The Abilities They Have

“Instead of teaching children to get ‘there,’ why not let them be here? Where is ‘there’ anyway? The world needs more ‘here’ than ‘there’.” – Vince Gowmon

One grade 5 student stopped me in the hall early in the year, explaining she had some things to share. “I’ll walk you to your office,” she began. She explained she wanted to start an environment club for students in grades 1 to 4 (in the works). Oh, and she’s working on two novel series (yes, you read that right.)

You get what you give. What is evident is that we get to learn more about what students can do when we give them space to show us. Here are five inspiring ways we’re learning this lovely lesson at KCS:

  1. Projects have started in many grades and students are coming up with their research questions. Our grade 2 students, after following the Question Formulation Technique, came up with questions that no “grade two” resource can answer. The teachers are now planning to connect with a zoologist so the students’ questions can get the answers they deserve.
  2. Other grades have started their own entirely independent projects. Grade 5 students, for example, have dedicated time to pursue an area of learning chosen by them, with the sole expectation that they share it with their class. One girl recently shared a presentation on a special family celebration, Diwali, with her classmates. Another student is learning how to code. Yet another is organising a food drive.
  3. A boy approached my colleague to say he wanted to lead a project to create a school flag. He has put together his team and already received permission to pursue this from the Head of School (the minute he learned he needed approval, off he went, right to Mr. Logan).
  4. Our grade 7 and 8 students recently learned of their opportunity, through KCS By Design, to join faculty and administrators in making KCS “outstanding,” working side-by-side and following a design thinking process to make a wise and notable difference. There’s no election, no special status and no reward for this work, other than the intrinsic reward of making something better. Twenty-two students opted to join us at our kick-off design thinking workshop next month.
  5. A group of over 30 students from grades 3 to 8 attended our recent Young Authors of KCS (YAKCS) workshop with award-winning author Shane Peacock. This is a unique opportunity for students who so love to write that they’re willing to persist in writing a book. There is no time limit and successful young authors have typically (and understandably) required more than one year. Those who persist to complete a manuscript will have a one-to-one feedback session with Mr. Peacock, where he’ll give them revision tips “author to author.” Students who persist beyond that to create a final product will have it officially published by KCS. To date, KCS students have seven published books sitting in the National Library and Archives Canada.

I was interviewed last week by a grade 3 student for an upcoming Learning Exhibit. Among his questions, he asked what students do that make me proud. How could I explain? They make me proud with every effort they make to do their best, make that best better, share what they know, take risks, and make a difference. You’d be overwhelmed with pride too if you could see the abilities they have. Go ahead, give them space to show you.

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.

 

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.

KCS gets IT

Electives - Computer ProgrammingWe might get it around here but we can now say that we get I.T. around here – as in information technology… software development. Thanks to one elective and the help of the students learning to code more quickly than me, I’m increasingly getting IT too.

Elementary schooling isn’t what it used to be. Sure, there are a number of things we do that you would recognize. But, appropriately, our students and teachers are also learning what we couldn’t even conceive of learning in grade school when we were young. And we’re loving it.

A group of grade 7 and 8 students and I are learning how to use the coding language Visual Basic to create our own video game. We have an instructor from Real Programming 4 Kids who is walking us through the steps of creating the necessary bits and bytes of a simple annihilation game. You know those ants that bedevil you at the back door or the cottage? They’re lucky they won’t meet our game AntKill!

I love learning side-by-side with the students. Teens in their element are a sight to behold. They’re helpful, respectful, attentive and persistent. If they’re not listening when they should be, it’s because they’re reading ahead in the notes, eager to build their program. And they’re mighty proud of their growing skills.

Electives fall in the category of Learning for the Love of It, something we directly strive to provide. That means time when students are learning not what the teacher tells them to, not what the Ministry or their parents say they should, and nothing that will be marked. Including clubs and teams of course, student-driven leadership and learning projects, YAKCS and more, it’s learning rooted in student choice and driven by interest and the desire to stare down challenge.

I am learning for the love of it too. And with all the good learning skills that step up when passion is involved, one day I know I’ll join the few in fully getting IT.

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

Tough Stuff

“At first we argued consistently about what had to be done. Now we don’t argue and we compromise.”
–        A student in the Lego Robotics elective

TeamworkBeing Active is how some people relax. Acting with empathy is second nature for others. We universally enjoy those adept at finding humour. And we all know people for whom share what you know is a lopsided strength…

The KCS Habits are everywhere. Even a cursory read of the daily paper is an immersion in the Habits, whether by their presence or oh-so-unfortunate absence in world events. The challenge we’ve undertaken at KCS is for every person to have all of the Habits. Every one. At once. While it may be asking too much to say that all of our young graduates will have every Habit firmly and forever established, we do believe they’re old enough to be aware of the Habits that matter in life, and to reflect on where they’re strong and where growth is needed.

