Redefining What’s Possible: Real Lives

‘Redefining What’s Possible’ is a series of blogs that highlights
stand-out tech tools being used at KCS.

Educational Simulations: Real Lives screenshotFor all the technology at KCS, it’s a place full of the human touch. A new tool this year takes the human touch to an unusually moving, global level.

In Ontario, the grade 8 geography curriculum includes the study of human demographics in countries around the world. Students learn about the effect that such things as literacy, birth rate, maternal health and more have on mortality and quality of life. It’s one thing to ‘learn’ these things, but imagine the power of ‘living’ them. Otherwise impossible for these young Ontarians, that’s just what our students get to do using the program Real Lives.

Real Lives simulates a life for each player, based on authentic global statistics. If one-fifth of the world’s population is Chinese, then chances are that one-fifth of a class will be randomly assigned a simulated life that begins in China. They’ll be given a name, photo and detailed profile. The students’ simulated lives will start at birth and unfold naturally, as chance and statistics dictate. With each log-in, their person will age and face decision points. Gender, socio-demographics, health, disease, and natural disasters will also be assigned to these ‘real lives’ based on where they live and all other aspects of their profile. Some students will die young, others will live a long and healthy life. Malaria, famine, and drought will take many. Along the way, real life decisions need to be made by students, such as:

  • Will you help a friend in need, even if it harms you?
  • You’ve found a wallet on the ground. What will you do with it?
  • You are of the age to marry. Will you?
  • What job will you try to get?
  • You’ve come across a mess left by another individual. Will you clean it up?
  • Some friends have decided to take up smoking. Will you?
  • You’ve been drafted into the military. What will you do?

It’s a virtual game of life, where important decisions need to be made, all of which have consequences.

What do the students think of using Real Lives in the classroom? The students were very keen to use this program and to share what was happening to their avatar in the game. It provoked lively discussions about the consequences of life decisions and the plight of people in their country. With Real Lives, our oldest students were immersed in a world vastly different from their own. They experienced first-hand the threats faced by many. By identifying with their ‘real life’, the simulated became real and global empathy started to take root. Made intensely personal, it’s a geography unit that these lucky young Ontarians will not soon forget.

That’s technology with a welcome human touch.

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

Bell Let’s Talk Day and Beyond

Mental HealthThe statistics tell us that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime, yet 2 out of 3 of those individuals will never seek help, choosing instead to suffer in silence because of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. That stigma stops people from getting the help that they need and can make those individuals feel even more isolated.  But we can change that, and we’re encouraging our students to do so.

On Wednesday, January 28, our grade 7 and 8 students will join thousands of other students from grades 7 through 12 from across Canada as they participate in the Bell Let’s Talk Day webcast. This webcast will feature Clara Hughes, Michael Landsberg and other guests who will share their personal stories and help encourage those watching to work to end the stigma using Bell’s Let’s Talk 5 simple steps:

  1. Language Matters
  2. Educate Yourself
  3. Be Kind
  4. Listen and Ask
  5. Talk About It

Although Bell Let’s Talk Day takes place on Wednesday, January 28th, talking about mental health issues is not just a one day event.  We encourage our students to have these conversations every day and we actively work to help them better understand what overall student wellness includes.  If they can recognize when something just does not feel right, and they know that they will be listened to without shame or fear, then we’re doing our part to help reduce the stigma and encourage dialogue around such an important topic.  We also know that prevention and early intervention are key for those experiencing a mental health issue.  This was a reason why our school trained our faculty and staff in Mental Health First Aid during 2014.  It is why we strive to promote overall student wellness through our programs, curriculum, and extra-curricular offerings.  It is a reason why our Parent Network began the #KCS_TTM (Talk That Matters) Speaker Series for students this year.  And finally, it is because knowing each and every one of the students at the school is important, not just for academic planning, but also to ensure that we can see when that conversation needs to happen as early intervention in the area of mental health is so important.

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

Reaching Readers with Reading Mastery

It’s not sexy and we know it.

Reading Mastery in Grade 1Three years ago KCS introduced Reading Mastery to our primary and junior grades. Our pilot followed a year’s worth of exploring the programs of multiple publishers and looking for hard data to show that the chosen program would meet our needs. Our teachers have always been following professional dialogue and delivering a program designed to develop engaged, competent readers. Never ones to shy away from problems, they weren’t satisfied, and so began a quest that led to the pilot of Reading Mastery.

