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

Red Wigglers Capture the Hearts of Senior Kindergartners

Vermi-composting in Senior KindergartenAn ongoing curiosity of our SK students within our Outdoor Classroom has been with the resident worms. With the last wave of warm weather at the end of March, we saw our excited children, once again, overturning the log stools and gathering a squirm of worms into a wheelbarrow. It is wonderful that children are free and eager to explore nature, but it is also important to teach them that we have the vital role of being great caretakers of our earth. Short-term-only captivity and catch-and-release rules are important responsibilities even for our youngest caretakers.

Here at KCS, we encourage student-led inquiry, giving students the opportunity to decide what they want to learn based on their interests. Children in the Early Learning Program cannot always verbalize what they want to learn.  As their teachers, we are trained to recognize where their interests lie and to weave these interests into other parts of their curriculum. Can you imagine measuring worms? That’s what we did! Can you imagine having an indoor vermi-composter? That’s what we did! We drew and created worms, and we wrote in our journals about worms. We now know that a worm has no eyes, no teeth, and five hearts. We know that they don’t like light, that they can feel your presence through vibrations of motion and sound, and we know how to be great caretakers by providing their optimal environment and nutrition.

Cathy Nesbitt, from Cathy’s Crawly Composters, presented a workshop for our inquisitive SK students and helped them to set up their own indoor vermi-composter. The students listened attentively as Cathy’s enthusiasm, worm puppet, and actual red wigglers kept them engaged. There were worms to hold and love, jobs given out to prepare the bedding, and many curious questions to be asked and answered. What an exciting session!

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We have successfully given our squirm its first organic meal with leftover snack items. We are taking respectful peeks to monitor the progress in the composter bin, and we are patiently waiting for our first harvest of castings, aka “worm poo”. This harvesting will take place in the Outdoor Classroom before school closes for the summer and will require us to separate the wigglers from the castings. The nutrient-rich castings can be added to the outdoor plants and serve as a time-release fertilizer. It will be interesting to see how many little caretakers will volunteer to harvest. Stay tuned for the next blog!

This is a timely SK project and one that we are eager to share with our KCS friends. Happy Earth Day!

Sharon Freeman RECE
SK Teacher KCS

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 2

Design thinking came to KCS with the launch of our new student leadership group KCS By Design (KBD). While there has been significant student leadership at KCS for years, never before have we had such a powerful means for senior students to work with staff in driving innovation.

The KBD group has chosen to focus on helping KCS better enable differentiated learning. Discussing how to make that happen, it became apparent that we needed to carve out time for students to engage in learning that is designed both by them and for them. The easiest way to find that time was in our electives program. Available for students in grades 6 to 8, this time is dedicated to “Learning for the Love of It”. Perfect.

Inspired by our KBD discussions, Mrs. Drummond and I added an elective called “Go Ahead: Lead Your Learning” to the already enticing list of learning opportunities for senior students. Our elective description went like this:

Do you wish you could control how and what you learn at school? Do you have big ideas, and wish you had the time, tools and support to pursue them? Is there something you’d love to build/create/invent/compose/investigate that you can’t do at home or school (yet)? In this elective, you can go ahead. Involved faculty will support, encourage, and look for experts/resources/tools/trips to help. Go ahead, surprise us, and yourself!

To our delight, eleven students signed up. Five students want to write a book. Three are keen on an art project, though they’re also considering writing or possibly app creation. One wants to build a high-powered rocket from scratch. Another is keen to build a motorised aircraft. The final wants to build a motorised go-kart. Adapting the design-thinking process to fit our endeavour, here is what we’re calling their ‘Game Plan’:

    1. Inspiration Phase
      1. What do you think you want to create?
      2. Find related sources of inspiration and look through many possible examples before deciding what you specifically want to make
      3. If your idea is FOR others, understand their needs and wishes. Speak with others. Record their answers via writing or video.
      4. Do a visual sketch or general plan of what you aim to create
    2. Why do you want to create it?
      1. What values/adjectives do you want associated with your final product? Have an idea you believe in and are inspired by.
      2. For what purpose (play, use, learn, decoration, gift, just because)
      3. For what audience (self, friends, siblings, family, school showcase)
      4. Know what your questions are
    3. Prototype or Storyboard
      1. How will you prototype your idea?
      2. Will your prototype answer your questions?
      3. What do you need for the prototype?
        1. Materials
        2. Expertise
        3. Location
      4. What are you learning from the prototype? Any new questions to answer? (Be curious, open-minded and prepared to start again if the evidence says you should!)
    4. Go Ahead

At each step, our students will create a video log, or ‘vlog’, on our new Sesame electronic portfolio. Before they rush ahead, they have to reflect deeply on their plan, and articulate their thinking each step of the way.

