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.

Redefining What’s Possible: Real Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s technology with a welcome human touch.

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

Bell Let’s Talk Day and Beyond

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

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

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

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

Tamara Drummond
Director of Student Life

Reaching Readers with Reading Mastery

It’s not sexy and we know it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laughs at the Legislature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Active Learners in PK

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

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

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

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

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher