Setting Students Up for Exam Success at KCS

Imagine you are sitting in a rowboat all by yourself. You’ve been told you need to get to an island in the middle of a lake. But there’s one small problem – you have no oars. So, you struggle to travel in the water, splash aimlessly, and ultimately end up frustrated with your goal still out of reach. Having the right tools can make all the difference in feeling prepared and in control of working toward our goals. This was just one analogy shared during out exam preparation sessions with Study Spot, one of our many learning partners, this fall.

At KCS, we want to ensure that we have done everything possible to set our students up for success. This means we don’t just teach students what will be on an exam – we also teach them how to prepare for an exam.

It begins by embedding backwards planning into our grade 6-8 program as a way to build and develop exam preparation skills long before anyone sits down to write an exam. This year it also began by having the grade 6 and 7 students work with one of Study Spot’s academic coaches, where students and parents learned that preparing for a big test such as an exam begins with establishing study and organization routines that stick.

During these coaching sessions, the students are introduced to many exam prep strategies, such as making a plan, sticking to a schedule, self-testing, and maximizing the “spacing effect” (the phenomenon whereby information is remembered longer when studying is spaced out over time). They also talk about the importance of work/life management, the importance of sleep, and managing screens and distractions. Finally, they are provided with a wealth of planning materials, including study schedule templates, an action priority matrix, weekly planners, and guides to the pros and cons of different visual organizers and information capturing tools. (FYI – all of these materials are available for download on the Parenting Resource tile on the KCS website.)

Continued throughout the year, our teachers design their program in a thoughtful and intentional manner, as we know that it takes careful planning to teach kids how to thrive at school and in life. Our students will be writing exams throughout high school and university, so we know that now is the time to teach them these essential study skills and organizational habits. And even though exams aren’t a regular part of adult life, those skills and habits carry over in different ways. Exams teach you to be organized, deal with pressure, persist, ask for help, identify key points, and sift through large amounts of information – all useful lessons for adulthood.

We know that even after all this preparation, exams can still be scary. But that’s okay. When we’re scared, we rethink our habits and apply them in ways that make us better equipped to handle the unexpected. Every time we try something new or challenging, we get better at handling it. The exam experience helps our students become more organized, pay closer attention to their homework, and learn to prepare for future challenges. Many students feel a great sense of accomplishment as exams wrap up.

Our hope is that by the time our students leave us for high school and beyond, they will have learned new habits and had many opportunities to put those habits to work. We also hope that because there will be elements of frustration and challenge along the way, they will also leave us with a deep and genuine sense of empowerment and confidence. In the end, we don’t want anyone to feel stranded in a rowboat with no oars. We want them to have the skills and tools they need to take their boat and navigate toward any destination they choose.

-Dr. Matina Mosun

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Gender Diversity at KCS

We often talk about how our students are growing up in a world that is very different from the one we grew up in. The most obvious change is the rapid pace of technological development and the impact it has had on us as a society. But I think there is another change that is just as significant and far-reaching, and that’s the way we now approach the idea of diversity and inclusivity.

While previous generations opened up the conversation around racism and sexism, the conversation these days is centered more broadly on the idea of intersectionality, which is a complicated word that simply means that everyone’s lived experience is different. We all have a unique history and story that are grounded in our ethnicity, culture, faith, gender, and sexuality. These are elements that we have always tried to talk openly about with our students, as we want them to build a deep and authentic sense of empathy for everyone they will meet in their lives.

Over the past few years, we have widened this conversation to include both mental health and the experience of Indigenous peoples. This year, we have made a conscious choice to further widen that conversation by developing our faculty and staff’s understanding of gender diversity.

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Back at the start of January, every member of the KCS faculty and staff took part in an extensive workshop on gender diversity that was run by facilitators from The 519 – a Toronto organization that promotes inclusion and respect of the LGBTQ2S community. It was an eye-opening experience for many of us, as it asked us to challenge our own lived experiences and our understanding of what it means to be a “boy” or a “girl”.

