“Make Something that Does Something” with littleBits

littleBits at Kingsway College SchoolParents at Curriculum Night could probably sense my excitement at bringing the Maker Movement to KCS. Now that the students are back, it’s time to get making.

This will be a marathon, not a sprint, but tinkering with electronics has already started for students visiting the library’s new Imagination Station. Students can borrow the littleBits Workshop set and readily start creating things that “do something”.

What might they want to make? These videos help tell the story of what others are making with littleBits, from the young and novice, to the older, more serious, make-it-yourselfers:

littleBits is an amazing new tool helping to bring electronics to the masses. I’m excited to see how this innovation in turn will inspire our students.

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

Who We Become

“The quietest people have the loudest minds.”…This is exactly how I would describe myself. It’s like it was written for me. But KCS has helped me express all that creative energy swirling through my mind by teaching me about the importance of communication, the importance of patience, and most of all, the importance of being yourself.” — A grade 6 student

LearningEach May, our grade 6 students write a final five-paragraph essay describing the most important ways in which they’ve grown over the course of the year. The three paragraphs that followed the one above described in detail how the myriad of lessons, projects, opportunities and personal choices throughout the year led to this student’s self-assessment. It’s all part of how this one student came to know more about what matters in life. All of our students have their own story of growth.

That’s half of what I love about KCS. Each day we’re surrounded by students growing, whether in reading, writing, math, research, public-speaking, confidence, leadership, service, performance, creativity, empathy and every other possible way that matters.

The other half of what I love about KCS is how, as a member of staff, we also get to grow. While we collectively bring many strengths to our jobs, and we gladly share them with our students, we’re all also constantly growing, whether through curriculum reviews, workshops, returning to university, endless online courses, professional learning networks, professional reading, and frequent meetings, formal and informal, to address challenges, seize opportunities, and just become better every day.

This summer had me learning about design thinking, electronics with Littlebits and programming with Arduino. Three years ago, I never would have imagined I’d be learning those things! I’ve also been learning a lot about all the creative energy that can be expressed with these in the KCS tool kit, and I look forward to sharing more about how this will increasingly happen at KCS in upcoming blogs.

There’s actually a lot more I love about KCS, but watching students grow, and having the opportunity to grow alongside them, is what I anticipate most as the new school year is set to begin. KCS students can look forward to a great year of learning ahead. KCS staff look forward to the same.

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

No Place Better Than Kindergarten

Kindergarten. When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I teach Kindergarten, I get a range of interesting reactions. Many people respond with a look of fear or dread on their faces and incredulity at the idea of spending one’s days with a room full of 5-year-olds. Others speculate about how much fun it must be to spend one’s days in Kindergarten, perhaps reminiscing about their own fun-filled Kindergarten years. Having spent the last school year as my first year teaching Senior Kindergarten after teaching a variety of other grades for 16 years, I can assure you there is no place I would rather be.

What is life like in Kindergarten?  Well, there is no shortage of energy; that is for sure. It oozes out of their little bodies and minds every minute of every day. Their curiosity knows no limits, and their endless enthusiasm is extremely contagious. I have to say that it is truly inspiring to see the world through the eyes of a group of 5-year-olds. They explore and wonder and try to figure out the answers to their multitude of questions. Their imaginations take them beyond the limits they may come to know later in life. Wooden blocks become underwater sea castles, roads, storefronts, or forts. Little bits of paper become “dudes” that travel around the classroom in the hands of their creators. A few sticks, some paper, and a whole lot of tape are magically transformed into a kite or a flying machine of their own invention. When Kindergarten kids find something they want to do, they approach it with determination, creativity, and persistence. They are not afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work the first time, they make adjustments and try again. Taking responsible risks happens naturally every day, without a second thought. The way Kindergarten kids embrace learning creates a magical environment where anything is possible.

In so many ways, the kind of learning that happens in Kindergarten should be used as a model for older grades. At KCS, many things happen that try to preserve that spirit of learning for the love of it. While there may not be the same flexibility in terms of subject matter, the more we can let kids hang onto learning for the love of it and in ways about which they are passionate, the longer we can let the magic continue. Because why shouldn’t all students have the opportunity to say, as did one of my students to a classmate last year, “My face hurts from smiling so much!” That sums up the world of Kindergarten.

Kerrie Robins
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

It’s a Team Game.

At KCS, we have our very own Amazing Race in grade 7! And you’ll have to trust me that so many things about it are indeed amazing. In teams, students complete projects that span many subject areas. Because that’s how life is. We don’t learn things in silos. Everything connects! Learning includes information about: travel advisories and blogs, music, games, global challenges, comparison of statistics, environmental stewardship, maps, and more. Our students prove that when given the opportunity to learn and the adults get out of the way, great learning can happen. In grade 7, the culmination of this learning leads to the Amazing Race Challenge. Groups of students solve clues to get from one area of the school to another. Each challenge requires them to use their skills and knowledge, perseverance and group effort. It is a wonderful snapshot of their growth in learning in so many areas. Successful groups encourage each other, are empathetic, show leadership, and play to each member’s strengths. It’s a team game.

What happens behind the scenes is a team game too. Teachers excitedly work out logistics, research new technology, bring forward innovative ideas, and brainstorm solutions.  Who is more excited on the day of the Amazing Race Challenge: students or teachers? It’s hard to tell. Although I’ve been at KCS for 15 years, I’m still very humbled by how willing our team is to: jump in, propose ideas, organize, supervise, take photos, offer prep time or materials, try new technology tools, and so MANY more little and big things.  They put the students first in all that they do. I’m honoured to be part of the team. It is a team game.

Ms. Gaudet
Grade 7 Teacher and Citizenship Coordinator

The Last Seed

I’ve wanted to write a blog for quite some time. Working with our grade three students is always inspiring as they look at everything with such curiosity and wonder. Today I was inspired to put into words a very special story that is happening right now. It brings tears to my eyes as I try to put it into words.

Every year in grade three, we read the Dr. Seuss story, The Lorax, as part of our plants unit and to symbolize Earth Day. This is a wonderful story about how saving one ‘truffula’ seed can be the start of a new tree and eventually a new forest that future generations can enjoy.

First, some background. My father went into a nursing home about a year ago. He was (and in his mind still is) passionate about so many things: family, friends, fishing, music, watercolour painting, building projects, and gardening. The list goes on. When my husband and I purchased a cottage 17 years ago, Dad was thrilled, as it was a lifelong dream of his to own a cottage. In the early years, he and my mom spent more time than we did at the cottage. He took pride in keeping every blade of grass manicured, in growing tomatoes and of course, flowers. He still talks about the ‘projects’ he needs to complete at our cottage, even though we know he is no longer able to pursue these passions.

My father has a special love for ‘Four o’ clocks’. These beautiful, delicate flowers are named Four o’clocks because they open in the afternoon sun each day. Every year Dad planted them, and then harvested the seeds at the end of the season to be replanted the following year. He taught my two children how to collect the seeds. The last seeds he collected with my children are about 8-10 years old. He now only comes to the cottage for a few days at a time, so the seeds have gone unplanted for many years, sitting in his old toothpick jars in my kitchen drawer. My wish is that he can come to visit his favourite place in the world, even though it is unlikely. Because of this, the rest of the story…

This year we planted our Four o’clock seeds as part of our science unit in grade three. We called them ‘truffula’ seeds, at first, but I wanted to share this story with my students, so they are now in on the secret that the seeds are actually Four o’clocks. Both classes planted Papa’s seeds, but sadly, none of them germinated. However, I had a few left over, so I threw them into a dish, watered them, and crossed my fingers. Amazingly, ONE seed germinated.

The students and I believe that this is a small miracle. We are watching our little baby plant and pleading that it will survive. Our hope is that I can deliver it to Dad in his nursing home to share a little bit of the cottage with him and to make him smile with pride. I have promised to plant it this summer at our cottage, and if it reproduces, I will collect the seeds and pass them onto the children when they are in grade four. If they each plant their little seed, Papa’s Four o’clocks will live on in our gardens for future generations to enjoy. And by doing so, a special part of Dad will live on as well.

