPads are being leveraged to help support skill development in our kindergarten program. The program ‘Handwriting Without Tears’ is being used to teach fine-motor skills, printing and eventually cursive writing from PK to grade 3. Math is being taught according to best practice with small-group instruction, a wide variety of hands-on learning experiences and engaging games. Music and French are taught by passionate specialist teachers who have aligned their efforts with the program in grades 1 to 8. Social and physical development have dedicated time with daily outdoor play and physical education classes in our full day program. Community service included a PK-SK partnership with the George Hull Centre collecting gifts for families in need. And exciting field trips to the Humber Arboretum, Aquarium, Toronto Symphony and more allow our students to learn from the many opportunities within the GTA.

While our half-day and full-day programs both offer all of the above, our full-day program provides the time needed to make the most of a rich learning program. Deep learning comes when students take their time, engage in activities until their natural conclusion and pursue ideas until the mind, not the schedule, tells them to stop. Long uninterrupted periods of learning not only support skill development but are also when habits of persistence, curiosity and creative thinking take root.

At the six-month mark, we’re very grateful for the twelve new faculty who collectively bring more than 170 years of teaching, from not only the former St. Georges Nursery School but also other highly regarded schools. Their learning and dedication to our youngest children has made for a very special first half year. With ongoing learning and unwavering dedication going forward, our Early Learning Program can look forward to many more happy half-years to come.

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