The Sesame E-Portfolio: An Exciting Addition, Nine Times Over

Last year we launched Sesame, a secure e-portfolio (or electronic portfolio) that captured the detailed learning journey of our PK, JK and SK students through photo, video and captions. This year, Sesame is capturing the journey of all students from PK to grade 3. As we continue to roll out this new tool, Sesame will follow our students from their first day at KCS until the day of their graduation.

This is an exciting step forward for many reasons. Here are nine of the more obvious ones:

  1. Sesame opens up the classroom to parents, colleagues and students. Through photos and videos, we’re able to share exponentially more about the world of learning happening at school. Homework doesn’t tell that story. Nor do tests, projects, assignments or report cards, at least not directly. The process matters. Sesame captures and shares it.
  2. By opening up the classroom to parents, they have a means to see the play presentations, the Show and Tell, the showcases and multiple other events that busy parents can’t always attend. On top of that, these banner days are captured to share with grandparents, friends and extended family – all who would love to see it in person, but often can’t.
  3. We now have a tool to measure and honour the attributes that matter most in life. Yes, the standard curriculum matters, and practices are in place to make sure this curriculum (and more) is effectively learned. What most of the profession still struggles with, however, is how to teach and measure growth of the equally critical soft skills, what we know as our Habits of Mind, Body and Action at KCS. Our students are taught about the Habits, and we see evidence of the Habits being practised daily. But how to measure this? By capturing evidence of the Habits in action. Sesame is our tool for the job.
  4. As an electronic portfolio, Sesame is unsurpassed in its clean, minimalist look. Suitable for all ages, it’s devoid of the distracting extra features that bog down too many tech products and take away from the pleasure of a tool that simply does its job well.
  5. It couldn’t be easier to use. With a tablet, sign-in via a personal QR code requires just one tap. One more tap and you’re adding content. It’s easy enough for our youngest students and busiest teachers. We’ve resisted adopting other e-portfolios because ease of use and efficiency matter. Sesame offers it like no other product we’ve seen.
  6. With Sesame, our students will increasingly assume ownership of the Habits they’re developing. Our students, as they become able, will take on the role of populating their portfolios with what they see as evidence of the Habits in their personal learning journey. Seeking, capturing, and commenting on these moments will reinforce their understanding and awareness of these vital attributes.
  7. Teachers have a powerful new tool to promote self-awareness and provoke behaviour-changing reflection. Having a great class? Teachers can take video to show the students later, and get their thoughts on the evidence for why it worked well. Having a class that didn’t work as well? Teachers can have the students watch that one too, and ask them to identify what the problems were. Video evidence is a powerful medium for personal growth.
  8. With photos and videos regularly updated and easily accessible at home, parents and children can have richer conversations about what their child is doing at school. These conversations both reinforce and extend the learning that’s happening in the classroom. That’s parent involvement which directly makes a difference in their child’s learning. As such, that’s an exercise we’re directly asking families to engage in.
  9. Last but not least, we now have a tool to easily capture, store, and share memories. From the Teddy Bear picnic to raucous House challenges in assembly, and all the showcases, French plays, concerts, student-led projects, and infinite other experiences that make up their days at KCS, the Sesame portfolio will follow our students from PK to graduation. Upon leaving KCS, the content will be given to students to enjoy, and even use, in their lives after KCS. As universities and employers increasingly express interest in seeing portfolios, Sesame will be ready with students’ stories of leadership, responsible risks, creativity, persistence and more.

Portfolios aren’t new at KCS, and e-portfolios aren’t new in the profession. Sesame, all it offers, and how we’re using it, however, is quite new. We’re always striving to do better. Nine times over, Sesame is one exciting example of how.

What Happens on those Early Dismissal Days?

Have you ever wondered what KCS teachers are doing during those early dismissal days when school wraps up at 12:20 and students head out to start their weekend? For starters, these afternoons always begin with a great tradition- a delicious potluck lunch.  Many KCS teachers work across numerous grades throughout the building. This special lunch is a wonderful opportunity to break bread together and reconnect with colleagues from a different grade or division. A quick glance across the room reveals tables that are full of lively conversations, laughter and an unmistakable atmosphere of positive energy.  It is this energy that fuels the professional development activities that make up the balance of the afternoon.

