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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The Second School Rule – Manners

I love our Three School Rules, but I sometimes think we should just call them “The Three Rules.” Because they’re not only meant for students or kids – they’re meant for all of us. In my own life, I use them as a set of golden rules to help me navigate challenges, triumphs, and setbacks. In this series of three blog posts, I would like to reflect on what each rule means to me and our community, and the ways in which they can enrich our lives.

A few years ago I was on a class trip to Quebec with a group of Grade 7 students. At one point along the 401, our bus pulled over into one of those big rest stops so we could all grab a snack and visit the washrooms. As I watched our students enjoying their hot chocolates and donuts, one of the cleaning staff walked over to me.

“Are these your students?”

“Yes, they are,” I replied warily, preparing myself for what might come next.

“Well… I want you to know this is the best group of kids we’ve ever had here.”

He looked around at the KCS students, nodded approvingly, and then walked away. I looked back at our kids and realized that what I thought was typical behaviour was actually anything but. Our students were saying please and thank you to the staff, they were walking respectfully through the crowd, and they were even holding doors and giving up their chairs to families and seniors. To me, that kind of behaviour isn’t going above and beyond. It’s just the right thing to do. But it reminded me that not everyone feels that way.

Now, I think I’m getting close to the age where I’m allowed to start grumbling about how everything was better back in the “good old days”. However, I don’t really feel the need to grumble, because I believe that in most ways, the world keeps on getting better and better. Except for one thing – manners.

Good manners are getting rarer and rarer. Some people I’ve spoken to think this is because today manners are considered old-fashioned or unimportant. But I think the reason is actually pretty obvious. People don’t have good manners because we don’t go out of our way to teach the next generation good manners.

That’s one of the reasons why I think teaching our students manners is absolutely essential. Because we can’t expect them to just figure them out on their own. We have to model good manners, take the time to correct bad manners, and make it a priority to regularly go out of our way to teach simple social graces. And it’s worth remembering that we’re all part of that teaching team. Teachers model manners by the way they speak to each other in the halls. Parents model manners by the way they navigate the parking lot. I model manners by the way I greet students at the door. The kids are watching us, and they will copy what they see.

I know we’re doing a pretty good job. I know this because of what our visitors say to me when they come to KCS. Potential families visiting our open houses regularly comment on the fact that our students hold the doors for them. Special guests like our yoga instructors and Scientists in School tell me that they “hold lotteries” over who gets to come to our school because they love working with our polite students. Admissions Directors and other Heads of School always comment on our graduating students’ manners when our Grade 8s visit their open houses in the fall. Even the guy who makes my burger at Magoo’s tells me they love having KCS kids in their restaurant because our students clean up after themselves and treat their staff with respect!

In the end, while I love that other people think our students are great and well-behaved, that’s not really the point. The point is that our students go out in the world believing that the way they treat other people matter. That will help them find success and happiness, but more importantly, it will make them kinder and more compassionate people. And to me, graduating outstanding citizens with manners is the foundation of our school and what matters most to me.

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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.

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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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.

Visible Learning at KCS

How can we go one step further? And one step further again?

Educating almost 400 students is a job that’s never done. It starts, of course, with the people involved – the students, their parents, our faculty and staff – and an ongoing awareness of their needs. Then the Ministry curriculum is added to provide provincial context and expectations. Our Four Doors to Learning in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship then take us well beyond what the Ministry expects. As the foundation and guiding framework of our entire effort, our Habits of Mind, Body and Action ensure we develop our students to be lifelong learners, equipped to embrace any challenges they face. And so on.

Recent visitors to KCS have seen our most current effort to go one step further in promoting learning at KCS. Our “Visible Learning” exhibit showcases the wide array of learning underway at KCS from PK to grade 8. It includes both finished products and artifacts in process (where the important learning happens). It includes evidence of our Four Doors and all of our Habits. Uniquely, it also includes the Learning Stories of our students and faculty – stories of remarkable moments, challenges overcome, most thought-provoking experiences, and personal expressions of pride. These are the kinds of stories that are normally kept private. Now shared, our whole community is learning more than ever from the experiences of others in our midst.

What is some of the “further learning” stemming from this exhibit?

  1. KCS students learn lots of cool things in cool ways. For young students, there’s much to look forward to. For older students, there is hard-won pride in how far they’ve come.
  2. KCS students also do the hard work of learning the fundamentals (see how proud many are of their efforts and growth!).
  3. Challenges are normal. If you’re feeling alone in yours, know that others have faced and overcome them, just like you will.
  4. Process matters. The work that is imperfect, that needs revision, that has feedback on it, is worthy of display. Embrace the work and imperfection inherent in process.
  5. Teachers are proud of their students when they persist. There is no shame in struggle.
  6. Sharing is inspiring. By sharing your private learning story, and by having your work on display, you are inspiring others to think about it, find affirmation or challenge in it, and consider possibly following your lead. Maybe more students will choose to 3D print for a project? Maybe they’ll give book-writing a try with YAKCS? Maybe song composition for the KCS Sound Library? There are so many possibilities.

Thank you to all the students and faculty for helping make learning more visible at KCS. Your efforts are already inspiring. This exhibit takes that inspiration one step further.

The “Visible Learning at KCS” exhibit continues until Friday, November 24.