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.

Milestones and Moments

For students, teachers and parents, September is a month that stirs up a flood of memories.  Perhaps you can recall a vivid memory of a particular first day of school that stands out from the rest.

This week marks an important milestone for two unique groups of KCS students.  One group will take the first steps of their educational journey in our Early Learning Program; meanwhile, our grade 8s have officially marked their last “first day of school” as an elementary student.

It is said that time has wings and in that spirit, we wish the classes of 2027 and the class of 2017 a happy, successful and memorable school year.

Engaged with their art projects and preparing for their outdoor education trip to Norval–our youngest and our oldest students mark their KCS milestones

The Call to Be a Defining Force

Goodness, these are unusual times. Anyone following world news, regardless of political leanings, knows that remarkable things are happening. For years now, it’s been said that the future will be increasingly unpredictable; that global interdependence will be increasingly entrenched and often uncomfortable; and that the challenges we’ll all have to face will be increasingly complex. It’s looking like the future is here.

That’s why we all, increasingly, need to step in.

Eight years ago, KCS made its intentions clear. Our vision and mission statement, adopted then, captured our aspirations:

To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners
By stewarding a learning environment that inspires us to reach our ultimate potential.

This statement is rooted in our longstanding determination to do our best for our students. It’s equally rooted in something else, something that many of our families may not have thought much about, and something worth pointing out.

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. All KCS staff share that dedication to the children and families we serve. Doing our best means we also need to help realize the potential in education as a whole. There is a tremendous effort that goes into the education of every child. And while there is much that is sound and good in the profession, there has always been significant room for growth. As the world becomes increasingly complex to navigate, the room for growth expands. KCS is not a school that simply strives to offer what other schools, even great schools, offer. We’re a school prepared to push the boundaries of the profession, in ways that are balanced, impactful, and progressive. KCS is a school prepared to wrestle with challenges, be patient when the time for change isn’t right, and to act when creative, valuable ideas are ready. We are willing and able to be a defining force in developing lifelong learners.

Over the past eight years (and more, to be honest), KCS faculty have introduced many new practices that, to our knowledge, were either unique or rare in the profession. The small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes; our Wall of Service; our Habits of Mind, Body and Action; our Young Authors of KCS program; our multiple approaches to Student Leadership and service; Wake Up with the Arts; our use of design thinking for innovative learning and student-staff collaboration; and more came to be because our faculty wanted to go further. Pushed by pioneers in the field, remixing promising practice, and following the inspiration from others to create brand new solutions, we keep pressing forward.

Students have always deserved the best education. What’s best is changing and the need for growth is imperative. And it’s not about one school. Our vision statement “To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners” makes clear that it’s not about KCS being ‘the’ defining force. Frankly, such a limited vision would underserve students. Our wish is that all educators work together to make education the best it can be for now and for this increasingly unforeseeable future. We’ll keep doing our part. And we look forward to another year of learning and inspiration from all others who heed the call.

Nurturing Relationships Between Children and Their Elders

At KCS, we set aside a special day where the students’ grandparents are invited to come and get a taste of what we at the school are all about. This day is not just a treat for the grandparents, but very much so for us here as well. Because seniors have experienced things that we may never get to, the lessons they can teach us are invaluable. Through all of human history, we have learned from the past to make progress, building upon the lessons of each passing generation.  We have become more civilized, more educated and wiser because of our predecessors.  This year’s Grandparent’s Day was no exception!

Young children get many things from the grandparents or elders in their life.  The older generation can show our young learners how to have a calm presence, be a loving friend, and build a world of experience. Within the current technology-saturated world around them – social media and the “global village” being ubiquitous – the world has become an overwhelming place for children. The days of playing with sticks, rocks, boxes and bottle caps may be gone, but can make a resurgence if we choose to make it so. It is up to us as responsible adults to decide what we expose our future doctors, artists, scientists, teachers and leaders to. Much like the adult coloring movement (evidenced in bookstores worldwide) and how it positively affects the brain, so can working with simple objects to stimulate innovation, problem solving and imagination. In addition to these crucial cognitive skills, social skills are necessary to successfully master our educational system; another reason to nurture relationships between children and their elders.

Although we only officially set aside a single day to celebrate this relationship, we should celebrate our seniors every day. Grandparents can play a major role in learning about who we are and where we came from; also something to celebrate. As an educator of young children, I believe that grandparents have the power to teach so much to young people, to ensure that culture lives on, in and around us. As James Baldwin put it: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them”.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

Learning is not one-size-fits-all. If you ask every student to do the exact same thing in the exact same way, all they’ll learn is how to follow directions and regurgitate information.

That’s just not good enough. We want our students to solve problems, explore complex issues, and bring their own unique skills and vision into play. Ultimately, we want them to think for themselves.

That all begins by helping them to develop a sense of ownership over their learning. A great way to do that is to simply listen to their questions.

Shortly after the March Break, the Senior Kindergarten students were asked to consider the Habit, “Make the world better”. After some talks and discussions, they generated over a hundred of their own questions that they wanted to explore. These questions were as varied as they were intriguing. They covered everything from littering to solar panels to forest fires to water filtration.

Over the next few weeks, the students chose the question they wanted to answer, took part in experiments, generated hypotheses, and engaged in research with their Grade 5 learning buddies. They also created art, sculptures, and Lego creations to help explain their thinking. They then gathered together all their discoveries and created their own display boards to showcase their learning.

When it was all over, they presented their work to their community. And because they felt a real sense of ownership over their question and thinking, the entire experience was incredibly meaningful. They were excited and eager to talk about their projects, simply because it was what they wanted to learn about!

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

The lesson for their teachers was clear. If you allow a child to have a voice in their learning, they will embrace the experience and take their thinking further and deeper than you can ever imagine.

Mark Magee
SK Teacher

Go Ahead, Figure It Out

“I am learning how to deal with frustration, time management, and learning to work without pressure.”

“I am learning to be really creative, and to problem solve.”

“I have learned that being independent is more responsibility than I thought it would be.”

One student spent our last period launching and adjusting his prototype rocket on the school yard, to the delight of those watching from inside. Another retreated behind a tree, where the wind conditions were just right, to spray paint the sneakers that she was turning into roller skates. Writing books, assembling robots, creating works of art, and building a wind-powered, name-bearing wagon round out the array of projects underway in the new Go Ahead elective. These were the projects chosen by the students who selected this elective, and this is the responsible risk that Mrs. Drummond and I chose to take this year. While neither she nor I have experience in any of these things, we do have experience in learning from scratch. We vowed to figure it out.

About half of our students were ready to go before the elective even started. For the other half, dreaming hit reality. The student wishing to build a rocket had his heart set for three weeks on using chemicals that were too dangerous. Another student spent multiple weeks hoping to build a metal-framed, motor-powered go-kart, only to be disappointed at the cost and complication of it all. These students had taken the biggest leaps, and had the farthest to fall to reach a project they could make. Did they regret their choice of elective? Were they wasting their time? We didn’t think so, but it’s what they think that matters. So we asked.

We started the reflection by stating the obvious – school is about learning. Then we asked what they usually learn (as they should) in their regular classes. The essentials, foundational knowledge and skills, learning skills, subjects you need for the future, and new things you otherwise wouldn’t choose to learn were among their responses. Then we admitted that they likely weren’t learning many of those things in our elective. So what did they think they were learning? Hands shot up. Here’s what they shared:

  • Trying to figure out a problem on your own
  • Wide-open creativity
  • Learning to deal with choice and freedom
  • Experience with personalised learning
  • Learning to work without pressure (this is my favourite)
  • Learning to deal with frustration
  • Time management
  • Independent work
  • Doing everything yourself

They also shared that it’s exciting and interesting. Choice and freedom made the frustration worthwhile. Because the projects are entirely their own, the lessons learned, however difficult, are theirs to own as well.

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There is a lot else they’re learning. They’re learning to ask for help. They are learning to find what they need. Some are learning to figure out exceptionally complicated diagrams; some are learning about character development in writing fiction; one is learning woodworking and two are learning to solder resistors onto printed circuit boards. They’re all learning to turn ideas into reality, and they’re learning that this includes the sometimes tedious effort of figuring out the details and communicating them clearly and convincingly to others (especially if THIS other needs to go buy resources).

There’s a lot that students should learn at school, and certainly much of that must cover the essentials. But developing students to be lifelong learners requires more. At times, it can be frustrating. It’s also deeply exciting and interesting for all involved. You just need to go ahead and figure it out.

Sometimes you have to just believe in yourself and go for it. For example, I didn’t think this project would work out at first, but it’s going very well.”

*All quotes are from grade 6 students in the Go Ahead elective.

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

 

Recycling in Pre-Kindergarten

For our recent celebration of Earth Day, the Pre-Kindergarten students have been using recycled materials to build. Many of the children displayed an interest in space, so the PK teachers took this opportunity to practice teamwork in a fun and motivating way. In order to create a “rocket ship” and “a space station”, the class had to employ many of the KCS Habits. Building together alongside their engaged teachers developed their already emerging cooperation and collaboration skills. It began when the PKs themselves brought in recycled materials from home, providing a meaningful home-school connection, further enriching their collaboration experience. They were then able to brainstorm about what they would like to create – an activity requiring patience, listening skills, and the ability to take on another’s perspective. This is no small feat when you are three years old, but developing these skills in the realm of play makes for a safe learning space and only good ideas!

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After their structures were built, the children were given the opportunity to add paint, glitter and open ended art materials to their structure. The purpose of this was not only to make it look beautiful, but to add further meaning to something that the children worked on themselves. Engaging their senses and tactile experience, this step of the project also fostered focus, persistence and their individual sense of self within a group: a skill that will last them a life time.  The “rocket ship” and “space station” were completed, but the children carried the learning from that experience into their everyday play, by re-enacting the building process, singing about taking a trip to the moon, and turning their play dough into “a rocket ship”.  Recreating what they have seen, heard and learned, they are making meaning in their world.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Things You Should Know if You Go: Using QFT in the Grade 7 “Amazing Race”

Question and be CuriousThe Amazing Race is an integrated project in grade 7 which combines learning in geography, math, Language Arts, French, and physical education. It has become part of a culminating assessment project at the end of our school year. Project based learning, a teaching technique that allows students to work through a big question, happens at many grade levels in our school. In this case, the intermediate teachers worked together to develop an inquiry about travel and what it teaches us. Students conduct research about a particular country, and helps to inform their work on this project in all subject areas. For example, the information that they learn in geography helps inform the scripts they write for their French plays. It culminates in a race around the school to solve challenges related to their learning. We used the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to determine research questions.

The observations that struck me most about using the technique were:

  • Students came up with questions related to our learning this year in geography, and then some! There were more interesting conversations about what they could find out about the country than if I had assigned the questions.
  • Students really appreciate voice and choice at this age, and they felt that they could contribute their ideas without being judged; they also appreciated the ability to choose the questions that most appealed to them.
  • They were able to come up with thoughtful criteria for prioritizing the questions. I was impressed with their critical thinking at this stage.
  • They quickly learned to determine whether questions were open or closed, and tried ‘opening up’ some questions that they thought were worth exploring with more depth.
  • There was buy-in to the research that they were about to do. Since it was related to the Amazing Race, they knew that the research mattered. They were ready to jump right in and find answers to their questions.
  • Students were able to see subtopics emerge by grouping questions together.
  • There was very little ‘social loafing’. All students in the group were zoned in and came up with a long list of questions.
  • We noticed that some of the questions and subtopics related to the history themes we examined this year as well. The students noticed this before I did!

This was the first time I used QFT, but it won’t be the last. Thank you to The Right Question Institute for the guidance in a new technique that I needed to get my classes going. We’re now off and running in the Amazing Race.

Ms. Gaudet
Grade 7 Teacher and Citizenship Coordinator

Snow in April?! No problem!

Our Junior Kindergarten students surprise us every single day. When I woke up on a snowy April morning, I arrived to school with a gloomy grin and looked at my teaching partner with rolling eyes. “Are you kidding me?” we said to each other. But rather than projecting our disappointment, we simply asked the students in our morning message how they felt about the snow. To our surprise every single one of them could not be more excited. “It makes me feel happy”, “I want to play in it”, “I’m so, so, so, so, excited”; were some of the many messages we heard. The Outdoor Classroom was snowy, but let’s not forget it was still April and the weather was somewhat warmer; the result: a snowy, wet, muddy sandy surprise! “Ew” you might be thinking? “What a mess” perhaps? “WONDERFUL” thought the JKs. The imaginative play, collaboration, creative thinking, and utter joy each child displayed surprised us more than usual.

PAINT INQUIRY
How can you use water colour paints without water or paper? The JKs figured it out! Bringing out only paint pallets and brushes we asked the students how they can use the materials to paint in the Outdoor Classroom. They shared their ideas, tested their theories, and certainly tried their best. They became problem solvers as they dipped their brushes into puddles to wash it before changing colours. Talk about creative problem solvers! As they swished their brushes in melting snow, ice, and water, they began transforming large chunks of ice into colourful works of art.

MARBLE RUN or WATER RUN?
The rainy, snowy weather left for an interesting discovery at the marble run. One student wondered if the water would move the same way the tennis balls did. To figure it out, he went into the sand box to get a shovel small enough to collect the water from the bottom and bring it to the top. He discovered it did move along but it stopped early. He learned the wood absorbed the water. The student shared his learning with the class thereby inspiring others to explore the marble run in new ways.

MUD AND MUCK
In the sand box the students used scoops and shovels of all sizes to make their own mud! They collected water from little puddles all around and mixed it with the sand turning it into dough as they began making fresh pies. The students were collaborating as they took on various roles, and engaged in meaningful conversations. The shovels turned into serving platters, and rakes became forks, as they shared their homemade pies with one another.

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In just one hour of play the students hit on multiple areas of the Full Day Kindergarten Curriculum. The big idea stating “Children are curious and connect prior knowledge to new contexts in order to understand the world around them” was demonstrated on this snowy April day. The students experimented with new materials on a familiar marble run, used a familiar paint pallet in a creative new way, and transferred their learning from home as they recreated a kitchen at school.

After one hour in the Outdoor Classroom the students so clearly demonstrated how much they embrace learning, we were reminded of What Really Matters in Life! When you give children the time they need to play and explore their environment they will amaze you! And you know what Albert Einstein said…”Play is the highest form of research.”

Elissa Meleca
Junior Kindergarten Teacher