The World That We Design

Last week, we were treated to our annual spring concert – a wonderful showcase of our extracurricular bands and choirs. The arts do so much to make the world better. In fact, beyond the pleasure of listening to beautiful music, this concert included a message from our primary choir that struck a particular chord:

We can live in a world that we design.
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.
(“Million Dreams” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

Part of educating students (and raising children) is preparing them for the world they will eventually face, independent of us. Much of that world is what it is, for better or for worse (sigh). Of course, we’re getting them ready for that. But the world is also what we collectively make it. At KCS, we’re teaching our students how to design the world they face for the better. Here’s one recent responsible risk where we did just that.

In May, Ms. Hooper, Ms. Gaudet and I joined our grade 8s on a trip to the WE Global Learning Centre downtown. This was the culminating event of a year spent learning about human geography, including forces shaping the human experience and our relationship with the planet. Against a backdrop of global challenges, they also learned about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were where our grade 8 students would both demonstrate and leverage their learning for the better.

At the WE Centre, our grade 8s pitched social enterprises to experts from the WE community, enterprises that they created from scratch to help address one or more of the U.N. goals.

They created enterprises to help address illiteracy, pollution, access to clean water, gender equality, health and wellness, climate change, poverty, education, plus life below and above water. One enterprise, Hakuna Njaa (meaning ‘No hunger’ in Swahili), was a proposed restaurant that would allow hungry Torontonians to help fund food and nutrition programs in areas facing a food crisis. “At our restaurant, people won’t just be paying for food, they are paying to make a difference.” Their pitch wrapped up with:

“We’re hungry for change. You should be too.”

We don’t know if our grade 8s will go on to further pursue their social enterprise plans. Their time at KCS is soon over and our Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) won’t follow them to their high schools. What they will take with them, however, is something that will follow them wherever they go. Here’s how one parent described her son’s reflection on the day:

“Listening to [my son] describe how inspired he was to be at the office yesterday and how meaningful it made it for the kids to have the “experts in the field” vote on the projects…the whole experience from start to finish has absolutely made an impact and a difference already. It made [him] think more deeply for example about believing he could actually make a difference, which I feel is an enormously empowering thing for kids to feel in this era of knowing so much about problems that affect the world, and yet not feeling like they can always help…or make an impact.”

Part of preparing students for the future is preparing them to design it, and instilling the knowledge and confidence that they can. We’re heeding the message. Our students are dreaming. And it’s music to our ears.

(Note – This partnership with WE, including an introduction to social entrepreneurship, instruction in making a strong pitch, and expert feedback and judging through the day, was supported by the KCS StEP Fund, thanks to the generosity of KCS parents and 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala sponsors)

Building a strong foundation in grade 1

Grade 1 is an essential year for academics. It’s the year when students develop a set of core skills that lay the foundation for future success in the elementary grades.

Throughout their time in Grade 1, students are given direct instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, to ensure that they have a strong understanding of fundamental academic concepts. These lessons are supported by a number of daily routines that give the students opportunities to regularly practice their skills and solidify new concepts.

Reading is a huge priority in Grade 1. Every student participates in their own ability-leveled reading group for 50 minutes a day. For some students, this means a strong focus on phonics and decoding words, to help build their ability to read longer texts independently. For those needing more enriched work, this means more challenging books with a focus on comprehension, basic research skills, and responding to texts with detailed writing tasks.

The Grade 1 students also participate in weekly “writer’s workshops”, where they are taught the conventions of writing, ranging from spelling to grammar to punctuation. To build on those lessons, the students take part in daily journal writing. After they have written their journal, they work with a teacher to edit and correct their writing. This editing process not only reinforces key lessons, it also consistently raises the bar for each individual student’s writing.

When it comes to mathematics, our Grade 1 teachers blend hands-on exploration work with direct instruction in addition, subtraction, word problems, and place value. These lessons are supported by follow-up assignments that are designed to help students practice their basic facts and develop their problem-solving skills.

