Just Call Us ‘Guides on the Ride’

Thirty years ago I started teacher’s college. ‘Sage on the stage’ was how we were taught to teach back then. Thanks to 30 years of students, that practice has been humbled into one role among multiple others. This summer, all KCS faculty and I learned about a promising new option, that of ‘guide on the ride’, from the book Empower by A. J. Juliani and John Spencer. I’m strapped in with my helmet on. My current ride? Cryptocurrency.

Yes, cryptocurrency.

In September, we launched our new StEP entrepreneurship program. StEP invites students with entrepreneurial ambitions to pursue their big ideas, learn the basics, access mentorship, and potentially acquire seed money for viable ideas. As soon as this new opportunity was announced, a student stepped forward. His passion? You guessed it.

My role in this program is to support all grade 6-8 students who take the same first step, connect them with mentors, and provide basic instruction in value propositions, minimum viable products, design thinking, prototyping, customer interviews, and prepping pitch decks. What I provide is significantly enhanced by our partnership with Future Design School and a growing list of established entrepreneurs in the KCS community who are willing to speak, entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur, with our students.

Thirty years ago, cryptocurrency didn’t exist (that was still 21 years away). Now I get a front row seat in this and other budding areas of potential entrepreneurship at KCS. Guiding students on journeys they chart is full of unforeseeable learning, accented with bumps and hidden curves. Like the up and down of a roller coaster, it’s impossible to know where the journey will go and much scarier than the experience of a lecture. Though just one month into the year, multiple other teachers at KCS are telling me of their own trips into the unknown. The excitement and trepidation expressed in my office evoke summer memories of Wonderland. We’re strapped in and hanging on. This year promises to be an interesting ride.

World Mental Health Day Every Day

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of helping young people build mental resilience, from the earliest ages, in order to cope with the challenges of today’s world.” – World Health Organization

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a day set aside by the World Health Organization (WHO) to educate, increase awareness, and mobilize efforts to promote better mental health around the globe. This year, the focus for World Mental Health Day is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World, a topic that is obviously near and dear to the hearts of everyone at KCS.

For far too long, mental health was seen something that mainly affected adults. It just wasn’t on the radar when it came to young kids. But one only has to glance at the statistics and facts provided by organizations such as CAMH to see that there is a clear need for families and schools to pay close attention to the mental health of our young people. Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that 70 per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence.

Faced with numbers like that, it’s clear that we must continue to make mental health awareness a core component of our overall wellness strategies at KCS. Events like World Mental Health Day and the annual Bell “Let’s Talk” campaign certainly help to bring greater awareness and understanding that helps to reduce the stigma around mental illness. But it can’t stop at awareness. Any effective strategy must also include a proactive approach to both prevention and recovery.

We know that when children are given the skills that they need to foster resiliency and accept challenges as an obstacle they are able to work at to overcome, they are better equipped to cope with adversity and the inevitable bumps in the road of life. Because early intervention is key, learning these skills can and must begin at a very young age. When children learn and recognize that they do have the skills and the strength to pick themselves up and dust themselves off after something does not go as planned, they are building up that resiliency.

At KCS we recognize this and continue to make mental health a fundamental priority. Beginning right from PK, our students are encouraged to talk about and recognize their feelings. Social-emotional growth and development is an intentional component of our curriculum, and the adults in the building use those “teachable moments” to role model and discuss dealing with disappointment and asking for help.  Our faculty and staff are certified in Mental Health First Aid, allowing us to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of mental distress, and assist our students in getting the help they need.

We also recognize that we need to help our entire school community better understand the importance of mental health and wellness.  Through our Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, we have shared information about brain development, mental health, and our children, volunteerism and contributing to the community, moving from stress to strength, developing resiliency, internet, and online safety, and we will continue in January 2019 when Greg Wells – author of The Ripple Effect – comes to speak with us about our overall well-being.  The more we talk about mental health, the better we understand its importance – not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day.

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A Balanced Digital Diet

Canada’s Food Guide has served generations of Canadians in making wise choices for a healthy diet. Technology is the new area of consumption that needs a similar campaign. Here’s the balance we strive to strike with the abundance of technology available to our teachers and students:

  1. No technology: This is a significant part of each student’s day. Our PK students have no interaction with technology. Our JK to grade 2 students have limited access to iPads. Our grade 3s share laptops, with 20 available for 40 students, using them three times a week on a regular basis, with increased usage for specific assignments. Students from grades 4 and up have a dedicated laptop, but significant amounts of their program make no use of a laptop. Printing and handwriting are directly taught and practised. Reading books, playing an instrument, note-taking, group work, performance tasks, dialogue, socialising, and physical activity throughout the day are regular features in all grades.
  2. Technology to provide personalised learning: Our Director of IT Curriculum and teachers curate learning apps and online programs to find those that provide personalised practice and instruction where students would benefit. Some students need just a bit more practice with math facts. Others learn language and math so readily that they crave an additional challenge. Every student is at a unique place in their learning and when tech tools can directly help advance their learning, we assist in making those tools available to augment their learning.
  3. Technology for acquiring knowledge: There’s no escaping the value of this. While we are well served by a beautiful library and classrooms full of books, our students and teachers also make use of technology to access information that they otherwise couldn’t. Our grade 2 classes used Google Hangouts to interview an ornithologist as part of their animal project research; our grade 4s follow current events from age-appropriate news sites like Here There Everywhere; multiple grades use our online Canadian Encyclopedia for research; and our older students use the Canadian Geographic and Dollar Street sites, among others, because they’re available, authentic and directly relevant to the world they want to understand.
  4. Technology for creation: This is hands-down the most exciting use of technology. Word-processing tools make mindful improvement of writing much more effective and efficient. Our Macbooks and iPads support podcasting, movie-making, visual art creation, video game creation, and music composition. Blogging in response to books read or current events begins in grade 4. Leveraging PowerPoint for student presentations often starts in grades 3 and 4. Creating online comics for French, LA novel studies and digital citizenship occurs in the junior division. More recently, students throughout the school are exercising creativity and practising algorithmic thinking through coding, whether with Dash and Dot, Scratch Jr., Scratch, Lego Mindstorms, Arduino or Visual Basic.
  5. Technology for capturing the journey: With the launch of our Sesame e-portfolio, technology is an unparalleled way for students and teachers to capture and share special moments of learning. Each child from PK to grade 4 currently has their own e-portfolio that’s shared with their teacher and parents; remaining students will have their own portfolio as we continue to roll out this practice. Teachers and students are posting photos, videos and captions of note. At home, the content provokes reflection and conversation (which reinforces learning). Over time, their e-portfolio is a celebration of their growth as lifelong learners.
  6. Technology as a tool that needs to be wielded with care: Digital citizenship is the ‘respect and manners’ of technology. Students learn about digital etiquette, footprints, social media, cyberbullying, phishing, spam, ergonomics, etc… From the time they’re allowed to use technology, KCS students learn how to use it respectfully and responsibly.

Technology is a rich learning tool, and we’re very fortunate to have it at our fingertips. It is also a powerful attraction that, if unchecked, can be notably more unhealthy than the “sometimes” foods our children learn about in health class. At KCS, we’re working tirelessly to make this healthy digital balance a habit that our students will carry with them throughout their lives. Like our other Habits, it’s one that will serve them well.

Basics Made Marvellous

A recent blog shared how we’re actively balancing basics with unlimited opportunities. We appreciate parents’ desire to ensure the basics are a priority. They’re the foundation. Our internal and external assessments, including the standardized Canadian Achievement Test (CAT) scores with an average result in the 80th and 90th percentile, as well as the success of our alumni, make clear that the basics are being established.

Like piano scales in the hands of a virtuoso pianist, schools need to nurture children’s desire to do marvellous things with what they know. We’re delighted to share stories of how this, like the basics, is also evident throughout the school. While there are many examples, here’s one story that’s worth some detail.

Our grade 6 – 8 students have the unique opportunity to enjoy electives in the spring term from the end of March to end of school. For two back-to-back periods each Wednesday, these students engage in one of nine opportunities within the Four Doors, purely for the love of it. Some march down Dundas in aprons and chefs’ hats to Cirillo’s for a cooking class. Others go to a dance studio; compose music; create wearable tech with Arduino; do yoga; learn cricket; make movies; or prepare for their European Battlefield trip next year. One final group is called ‘Go Ahead’. It’s for students with BIG IDEAS, including entrepreneurial ambitions, who want time, a location, resources and access to expertise to pursue them. We have 18 students in Go Ahead who truly make me marvel:

  1. Four with entrepreneurial ambitions, including one who has already started an online business that’s earning money (he requested marketing expertise) and one social entrepreneur whose project may have a lasting legacy at KCS (can’t wait to share more about that!)
  2. Nine creating with electronics, Arduino code and circuit boards, motors, straws, fans, lights and more – one is creating a mini water park; another is creating a wind-powered motor to power lights; yet another is fitting a beach chair with a phone-charging solar panel, table, and cup holder (inspired by a March Break mishap).
  3. One working on a KCS By Design project to introduce student-led peer tutoring.
  4. Others writing books (yes, books) and creating stunning personal artwork.

The basics are big, and what students do with them is big. We’ll keep working to ensure students have the foundation they need, and the opportunities they need, so that they also learn that they can do marvellous things now, and throughout their lives.

Passion-Driven Learning

There’s a story in Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, that has stuck with me over the years. It’s the story of how much Paul McCartney, when a schoolboy, hated music class. Surely, that was a clue that there was something remiss in how school worked.

We all have memories of school that include the less interesting stuff. Memorizing unengaging facts, repetitive practice of concepts, the frustrating period before you “get it,” learning square dancing in gym class (am I dating myself?), and more. Some of that less interesting stuff is still happening, even in schools like KCS (not the square dancing…). That’s because it matters. Whether you consider it the cement or the bricks, establishing core skills takes time and is a foundational part of becoming a lifelong learner.

With that foundation, however, there’s nothing like passion to inspire lifelong learners to unimaginable heights. Passion-driven learning engages all of our abilities and awareness. It is an intrinsically-driven determination to learn, embrace challenges, and achieve something of value. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, renowned psychologist, has hypothesized that certain traits predispose individuals to experiencing what he called flow: high interest in life, persistence, low self-centeredness, and a tendency to pursue things for intrinsic reasons. Creators of all kinds are recognized for these traits. They are traits that lead to unparalleled learning and difference-making. In his 2010 TED Talk, Csikszentmihalyi argues flow is even the elusive secret to happiness. These traits are intentionally developed in passion-driven learning.

Csikszentmihalyi makes clear that skill is a necessary foundation for flow. At KCS, we’re actively developing that foundation. We’re also actively inspiring curiosity, intrinsic motivation, persistence, and low self-centredness. Our Reggio-inspired program is teaching our youngest students to read, write, compute, collaborate, and imagine. Our project-based learning (kissing cousin to Reggio), electives, student leadership, and encouragement of student-driven learning are targeted at developing the attributes of passion-driven learners who can look forward to lives filled with creative contributions and the happiness we all want for ourselves and others.

KCS students are exercising their intrinsic motivation by writing books, playwriting, creating videos, educating others, creating with technology and composing music. If Paul McCartney were a student here, his passion for music would have a place.

At KCS, in all grades, students enjoy a balanced program of basics with opportunity. This balance makes for school days full of hard-earned progress plus inspired initiative and creativity. It makes for stories that are vastly different from the unfortunate ones shared in the early chapters of The Element. It makes for stories that show, at KCS, education has come a long, exciting way.

Keeping the Conversation Going

It’s an astounding statistic that one in five children and youth will experience some form of mental health issue. That’s 20 per cent of our young population fighting a battle against their own mind. What’s more distressing is that five out of six of those children and youth will not get the help they need. For many of these children, it’s because they don’t know where to turn to ask for help, or don’t understand how to vocalize the problems they’re having. For many adults it can be a struggle to identify our emotional needs and feelings, so for children and teenagers it, understandably, becomes a nearly impossible task without help.

Thankfully, Dr. Joanna Henderson, Director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at CAMH, Dr. Sandra Lee Mendlowitz, Founding Partner of the Clinical Psychology Centre, Dr. Taylor Armstrong, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the George Hull Centre for Children and Families and Joshua Miller, Youth Engagement Facilitator at CAMH shared their expertise in youth mental health with more than 250 guests at the Kingsway College School annual Encouraging Dialogue Speaker Series, generously presented by the KCS Parent Network.

Our very special guest panel for the event titled “Mental Wellness: Guiding our Children From Stress to Strength” discussed trends in mental wellness, mental health identifiers, community support resources and strategies and tools for helping to recognize and support our children in times of stress and anxiety.

We are happy to share the video of the full panel presentation from the evening on our YouTube Channel at youtube.com/kcsmatters. Additional resources and speaker presentation slides are also available on our website at kcs.on.ca/speakerseries.

As a nation, Canada is taking great strides towards reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Through initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day the conversation has started, and KCS is proud to continue to lend our voices in support and encouragement. Let’s keep talking.

This Generation We’re Raising: What We Need to Know and Do

If you’re reading this blog, it’s because you care about kids. You may be a parent, you may be an educator, or you may just simply be one of the many who know how much kids, and their early years, matter. Since you care about kids, there’s a book you should know about.

iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood was written by Dr. Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor who specialises in personality and behaviour trends. To understand today’s kids, Twenge accessed four databases that have collectively surveyed 11 million American youth since the 1960s. Her conclusions are based on differences found between the iGen cohort and those of earlier generations (Millenials, GenX, and Boomers) in these longitudinal databases, not on surveys that focus only on one generation. Older readers will find it as interesting to learn about their own generation, as it is to see how much iGen marks a dramatic departure.

iGen’ers were born in 1995 or later, and have always lived in a world with ready access to the internet (hence the ‘i’). It’s no coincidence that some of the features of this generation align with the introduction and widespread embrace of the smartphone. Here are some of the most notable trends:

  1. Growing up reluctantly

On milestones that tend to mark adolescence and adulthood, iGen’ers are in less of a rush, reaching them much later, if at all:

  • Comfort with leaving home
  • Going out with friends
  • Dating
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Marrying
  • Having children
  • Getting a job
  • Taking risks
  1. Growing up online

This generation spends on average six hours a day of their leisure time on “new media” (texting, gaming, video chat, social media). Social media has introduced the need to “present oneself” online, which has led to the rise of selfies and the growing practice of cultivating one’s image to look perfect. Among girls, posting photos that make them appear attractive is also a distinguishing feature of this generation. The effort to gain online friends, followers, and “likes” is significant.

This generation spends less time with friends (platonic as well as boyfriends and girlfriends) in person than previous generations, but they are arguably more preoccupied with those relationships because of how they can play out online (cyberbullying, the quest for likes, the need for instant gratification/responses). Teens hanging out with their friends daily has dropped by half over the past fifteen years, with the steepest drop since 2010 (rise of the smartphone). Many explain that it’s simply more interesting to go home, game, or watch Netflix. A by-product of this is that they have less experience learning social skills, which exacerbates other problems (see #4).

  1. Not reading and not following news

Relative to previous generations, this cohort reads less and is less aware of what’s happening in the world. Their world, via their phones and gaming systems, is small but plenty intense to keep their interest. Despite being at their fingertips, they aren’t replacing the learning potential of books with online reading and learning. “We have the most complete and instant access to information in all of history, and we’re using it to watch funny cat videos,” notes Twenge.

  1. Mentally fragile

Anxiety and depression aren’t just better recognised and acknowledged these days. The symptoms of mental illness are much more widespread, to an alarming degree. Suicide rates are significantly higher among teens, and that is despite the fact that the use of antidepressants is also higher. The reduction in time spent with others, and increase in time spent online, are known to be variables that directly impact mental health. The negative effect of excessive social media on mental health is strongest for younger teens and particularly harsh for those who are already vulnerable. In addition, girls fare worse than boys. While many iGen’ers find it hard to move away from social media, many also express that they find the use of social media stressful.

Children raised by over-involved (“helicopter”) parents, another feature of this generation, experience lower psychological well-being. The preoccupation with safety and happiness made evident with this parenting style reinforces anxiety in their children.

iGen’ers also tend to get less sleep than previous generations, and much less than is healthy. This contributes to poor physical and mental health. Sleeping with their phone means their sleep is disrupted by the pings and buzzes of incoming texts. The blue light emitted by their phones also interferes with sleep.

  1. Pre-occupied with safety

 This generation is much safer than previous generations, in large part because of their own determination to be safe. Significantly fewer drink alcohol, drive, party, get into trouble, engage in sex, and other pastimes that were more common in previous generations, and that often led to unwelcome consequences. They are less likely to be careless drivers, and less likely to drive with someone who has been drinking. Physical fights are much less common, as is sexual assault. This generation knows what is dangerous and doesn’t feel compelled to engage in it.

Their commitment to safety includes emotional safety and notable discomfort with people who say things they disagree with. This cohort finds certain topics upsetting (race relations and sexual assault were shared as two examples) and will readily launch a campaign to get professors fired and guest speakers “disinvited” should they tread into emotionally disturbing content. “Safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” (given in advance of an uncomfortable topic) are new expectations they have of universities.

iGen’ers are also relatively anxious about their financial security, making them risk-averse in their learning and pursuit of a career. Universities are expected to be places where they will be prepared for these careers, not places where they should “seek meaning” and be forced to consider ideas from multiple perspectives. They have an admirable work ethic. They know that there are no guarantees of employment and they dread the student-loan debt this questionable future includes. They are less likely to want to launch their own business because of the risk that entails. Instead, those who are keen to work want a stable job. Others, curiously, just don’t want to work and put it off as long as they can (the gaming systems are still within reach, after all).

  1. Reduction in religious and political affiliations

This is a cohort that is notably individualistic. They’re open-minded on most issues as long as the issues don’t affect them directly (gender rights, same-sex marriage, race relations, legalization of marijuana for example). They are less interested in being part of a group that would require them to conform to rules, beliefs, or policies. They are even less interested in conforming to their peers on fashion, stating clearly they want to be their own person (“materialistic nonconformists”). This open-mindedness doesn’t mean they have no opinions, however. In fact, this generation is notably less tolerant of those with opinions they oppose.

Twenge’s suggestions for how to help:

  1. Help them step away from their phones
  • Delay getting a smartphone as long as possible
  • Start with a flip phone or another device that isn’t connected to the internet
  • Leverage online tools that restrict phone use
  • Strive to keep kids from social media sites that have long feeds where they are tempted to create an online identity, and seek friends and “likes”; Snapchat is recommended because snaps only go to individuals, posts are impermanent, and there is no system of “liking” images
  • Have conversations with your child about sexting, posting revealing pictures, and pornography (an alarming part of their world)
  1. Get kids connecting with friends in person (even if you prefer the safety of having them at home)
  2. Be mindful of the rise in anxiety and depression, and take steps to help your child avoid them (lower screen time, higher in-person time, exercise, proper sleep, and expert guidance as soon as needed)
  3. Allow, and even push, them to grow up more quickly in certain respects
  • Relax curfew and rules on going out with friends
  • Insist they get their driver’s license
  • Consider a gap year as time for them to grow up a bit (independent travel, work…) before they go to college unprepared for the drastic change
  1. Reduce our preoccupation with safety
  • Don’t be quick to label normal childhood conflicts “bullying”
  • Avoid using safety as an excuse or explanation for practices and rules
  • Model and teach children how to deal with people who express an opinion you disagree with (discuss, ignore, or develop logical arguments against it)
  • Provide experiences where iGen’ers have to face (responsible) risk
  1. Meet them half-way at school
  • Provide reading material that is more engaging, up-to-date, interactive, with shorter texts, a more conversational style, and the addition of videos, quizzes, and questionnaires
  • Teach them how to judge credibility of content, evaluate sources, and recognise quality research
  • Ensure that school time is relevant (they’re anxious to learn what’s needed for a job)
  • Aim for depth over breadth of learning
  • Intentionally coax them to ask questions and take intellectual risks
  • Find ways to lessen the dramatic differences between a sheltered home life and the outside world
  • Teach them how to communicate with older coworkers and clients (conversation, negotiation, email)

We can all breathe more easily knowing that many of the dangers which plagued earlier generations are responsibly avoided by iGen’ers. Twenge’s book raises new concerns, however, and we become the irresponsible generation if they’re left unconsidered. “If they can shake themselves free of the constant clutch of their phones and shrug off the heavy cloak of fear, they can still fly,” she concludes. I have the delight of raising two iGen’ers and helping to educate hundreds. Indeed, they can fly beyond our imaginations. But the data make clear that they, like all previous generations, still require help from the adults in their midst. Thanks to Twenge’s research, we can help them launch, and soar.

igen

Grade 4 Students Enjoy Very Dramatic Literacy Workshops!

What happens when you combine classic literature with a touch of creativity, dramatic arts and technology?  Kingsway College School’s Grade 4 classes answered this question with an exciting activity that brought our reading program to life.  Building on the elements of literacy in action, learning by doing and taking responsible risks, the Grade 4 students participated in one of two fantastic workshops facilitated by The Directors Cut and the Stratford Student Player’s Festival.

The Directors Cut and The Wizard of Oz

The Directors Cut is a teacher-designed, full day workshop that engages students in collaborative, hands-on, digital/media literacy.  Technology-based, the key goal of this workshop is to promote 21st century communication skills in a fun and interactive way. Under the guidance of Ms. Dulmage and Ms. Holyck, the first group of Grade 4s researched, planned and created a graphic novel style presentation using scenes from The Wizard of Oz.

The students teamed up to define each character’s traits, then captured the plot’s twists and turns using a professional style storyboard. Their collaboration and problem solving also included organizing costumes and carefully plotting out camera angles using the drama style of tableaux.  The critical challenge that defined each group’s task was to communicate the mood of a particular scene using only still images and no dialogue.  Some excellent scenes were captured as the tableaus were exported using iMovie and then transformed into rich graphic presentations complete with transitions, sounds, voice overs and awesome special effects.  As the students shared their artistic creations, it was great to watch Dorothy, Toto and her three companions come to life travelling along the Yellow Brick Road.

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The Stratford Student Player’s Festival and Midsummer Night’s Dream

Meanwhile, a second group of students travelled to Stratford, Ontario to participate in the Stratford Student Player’s Festival Teaching Shakespeare. Based on an inspiring professional development summer workshop, Ms. Pollett-Boyle and Madame Barchuk looked forward to having the Grade 4 students learn about Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream via an interactive stage performance. In addition to reading the play together, the group investigated the life and times of William Shakespeare and discussed key literary devices, vocabulary and a student-friendly version of iambic pentameter.  The Grade 4s were very excited when professional actor Lara Jean Chorostecki (X Company, Hannibal) took time from her busy schedule to work with the eager KCS performers.

The Stratford workshop included stage combat choreography from West Side Story, followed by an analysis of characters, mood and themes from the Stratford classic Hamlet.  The most exciting part of the day was yet to come as the Grade 4s were called down to the theater to act out their scenes with a professional stage crew. Complete with one of the Grade 4s in the “booth” directing cues for lighting and sound, the KCS players took a responsible risk and performed their dramatic scenes in front of a live audience.  “I was nervous, yet very excited at the same time” commented one Grade 4 student as the entire KCS crew were congratulated for their stage presence, clarity and skillful interpretation of each scene.  The Stratford facilitators were doubly impressed when they discovered that the group from KCS was one of the youngest at the Festival.

As a fitting conclusion to the workshop, the students followed up by sharing their experiences with their classmates.  More importantly, when it was announced that funding for the Student Festival was expiring, the students rallied to the cause by writing persuasive letters to Stratford’s Educational Committee urging them to continue with the program!  After such a fun and enriching experience, the Grade 4 team looks forward to continuing with this wonderful celebration of literature and drama in action.

The Sesame E-Portfolio: An Exciting Addition, Nine Times Over

Last year we launched Sesame, a secure e-portfolio (or electronic portfolio) that captured the detailed learning journey of our PK, JK and SK students through photo, video and captions. This year, Sesame is capturing the journey of all students from PK to grade 3. As we continue to roll out this new tool, Sesame will follow our students from their first day at KCS until the day of their graduation.

This is an exciting step forward for many reasons. Here are nine of the more obvious ones:

  1. Sesame opens up the classroom to parents, colleagues and students. Through photos and videos, we’re able to share exponentially more about the world of learning happening at school. Homework doesn’t tell that story. Nor do tests, projects, assignments or report cards, at least not directly. The process matters. Sesame captures and shares it.
  2. By opening up the classroom to parents, they have a means to see the play presentations, the Show and Tell, the showcases and multiple other events that busy parents can’t always attend. On top of that, these banner days are captured to share with grandparents, friends and extended family – all who would love to see it in person, but often can’t.
  3. We now have a tool to measure and honour the attributes that matter most in life. Yes, the standard curriculum matters, and practices are in place to make sure this curriculum (and more) is effectively learned. What most of the profession still struggles with, however, is how to teach and measure growth of the equally critical soft skills, what we know as our Habits of Mind, Body and Action at KCS. Our students are taught about the Habits, and we see evidence of the Habits being practised daily. But how to measure this? By capturing evidence of the Habits in action. Sesame is our tool for the job.
  4. As an electronic portfolio, Sesame is unsurpassed in its clean, minimalist look. Suitable for all ages, it’s devoid of the distracting extra features that bog down too many tech products and take away from the pleasure of a tool that simply does its job well.
  5. It couldn’t be easier to use. With a tablet, sign-in via a personal QR code requires just one tap. One more tap and you’re adding content. It’s easy enough for our youngest students and busiest teachers. We’ve resisted adopting other e-portfolios because ease of use and efficiency matter. Sesame offers it like no other product we’ve seen.
  6. With Sesame, our students will increasingly assume ownership of the Habits they’re developing. Our students, as they become able, will take on the role of populating their portfolios with what they see as evidence of the Habits in their personal learning journey. Seeking, capturing, and commenting on these moments will reinforce their understanding and awareness of these vital attributes.
  7. Teachers have a powerful new tool to promote self-awareness and provoke behaviour-changing reflection. Having a great class? Teachers can take video to show the students later, and get their thoughts on the evidence for why it worked well. Having a class that didn’t work as well? Teachers can have the students watch that one too, and ask them to identify what the problems were. Video evidence is a powerful medium for personal growth.
  8. With photos and videos regularly updated and easily accessible at home, parents and children can have richer conversations about what their child is doing at school. These conversations both reinforce and extend the learning that’s happening in the classroom. That’s parent involvement which directly makes a difference in their child’s learning. As such, that’s an exercise we’re directly asking families to engage in.
  9. Last but not least, we now have a tool to easily capture, store, and share memories. From the Teddy Bear picnic to raucous House challenges in assembly, and all the showcases, French plays, concerts, student-led projects, and infinite other experiences that make up their days at KCS, the Sesame portfolio will follow our students from PK to graduation. Upon leaving KCS, the content will be given to students to enjoy, and even use, in their lives after KCS. As universities and employers increasingly express interest in seeing portfolios, Sesame will be ready with students’ stories of leadership, responsible risks, creativity, persistence and more.

Portfolios aren’t new at KCS, and e-portfolios aren’t new in the profession. Sesame, all it offers, and how we’re using it, however, is quite new. We’re always striving to do better. Nine times over, Sesame is one exciting example of how.

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.