Reading Mastery is a teacher-led, prescriptive program that ensures mastery of all aspects of foundational reading, leaving no skill-gap behind. It includes choral reading, standard cues, ongoing assessment and constant reinforcement of acquired skills so they stick. To use it requires significant training, and, despite the detailed teachers’ manuals, non-stop decision-making on the part of the teacher. In a school with enticing project-based learning and the unpredictable spice of student voice and choice, Reading Mastery is the yin to our yang.

So be it. What’s exciting for students is that they all see it working. What’s exciting for our teachers is the data showing the difference it makes. Standardized assessments done three times a year show struggling readers progressing quickly through the skill levels. According to our data:

  • By introducing Reading Mastery to SK we’ve increased the percentage of students ready to start the Grade 1 Reading Mastery program in September of Grade 1 by 106%.
  • Teaching Reading Mastery daily in grades 1 and 2, students are reaching the grade 2 reading level 2.7 times quicker than it took in 2012.
  • We’ve shortened the time it takes for most of our youngest students to build foundational reading skills by 83%, from 18 months to three.

Small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes ensure all of our students get instruction at the right level for them, and as soon as students demonstrate appropriate mastery, they move on to the infinite learning possibilities awaiting strong readers.

We won’t stop addressing problems and we won’t stop following professional dialogue, with a discerning eye. Most importantly, we won’t stop doing whatever it takes to help our students be the best they can be.

ReadingReading Mastery isn’t terribly sexy, but making a difference is. So is reading. And at least in the minds of our determined KCS teachers, so is data.

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

Laughs at the Legislature

Our grade fives have the good fortune to learn about government. No, that wasn’t sarcasm.

Find humour is one of our Habits, and a particularly welcome one for the government unit. I’m no stranger to the passionate possibilities for a unit on government, but the content to cover with ten-year-olds leaves a bit to be desired. It’s a unit requiring special intervention. That’s where the good fortune comes in.

The culminating task designed by our grade five teachers shows all the students learn a great deal about how government works, and have a hoot while doing so. Each is asked to design a parliamentary CD cover and song list. With tongue in cheek, hit songs include:

  • What Does the Speaker Say?
  • That’s My Party
  • The Electoral Guitar
  • Speaker in the Sky with Diamonds
  • Most Votes Ever (Remix)
  • Eye of the Premier
  • We Are MPPs
  • The New Law Has a Flaw
  • The Page is on a Rage
  • Take a Seat on my Side
  • Happy House of Commons
  • and as a salute to the recent season, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Premier.

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As our students get older, they will come to appreciate the serious work of government. Hopefully, they’ll also continue to be comfortable with a little respectful rib-poking. It’s healthy and encourages a creative culture.

Thanks grade fives. Your recent showcase gave us all some great chuckles. We’ll be sending your work to the Legislature. The evening news suggests they could use a laugh too. Any contribution you make to a happy, healthy, creative year ahead in government would be welcome news indeed.

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

Active Learners in PK

Children come to school with a wealth of knowledge. They are learning every second of every day, and their experiences shape their understanding of the world around them. We as teachers learn a whole lot from them on a daily basis!

This term in Pre-kindergarten the children have been checking themselves out in the mirror during dramatic play, daily routines, and any time there is a mirror available! We have planned a variety of activities to represent the diversity in the room, and for the children to know that they are active players in their learning.

By drawing and painting their own self-portraits, being represented on a size chart or tracing and colouring their outline, the children are represented in the classroom and know that they belong here. Not only do these activities embrace the diversity that exists in our world and our classroom, it has provided the children the opportunity to focus their skills on something they know best – themselves! What is a better motivator than that? They have been so excited to see themselves in their learning environment.

The children have begun to notice traits about themselves and talk about them, but also about their classmates. It is a process to learn about oneself, but also a process to learn about the similarities that reside in all children. This is the beginning of recognizing themselves as lifelong learners.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Where Courage Happens

Lots of wonderful, just-plain-happy things happen at KCS. This week’s Blue Spruce celebration, complete with costumes, contests and cupcakes, is one fine example of such a thing. Yesterday’s grade 8-primary buddy get together to play Stinky Pig, Octopus and Soccer Bench Ball is another great example. Overhearing one SK ask another if she could join him, and his reply of yes – a simple thing but oh-so-important for that one girl – is a third example from the last 24 hours that leaves me smiling.

Some things are a bit more complicated, a bit tougher, and I’ve seen plenty of them since September too. Wake Up With the Arts is an exceptionally heart-warming monthly student performance, but there’s no question it’s courage-on-display. The event is entirely student-driven, and performances include students who perform solo, often on new instruments, or dancing something they choreographed themselves. We had our annual grade 7 and 8 speech contest and these remarkable youth held us spellbound by their effort and courage to stand in front a large crowd to deliver their speeches. Other moments of courage happen on the playground, or in the classroom, and they may be more private but they’re significant none-the-less. Our mission is to prepare students for challenges. They happen here. And our students respond with such courage you can’t help but be inspired to watch.