Any engineer will tell you that the strength of a structure depends on the strength of the foundation. In Grade 1 at KCS, we build the strongest foundation possible!

KCS Faculty are Lifelong Learners Too!

At KCS, we focus on developing lifelong learners. It makes sense that each year our faculty embrace new and challenging learning opportunities so that they can continue to support each student in this goal. With the goal of each student becoming lifelong learners, each faculty member is also actively involved in learning that is relevant not only to their teaching practice, but also their ongoing commitment to learning. Many teachers choose to take courses, read, share, and attend conferences to support their professional learning and their students’ needs. KCS’s commitment to lifelong learning is not only evident at the student level, but at the teacher level as well.

One particularly relevant professional learning experience is offered each year through CIS Ontario. Now in its seventh season, Cohort 21 brings CIS Ontario educators together for a year-long professional learning opportunity. Working collaboratively with some of the most passionate educators in the province, participants share innovative ideas, connect with experts in the field, plan for change in their schools, and engage in Design Thinking workshops to help develop a focus of a personal project called an Action Plan.

As a veteran of Season 4 in 2014-2015, I can honestly say that my learning experiences through Cohort 21 played a role in my decision to continue to research learning for six more years. Having a good understanding of student learning, I wanted to better understand teacher learning, and of course as a lifelong learner I am still figuring it out. Since then, KCS has supported three more faculty members throughout their own Cohort 21 experience. Last year, Season 6 involved our grade 2 team. Lisa Woon ventured out to discover new technology and Keri Davis went on a ride through project based learning. This year, Bob Hayes is exploring how to solve the world’s greatest problem and I’m back as a coach, still learning about learning.

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Lifelong learners tend to be those who are well supported in their learning efforts and this is something that KCS models across the entire school community. We’ll never stop learning because we are supported in both our efforts and our passions. We know from experience that this is what drives us to learn along with our students and our students know from experience that no matter what we are along for the ride.

Science Club Helps to Save Monarch Butterflies

Traditionally, students of the first term Science is Fun club for grades 1 to 3 at KCS learn that monarch butterflies are a threatened species. They also learn that they can take action and create awareness by participating in a program called Symbolic Monarch Migration. This is a program promoting international cooperation for monarch conservation between Mexico, USA and Canada. Together eager KCS students turned a file folder into a large, beautiful, group butterfly, and they also made personalized, life-sized butterflies. These paper butterflies, along with pictures of our school and a message of cooperation, were all sent early October to coincide with the real monarch migration to the Oyamel Forests in Mexico. The first destination of our butterflies was Georgia, home of the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia who works in partnership with Journey North, which is a large citizen science program for educators and the general public. Two of the largest monarch sanctuaries, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua are in central Mexico and provide shelter for the many thousands of butterflies that hang in clusters from the trees during the winter season. These monarchs become sedentary and live off the fat stored in their bodies before migration. Why they migrate to these cool mountain forests where they can get knocked out of the trees by hail or snow is a mystery. Only the monarchs born in late summer make it to Mexico.

Estela Romero is a program coordinator in Mexico for Journey North. She receives the symbolic butterflies from Georgia and delivers them by car to schools around the sanctuaries. Our KCS butterflies were received recently by a student at a private elementary Catholic school called Colegio Corregidora which is near one of the protective forests. This student will take care of our package of butterflies until it is time for the monarchs to migrate north again and will prepare a letter thanking participating students for taking care of the monarchs after they leave the protection of the forests and promising to help preserve the vital Oyamel Forests for overwintering.

We will not get our own symbolic butterfly back. Instead, it will be sent to a participating school from either Canada or the USA, and we will receive an exchange butterfly from another school.  Each student will also receive their own small butterfly from somewhere across the three countries. That will happen in the spring to coincide with the migration north.

The wintering monarchs will make it to Texas in the spring where they will lay their eggs and die. It will take two more generations for the offspring to make it back to Canada. The latest reports say that the monarchs are hyperactive now and show signs of early migration due to an unusually mild winter in the mountains of Mexico. They are a month ahead of schedule. Roosting monarchs are actually counted and the good news is that the monarch count in Mexico has increased by 144% this year despite the declining numbers over the past several years. The bad news is that the monarchs overwintering in California have hit a record low count. As a side note, monarchs do not cross the Rocky Mountains, so there is an exclusive western population of monarchs.

Congratulations to our KCS students for helping to make a difference! We can all do our part by protecting and planting milkweed, the only host plant for the monarch caterpillars. Pollinator gardens are a boost for hungry butterflies, and KCS does a great job providing that element in our Learning Garden at the front entrance. Expect to see more monarchs greeting you this spring as you arrive at school and flitting around the community.

As a further note, this past summer I had the honour of raising a monarch from a tiny caterpillar, and it was indeed a very rewarding experience. I received the caterpillar from Carol Pasternak, author of How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids, who was putting on a workshop at Christie Pits. I was able to obtain a signed copy of her book for our KCS library for any family interested in pursuing this adventure over the summer. The book was an excellent guide to prepare you for the signs of impending metamorphosis, which could be easily and quietly missed.

I will be following up with the first term Science is Fun students when our exchange butterflies arrive sometime around early May. Take a responsible risk, plant some milkweed; the monarchs will come to you.

Sharon Freeman RECE

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Five Reasons Why Education and Entrepreneurship Belong Together

I’m new to the world of entrepreneurship. For most of my career, my passion for education left little room for interest in the business sector. While I respected business as a worthy passion of others, I saw no obvious reason why it belonged with mine.

But passions are funny – sometimes they take you to unexpected places. In my case, education took me to entrepreneurship, social and otherwise, and I won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Why do entrepreneurship and education belong together? Here are five reasons driving my newfound conviction:

  1. Mindset

Let’s be clear. I’m not saying everyone has to be an entrepreneur. Many good people are needed in professions, corporations, and public service. Many others commit themselves to political life, volunteer work, homemaking or other worthy pursuits. That said, everyone, whatever you do in life, benefits from the traits found in entrepreneurship. Habits such as embrace learning, think creatively, listen to understand, act with empathy, adapt, take responsible risks, and lead to make a difference bring interest and happiness to life, in addition to value. They should be inherently developed at school. Entrepreneurship is one powerful way to do so.

  1. Agency

Agency is a sense of control in one’s destiny. It includes the know-how, confidence and inclination to act so as to shape that destiny. It has been frequently observed that too much of education and growing up today includes an over-abundance of adults assuming control, telling kids what to do and how. Agency matters and its decline, some psychologists have argued, helps explain some of the decline in student mental wellness. School should intentionally carve out time where children and youth can take the reins, pursue responsible risks, and be in charge while challenged to make something good happen. Design thinking and Integrative thinking are processes students can use to exercise agency for meaningful impact. Like toddlers learning to walk, entrepreneurship will let them exercise agency, and see what they’re capable of making happen.

  1. Relevance

“Why do we need to learn this?” This student lament has reached cliché proportions and is still widely dismissed with the response that relevance will become evident when they’re older. Some of that is true, and pushing back on instant-gratification-run-amok has a place. Entrepreneurship, integrated where relevant to the subject at hand, lets students live the relevance of learning. At KCS, a group of grade 7 students completed a geography project by designing an environmentally responsible product for our school store. Through our StEP entrepreneurship program, they’ll be supported should they choose to launch this social enterprise. That’s relevant.

  1. Future-readiness

There’s no denying that disruption is underway in the work world. While many argue automation will create new jobs, there’s little doubt that it will also increasingly overtake any tasks that can be captured by an algorithm. That said, there remain many things automation will never do. RBC recently released Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption, emphasizing the need for humanity’s most fundamental traits. An entrepreneurial mindset, and the agency to exercise it, are uniquely available to humans and will be rewarded with opportunities that no technology can touch.