To understand gender diversity, you have to realize that there is a difference between one’s biological sex and one’s gender. Biological sex is the category we are placed in at birth, based on discernable physical characteristics. Gender is the identity or “face” we show the world. It’s really about each person’s sense of their own gender identity, which may or may not align with their physical biology. It’s also worth noting that gender is not always a simple binary distinction (i.e., masculine/feminine) – it can be much more fluid and complex.

With a student population of approximately 400 each year, we know that we have 400 different individuals in our school, all of whom are on their own unique emotional journeys. We know that kids can only learn when they feel that they belong and are accepted. We must meet our students where they are, and the simple fact is that we will always have students who do not neatly fit into the traditional preconceived notions of gender.

So, if we want to be as inclusive as possible, then we have to keep trying our best to make KCS a brave space where every individual can talk openly about who they are, regardless of their ethnicity, culture, faith, gender, and/or sexuality. This means being aware of the language we use and the preconceptions we carry around with us. We know that these kinds of conversations can make some people uncomfortable, but we also know that it’s the right thing to do. Our students deserve to feel accepted and understood, and they must also learn to accept and understand each other. In many ways, it’s the most important lesson they’ll learn during their time at KCS.

– Tamara Drummond

If you wish to learn more about any of our diversity and inclusion initiatives, please reach out to Tamara Drummond, Director of Student Life, at tdrummond@kcs.on.ca. If you would like resources to discuss these issues with your own child in age-appropriate language, please speak to our librarians (or visit our online gender diversity collection) for books that can help start the conversation.

KCS Senior School Update #9 – And So We Begin

What a delight it was to announce that we had secured a site, a remarkable one, and let our community know that we will be opening our Senior School in September 2021.

One of the best parts of the announcement is that we can now speak more fully about all that we’ve been working on. The Senior School website shares our new location and many of the special features we have in mind for enriched student learning. The Town Hall, taking place tomorrow, February 11th at 7:00 p.m. in Canada Hall, will allow a number of us to speak and answer the questions that I know are currently bottled up inside many. And our new Senior School e-newsletter has been getting steady sign-ups and will provide dedicated monthly updates as of February 19th. We encourage every interested follower to sign up on our website so you can be sure to learn about our ongoing progress and any important dates coming up.

KCS Senior School Town Hall

And while we’re thrilled to share all the details with every adult who’s keen to listen, there’s one group that it has been a particular pleasure to engage.

Last week our grade 6 and 7 students learned that they will have the opportunity to meet with our architect and participate in discussion around design. Mrs. Drummond and I will also gather their thoughts on furnishings. We arranged a short trip to our site last week so they could see the building from the outside (going inside has to wait a bit longer) and so they could also start getting to know the nearby greenspace. They saw the Etobicoke Stormwater Management Facility, with ducks and tagged swans swimming in the frigid water. They saw the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat, and the Home Garden that was distinctly designed to support various species of butterflies in their different life cycle stages. Our grade 6s got a peek at the wetlands a little to the west, and our grade 7s visited the Air India 182 Memorial in Humber Bay Shores Park East. During our walk, they were challenged to look, listen, and think of how this intriguing environment could connect with each of their school subjects.

Here’s a sample of how they said they could use this outdoor space for learning:

  • Poetry and descriptive writing
  • Building a working model of the Stormwater Management Facility
  • Learning to sail
  • Getting permission from the city to create French language versions of the many signs describing the area
  • Painting and sketching
  • Hosting our “Wake Up With the Arts” events on the boardwalk
  • Calculating the volume of water in the Stormwater Facility
  • Investigating the history of Air India Flight 182, the history of the neighborhood (including the Mr. Christie cookie factory), and the history of the Indigenous communities that used to inhabit this part of the city

This has been a special couple of weeks. Taking the students to our new site and introducing them to the endless learning that’s within a minute’s walk was a highlight. KCS now has two great campuses which our Junior and future Senior School students can now embrace as their neighbourhoods. There are so many possibilities. The learning has just begun for us all.

 

A Distinct Partner Ecosystem for Learning and Creativity: KCS Senior School Update #8

“Caring teachers who were skilled, experienced and took the time to understand me, encourage me, and recognize my achievements.” – KCS parent

Teachers have important areas of expertise. They have knowledge, skills, and dispositions that notably support student growth. Not surprisingly, when we asked KCS parents in our feedback survey what made for their most memorable learning as a youth, the most repeated answer was one or more teachers.

Other people have expertise in other things. Our parent and grandparent community, our alumni, and our growing network of KCS ‘friends’ bring expertise from every possible sector. They bring languages from around the world. They represent a wide array of cultures, demographics, and lived experiences. They have interests, talents, passions, and perspectives of great value.

Bringing these seasoned learners and practitioners together – teachers and others – and regularly connecting them with students (with their own knowledge and skills to share) provides an environment that is distinctly able to inspire learning and creativity. Learning is inspired by partners sharing their expertise, providing authentic projects, and offering field and co-op placements. The creativity they inspire comes from the unlimited addition of facts and ideas that students can connect in new ways. A favourite TEDx Talk, Bill Stainton’s “How to Be a More Creative Person”, explains how this works.

Our roster of learning partners is growing. The response of both our KCS community as well as those learning about us for the first time affirm that this is an idea which is immediately understood to have value. The partners who have already inspired learning at KCS have made the positive impact evident. We’ve also identified technology that will support making this community of learning partners visible to our Senior School students and teachers, so they know what expertise is available and ready to inspire. Finally, our curriculum is being designed so engagement with learning partners will be woven into every course, and that relevant learning and creativity will follow. From grade 9 through 12, our students will build an unparalleled awareness of the breadth of people who are shaping the world, and the many paths available for them to shape it in turn.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye

A surprise hidden inside Stainton’s TEDx Talk is the story of how the beloved Bill Nye came to be ‘The Science Guy’. He was once the overlooked expert that, thankfully, has now informed and inspired millions.

We aren’t all experts like Nye. And we all have interests and perspectives that don’t need to be ‘expert’ in order for them to have value. A vast, untapped resource is in our midst, and keen to engage. Students, teachers, parents, extended family, alumni, and friends of KCS, make up what will be a distinctive ecosystem for learning.

To the KCS family and friends reading this, more information and an invitation to join this exceptional learning partner community will follow soon. To those new to KCS but keen to join our efforts to inform and inspire youth, reach out to us.

Join us in making unprecedented learning happen. Join us in shaping the future of education.

To learn more about KCS Learning Partnerships, please reach out to Andrea Fanjoy, Head of Senior School, at afanjoy@kcs.on.ca.

 

Reconciliation and Land Acknowledgements in Grade 3

In this blog, our KCS Grade 3 homeform teachers – Meghan Hurley and Kerrie Robins – talk about the ways in which they and their students are evolving the Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum to better reflect the ongoing dialogue around Indigenous peoples and reconciliation.

Social Studies is a wonderful subject to teach – because it’s all about learning how to explore our shared history and experiences in a thoughtful and meaningful way. In Grade 3, a large part of the Social Studies curriculum is built around the experiences of different communities in Canada between the late 1700s to the mid-1800s.

When we were kids, that mostly meant learning about European pioneers. But over the past number of years, schools have made a real effort to incorporate into the curriculum the experiences of Indigenous communities during this time period. Here at KCS, we’ve been making the same effort for many years. But this year, we decided to begin our Social Studies program by focusing on those Indigenous experiences, in order to help our students better understand the need for an active and engaged approach towards reconciliation.

We began with some introductory events around Indigenous peoples in Canada, during which the students developed their own initial questions and identified areas they wanted to learn more about. This was followed by lessons around the ideas of apologies and reconciliation, out of which came a few key questions. What does it mean to apologize? What does reconciliation mean? How do we make things right when we’ve made a mistake? These open-ended questions led us to one core driving question: Why should our government be apologizing to Indigenous people?

Using techniques we learned during our professional development at the PBLWorks Institute this summer, we helped the students develop a series of questions that grew organically out of our driving question. We then used their questions to inform our planning for the remainder of the unit.

