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.

Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

5-4-3-2-1… Senior Kindergarten Students Blast Off!

Whether we call it tinkering, primal makerspace, or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), the Senior Kindergarten classes recently had a ‘blast’ creating vehicles and tools for outer space. The SK teachers followed up on a growing interest in outer space with our students, provided and read space-related books to them, visited the Ontario Science Centre to learn about the Hubble Telescope, and supplied the beautiful junk needed to problem-solve and create.

Probably the most memorable and realistic resources were the YouTube videos of our very own Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, while living aboard the International Space Station. Both the students and teachers were stricken with awe while viewing the feats of daily living while operating in a zero-gravity environment. The curiosity of our students seemed focused on the challenges of personal hygiene, accompanied by frequent giggles and pleas to see more. They learned how to trim a moustache, shave a head, brush one’s teeth, use the bathroom, and take a bath in space. These necessary activities had to be done without contaminating the environment and instruments with escaping hairs, bubbles of water, body fluids and waste, and runaway accessories. Thank you Chris Hadfield for sharing your humorous and enlightening experiences.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was very rewarding to watch as the students worked diligently and with persistence on personal objects or cooperatively with their peers as they created amazing 3-dimensional structures: rocket ships, launch pads, rovers, little astronauts, spaceships to shuttle supplies, and even a space jail to hold aliens. The space stations featured health and hygiene solutions, of course, including bathrooms, sleep stations, storage tanks, an exercise room, and supplies in snack baggies adhered to the walls with Velcro dots. One student created a Canadarm and a team worked collaboratively to apply thermal tiles.

Overheard in class, “The best part is, the teachers aren’t even helping us!”

Students proudly shared their stories, and Senior Kindergarten teachers smiled with delight as they reflected on the priceless value of this inspiring adventure into space.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher

Busy Months of Making

Making happens when the ingredients of children, time, and ‘things-to-make-other-things-with’ are added together. Anyone who has seen what children can do with empty boxes knows this.

Thanks to our initiative to make KCS a Makerspace, and thanks to the generous support of our Annual Giving Fund, there is a lot of making at KCS these days.

Walking through the halls of KCS, there is a buzz of making in every corner. Here’s a small sample from the first few months of school:

  • The JK classes have a designated learning centre for making. The challenges change regularly, and the tools for making are varied but include generous donations from Mother Nature. The message is clear – just make!
  • The SK classes have had introductory woodworking classes in the outdoor classroom. They’ve used hammers, nails, screws and screwdrivers to make their own wooden creations.
  • The grade 3s have been busy making 3D cityscapes with recycled materials, applying their knowledge of structures, and adding generous amounts of imagination
  • Twenty students in grades 2 to 4 have enjoyed making their own videogames with Scratch under the guidance of Makerkids. Older students in the TechBlazers club are also making their own video games with Scratch and Gamestar Mechanic.
  • We have kicked off this year’s YAKCS program, and one student is well on his way to being a published author. Many others are working on it.
  • Our JKs and grade 6 students recently worked together to create their own videos under the direction of Director’s Cut.
  • One student, inspired by the littleBits in both the library and science lab, created his first invention. It’s a device that draws perfect circles, called “Draw the Circle Wide”. Many other students have combined littleBits with other odds-and-ends so their creations “do something”. The excitement at the limitless possibilities is palpable.
  • The Remembrance Day Club created deeply moving videos and dramatic performances for our ceremony on November 11th.
  • Some students in grade 6 have chosen to make exceptional videos on their culture of choice for their social studies project. As part of this project, all the grade 6s also composed music that reflected features of their chosen culture.
  • Hearing from their students about the littleBits in the library, various teachers have reached out to ask about how they can incorporate littleBits in their classroom. Two senior students are helping make that happen.
  • Several students in grades 6-8 took advantage of the invitation to create a 3D design according to certain specifications, using the online program Tinkercad.
  • Our Lego robotics team has been busy designing and programming their robot for the upcoming First Lego League Challenge.
  • Our art program has always had students making. Mme Clement’s new videos, which you can see on our social media or access via QR codes, showcase the making behind the final products you see around the school.
  • As of next week, some students will be creating robots using the Arduino microcontroller.

It has been a busy first three months on many fronts, as it should be. There has been a lot of what you should expect, including routine-setting, community-building, and instruction in all the usual subjects. There has also been a lot of what you might not expect. It accompanies an excitement that is wonderful to witness. KCS students have the time and ‘things-to-make-other-things-with’. And they’re busy making.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

 

“Make Something that Does Something” with littleBits

littleBits at Kingsway College SchoolParents at Curriculum Night could probably sense my excitement at bringing the Maker Movement to KCS. Now that the students are back, it’s time to get making.

This will be a marathon, not a sprint, but tinkering with electronics has already started for students visiting the library’s new Imagination Station. Students can borrow the littleBits Workshop set and readily start creating things that “do something”.

What might they want to make? These videos help tell the story of what others are making with littleBits, from the young and novice, to the older, more serious, make-it-yourselfers:

littleBits is an amazing new tool helping to bring electronics to the masses. I’m excited to see how this innovation in turn will inspire our students.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.