Jackie Madigan
Grade 3 Teacher
Kingsway College School

Layers for Learning

I often think of the show Wipeout, and its unconquerable obstacle course, as a metaphor for what we do. The more appropriate way to describe how KCS works, I suppose, is to talk of layers. Whichever works for you, it speaks to the big back story of what happens at KCS and it’s what needs to happen in any school striving to reach all students.

Every school has objectives, many dozens in fact. We have academic objectives in every subject and grade. At KCS, we have equally significant arts, athletics and citizenship objectives, though that doesn’t necessarily set us far apart from numerous other schools. Our Habits of Mind, Body and Action are a further set of objectives, but having them is not what matters. What matters are the layers of effort designed to achieve them – the number, the variation among each, and the ongoing commitment to keep adding layers to make sure no student leaves before our objectives are achieved.

I’m regularly reminded of this. The other week, I popped by one of our grade 5 classes. They were in the midst of an impromptu speech-giving activity, where students volunteered to pick a topic from a bag and give a 45-second speech in front of their classmates. Having already done this previously, some students assumed a semi-Rex Murphy polish, naming their moments in the spotlight “Nonsense with Noah” or “Yapping with Yarema”. Tomorrow we will experience our monthly “Wake Up With the Arts” showcase, where students volunteer to perform in the lobby. Friday mornings are typically spectacular student-led assemblies that have students from SK to grade 8 speaking to the school, including everything from reading a brick to leading school-wide contests such as “Minute to Win It”. This month was the impressive Primary Project Fair. French plays in most grades are around the corner and we just recently enjoyed the annual Café Couguar, our French café for the KCS community hosted by grade 8 students. I could go on at great length. Let this suffice as a peek into a few of the many layers that go into just public-speaking, one of many key objectives that we work endlessly to achieve with every student.

Too often, discussion on the topic of education centres on one practice over another. It supposes, erroneously, that one approach could be enough. In reality, education that makes a difference with every student needs a multitude of approaches, layers if you will, so if one layer doesn’t work for one child then the next one might, and if not that one then the next. Anything less than that will likely reach some students but be insufficient to reach all.

Wipeout isn’t my go-to program for professional development, but I’ve joined my boys at the TV often enough to see how, by design, no contestant can make it from start to finish without being “caught” somewhere along the way. That’s where the metaphor works. School has to accomplish many things with each and every student, and must ensure it does so before those students move on.  It’s no easy task, and something the profession continues to struggle with. The answer won’t be found in one approach, or two or even three. It’s in the multiple various layers of intervention, and the ongoing commitment by teachers to never end in their quest to find the layers that work for each of their students.

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

YOUDAY – Empowering Young Students in Physical Education Class

YouMatterThe students in the SK Physical Education classes are taking on new responsibilities this term as they become “teacher” for a day! Every Tuesday, or as we call it in P.E. YOUDAY, one lucky student teaches the entire class! By actively participating in class, always trying their best, following direction, and demonstrating sportsmanship, the SK students have proven they are responsible enough to take on this hard-earned opportunity! It all began when I started hearing things like: “Can we play this game where one person goes over here and they have to tag the other ones that are over there, but then they need to freeze and –” Or, more simply, “Let’s play Zebra freeze dance tag!” Well, let me tell you, in a 25-minute period, it was becoming a challenge to grasp what these students were talking about! Kindly asking them to “tell me later” was becoming a habit I had to break. I wanted to make sure I actually gave them the opportunity to “tell me later” and share their ideas with the class in a meaningful way. And so it became YOUDAY.

Students, whom we call Mr. or Ms. [insert last name here] for the entire class, lead the students through a warm up activity and game of their choice. They can select a game they already know, or take the challenge to create a new one. Whatever they choose, it is their choice to make; a choice that empowers them by developing their leadership skills, strengthening their public speaking skills, and most importantly building up their confidence.

It is remarkable what we see in our students when we put them in the spotlight:

  • I see the kindness and respect the students have for one another.
  • I see the quiet students confidently jump into a leadership role.
  • I see the students’ understanding of fairness and inclusion.
  • I see the students’ knowledge of games with rules.
  • I see the students reinforce the importance of playing safely.

The SKs are thrilled to have their fellow peers teach them. They are thankful and appreciative towards them. Giving up power and control isn’t the easiest thing for a teacher to do, but it is well worth the outcome! Now, when I hear the students’ conversations, it reaffirms why implementing something like YOUDAY is so powerful!

  • I hear: “Ms. X, you are the best teacher ever!”
  • I hear: “Mr. X this is awesome, thank you!”
  • I hear: “I really like the game you made up Ms. X!”

And the top FAQ in SK’s PE class is “When’s it going to be my turn?”

Elissa Meleca
Teacher, Early Learning Program

Redefining What’s Possible: Math Help Services

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

The other day a student asked to use my office at lunch to work on math. By the end of lunch recess, I learned he used the time to do three different versions of his homework assignment, persisting until he got the full set of questions right.

MathHomework has a patchy record in this profession. It always has. One big glitch with it is when students have homework that they, unknowingly, don’t do correctly. This can happen to anyone when learning something new, and is particularly common in advanced math when the concepts to be practised are far removed from the rest of our lives. Traditional math homework has students carry on regardless (because it’s due and will be checked), with more than a few doing it incorrectly. In essence, these students practise doing it wrong. That’s right – despite best efforts, homework helps some become proficient in doing it incorrectly. Hopefully, mistakes will be picked up by both teacher and students the next day, whether in class or extra help. Hopefully, correct practice will then be fully established. The students will all ably move on to the next concept to be practised at home that evening. That is the ideal.

Unfortunately, the ideal can be elusive, and most of us know that for a fact. Multiple obstacles could be at work, and differ from student to student – the well-practised incorrect method; students not paying full attention during homework correction for any number of reasons; students not getting enough practice doing the work correctly; students not getting enough direct, immediate feedback, among others. A quantum leap in homework effectiveness would give students fast direct feedback on their homework, make reinstruction readily available whenever needed (24/7), and make it easy to redo homework, multiple times if necessary, until it’s done well.

That’s where one innovative technology is redefining what’s possible. Every student wants to learn and do well, but many traditional practices don’t readily support it for all. There are many reasons why the Math Help Services program in grades 7 and 8 is making a positive difference to student learning, but one significant reason is the difference with homework. Students find out immediately after completing a set of questions how they did. They learn right away in the privacy of their home (or my office) which questions were right and which were wrong. They have unlimited access to multimedia instruction and step-by-step examples to correct misunderstandings. And with the click of their mouse they can request and receive a new set of homework questions on the same topic. Trying a second or third time, homework marks invariably go up. The students learn the concept with however many questions they need, and are ready to go on.

There’s an additional benefit this technology provides that’s soundly rooted in brain research. Math Help Services lets the teacher create regular concept reviews with questions from all concepts previously taught. Research has clearly established the power of extended, mixed practice of learned concepts over intense, repetitive practice of just single concepts. The former leads to mastery, the latter leads to the all-too-common math affliction, “I don’t remember how to do it!” And like all other homework, the students can access as many versions of the concept review as they need to get the mark, and mastery, they seek.

Was the one student in my office an anomaly? No. The majority of our grade 7 and 8 students take advantage of doing homework assignments multiple times, as needed, forging through different question sets until they nail them.

That ideal isn’t elusive. It’s here and making sure math gets learned.

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

Grade 2 Students Learning to Build Our Wall of Service

“I wanted to play the piano for a nursing home. But they never answered my call. So I went around my block giving Christmas cookies out. I did this because I wanted to spread Christmas spirit.”

KCS Student Donation to Bloorview Children's HospitalOther grade 2 students cleaned up local parks, read to kindergarten students and collected donations of various worthy items. Some did chores to donate money. Unlike the young man who didn’t hear back from the nursing home, one student was lucky enough to spend time volunteering and singing Christmas carols at a seniors’ residence. For every grade 2 student, there is a heartwarming story of service.