Throughout the unit, we explored this topic from a number of different angles. We talked about the legacy of residential schools and learned about the purpose behind the Orange Shirt Day initiative. We invited a guest speaker – Talitha Tolles from the TASSC (Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council) – to come and speak about her culture and language. She shared stories about her own family’s experience with residential schools, and she worked with the students to build an Indigenous history timeline.

After that, the students took part in a group project where each group studied an Indigenous nation from a historical perspective. We also learned about treaties, what traditional land KCS is on, the Toronto Purchase/Treaty 13 (the treaty that governs the western half of Toronto), and the land acknowledgments that are currently taking place at other local schools.

Obviously, this was a significant amount of new information for our students to process. We gave them time to think about all they had learned, and we began to use this information to answer our driving question: Why should our government be apologizing to Indigenous peoples? Once we had some answers to this question, we asked the students, “What do you want to do?” After much discussion, the Grade 3s decided that they wanted to make a difference by starting a land acknowledgement at KCS.

Both classes sent letters to Mr. Logan and Dr. Mosun asking permission to create a land acknowledgement for KCS. These letters were received with enthusiasm, and they encouraged the students to work with our current artist-in-residence – Lindy Kinoshameg from Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation – to develop and write an acknowledgement. This process has begun and will continue to evolve over the next month or so. Our hope is that the students will be ready to present our KCS land acknowledgement during an assembly in January.

For us, the most powerful piece of this journey can be summed up with two of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action – “Lead to Make a Difference” and “Make the World Better”. When we began the year, some of the students felt like this was a problem that couldn’t be solved. As one student said in September, “We can’t do anything, we’re just a bunch of kids.” But now, that same student is saying, “We’re doing one thing, and it’s making a difference!”

We are so proud of this group of students and the ways in which they have opened their minds to new perspectives and taken on the challenge of making the world better. We look forward to sharing their land acknowledgement with the entire school community in the new year!

Meghan Hurley & Kerrie Robins

Then We Listened Some More: KCS Senior School Update #7

“All stages of research indicated support for the Senior School approach…”                          – Donna McPhail, Market Researcher

We were one year into our effort to establish a Senior School. Our Task Force had completed well over a hundred hours of research. We’d created a prototype. We had listened to thought-leader Grant Lichtman, the members of our Task Force, and the many educators from leading schools we had interviewed. And though we knew our model was rooted in the practices of North America’s leading schools, we also knew we needed to listen to local families, both current and prospective. It’s what they said that mattered.

In September 2018, we engaged an external agency to lead our market research. The effort began with a review of secondary research that related to education trends. This work affirmed our own. The primary research, with local families of students in grades 7 and 8, began that December. We hosted four focus groups of four to six participants, each at KCS: two with KCS parents and two with KCS students. In addition, we hosted five focus groups with non-KCS parents and students.

Participants began with an ice-breaker activity where they were asked what they valued in secondary schools. Answers were common among parents and students:

  • Academic standards
  • Programs and facilities
  • Post-secondary admissions
  • Variety of courses and learning
  • Supportive teachers
  • Positive environment, and
  • Location

Interestingly, students, more than parents spoke about school environment, expressing their preference that it be energetic, friendly, supportive, and calm.

Parents and students were then given hints about features of our model through photos and text. The dialogue that followed was recorded and analyzed. The result? Overall, parents and students responded positively to our model and would like the core curriculum to be covered well. And they want more. They accepted that focus on a student’s passion would enhance their engagement in learning. They believed that exposing students to additional ideas and areas of learning would lead to more passions and greater engagement. External partners and experiential learning were recognized as powerful motivators for understanding. In addition, students notably appreciated the opportunity to explore their area of interest from multiple perspectives, as well as learning experiences that enhance self-confidence, self-motivation, leadership, collaboration, empathy, and engagement.