A recent assignment asked our electives students to reflect on their growth in some key Habits. Our songwriting, Renaissance Art and theatre students are clearly growing in their ability to create. Our Lego robotics students are doing an impressive job persisting in building and programming their robots. And the baseball students will all be sharing what they know when they instruct and coach the grade three students in the upcoming Baseball Classic.

What Habit do the students find toughest? According to the reflections, the one most students seem to struggle with is seeking collaboration.

What’s one of the most important attributes for success in one’s career? The ability to collaborate.

Good thing our students are working on it, and realizing the need to do so.

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

Students Speak Through Music

Tracking Change Tracking ChangeIn the elective, Tracking Change, students are in the midst of composing a music track that connects to a social justice movement for change. Students have composed music tracks that connect to issues of education, equality, anti-bullying, and animal rights. The complexity of these issues is further highlighted by the multiple layers and texture of the compositions themselves.

Seeing these tracks on the computer screen and seeing the students working collaboratively and creatively is inspiring. The issues, while different, are linked. Students somehow find ways to connect to one another throughout the process. Using Apple’s GarageBand, it’s amazing to see and hear how students have managed to create a track that speaks to us through music.

A visit to Humber College Studios introduced students to the exciting world of sound engineering. It was interesting to learn that our work with loops, controlling dynamics, balance, and instrument recording were similar to what was being done in a professional studio.

Since our visit to Humber, students have begun editing their final tracks. Instrument levels are being adjusted, voices are being recorded, loops are being softened. The tracks are growing and changing just like the issues they represent.

Now in our eighth week, some students have decided to take their tracks another step further. In order to really drive home their messages, some are incorporating the music tracks into an iMovie project.

It is incredible to observe this creative process and to see how passionate the students are when it comes to creating a track for change.

Who knows where the next couple of weeks will lead us? Stay tuned!

Matina Mosun
Music teacher

Learning from Paddle Tennis

Starting in April, twenty lucky grade 7 and 8 students joined a Paddle Tennis elective at Kingsway Platform Tennis Club. We’ve enjoyed the elective and have learned many new skills. We wanted to share some of the Habits of Mind, Body and Action we’ve learned during our time playing Paddle Tennis.


Persist

During Paddle Tennis, all of the students had to persist. Whether we were new to the sport, or had played many times before, we all had to persist to play Paddle Tennis. If you were new to the sport you had to persist during drills and rallies to keep up to more advanced players. If you already knew the sport you had to persist by being patient and encouraging to new players.

Share what you know

During Paddle Tennis, we also had to share what we knew about the sport. All of the students had different things they were great at and things they could improve. Drills helped improve things we didn’t know and when we had already mastered something, we would help students who were still having trouble. Rallying with players at all levels taught us different techniques and strategies. More advanced students were a great help during games.

Overall, Paddle Tennis has been a great experience for everybody and wouldn’t be the same without our amazing teachers and instructors: Ms. Marcynuk, Ms. Silverberg, Ms. Gibson, and Mr. Rogers. We hope to continue Paddle Tennis in the future at KCS. We have made memories and learned things we will never forget. We can’t wait to return to Kingsway Platform Tennis Club to grow on our knowledge of the sport. See you on the courts!

Sing a Song of KCS

SongwritingThis year has been the grade 6s first year with electives and we weren’t sure what to expect. Every Wednesday, for two hours, our group of three girls go down to the music room and try to write a KCS school song. Most people might think that songwriting isn’t very interesting (that’s what the three of us in the elective thought before) but it is the most amazing and fun grade 6 experience that we have ever had. All week we look forward to sitting down with all the instruments and playing whatever we want because there’s no wrong answer. Our goal is to write the KCS school song within 10 weeks and our progress has been incredible. The first three weeks, we brainstormed ideas of what KCS felt like, looked like, smelled like and meant to us and we came up with many sheets expressing our feelings. The fourth week, a singer/songwriter named Jennifer Foster came in and helped us a lot with how to write a song and which notes to use to give the overall warm feeling that we wanted for the song. Some of the words that the four of us kept coming up with were: warm, family, community, friendship and laughter because these words all describe KCS. We also wanted to include that you don’t have to be someone specific and you don’t have to change yourself to go to KCS. This experience has been one of the most educational, interesting, and fun experiences that we have ever had. None of us can believe how much work you can get done even while laughing and having so much fun.

Learning for the Love of It

Paddle Tennis KCS Elective 2013

Paddle Tennis Elective
photo credit: Mary Gaudet/Etobicoke Guardian

I can remember the day I found my passion. To the extent that we can help spark it, we want our students to find theirs.

Third term clubs and teams have started – twenty-nine opportunities in the areas of academics, arts, athletics and citizenship. Scheduled so students can do as much as their hearts desire, our keenest students pursue up to ten offerings each term in each of our Four Doors to Learning.

Many dozens of ‘Brainiacs’ (independent student-initiated projects) plus leadership and service projects are in full swing. Feel like creating a whole new language, or creating a comic that spoofs James Bond? That’s what a group of boys in grade 4 have shown they’re inclined to do. How about organizing a food drive, like a group of girls in grade 2? A boy in grade 5 is creating a video game that the class can use in its upcoming unit on the human body. And compelled by the desire to make a difference, a group of grade 7 students is organising KCS’ participation in a global Vow of Silence, an awareness-raising effort that allows children to ‘speak’ on behalf of those silenced by unacceptable circumstance. Giving time, encouragement and guidance so students can pursue what moves them has created a virtual deluge of learning

Third term also marks the start of our much-anticipated electives program for students in grades 6 to 8. Every Wednesday these students break out of the routine, learning just for the love of it. Joining an elective of their choosing, here is what these disparate delighted groups are up to:

  1. Receiving instruction in and cooking meals for a local youth shelter
  2. Creating a dramatic presentation from beginning to end
  3. Learning, playing and spreading the word about paddle tennis
  4. Geocaching (www.geocaching.com) and putting KCS on the international geocaching map
  5. Composing a school song
  6. Composing songs to promote social justice
  7. Receiving expert coaching in baseball, then providing that instruction to young KCS students
  8. Creating Renaissance art
  9. Building and programming robots to face challenges

And because we’re pretty tireless, a brand new opportunity for students in grades 4 to 8 with a special kind of passion is being revealed this Friday…

The day I found my passion was the day my life became defined by commitment to lifelong learning. This is our wish for our students. Let the sparks fly.

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

More than Spring has Sprung at KCS

Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.
~Quoted by Lewis Grizzard in Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You

The warm sunshine, return of the robins, dancing daffodils and burgeoning tree buds weren’t the only new arrivals to recently grace our community. Though the emphatic entrance of spring was deeply appreciated, something else has awoken that even topped the weather for its sheer delight.

After years in our thoughts, dormant but developing, KCS is now proud to offer electives, electives with some significant twists, twists that had many of the grade 6 students, who get first crack at this opportunity, beside themselves with excitement.

A general introduction to electives was in last week’s parent e-newsletter Stay Connected. They’re designed for students to just learn for the love of it, learn by choice, not for marks, nor because the Ministry of Education says you must. It’s a time to develop the Habits of Mind, Body and Action that indisputably set us up to be successful. And it’s a time to offer an unlimited array of meaningful learning. If teachers and students can dream it, they now have time to do it. Directly connected to our school mission of developing lifelong learners, it’s designed to stoke the flames that fuel lifelong learning.

Judging from my small group of third-language learners, it’s working.

Students in grade 6 were given eight electives to choose from. Based on their choices, the forty-two students are now in one of six electives for 100 minutes each week of third term. One group is learning to cook from Chef Cirillo of Cirillo’s Culinary Academy. The result of their labours this past week was a mouth-watering chicken cacciatore dish that went directly to a youth shelter. Another group is engaged in geocaching. Enriched technology, art and drama are also taking place. And my group has each student learning the foreign language of their choice. Concurrently, (and thanks the significant help of Rosetta Stone language learning software), the students are learning the following languages: Mandarin, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Filipino. Just because they want to.

Some of you may have read Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element: How finding your passion changes everything. He’s right, of course. The bulk of his book exposes the far too common disconnect between the regular school day and finding one’s passion, as if passion only has relevance in extra-curricular pursuits. Not here.

One of my students announced he was going to try to learn enough Mandarin to use it exclusively with the flight attendant on an upcoming family trip (hmm, not sure how that will go but keen to know!) To achieve his goal he has asked if he can use the software at home and if there are apps he can download on his iPad.

Lifelong learner, check.