Three Habits for Aspiring Olympians

At KCS, we spend a lot of time talking about the Habits of Mind, Body and Action. So when Olympic bronze medalist Kylie Masse visited us, we were thrilled to discover that her advice for future Olympians lined up perfectly with three of our own Habits!

  1. “Never Give Up.”

We all face challenges. But you can’t let them stop you. That’s why we think one of the most important Habits for success in life is to learn to “Persist”. And Kylie clearly agrees. She spoke to us at length about the challenges she has faced, which ranged from losing international competitions to getting cut from teams. However, she always came back to the same mantra – “Never give up.” It was that drive and persistence that took her all the way to the Olympic podium.

  1. “Worry Only About What You Can Control.”

Letting go of control is a hard lesson for everyone. The first step is to “Think Flexibly” – a Habit that helps us to work effectively no matter what the circumstances. In Kylie’s case, this meant learning to accept that she couldn’t control the temperature of the pool or the noise of the crowd or the speed of the swimmer in the next lane. So she adjusted her attitude, changed her thinking, and focused only on the things she could control.

  1. “Have Fun!”

Kids today live in a fast-paced world, so it’s no wonder the levels of stress and anxiety amongst children is skyrocketing. That’s one of the reasons why we encourage our students to make it a Habit to “Find Humour.” As Kylie pointed out, she could have easily burned out after only a few years of intense dedication and training. But because she held on to her sense of fun and humour, she arrived in Rio with a smile on her face and a calm heart.

Many thanks to Kylie for sharing her story, to the Parent Network for supporting the Talk That Matters Speaker Series, and to Henry and Charlie for inviting their cousin to visit KCS. We may not all make it to the Olympics, but we can all take some guidance from her words of wisdom!

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Resolving to be better global citizens

Imagine a generation of young people working to create a better world. This is the invitation from High Resolves, a program that originated in Australia for grade 7-12 students about how to act as global citizens. This year, KCS became the first school outside of Australia to participate in this program! We were anticipating an affirmation of what we are doing at KCS in the area of active citizenship. We were not disappointed!

With funding from the KCS Pickard/Bulger Family Citizenship Fund, all grade 7 students participated in three workshops: Collective Identity, Independent Thinking, and Social Justice. In each of the sessions, our wonderful instructor and Canadian Program Director, Chantelle Kohn, captured our attention and expertly delivered the vital messages in a respectful, open-minded fashion. Students were initially curious, and even apprehensive about these new workshops, but very quickly they became engaged in these timely, interactive activities. Students were able to move around and engage in collaborative group challenges. This made the 2 hours workshops fly by! They learned about: attributes of global citizens, how to think critically about messages in the media, and how to work towards social justice. At the end of each session, students were encouraged to reflect on their learning and write “I Resolve” statements. These statements demonstrate how students plan to incorporate their learning into daily life as global citizens.

In addition, we welcomed over 25 teachers, administrators, parents, board members and social justice champions from across the GTA to KCS so that they could learn more about High Resolves. We shared our positive experiences with colleagues from other schools so that they too may participate in this program. It was an excellent time for all of the adults to discuss: social justice, student leadership, and how to inspire students to make a difference. Here are some of their insights from the students via an anonymous survey conducted after one of the sessions:

  • “I think that the workshop was an amazing learning opportunity for everyone in grade 7. I learned a ton and will keep putting that learning forward to help the earth and the people that live there. I have a feeling that I can make a change in the world.”
  • “The workshop was fun. The whole concept of the learning process really engaged me in the activities. The presentation was great and overall I learned a lot. Everything was also explained very thoroughly in a way that we could easily understand.”
  • “It was stimulating, and made you think. I enjoyed it!”
  • “The workshop was a life-changing and opinion-switching experience. The instructor/presenter was amazing and taught me and many of my peers about the world and how we can make it better.”

We took a responsible risk when we invited High Resolves to KCS, but we’re thrilled that we did! We are already looking forward to continuing our learning next year in grade 7 and expanding the program to grade 8! Thank you to Chantelle for the wonderful learning experiences and thank you to the Pickard/Bulger family for their continued support of citizenship education at KCS.

Shelley Gaudet
Citizenship Education Coordinator

Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

Everything a School Should Be (Part 1)

Let’s take a moment and think about everything a great school should be doing for students. There’s the curriculum – collectively many hundreds of pages of content and skills, wrapped up in subjects, that schools need to make sure all students learn. Then there’s tailoring the curriculum, because ensuring all students learn requires adjustments for each and every one. On top of that there’s enrichment programming, character education, learning skills, collaboration skills, critical and creative thinking, leadership and citizenship, appreciation of nature and the arts, and so much more. Schools need to engage minds, inspire physical health and activity, develop resilience, and nurture the artistic spirit. Direct instruction matters. Project-based learning matters. Clubs, teams, field trips, inspiring speakers, cross-grade integration activities, and spirit-raising events matter. Throughout the delivery of all of the above, a school needs to help students with the inevitable bumps – social, emotional, mental, academic, physical – that happen and directly interfere with everything else if not well addressed. And all of this, and more, needs to happen in an aligned, whole-system manner so it’s optimal both in how it’s experienced and in the difference it makes. Without a doubt, a great school must do many things exceptionally well.

Yet to follow the dialogue, one might think it’s otherwise.

We hear boasts of schools that are outstanding on singular measures, but left wondering how these feats are achieved without sacrifice in other areas of the school. We read that schools should focus improvement efforts on only a small number of areas at once, as if all other important things can wait, for years. We learn of exciting new programs that have great appeal, but represent just a tiny fraction of what’s needed for deep, longstanding impact. This is fine reading, but none are the story that students most need. None are the story we should want for our children.

At KCS, we’re transparent in our unrelenting commitment to being everything a school should be. Our Four Doors to Learning program in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship reflects years’ worth of creative, collaborative effort so that our story is the full story students need. Our faculty are constantly adding new professional learning so that this effort reflects the wisest judgment we can muster. And we’re constantly striving to improve in as many ways we can, and in all ways that matter.

KCS is committed to being everything a school should be. If there’s anything singular about where we strive to be outstanding, that’s it. We know that other schools strive for this as well, but it’s a story we don’t hear often enough. It makes for a long story, with many lengthy chapters. In a busy world and crowded social media space, it’s a story that takes time to tell and time to hear.

That’s okay. Children love long stories. So should we.

Part 2 of this post, to be published shortly, will share the story of how KCS is constantly striving to improve in its effort to be everything a school should be.

Four Doors Collage.jpg

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.

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.