Staff activities during Early Dismissal Days, or EDDs, exemplify the collaborative spirit of the KCS Faculty.  Early Dismissal days complement the numerous meetings that KCS teachers attend on a weekly basis.  These formal and informal meetings allow our teachers to better understand and meet the needs of our students.  Earlier this year, the KCS faculty completed professional development activities that reflected on Project Based Learning, Differentiated Instruction and Health and Wellness. These afternoons are sometimes used to formulate action plans for students who may need extra support, guidance, challenge or a friendly pat on the back.  EDDs also offer a wonderful opportunity for both teachers and administrators to invest time into discussing curriculum, school wide projects, enrichment opportunities and upcoming events. Building on these important discussions, the teachers also take time to review current best practices whose key purpose is to make KCS a better school. Topics cover the range of our Four Doors to Learning including classroom innovation, student generated ideas, the status of clubs and teams as well as improvements to assessment and reporting.  Most importantly, teachers focus on how best to apply our Habits of Mind, Body and Action.

Time is always a precious commodity during the school year.  With this in mind, the KCS team recognizes the value of taking time to pause, reflect and then planning out a solid path forward. EDDs often have a busy agenda, but enjoying your grade partner’s homemade brownies while planning for the next Science or Language Arts units is a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

Pourquoi apprendre le français? / Why learn French?

« Why learn French? » If your child asked you this question tonight over dinner, what would your answer be? And how might your own experiences with learning the language influence that response?

The truth is there are many reasons to learn French, as our Grade 7 students recently discovered during a brainstorming session with graphic recorder, Disa Kauk. Their individual ideas contributed to the creation of two stunning visual reminders of ‘Pourquoi apprendre le français?’ and I encourage you to have a closer look at them the next time you are in the school.

In order for learning to endure in any subject area, we must see the value in what we are learning and understand our own reasons for learning it. This is especially important in the French as a Second Language classroom as most students only have a chance to practice their skills here at school. Students need to realize that French exists outside the walls of the classroom as well. With a curriculum now focused on authentic communication and real-life situations, this is truer than ever and families can play a vital role. Simply having a conversation with your child about the importance of learning French is a great starting point as it shows your child that French is valued outside of school. But you don’t have to stop there.

Parents often ask how else they can support their child’s French learning at home. Consider family movie nights in French by picking a DVD of a movie already familiar to your child in English and watching it together in French. Instead of watching the Leafs game in English, choose a station with French commentary. Point out French words on packages, in magazines, in stores and during your travels when you come across it. Visit a museum or gallery and take a tour in French. Listen to a French radio station. Take out French library books. You may even consider joining an organization like Canadian Parents for French which furthers bilingualism by promoting and creating opportunities for youth to learn and use French. Detailed information on exchange programmes, summer camps and many other unique language-learning opportunities is available on www.frenchstreet.ca. The possibilities are endless!

As a French teacher, I have seen a real difference in the classroom when students buy into their learning by taking opportunities outside of school to enjoy learning French. When they have more chances to practice their skills in the real world, they are more inclined to transfer that enthusiasm to the classroom and beyond.

Pourquoi apprendre le français? It’s never too early – or too late! – to start this conversation. When will you have yours?

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Wall of Service: Making the World Better

I was on my way to Mr. Logan’s office to chat about the Blue Jays, when something wonderful caught my eye.  Our Wall of Service, tucked neatly beside the KCS School Store, was nearly full!  I highly recommend stopping by the board and reading some of the bricks on display.

It does not take long to realize the incredibly positive impact that our students are making in their community.  There were several cards describing donation drives in lieu of birthday presents.  Other students held fundraisers or participated in events that raised thousands of dollars for many worthwhile causes including the devastating forest fire in Fort McMurray, Alberta.  I learned that one of our Grade 2 students was recycling batteries specially designed for hearing aids.  Another student shared how he and his family stepped in and collected clothing and other necessities when someone they knew needed assistance with family oversees.

Two of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ask our students to do what is right and strive to make the world a better place.  A few minutes at the Wall of Service allowed me to conclude that not only are we on track, but that we are also in good hands.

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Everything a School Should Be (Part 1)

Let’s take a moment and think about everything a great school should be doing for students. There’s the curriculum – collectively many hundreds of pages of content and skills, wrapped up in subjects, that schools need to make sure all students learn. Then there’s tailoring the curriculum, because ensuring all students learn requires adjustments for each and every one. On top of that there’s enrichment programming, character education, learning skills, collaboration skills, critical and creative thinking, leadership and citizenship, appreciation of nature and the arts, and so much more. Schools need to engage minds, inspire physical health and activity, develop resilience, and nurture the artistic spirit. Direct instruction matters. Project-based learning matters. Clubs, teams, field trips, inspiring speakers, cross-grade integration activities, and spirit-raising events matter. Throughout the delivery of all of the above, a school needs to help students with the inevitable bumps – social, emotional, mental, academic, physical – that happen and directly interfere with everything else if not well addressed. And all of this, and more, needs to happen in an aligned, whole-system manner so it’s optimal both in how it’s experienced and in the difference it makes. Without a doubt, a great school must do many things exceptionally well.

Yet to follow the dialogue, one might think it’s otherwise.

We hear boasts of schools that are outstanding on singular measures, but left wondering how these feats are achieved without sacrifice in other areas of the school. We read that schools should focus improvement efforts on only a small number of areas at once, as if all other important things can wait, for years. We learn of exciting new programs that have great appeal, but represent just a tiny fraction of what’s needed for deep, longstanding impact. This is fine reading, but none are the story that students most need. None are the story we should want for our children.

At KCS, we’re transparent in our unrelenting commitment to being everything a school should be. Our Four Doors to Learning program in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship reflects years’ worth of creative, collaborative effort so that our story is the full story students need. Our faculty are constantly adding new professional learning so that this effort reflects the wisest judgment we can muster. And we’re constantly striving to improve in as many ways we can, and in all ways that matter.

KCS is committed to being everything a school should be. If there’s anything singular about where we strive to be outstanding, that’s it. We know that other schools strive for this as well, but it’s a story we don’t hear often enough. It makes for a long story, with many lengthy chapters. In a busy world and crowded social media space, it’s a story that takes time to tell and time to hear.

That’s okay. Children love long stories. So should we.

Part 2 of this post, to be published shortly, will share the story of how KCS is constantly striving to improve in its effort to be everything a school should be.

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The KCS Terry Fox Run and the Grade 5 Classes

In the late summer of 1980, in an era long before instant messaging, Canadians across the country were glued to national news outlets as a sombre story unfolded. Terry Fox, who had covered over 5000 km on his Marathon of Hope, had abruptly ended his run near Thunder Bay, Ontario. Only a few short weeks before, a triumphant Terry was greeted by thousands of cheering well-wishers in Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square. Maple Leafs Captain Darryl Sittler presented Terry with an NHL All-Star Jersey and then joined him on his run surrounded by cheering supporters.

It was September 1st 1980, and I can vividly remember the imposing voice of broadcaster Lloyd Robertson announcing that the cancer that had taken Terry’s leg, had spread to his lungs and the future of the Marathon of Hope was uncertain. I will never forget seeing Terry, with his parents looking on, as he lay propped up on an ambulance gurney proclaiming, “If there is any way I can get out there again and finish it—I will…”

Fast forward to September 30th, 2016. Thirty-six years later, Terry Fox’s brave pledge echoes deeply throughout the KCS community. Supported by a team of dedicated parent volunteers and the entire KCS school Faculty, the students celebrated the legacy of a great Canadian by completing an amazing Terry Fox Run. Since its inception, the KCS community has raised over $250, 000 for Cancer Research and we have been recognized by the Terry Fox Foundation as one of its top ten schools. The annual Run also allows our Grade 5 classes to embrace an important leadership role.

Under the guidance of Mr. Sawyer and Ms. MacDonald, the Grade 5 classes educate our school community about Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. Combining art, research and public speaking, each class prepares posters and presentations that share Terry’s amazing story and promote our September Run. This year’s theme was enriched through Terry’s own words as the students shared his memorable quotes. “Even if I don’t finish, we need others to continue. It’s got to keep going without me.”

The impact of this leadership opportunity is undeniable. Here are some insightful observations from the fifth grade leaders:

“I feel it’s very important to [stand up] and speak to the audience. Although my hands were shaking, I was hoping the younger kids would understand just what kind of a hero Terry really was!” I knew about Terry Fox before, but I was waiting for this exciting opportunity to help present the Run in grade 5. I was very impressed by the impact that Terry Fox had on all Canadians—I am surprised how so many years ago, word spread so quickly about him and his amazing acts.”

“I was nervous at first, but when I finished my message I was happy that I did it. I was really happy about how much the KCS community has raised for such an important cause. I was happy that grade 5 had this role because it helped younger students learn about Terry. Terry Fox was just a kid in many ways, he decided not to think of himself but others. He helped others realize that they can [make a difference].”

Thank you for a memorable day. Thank you to the Grade 5s for their outstanding job. We look forward to continuing this wonderful KCS tradition and celebrating the inspirational legacy of a true Canadian hero.

The Benefits of Outdoor Education

I was first introduced to Outdoor Education as an international student completing my teaching degree in New South Wales, Australia. Although I was familiar with “Environmental Ed,” it was not until I experienced The Earth Keepers program that I acquired a deeper understanding of experiential learning. For one, I discovered that traversing the Australian back country is very different than bushwhacking through Canadian forests. The abundance of poisonous snakes, arachnids and spiny plants required a deliberate mind shift. Luckily, my Aussie instructors were quick to correct my “Canadian style hiking.” When the program concluded, many of my classmates agreed that exploring unfamiliar territory in an unfamiliar country was a learning experience that would be remembered forever.