To introduce the elective to our students, we showed them the video “Do You Dare to Dream?” Among other things, it introduced students to the concept of a ‘comfort zone’, where we immerse ourselves in what’s familiar; the ‘learning zone’, for those who embrace learning of all kinds; and the ‘panic zone’, for those willing to go out on a limb to pursue the unknown. Writing books? App creation? Art, rockets, electronics and motorized vehicles? The ‘panic zone’ may be speaking to me more than our students. This couldn’t be more beyond my routine, and more exciting.

Design thinking, reaching out to our faculty and parent community for expertise, and faith in our students are all I need to allay my fears. Our students have embraced the opportunity. There will be lots of learning for us all. We’ll adapt. They’ll launch their Go Ahead projects. If all goes well, we’ll keep repeating our use of design thinking to make KCS the best it can be. Let’s see where this journey goes.

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

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 1

HeadandArrowssmallEarlier this year I wrote about our debut with design thinking. For readers still unfamiliar with what that means, here’s my attempt to describe it:

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge.

While the specifics can vary according to task and organisation, the method is clear and comprehensive. Thanks to Project 2051 at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Leadership Institute last summer, I became acutely aware of its power and potential. Inspired, we have adopted design thinking, adapted it to meet our needs, and launched two new innovations that are rocking our world.

The earlier blog explained how we’ve established a new form of student leadership that allows all interested senior students and staff to work together to make KCS the best it can be. Here’s the design thinking process we’re following:

  1. What is the design challenge?
    1. What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
    2. What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
    3. What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?
  2. What do you need to know?
    1. Who is affected?
    2. What are their perspectives?
    3. What research can inform you?
    4. What can you learn from others’ experiences?
  3. What ideas address your design challenge?
    1. What can you think of?
    2. Which are win-win for all?
    3. Get feedback from a larger group
  4. Act
    1. Pilot at a small scale
    2. Reflect and iterate
    3. Expand to address the challenge

We started as a small but intrepid group. Since our November launch, the group has quadrupled in size. The design challenge we’ve chosen to pursue first, identified by a grade 7 student, is the following: “How do we better enable differentiated learning at KCS?” We’ve since conducted a survey with the grade 6 to 8 students to learn more about how they best learn. Later this month, we’ll be launching this year’s Student Voice topic so we can hear from all students about differentiated learning and how to improve it. The KCS by Design members are currently preparing frequency distribution graphs and PowerPoint slides so they can share their findings through presentations to faculty, senior students, and the whole school (separately), as well as through presentation boards in the foyer for parents. Finally, Mrs. Drummond and I have launched a new elective as a prototype that makes more differentiated learning possible at KCS. That exciting venture will be Part 2 in the story of “Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat”.

This is what all leadership should be built upon. Engaging, listening to, learning from, prototyping with, and informing the whole school community makes smart innovation possible. I can’t wait to see where this journey goes. The inspiration that began with Project 2051 energises every step of the way.

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

5-4-3-2-1… Senior Kindergarten Students Blast Off!

Whether we call it tinkering, primal makerspace, or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), the Senior Kindergarten classes recently had a ‘blast’ creating vehicles and tools for outer space. The SK teachers followed up on a growing interest in outer space with our students, provided and read space-related books to them, visited the Ontario Science Centre to learn about the Hubble Telescope, and supplied the beautiful junk needed to problem-solve and create.

Probably the most memorable and realistic resources were the YouTube videos of our very own Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, while living aboard the International Space Station. Both the students and teachers were stricken with awe while viewing the feats of daily living while operating in a zero-gravity environment. The curiosity of our students seemed focused on the challenges of personal hygiene, accompanied by frequent giggles and pleas to see more. They learned how to trim a moustache, shave a head, brush one’s teeth, use the bathroom, and take a bath in space. These necessary activities had to be done without contaminating the environment and instruments with escaping hairs, bubbles of water, body fluids and waste, and runaway accessories. Thank you Chris Hadfield for sharing your humorous and enlightening experiences.

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It was very rewarding to watch as the students worked diligently and with persistence on personal objects or cooperatively with their peers as they created amazing 3-dimensional structures: rocket ships, launch pads, rovers, little astronauts, spaceships to shuttle supplies, and even a space jail to hold aliens. The space stations featured health and hygiene solutions, of course, including bathrooms, sleep stations, storage tanks, an exercise room, and supplies in snack baggies adhered to the walls with Velcro dots. One student created a Canadarm and a team worked collaboratively to apply thermal tiles.

Overheard in class, “The best part is, the teachers aren’t even helping us!”

Students proudly shared their stories, and Senior Kindergarten teachers smiled with delight as they reflected on the priceless value of this inspiring adventure into space.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher