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.

Shrek Jr. By Numbers

  • 3 unforgettable shows
  • 36 cast members
  • 73 members in the grade 1-3 choir
  • 27 members in chorus
  • 8 members in the dance troupe
  • 28 members in Tech Crew
  • 1 Student Costume Intern
  • 4 directors
  • 60 staff and parent volunteers

plus…

  • Professional musicians and theatre crew
  • Donations and additional contributions by many others
  • Collectively thousands of hours by over 200 people

The quality of the KCS 2016 musical, Shrek Jr. was undeniable. The acting, singing, dancing, stage, costumes and music were a feast for the ears and eyes. From where I sat supervising the choir Friday night, I had an extra special opportunity to watch the delight on faces in the audience.  I was also treated with the view of chorus members mouthing every word in the musical, they had memorised each part so thoroughly. The previous night I watched from the audience and it was my face among the delighted.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sheer number of people involved, who invested countless hours and their full array of talents, left me equally impressed. It’s not unusual to have special things happen at KCS. This year’s musical takes special to an astounding level.

The curtains are now drawn and the cast party is over. Many of us continue to hum the songs from Shrek Jr., and the inspiration among young students to follow the lead of older cast members will linger. Not much else remains, however, except for one heartfelt thank you from the audience to all who brought the story, song and experience of Shrek Jr. to KCS.

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

Where Was This Thirty Years Ago?

KCS_Where-Was-This-30-Years-AgoLast week, staff and students were asked to fill in a thought bubble about what mental health meant to them. After reading many of them, a flood of emotions and memories came to me as I have a brother who lives with a mental illness. Words like “brave” and “hero” put a smile on my face because that’s how I would describe my brother. These were not words I heard when I was a young girl dealing with this issue in my family.

People did not understand that my brother was sick. Maybe if he were in a wheelchair, people would have been more supportive. It is hard to understand something that you cannot see.

We have come so far with raising awareness and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, but we still need to continue with these conversations, not just on Bell Let’s Talk Day. Here, at KCS, teachers encourage these dialogues with their students to promote good mental health. As uncomfortable as it may be for some, we embrace it.

KCS instills in our students key habits such as Act with empathy, Do what is right, and Make the world better. These children will carry kindness and empathy towards others for the rest of their lives. It makes me hopeful that this next generation of students will do their part to end the stigma towards mental illness. This makes my heart happy and it made my brother’s heart also very happy when I told him about what our students were saying!

Lucy Rizzuto
Senior Kindergarten Teacher

A Wonderful (Reading) Thing

Kids dash across the playground to update Ms. Pollett-Boyle on their progress. Since I’m the lucky one to distribute certificates when students complete a level, I’m swarmed daily with messages of “I’m done Level 5!” or “I’m now travelling in Egypt!” or the rather direct “Where’s my certificate?” The first week after Christmas holidays I heard more about levels achieved over the break than about presents under the tree.

Lexia at KCSLast year we piloted a new online reading program called Lexia Core 5. It is offered as a supplement that students can use at school and at home, even on holiday if they so choose. It’s an adaptive program that helps develop core reading skills at the level and pace that’s individualized to be just right for every student. It includes re-teaching after mistakes, compelling graphics, and enticing little interludes, all designed to support, motivate, and optimize learning. The pilot was an evident success. One family was so impressed they generously offered to purchase a 3 year school-wide license. Each week, between 40 and 105 young students log on to accelerate their reading skills. — A heartfelt thank you to this family!

It’s wonderful to watch students learn. It’s not always adrenaline-fueled. The pace can be slow. On skills that are difficult, the school includes a fair amount of push and pull on the teachers’ part. So imagine the pleasure watching dozens of students driven to read (even learning the boring stuff like ‘dipthongs’ and other pesky vowel rules!).

Full disclosure, some runaway enthusiasm has led to excessive competition. That was a topic for a recent class meeting, and one more worthwhile lesson thanks to this powerful tool.

Lots of wonderful things happen at KCS and we’ve written about many of them already – the proof is in our blogs. Children swarming me with their achievement in reading? This certainly counts as one more.

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

An Inspired Lunch Hour with Random Acts of Learning

Every Friday at lunch recess, Mme Smith and I host Random Acts of Learning (RAOL) in the KCS Library. It’s a drop-in for any students from grade 2 and up to do, well, random acts of learning. Here’s what happened during last Friday’s lunch hour when 47 students came to RAOL:

  • Three students from grades 5 and 6 met to talk about a leadership project supporting Syrian refugees
  • One brought his Arduino kit to build a machine for his grade 7 service learning project
  • Two others worked on their littleBits ‘keytar’ (their own musical synthesizer)
  • A few others worked on the video games they’re creating themselves
  • Multiple others worked on their own independent projects, just because they want to learn more about something; this will culminate in a class presentation (Habit: Share What You Know)
  • Others are working on writing books, a few of whom are writing to submit a French book in a national contest
  • The newspaper club came to work on their upcoming edition
  • Some older students chose to study for exams
  • Many others just wanted more time to read

That was my lunch hour. How inspiring was yours?

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

Haircut, Anyone?

We knew we were in for a treat when PK, JK and SK students joined KCS three years ago. But we didn’t expect manicures, facials and haircuts!

Anyone walking down our Senior Kindergarten hallway last week will have doubtless noticed the many signs advertising these services and more, for a price, by our SK students. No, this is not a mandated unit of study. Much better, it’s what an enterprising and imaginative young group decided to make happen.

From what I’ve seen, these young entrepreneurs are working on establishing about a dozen of our KCS Habits – habits that will set them apart wherever their future takes them. Their writing and counting are also getting emotion-driven practice. Positive emotions are booster fuel for learning.

Thanks to our faculty’s efforts with Project-Based Learning and their readiness to support student initiative, the whole KCS community benefits from dozens of student projects equally delightful. But this is the first where I can also get all fancied up for the holiday season. Thank you SKs!

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

KCS Student Tour Guides Leaving an Impressive Legacy

Having been part of this wonderful KCS community for over 18 years, I have had the pleasure of seeing many amazing things. Over the years, we have doubled our grade 1 to 8 classes, we have successfully amalgamated with St. George’s Nursery School to become a Pre-Kindergarten to grade 8 school, and our facilities have improved in countless ways thanks to our three additions and the retrofits we have done. On a personal note, I have had the immense pleasure of seeing my own children flourish here.
KCS Student Tour Guide ClubHonestly, I could probably write a blog like this on a daily basis; there are so many wonderful things that happen here each and every day. Over the past few months however, I have been simply amazed by the dedication and hard work of our 25 magnificent grade 8 Tour Guides. Since mid-September, every day at recess I would have a handful of them poking their heads into my office asking if they could remain inside to practice giving tours. And practice they did. Staff members often commented on how devoted the students were and how seriously they were taking their role of school ambassador.

We had two Open Houses this week, one in the morning and one in the evening. Both were very well attended by prospective families. Following Mr. Logan’s presentation, I stood by proudly as the Tour Guides approached visiting families to introduce themselves. The Tour Guides smiled warmly, made eye contact, introduced themselves, and gave firm handshakes. They confidently led groups out of the Multi-Purpose Room to begin their tours.

KCS student tour guidesNumerous families commented on how poised and capable the Tour Guides were. The students spoke about our facilities, explained our Four Doors program, described our clubs and teams, shared personal experiences, and they answered a multitude of questions. I must admit that I even learned a thing or two about the school from them!

I was struck by how proud the grade 8s are of their school, and how delighted they are to share this with others. I have to say that I thoroughly look forward to Fridays at 12:40 p.m., our Tour Guide Club, when I get to spend time with these mature, dedicated individuals.

When the tours were done last night, I walked the students up to the lobby. I asked two of the boys if they had enjoyed the experience. The first replied that yes, it was great and he was happy that he was able to answer all the questions he had been asked. The second gave me a big grin and said: “That was awesome! I had a great time!” These responses perfectly sum up the positive attitudes and the exemplary behaviour I have seen time and time again from the grade 8s this year. They are certainly leaving an impressive legacy in their final year at KCS, and I am sure they are well prepared to move on to their new high school adventures next fall. I, for one, will not forget my experience with them anytime soon.

Lise Lacroix,
Director of Admissions and Operations

Who We Become

“The quietest people have the loudest minds.”…This is exactly how I would describe myself. It’s like it was written for me. But KCS has helped me express all that creative energy swirling through my mind by teaching me about the importance of communication, the importance of patience, and most of all, the importance of being yourself.” — A grade 6 student

LearningEach May, our grade 6 students write a final five-paragraph essay describing the most important ways in which they’ve grown over the course of the year. The three paragraphs that followed the one above described in detail how the myriad of lessons, projects, opportunities and personal choices throughout the year led to this student’s self-assessment. It’s all part of how this one student came to know more about what matters in life. All of our students have their own story of growth.

That’s half of what I love about KCS. Each day we’re surrounded by students growing, whether in reading, writing, math, research, public-speaking, confidence, leadership, service, performance, creativity, empathy and every other possible way that matters.

The other half of what I love about KCS is how, as a member of staff, we also get to grow. While we collectively bring many strengths to our jobs, and we gladly share them with our students, we’re all also constantly growing, whether through curriculum reviews, workshops, returning to university, endless online courses, professional learning networks, professional reading, and frequent meetings, formal and informal, to address challenges, seize opportunities, and just become better every day.

This summer had me learning about design thinking, electronics with Littlebits and programming with Arduino. Three years ago, I never would have imagined I’d be learning those things! I’ve also been learning a lot about all the creative energy that can be expressed with these in the KCS tool kit, and I look forward to sharing more about how this will increasingly happen at KCS in upcoming blogs.

There’s actually a lot more I love about KCS, but watching students grow, and having the opportunity to grow alongside them, is what I anticipate most as the new school year is set to begin. KCS students can look forward to a great year of learning ahead. KCS staff look forward to the same.

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

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