All of this reminded me of a great video a former student introduced me to. It’s a good one to watch and share with those you love. The world’s most remarkable people had to summon courage to face challenges and overcome failure, and their example should inspire us all.

January will bring a new year that I’m sure will be full of happy happenings at KCS. It will also bring many moments of courage. I wish you all a new year full of both.

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

More Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom

There are many enhanced opportunities for learning, discovery and physical activity in our new outdoor classroom. Our cozy, yet stimulating environment, with all its natural qualities, has allowed us to learn and play amongst the plants and critters that share our space.  Embracing the unique physical design, provided components, and added accessories (mentioned in Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom), the staff and students have welcomed the wildlife, created nature-based games, and engaged in special projects and group activities.

Critters have been detected in the outdoor classroom.  A shy resident chipmunk was found to be living behind the shelving unit.  Snails, ladybugs, moths, and a variety of insects have been adopted and taken indoors to be observed.  Butterflies have been spotted passing through in warmer weather. The children are always delighted to discover these living creatures.

The JKs created and hung bird feeders, thus attracting a small plump bird that hung around for a couple weeks.  Blue jays, robins, and cardinals have been noted to take refuge in the tall pine and to serenade us with their unique warbles, whistles, chirps, and proclamations.  With maturity, our new saplings will provide increasing possibilities for nesting and congregating of our feathered friends.

The SKs made tic tac toe board games using painted stone bumble bees and ladybugs.  The boards were cut by SK teacher, Mr. Magee, under watchful supervision of many curious students. The students then sanded the rough edges with much enjoyment.  The games will be added to the outdoor curriculum cupboards for other classes to enjoy.

My primary science club engaged in a project to save the monarchs. These students created a game for sharing using paper monarchs mounted on clothespins to be clipped and hidden throughout the playground shrubbery.  When the SKs were introduced to the game they were very intrigued with the search and find aspects of the game.   Science club members also planted milkweed seeds with hopes that when the monarchs migrate north again, there will be food for their caterpillars.

Added accessories have extended play in interesting ways.  With the measuring tapes, the children have been measuring each other.  They also built fabric forts around the upright posts with clothespins and a little help from their teachers.  Round slabs of wood have been used as steering wheels to race around the hills and straightaways.  Brushes and water in paint trays have been used to paint the fort, the brick wall, and chalkboard in a variety of “colours”.

Throughout the afternoon, the outdoor classroom and amphitheater has been booked by teachers for a variety of reasons: class meetings, finding letters and numbers in the environment, making letters of the alphabet using bodies, studying structures and the seasons, discussing and practising inclusive play, engaging in quiet reading time, looking for bugs, and holding citizenship classes. More recently, a kindergarten physical education class was transported to this space.

It certainly is wonderful to have this amazing outdoor classroom space created by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds for the unique needs and dreams of KCS students and staff.  Enrichment and much enjoyment has been added to enhance the school day in such a variety of ways!

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

What a Term

Andrea is quiet.Lately, I’ve been keeping quiet. Our assemblies over the past number of years have gotten longer and longer, full of student presentations, leadership projects and other special events that are now blissfully common at KCS. Since late last year, I’ve spoken less often at assemblies so the students can speak more.

At last Friday morning’s assembly, I desperately wanted to speak to the students about how proud I was of all their efforts over first term. Then I learned what was in store for the student-led assembly: grade 1 and 3 presentations, a Reason for the Season presentation, a Yoga presentation for an upcoming school-wide unit, Compliment Friday, other leadership project presentations and more. I stayed in the audience. The activity of our students and the greater KCS community was much more important than anything I intended to say.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about our intended journey for the year. I’ve written previously about athletic successes, our unique Wake Up with the Arts, new math initiatives, and our ongoing efforts to expand project-based learning at KCS. All these things are well underway. The momentum in our Four Doors to Learning continues to grow and the students increasingly impress. For specifics from the term, our KCS Facebook page best tells the detailed tale.

I’ve found other ways to let the students know how much I appreciate their efforts to do their best, and enrich KCS in doing so. Next week at interviews, parents and teachers will have time devoted to doing the same. Even from struggles and mistakes, there has been significant growth and learning. For the many students who’ve thrown themselves into a project, club, team, or subject, they’ve learned that with exceptional effort comes exceptional results.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I couldn’t be happier than to let the students, and all that happens at KCS, do the talking. I’ll keep quietly watching and bursting with pride.

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

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