In late fall, the grade 2 students at KCS are officially introduced to the expectation that they, as individuals, are expected to make a difference. Though this message is shared with all students from PK, and we have many younger students earning bricks for the Wall of Service, the grade 2 unit on service is the first time they’re all expected, on their own, to think of how to make the world a bit better and then make it happen. With much gratitude from us, parents are asked to help make their child’s plan possible. Hearty discussions, problem-solving, and persisting no doubt went into much of this activity, just like it does in any important work. At the end of the effort, the students shared in a writing assignment what they did and how they felt for all their efforts. Emphatic expressions of happiness were the widespread reply. One further explained, “It made me feel good to give instead of take.”

KCS Student Spends Time at a Seniors’ ResidenceEach grade 2 student received a ‘brick’ for their act of service, and each has now been called up at assembly to share what they did, for which they received loud applause. By telling the school about their collective efforts, the whole KCS community continues to grow in its knowledge of how each one of us can follow their lead (there’s no end to the ways we can each make the world a bit better!).

Thanks to the grade 2s and others who earned bricks recently, KCS is looking forward to a dress-down day on April 17th. More importantly, thanks to the grade 2s and all others taking the initiative to make a difference, the world really is a bit better for many. Most importantly, with this unit behind them, the world now has 40 more individuals who are ready and able to keep making a difference.

According to one write-up, one woman at a park, upon seeing two students cleaning it up, said “That’s amazing. Way to go!” We agree.

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

Redefining What’s Possible: TodaysMeet

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

TodaysMeet - KCS student thoughts on The Giver. Most recent thoughts are displayed at the top.

TodaysMeet – KCS student thoughts on The Giver. Most recent thoughts are displayed at the top.

TodaysMeet - KCS student thoughts on The Giver. Most recent thoughts are displayed at the top.

TodaysMeet – KCS student thoughts on The Giver. Most recent thoughts are displayed at the top.

TodaysMeet - KCS student thoughts on The Giver. Most recent thoughts are displayed at the top.

TodaysMeet – KCS student thoughts on The Giver. Most recent thoughts are displayed at the top.

Ever wondered what students are thinking during class discussion? Maybe you’ve attended large meetings or conferences, and had things on your mind you wanted to contribute, but didn’t (and so has everyone else, by the way). Imagine if there were a way for everyone to share what’s on their mind in venues like these, easily and without affecting the progress of the discussion or taking up undue time. Imagine how much more everyone could take away from these occasions.

I’ve seen what my students are thinking, and what I’ve found may tempt you to give TodaysMeet try.

Here’s how it has worked in recent classes of mine. Earlier this year my reading group read Lois Lowry’s The Giver and opted to discuss the tension between ‘sameness’ and difference, both in the book and in the real world. While discussing and reflecting on this vast topic, the students went to our dedicated TodaysMeet site and posted brief messages, capturing salient points, questions, and insights. On TodaysMeet they’ve speculated and debated. They’ve shared related websites and responded to each other’s comments. Submitted posts are readily visible to all on the page, thereby provoking further thought and fuelling the class discussion and reflection. Our whole group has access to this long page of student dialogue for the rest of the year, and at any point I can print off a transcript with all that was shared. Limited to 140 characters, posts are succinct – a worthy skill to develop in itself. Intense listening while note-taking is another worthy skill being evidently developed. On top of all this, the collaborative collection was rich fodder for the writing assignment to come.

So what were these grade 6 students thinking about during our recent discussions? Quotes from Plato, and commentary on the protests in Hong Kong, the Crusades, the origins of communism, Amish society and the challenges that come with a society full of differences were among the many posts that had the group furiously engaged.

Schools are about learning. Any tool that increases learning belongs in schools. TodaysMeet exponentially increases learning by accessing a well of untapped thought and insight and engaging learners in a way that traditional discussion too often doesn’t.

Imagine what your students, colleagues or peers are thinking. Then find out.

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