The KCS student participants went beyond expectations with one of the exercises. When asked to make a collage from text and photos provided, they added their own words to properly complete the task. Here is some of what they documented about their ideal secondary school:

  • Authenticity
  • Creative energy
  • Individuality and more
  • Your place in the world
  • Acceptance
  • Backed up by teachers who want you to succeed
  • Important life skills and strategies taught!
  • Ask questions?!!!
  • Free to explore your interests and be as involved as you want in all areas

Our model provoked much dialogue. It also provoked questions. In addition to earning support, the exercise made clear that we needed to communicate the model and the process shaping it with care and clarity. The final market research report, 109 slides long, propelled us forward.

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Much More Than Just a Place to Rest

At any given time of day, we may find ourselves feeling that we could use a buddy – someone to lend an ear or lend a hand – someone to be there for us.  And when you are a student feeling a little left out at recess time, which is often the best part of their day, it can be a lonely experience.

This past year, Grade 5 student Oliver knew that a Buddy Bench was just what KCS needed after reading a story about a similar idea with his sister Scarlet, Grade 3.

Oliver recalled when he was new to KCS that he felt isolated at recess. He approached Hallie McClelland, Director of Advancement with his idea and his desire to get involved with the Humbertown Park project, stating, “this is my chance to be a buddy for someone else.”

As part of the Four Doors to Learning Program, the KCS community instills and encourages social responsibility across all grades. Oliver put these life skills into practice by donating funds towards the Buddy Bench from his personal earnings. Other KCS students also donated to the project, which resulted in the bench eventually being a gift from KCS students to KCS students.

This past October, the Buddy Bench was installed at Humbertown Park. If you haven’t sat on it yet, I encourage you to do so.  It’s a comfortable log, situated next to the pathway, facing the middle of the playground, overlooking the park.

More importantly, when you see the Buddy Bench, recognize that it is more than just a place to rest; it’s a special spot where our children will learn about how to help and to be there for each other.

In recognition of all student fundraising, a recognition plaque will be added to the Buddy Bench in 2020. Please contact Hallie at hmcclelland@kcs.on.ca if you have any questions about the Invest In Play Campaign in support of the Humbertown Park Renovation Project.

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Our Vision, Made Real: Senior School Update #6

“The KCS vision for a new type of high school in Toronto is remarkable on three fronts: it is in demand; it will serve the needs of an entire population of forward-thinking families and students; and the incredible depth of study and research that is going into the design, based on what leading schools all over North America are doing…” – Grant Lichtman

Our fundamentals were established. Our vision document was clear. In January 2017, a Task Force of 40 parents, past parents, board members, and staff set out to research how these two things were being realized in leading schools all over North America. Many hours and 100 pages of research later, the group convened to build a prototype.

What would the student experience be exactly?

What timetable framework would enable our vision?

How would learning partners help enrich student learning?

How would the facility be designed to encourage deep learning?

How would assessment practices support optimal learning?

On June 15, 2018, we identified the features of the KCS Senior School model. While our full output was too long for this blog, here were some we intended to embrace:

Student Experience

  • Deep, relevant projects
  • Regular engagement with external experts
  • Community-based experiential learning
  • Student-driven learning (including passion-driven learning)
  • Relationships (Collaborative projects, Advisory, open as community hub in off hours)

Time

  • Math and French courses all year for optimal learning
  • Other courses semestered or trimestered
  • Longer periods for most courses
  • A protected time block when students are tasked with self-directed projects and learning experiences
  • A quality Learning Management System for every course so students can easily access course-related learning when and as much as needed

Partners in the System

  • Identify the different roles learning partners can play, from one-off engagement to co-op placements
  • Build a large roster of willing partners from within and outside the KCS community
  • Identify an online tool that will facilitate and help manage student/teacher/partner engagement
  • Assign an administrative role to provide oversight and support
  • Engage students in the identification, selection, onboarding, and design of the student/partner experience

Facility

  • Quality space for learning of all kinds for students, teachers, and learning partners
  • Lots of room to display student work and to support entrepreneurship (products for sale)
  • Places to build community, enjoy a snack or meal, hold assemblies, give presentations
  • Fitness room and easy access to outdoor space for nature and physical activity
  • Makerspace, art, and recording studios

Assessment

  • Leverage e-portfolios to capture learning journey and growth
  • Authentic assessment via performance tasks
  • Assessment of competencies in addition to knowledge and skills
  • Ongoing student reflection
  • Traditional assessments where worthy

We left the prototyping exercise in agreement, knowing our work wasn’t done but that our progress was palpable. The next step was to put our thoughts in front of others. What did they think? Ever serious in our efforts, that was a task that merits its own update.

 

 

Zeena Zaiyouna Conducts Ontario Pops Orchestra

Our very own Zeena Zaiyouna is this season’s assistant orchestra conductor of the Ontario Pops Orchestra, under music direction of Carlos Bastidas and is playing principal oboe in the orchestra.

Zeena has performed with orchestras including Harthouse Orchestra, Counterpoint Orchestra, Greater Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra, Kindred Spirits Orchestra, Kingston Symphony Orchestra and the York Chamber Ensemble. She is a Toronto and Ontario Arts Council recording artist recipient and she most recently was featured as a conductor with the Canadian Independent School Music Festival performance at Roy Thomson Hall.

Together with a performance degree on oboe from Queen’s University, Zeena has studied under the guidance of Barbara Bolte and principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Hansjörg Schellenberger. Her orchestral conducting background and experience includes private studies with Maestro Andre Presser from Holland and Maestro Harold Faberman at Bard College in New York state.  She has completed university studies in Denmark, Spain, and Canada and has had a unique opportunity to design and implement transdisciplinary arts-based teacher training and curriculum on four continents. Currently, Zeena teaches instrumental music at Kingsway College School and concurrently works as a private studio oboe and piano teacher for young aspiring musicians.

Zeena will be assisting the orchestra conductor of the Ontario Pops Orchestra on Saturday, December 14 at 8:00 p.m. at the Humber Valley United Church. We are incredibly proud of Zeena and her achievements outside the walls of KCS! If you would like to see her in concert, please visit http://www.ontariopops.com/.

Learning Partners Come in All Sizes

At KCS, we’re deeply committed to looking outside our school walls in order to connect with a range of learning partners in our city and beyond. But sometimes you don’t have to look that far to find experts who are ready and willing to share their knowledge and experiences.

At the end of the last school year, Madame Fanjoy heard about a young boy named Ethan in grade 1 who wanted to start a rock club at KCS. She supported the idea wholeheartedly, but it just couldn’t get rolling in the short time left before summer. The first week back in grade 2 she asked about his plan to start a rock club, and discovered that he was still very determined to share his love of rocks with his community.

Madame Fanjoy said that the grade 4’s were about to start studying rocks and minerals, and asked if he would visit the class as an expert. He immediately embraced the idea and started explaining what he would do to prepare. It was amazing to see his passion and commitment, and hear him speak about his “process” and “Plan Bs”! He quickly reached out to me (the grade 4 science teacher) to lock down a visit. He also let me know that his Uncle Ben was a geologist who travelled all over the country exploring potential mine sites, and that he might want to come and visit as well. This was going to be an exciting opportunity for both Ethan and the grade 4s!

A few weeks later, both Ethan and Ben ended up sharing their collective wisdom and knowledge with both the grade 4 classes. Ethan shared his rock collection and talked about how he learned so much about rocks, while his uncle talked about mining engineering, mine safety, and ways in which we can minimize the environmental impact of mining.

What was striking to me was the way in which the grade 4 students treated both their guests. They treated the “grown-up” guest with great respect and manners, and peppered him with a number of insightful questions and interesting facts. How did Ethan fare with this group of students? They listened attentively, spoke to him as an equal, and treated the entire experience with great gravitas and sincerity.

We take it for granted that we learn from those older and more experienced than us. And yes, in this case, we learned a lot about mining and engineering from a professional geologist with an impressive resume filled with university degrees and real-world experiences. But we also learned another valuable lesson from a grade 2 who just happened to love rocks. Namely, some of the best teachers and learning partners come from the most unexpected places, and that everyone who walks into a KCS classroom deserves our respect, attention, and willingness to learn from them.