The Forces to Be Better: KCS Senior School Update #4

Our most recent update shared that the KCS Senior School model includes all the fundamentals. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.   As many of you know, we take the ‘responsible’ in ‘responsible risks’ very seriously. So why not stop there? Why not model ourselves as a great version of a wholly recognizable secondary school?

Future updates will explain the distinctive features of our model. Before those updates, it’s worth sharing why we felt the need to rethink certain aspects of the high school experience. It’s all rooted in our commitment to our three school rules, in particular our commitment to respecting our community and to trying our best.

Here are four forces shaping education and our Senior School model:

  1. Demands for deeper learning are coming from a growing number of voices. Traditional education was founded on the need for schools to impart knowledge and core skills. The world has changed a great deal in the intervening 150 years. While knowledge and skills continue to matter, students and the world they inhabit expect and require more. New teaching practices like project-based learning and place-based learning are spreading for their enhanced ability to not only teach the knowledge and skills students have always needed, but also for their ability to develop our Habits, most aligned with success after formal schooling.
  2. Increasing alignment of expectations among students, parents, post-secondary institutions, employers and our profession is providing unprecedented support for change. Global interdependence, climate change, and the growing digital economy have implications for everyone. The evident need to prepare for an increasingly complex future means that all stakeholder groups are calling for practices that develop students more thoroughly as skilled, creative, agile, action-oriented thinkers. RBC’s recent Future Skills Report “Humans Wanted: How Canadian Youth Can Thrive in the Age of Disruption” is a recent example of this call for change.
  3. Well-being is a growing area of focus because it’s a growing area of concern. Many studies, both local and international, have reported on the downward trend in youth mental health. The reasons behind the trend are multiple, and schools are increasingly reflecting on the roles they play in either exacerbating or potentially mitigating any factors.
  4. Pioneering schools are demonstrating that becoming better is both possible and sought by parents and students alike. The Senior School Task Force committed to researching dozens of such schools over the course of five months in 2018. High Tech High, Design 39 Campus, and The Downtown School (a new downtown campus for Lakeside School) are three of the many explored. The unique features of the proposed KCS Senior School are being leveraged to positive effect elsewhere. Our commitment to trying our best is compelling us to bring worthy features here.

Grant Lichtman, author, consultant and change-leader serving schools throughout North America, including KCS, has succinctly summarized four arguments for change within the profession:

  1. We must
  2. We want to
  3. We know better
  4. We can

At KCS, these four arguments have always driven our commitment to do better. They remain the arguments behind our senior school model. Our three school rules wouldn’t allow us to do anything less.

KCS Habits _ 2017 Redesign_crop

EIkesALWwAAxrA1

Ensuring the Fundamentals: KCS Senior School Update #3

To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners, By stewarding a learning environment that inspires us to reach our ultimate potential.

– The KCS Vision and Mission Statement

We take our mission seriously. The KCS Senior School will build upon the strong foundation of the current KCS program, providing the same commitment to developing lifelong learners and adding unparalleled opportunities for students to discover and realise their potential. We look forward to explaining the distinctive features we have in mind. But first, let me share all the fundamentals included in our model:

  1. Our facility will be mindfully designed to support learning, collaboration, and community-building. We are working with Oliver Beck, principal architect at Architecture Counsel, to help us choose a site that fits our vision and then design it to be a beautiful space meeting our needs. The chair of our senior campus committee, Greg Dunn, is a partner of the global architecture firm Adamson Associates. For those wondering about the quality of space we aspire to offer, we encourage you to visit their firms’ websites to see the kind of projects they represent.
  2. The Senior School syllabus will include all mandatory credits and a wide variety of elective credits for students who seek to pursue sciences, technology, the arts, humanities, business and more.
  3. Students will be challenged and inspired by exceptional teachers. The faculty will oversee and guide students, ensure safety, communicate with parents, and assess student learning for report card purposes. In addition, the presence of an Advisory teacher for each student, who will oversee their learning and success over their four years at school, will play a significant role in ensuring all the fundamentals are in place and serving students well.
  4. As in all schools, our senior students will gather at the school each day, and will have time in class that includes teacher-led instruction. There will be content they need to learn, and there will be quizzes, tests and exams in addition to assignments and projects. Like the current KCS junior school, the senior school will demonstrate that an optimal program benefits from a variety of strategies, chosen intentionally and with each student in mind.
  5. Students will also be taught in a distinctly impactful way so that their learning “sticks”, addressing a weakness long recognized in more traditional approaches to teaching and learning. Under teacher oversight, students will not only learn the core knowledge and skills required in each course, they will have enriched programs thanks to project-based learning, place-based learning, the engagement of external experts, and notable experience in applying their learning for actual impact.
  6. Our school will offer a variety of extra-curricular activities in academics, arts, athletics, and citizenship, led by teachers, students, and external experts, on and off-site.
  7. A sense of belonging, commitment to well-being, and the habit of community engagement, both within and beyond the site of our school, will be infused throughout the learning experience.