  1. Purpose

If you’ve found your purpose, you know how positive a force it is. While not all people would say they’ve found it, there’s no reason to think it’s reserved for the few. In fact, it’s easy to argue that we do too little to help all youth explore this part of themselves. What if education made time for children and youth to explore how they want to make a difference? What if education directly supported them in making that difference, and let them experience the setbacks, successes, and next steps that ensue? What if we graduated students who care to have a positive impact, who have experienced the rewards of doing so, and who have the capacity and agency to follow-through in their corner of the world? These would be graduates energized and intrinsically motivated with purpose.

Of course, there is much more that belongs in education beyond entrepreneurship. And there are examples of entrepreneurship that don’t reflect the values many of us wish to develop in youth. But where our aims meet is where education and entrepreneurship belong together. And where we can do better, we will. We can’t help it. That’s our entrepreneurial mindset at work.

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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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Five Things KCS is Thankful for in our 30th Year!

1) The one and only Ricardo – salter of icy sidewalks, handyman extraordinaire, and our foremost class clown!

2) Our alumni are now grown up enough to work here!

3) Foula’s big smile and bigger heart! Whether she’s looking after a sick student, helping a new family find their way around the school, or simply greeting everyone who walks through our doors, she does it all with a seemingly endless supply of happiness and joy.

4) Three additions, one amalgamation, lots of renovations, and (coming soon) a new park too!

5) The visionary and dedicated founders of KCS. Because if they hadn’t followed their dream thirty years ago, we wouldn’t get to be a part of this amazing school that they built for all of us. So from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!!!

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Grounded in Tradition, Driven by Innovation

“Although so much of KCS has changed, there is still so much that remains the same, and that’s one of the many things that makes this school so special.” – Laura, a KCS parent and alumna, reflecting on her children’s first day of school this September, thirty years after her own first day as a Grade 1 student at KCS.

Last weekend was KCS’s Welcome Back BBQ, an annual event we’ve been celebrating since the school began thirty years ago. In many ways, it wasn’t that different from our very first BBQ, held back when we were just a small school with only 50 students. Both of them featured hamburgers, hot dogs, sunshine, and (most importantly) families and friends joining together to celebrate the start of a new school year.

But this year’s BBQ wasn’t a total time capsule. Along with the classic traditions, the 2018 iteration also featured climbing walls, airbrushed tattoos, and kids showing off their best Fortnite dance moves. Because while traditions are important, you can’t let them completely define you. You have to be open to new ideas and innovations that build on a strong foundation laid by years of thoughtful traditions.

This holds true for everything at KCS, not just BBQs. For example, our academic program is built around a strong core of traditional direct instruction. Our youngest students learn the basics of reading though teacher-led small lessons on phonics and decoding. Older students are formally taught a wide range of study skills to help them find success in exams and tests. And students of all ages spend time practicing and memorizing core math facts that help them make complex computations more quickly and easily. In many ways, all of these would have felt very familiar to the students and teachers at our first BBQ.

However, we also know that tradition must be partnered with brave innovations and experimentation. It’s safe to say that nobody in the late eighties was talking about the importance of young students developing an entrepreneurship mindset, but that’s exactly what we’re doing with our new StEP initiative. Our innovative electives program encourages passion-driven learning and gives students the chance to explore their own big ideas. We’ve also got our students creating wearable technology with Arduino, writing code with Scratch, and learning the process of design thinking. All of these exciting programs go to show that thirty years into our story, we’re balancing traditional teaching and learning with a healthy dose of revolutionary ideas.

Some things – like hamburgers and hot dogs – will stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean you have to be bound by tradition. After all, a nice gluten-free bun and a side of quinoa salad can make that burger taste even better!

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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.