Every September, KCS students participate in our longstanding tradition of outdoor education. Led by outdoor specialists and KCS faculty, Grade 6, 7 and 8 students are immersed in many unforgettable experiences. Each three-day program is uniquely tailored to help students reconnect with classmates, engage in team-building exercises and begin the fall term both re-energized and in a positive frame of mind.
Our students are practicing farm-to-table by preparing meals created with ingredients harvested within a hundred kilometer radius of the city. They are building trust and teamwork by navigating challenging ropes courses and testing their limits with rock climbing and rappelling at Rattlesnake Point. And my personal favourite, students are introduced to early Canadian history when they reconstruct the challenging life an 18th century fur trader.

All of these activities are linked together by a fundamental and defining thread: Hands-on learning flourishes when students take responsible risks, step out of their comfort zones and push themselves to try something new.

As many of us become more accustomed to an urban lifestyle, connecting with the outdoors has become an important issue. I am reminded of Richard Louv’s influential book Last Child in the Woods. As our cities grow and green spaces recede, Louv’s poignant observation that “direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults” seems to ring true now more than ever. In the beginning, I thought that I understood outdoor education. I thought that I was a capable outdoor enthusiast. I thought that environmental education was simply learning in an outdoor classroom. Australian Earth Keepers opened my eyes. Experiential learning at KCS opened them even wider.

Outdoor education at Kingsway College School not only encourages students to try their best, but it also recognizes that leadership, environmental stewardship, and personal development reap benefits that transcend the traditional classroom. Besides, where else can you dress up as the Mad Trapper of Norval?

 

Best Ever Teaching and Learning

“During my Driver’s Ed, I was so nervous the instructor had me drive to Tim’s. I learned how to go through the drive-through and ordered a jelly donut.”

“My grade 9 history teacher claimed he had many past lives and would tell the stories of those lives for the period we were studying. It ignited my passion for history.”

August may seem like a long time ago for many. As for me, one memory from August continues to warm my soul.

The last week of August, all faculty returned to school, joining the non-teaching staff who remained busy over the summer preparing for September. It’s a huge week of learning, meeting, and planning. This year, it was also the week that all faculty and non-teaching staff engaged in an exercise to define excellence in teaching and learning. It started with a partner activity to share our personal answers to the following:

  1. What is the best learning experience you’ve ever had at school?
  2. What is the best learning experience you’ve ever had outside of school?

Take a moment. What would your answers be? We all have them, and would do well to remember.

With these personal stories captured on post-it notes, larger groups assembled and identified the features of these experiences that made the cut. All features were then shared with all staff. Of the 39 different features, all staff then identified their top six. Collectively, here are some of the features that were most chosen by all staff:

  • “Out of our comfort zone”
  • Hands-on
  • Inspiring
  • Meaningful
  • Challenging
  • Involved responsible risks
  • Real-life experience
  • Collaborative
  • Fun, Humourous
  • Passion-driven
  • Creative
  • Empowering

There are many ways to learn, and while not all are exciting enough to be remembered as “best learning ever,” they all add up to making a difference. However, learning that is so special that it remains a powerful memory years later is learning that clearly matters. This exercise was a great kick-off to a new year meant to inspire unforgettable learning.

May the learning in your lives be full of what we aim to bring to your children.

The Numbers Have It

mathAs classrooms across Ontario echo with the sounds of excited students, the hot topic making waves in Ontario has been math scores. The news for many, unfortunately, has not been as sunny as our summer weather.

At Kingsway College School, our approach to math (and everything else) is proactive, based on proven practice, tailored to our students, and built through teamwork.  For example, in our first week of school, I observed a few of our grade 3 and 4 students completing a math placement activity with one of our specialist teachers, Mr. Graham Marshall.  Working in small groups, the students tackled a range of challenging questions.  Once evaluated, these assessment results will be used by both Mr. Marshall and his Primary and Junior colleagues to support differentiated instruction and a tailored curricular course for these students.

Math doesn’t come easily to some. And it comes very easily to others. A school’s job is to make sure all these students learn. KCS continuously strives to uncover the most effective strategies to support and if need be, accelerate students as they all navigate the ins and outs of the math curriculum.  Standardized test results make clear that we’re doing our job. Though fall will soon be here, we’re delighted that the KCS math story is the sunny one that all students deserve.