KCS has a long history of innovative practice. It also has a long history of being highly responsible. We’re proud of what those dispositions have helped us build in grades PK to 8. And we’re excited to show how they can make for a remarkable senior school.

Connecting KCS with the World

How do you connect elementary students with the world?

You rethink elementary school.

At least that’s how we’re doing it at KCS, and it has led to relationships with experts from an unlimited array of fields, many of whom with a global reach, including journalists, artists, social entrepreneurs, edtech developers, and many more. Rethinking school includes stepping outside our walls (literally and figuratively), welcoming external experts in, and seizing opportunities when they appear to enrich student learning. Here’s a current example.

KCS has recently partnered with engineering.com, a GTA-based business that shares a newsfeed for “the global community of engineering minds who make a difference” (modelling the KCS Habits!). How big is this community? The site enjoys 2.6 million unique visitors each month, and its social media following includes 1.4 million on Facebook and 44,000 on Twitter. Eight thousand have gone one step further to embrace their newest initiative, ProjectBoard, where they can share the problems they’re solving and get feedback in return.

How did we meet?

Part of my role as Head of Senior School is to notably increase our KCS community of learning partners – individuals and organisations who bring learning to our students, in ways beyond what field trips and guest speakers usually provide. A significant learning partner we established over a year ago is the Centre for Social Innovation, a multi-thousand strong community of entrepreneurs, agencies, and charities sharing coworking and co-learning space in Toronto, New York, and London, Ontario. Engineering.com, like KCS, is a member.

The problem-solvers engaging with ProjectBoard form a community where we believe students belong. KCS is now the first school to join this global network of engineers who are using the online platform. This beautiful tool allows our StEP and Makerspace students to share their creative work, engage in dialogue in our KCS “Makerchat”, and receive comments on their creative process. As a desirable feature, ProjectBoard also allows us to share our student initiatives with the global engineering.com community and through our social media.

KCS is an amazing place to be. The world outside KCS is also amazing. Rethinking school is bringing the two together. What follows, we’re finding, is the unlimited learning students deserve.

Knowing Our Place

“Wisdom sits in places.” – Apache proverb

Six years ago, KCS grew younger. In a fervent commitment to best teach our youngest learners, the teachers of our 3, 4 and 5-year-olds have created learning environments they consider the “third teacher”. Beautiful, nature-rich spaces both inside and out that inspire, provoke, engage, and support important learning.

At the same time, the rest of the school embraced similar principles of intentional classroom design. It started with comfy nooks, soft lighting, floor cushions, and wobbly stools. Then we began upgrading student chairs so they could support all kinds of positions and movement, and added desks tall enough for standing.

This summer, a transformation of our outdoor greenspace has yielded a striking play structure that all of our students from grades 1 to 8 can enjoy. It’s as delightful to the eye as it is inviting to the child in all of us. Complicated to navigate, students are using their minds and bodies at recess as they never have before.

And as we increasingly welcome and embrace external experts to help enrich student learning, the wisdom connected to our KCS space expands. It’s in fact, limitless.

We are committed to making KCS a limitless place. Wisdom is nurtured in the physical environment the KCS staff have created to convey respect, consideration, and confidence in our students. It is being developed when imagination and curiosity are inspired through invitations to question, lead, and pursue learning for the love of it. And it is found in a community that includes people from KCS and beyond, sharing experiences from their respective places with our students.

Knowing what matters includes knowing one’s place. Teaching what matters includes a place that is both right here and limitless. Designed with intention and limitless in reach, learning, and even wisdom, sit here.

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

IMG_1159

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.

Kindness in Kindergarten

Image

“Kindness is the language in which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” –Mark Twain

As I reflect on this past school year with my Senior Kindergarten class, one word comes to mind – kindness. In over 20 years teaching, I have never met a group of children who were so empathetic and accepting of one other. These children set such a good example to those around them through so many acts of kindness.

I can still vividly remember an incident when one of our students was upset and laying on the floor crying. On their own accord, two students laid down next to this child, patting her back to comfort her. It made me so proud to see them, without hesitation, go out of their way to help calm their friend.

Their kindness was contagious and it led to authentic writing activities in our SK class. They created Get Well cards for a classmate who had been ill. They also wrote messages and decorated Christmas cards for cancer patients at Sick Kids Hospital.

These children impressed me every day with the ways they lived and breathed our Habit “Make the world better”. If only SKs ruled the world, what a kinder world it would be!

FOR YEARBOOK SK1 - 6876964DSC_9637

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.