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.

Making a Difference – As an Entrepreneur

I received an email the week before Labour Day from a student who graduated last June. Subject line: Our tutoring business. That’s what happens when entrepreneurship takes root in your school.

It was a distinct pleasure to announce the launch of the KCS Student Entrepreneurship Program (StEP) at our annual Curriculum Night. Our pilot last spring was an evident success, not just for the students who embraced the opportunity but also for the contagion that hit a passion-driven group of grads who explained they spent all of one summer night together at a cottage hatching their business plan. Each going to different high schools, they wanted to find a way to stay tight-knit. When they landed on their idea of offering tutoring services for interested families at KCS, their passion was locked in.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its Learning 2030 report, declared the “students who are best prepared for the future are change agents.” The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report shared an estimate that 65% of today’s primary students will have jobs that don’t exist yet. Further evidence of the times a-changin’ was a story on CTV that announced the gig economy was substantial and growing in Canada. In this mix are multiple, global challenges looking each of us square in the eye. This is not what traditional schooling prepared us for. But it’s an opportunity for those equipped to be the informed, responsible change agents the world needs. The future is for the difference-makers, in whatever field and position they find themselves, in whatever capacities they choose.

The entrepreneurial mindset is already well established at KCS. The Habits of Mind, Body and Action that include the hallmark attributes of quality entrepreneurial pursuits have been our waymarkers for over eight years. Service learning, which is the intentional integration of curriculum and community service, has been part of KCS for 14 years. Authentic, ubiquitous student leadership, where students pursue their passions to make a difference (no election needed), has been part of our core offering almost as long. Now we’re adding an unparalleled opportunity for middle school students to become authentic entrepreneurs (social, not-for-profit, or for-profit). It includes structured guidance on the entrepreneurial path, the support of external experts from Future Design School, the challenge of pitching one’s plan to a panel of entrepreneurs, and the opportunity to earn mentorship from an established entrepreneur and even seed funding to get started. The KCS 30th Anniversary Diamond Gala on May 4, 2019, will raise funds to support this new dimension of KCS. And the generous involvement of entrepreneurs in our community will give successful students a uniquely inspiring learning opportunity on the life of a difference-maker.

The young have always been known to be dreamers. The fact is, we need them to remain dreamers. School needs to kindle those dreamers into meaningful change-makers, and KCS has always assumed that responsibility. With the addition of StEP to our many other offerings in student leadership, the height of our efforts to make dreams a reality match the height of the changing world students face, and the opportunities available to those ready to make them.

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.

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.

The Abilities They Have

“Instead of teaching children to get ‘there,’ why not let them be here? Where is ‘there’ anyway? The world needs more ‘here’ than ‘there’.” – Vince Gowmon

One grade 5 student stopped me in the hall early in the year, explaining she had some things to share. “I’ll walk you to your office,” she began. She explained she wanted to start an environment club for students in grades 1 to 4 (in the works). Oh, and she’s working on two novel series (yes, you read that right.)

You get what you give. What is evident is that we get to learn more about what students can do when we give them space to show us. Here are five inspiring ways we’re learning this lovely lesson at KCS:

  1. Projects have started in many grades and students are coming up with their research questions. Our grade 2 students, after following the Question Formulation Technique, came up with questions that no “grade two” resource can answer. The teachers are now planning to connect with a zoologist so the students’ questions can get the answers they deserve.
  2. Other grades have started their own entirely independent projects. Grade 5 students, for example, have dedicated time to pursue an area of learning chosen by them, with the sole expectation that they share it with their class. One girl recently shared a presentation on a special family celebration, Diwali, with her classmates. Another student is learning how to code. Yet another is organising a food drive.
  3. A boy approached my colleague to say he wanted to lead a project to create a school flag. He has put together his team and already received permission to pursue this from the Head of School (the minute he learned he needed approval, off he went, right to Mr. Logan).
  4. Our grade 7 and 8 students recently learned of their opportunity, through KCS By Design, to join faculty and administrators in making KCS “outstanding,” working side-by-side and following a design thinking process to make a wise and notable difference. There’s no election, no special status and no reward for this work, other than the intrinsic reward of making something better. Twenty-two students opted to join us at our kick-off design thinking workshop next month.
  5. A group of over 30 students from grades 3 to 8 attended our recent Young Authors of KCS (YAKCS) workshop with award-winning author Shane Peacock. This is a unique opportunity for students who so love to write that they’re willing to persist in writing a book. There is no time limit and successful young authors have typically (and understandably) required more than one year. Those who persist to complete a manuscript will have a one-to-one feedback session with Mr. Peacock, where he’ll give them revision tips “author to author.” Students who persist beyond that to create a final product will have it officially published by KCS. To date, KCS students have seven published books sitting in the National Library and Archives Canada.

I was interviewed last week by a grade 3 student for an upcoming Learning Exhibit. Among his questions, he asked what students do that make me proud. How could I explain? They make me proud with every effort they make to do their best, make that best better, share what they know, take risks, and make a difference. You’d be overwhelmed with pride too if you could see the abilities they have. Go ahead, give them space to show you.

Resolving to be better global citizens

Imagine a generation of young people working to create a better world. This is the invitation from High Resolves, a program that originated in Australia for grade 7-12 students about how to act as global citizens. This year, KCS became the first school outside of Australia to participate in this program! We were anticipating an affirmation of what we are doing at KCS in the area of active citizenship. We were not disappointed!

With funding from the KCS Pickard/Bulger Family Citizenship Fund, all grade 7 students participated in three workshops: Collective Identity, Independent Thinking, and Social Justice. In each of the sessions, our wonderful instructor and Canadian Program Director, Chantelle Kohn, captured our attention and expertly delivered the vital messages in a respectful, open-minded fashion. Students were initially curious, and even apprehensive about these new workshops, but very quickly they became engaged in these timely, interactive activities. Students were able to move around and engage in collaborative group challenges. This made the 2 hours workshops fly by! They learned about: attributes of global citizens, how to think critically about messages in the media, and how to work towards social justice. At the end of each session, students were encouraged to reflect on their learning and write “I Resolve” statements. These statements demonstrate how students plan to incorporate their learning into daily life as global citizens.

In addition, we welcomed over 25 teachers, administrators, parents, board members and social justice champions from across the GTA to KCS so that they could learn more about High Resolves. We shared our positive experiences with colleagues from other schools so that they too may participate in this program. It was an excellent time for all of the adults to discuss: social justice, student leadership, and how to inspire students to make a difference. Here are some of their insights from the students via an anonymous survey conducted after one of the sessions:

  • “I think that the workshop was an amazing learning opportunity for everyone in grade 7. I learned a ton and will keep putting that learning forward to help the earth and the people that live there. I have a feeling that I can make a change in the world.”
  • “The workshop was fun. The whole concept of the learning process really engaged me in the activities. The presentation was great and overall I learned a lot. Everything was also explained very thoroughly in a way that we could easily understand.”
  • “It was stimulating, and made you think. I enjoyed it!”
  • “The workshop was a life-changing and opinion-switching experience. The instructor/presenter was amazing and taught me and many of my peers about the world and how we can make it better.”

We took a responsible risk when we invited High Resolves to KCS, but we’re thrilled that we did! We are already looking forward to continuing our learning next year in grade 7 and expanding the program to grade 8! Thank you to Chantelle for the wonderful learning experiences and thank you to the Pickard/Bulger family for their continued support of citizenship education at KCS.

Shelley Gaudet
Citizenship Education Coordinator

“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.

Toy Hacking, Tinkering and Other Great Pastimes

GirlBuildsPCSmallRemember the nasty kid next door in the movie, Toy Story? It turns out he was on to something.

There’s something wonderful gaining steam throughout the world. It’s a marriage of the old and new, the practical and whimsical, small-scale pleasure and make-the-world-better possibility. It includes programmable clothing, ‘reconfigured’ toys, books that conduct electricity, and an experience in creation that truly has no bounds. It’s called the Maker Movement, it’s for ordinary folk ages 3 to 103, and it’s an exercise in learning that’s worth learning about.

While adult examples can be pretty sophisticated, here’s an example of how it can work with children. Let’s say a 10-year-old has a stuffed dog. It’s a fine toy and much loved. But let’s say that child has had the chance to play with microcontrollers, LED lights, and sensors. Maybe she’s been introduced to electronics and simple programming languages designed for neophytes of all ages. Maybe she’s witnessed others inventing weird and wonderful contraptions using everything from computer programming, 3D printing, sewing, woodworking, electronics and any number of strategically-chosen odds and ends. That 10-year-old might decide to write some code, set up a microcontroller with LEDs and sensors, upload the code, open up the dog, embed the hardware, stitch him up, and enjoy a dog whose eyes now light up when it’s ‘owner’ picks him up. How’s that for learning?

Thanks to the Maker Movement, this is happening. And we’re taking steps to make it happen at KCS. Anyone wanting to see this in action with children and youth is encouraged to check out MakerKids in West Toronto. To see “big kids” in the Maker Movement, you might want to visit the Toronto Mini Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library November 22nd and 23rd.

The Mini Maker Faire is in my calendar. And unleashing the Maker Movement at KCS is on my to-do list. Let the tinkering begin.

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

Full Steam Ahead

steam engineThe Learning Plan that captures our areas of focus this year has 17 items on it. Quite a few, yes, but they’re managed carefully, not all addressed at once, and all chosen because they matter. Some apply to all faculty, and some to just a couple. Some are ongoing every year, such as our focus on developing the Habits. Others represent a brand new initiative or a breakthrough step in a long-term project. This year’s list has no shortage of these.

Here’s a teaser of some exciting things in the works:

  1. January 21st is our first Town Hall on the new Senior Campus. Many people have been working hard on this initiative and we’re keen to start sharing updates. Our mission is to be a defining force in developing lifelong learners. Our Senior Campus will build on our track record for living this mission.
  2. Computer programming has been at KCS since the grade 7s first started creating robots a number of years ago. The addition of an extra-curricular First Lego League team and an elective last year gave interested students extra opportunity to learn programming (and their evident abilities helped them qualify for this year’s Provincial First Lego League Robotics Championship). The significance of the field, it’s opportunities for learning, and it’s increasingly accessible nature have made a compelling argument to provide more programming experience in elementary and secondary school. KCS has pursued an arrangement with RP4K, Real Programming 4 Kids, and we look forward to providing exciting new learning in this area as of this March. More details will follow.
  3. Our littlest learners are a big focus all year. Welcoming our new faculty, students and families in PK, JK and SK has been a priority in our Learning Plan this year. Among other initiatives with this special group, our JK and SK teachers, as well as our Learning Strategies teachers, are the recipients of our first fleet of iPads at KCS for use with their students, launched this month. Technology is an ongoing area of focus at KCS for the value it brings to learning. The launch of iPads brings this value to our kindergarten classes and enhances what we can do in our Learning Centre.

Many other learning projects are in the works. Those who know me know that I’m eager to share those too, but I’ll wait until I can provide more details closer to their launch.

I’m reminded daily how many good things our students manage to juggle and make happen. The least we can do for them is the same. That’s doing what’s right at KCS.

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

How the School Has Changed with 3-5 year olds in it

PKWe’ve now completed the first two weeks of the 2013/14 school year, and for the first time in KCS history, we now have classes in PK-SK.  Here are a half dozen observations I’ve made during the our first eight days together.

  1. There’s a lot more singing going on in the PK-SK classrooms than in other classrooms in the school.  I’ve witnessed the singing of instructions, singing goodbye at the end of the day, and singing about various topics the students are learning about.  I like it.  I’m considering mandating more singing by our grade 7 and 8 teachers.
  2. There’s even more energy in the school than before.  So many times over the years, I’ve heard from current and prospective families what a wonderful feeling they have when they enter KCS during a school day (and when you are a prospective family it is important to visit a school during the day; otherwise all you are doing is touring a building).  We’ve just taken that feeling to the next level.
  3. Uniforms look great on children at this age.  Over the past year, we’ve had many discussions about uniforms for our youngest students.  According to most moms that I’ve run into during the first few weeks of school, just for the cute factor alone, this was the right decision.
  4. Things take a lot more time.  I watched a class of 16 JK students come in from outside on the play structure, change their shoes, wash their hands and then line up to go back to their classroom.  It reminded me of the times during the summer when my children were the same age, and I was taking them to the park.  It always seemed to take forever to get Alyssa and Brandon ready and out the front door.  It seems to me that our PK-SK teachers possess a truckload of patience as well as some magical powers in order to do all four things in ten minutes.
  5. Days don’t get much better than when you start it with a handshake, a fist bump, a high five, or the occasional hug around your kneecap, from a three, four or five year old.
  6. Finally, it’s a lot harder to remember the names of 154 new students.  In the past we would have approximately 50 new students a year (the majority in grade 1) and I would try to know all their names in the first week.  This year, I’ve given myself until the end of September.  Let’s see how I do.

Derek Logan
Head of School