Starting 2022 at the KCS Junior School

Happy new year! It was a big first week back full of new and exciting things – of course, being online presents its own set of new opportunities and experiences. 

It’s in times like these when the Habits of Mind, Body and Action become so important in our work, play, and interactions with each other. 

Despite not being able to be together in the school in person, activities resumed in each class swiftly last Wednesday online. While there is much to cover and many plans ready to be rolled out, I’m glad that students were able to take the time to reconnect with each other in their first Meets of the year. I know that we were all excited to see everyone again and to see what teachers had planned for the day. 

For many of us, this switch to online learning has become more familiar over the past couple of years, but for others, it is a brand new experience. It takes time to establish new routines and to learn how to mute, unmute, and listen, and be patient online. Persist and it will come together. I must thank each student, parent, and of course all faculty and staff for adjusting to online instruction this week with such a positive mindset. 

The beginning of the new year is a great time to set some goals and it will come as no surprise that this was a focus of some class discussions. The story Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution provided a discussion point for the SKs – if you are looking for a resolution, you might be inspired to follow Squirrel’s lead and resolve to be kind to someone each day.  

And a class discussion in Grade 1 prompted some writing about goals for 2022 and some reflections on favourite parts of 2021. Students thought about some positive changes they would like to promise to themselves in the upcoming year. What are some things that you want to get better at? What are some things that you may want to learn how to do? 

Students have begun their math and science lessons as well. In Grade 2, students have begun to explore states of matter, and there has been lots of activity on Google Classroom regarding math practice and homework across the grades.  

Our intermediate students have begun to focus on Black History Month. They have also engaged in a lesson to help them think critically about the role technology plays in developing countries. In Language Arts, a project on song analysis will call on students to focus their attention on identifying poetic devices in song lyrics and identifying tone, mood, and theme.

Virtual clubs also began last week! I have the opportunity to lead a Makerspace club on Wednesday afternoons with a great group of Grade 7 and 8 students. As a starting point, we began with a discussion about inspiration. What are you passionate about? What inspires you to want to explore your passions further? Lucky for these students, the club time is dedicated to exploring their passions, deciding on how to act on them, and sharing them with others.

A special shout out goes to the Grade 6s –  Happy Favourite Mug Funky Friday! What a fun class event to end the first week back.

While we all look forward to being back in the building together soon, I want to encourage everyone to keep trying their best each day as you always do. Remember to reach out for help, ask questions, and persist. Whether we are at the school, or at home, keep trying your best. 

HELP US SAVE THE KCS BIRDS

(One Sticker at a Time)

In October the SK Usagi class discovered an unexpected, unfortunate surprise in the outdoor playground- we found a small bird laying motionless on the ground. After Mister C removed the bird, some of the SKs shared their ideas about what might have happened:

“Maybe it fell.”
“Maybe disease.”-MS
“Maybe it bumped its head!”-FE

We could only make guesses, but since the bird was on the ground near a window, the SKs all quickly agreed that it must have indeed bumped its head on one of the windows above. We then wondered why.

Discovering a bird in the Outdoor Classroom

Back in the classroom, the SKs conducted a science experiment using a flashlight and the plexiglass dividers at our lunch tables. We noticed that while you can see through them and the light shines through just like a window, you can also see an image on the surface called a reflection. Windows can act just like mirrors! 

Can you spot the illuminated mask reflected in the plexiglass?

We then had an extended workshop about light, and we started to learn some science vocabulary including: reflective, transparent, translucent, and opaque.

Shining a flashlight through different objects then recording our observations on a chart

Mister C added some tools in our learning centres so that we can continue to experiment with light during play. We are scientists, after all! In each centre we have flashlights and a variety of materials that are reflective, transparent, translucent, and opaque. We even have some charts to record our observations.

Shining a flashlight through some colourful transparent connectors

Using a flashlight to examine an opaque object in the classroom

Using a chart to record our findings and to copy the scientific vocabulary words

When we went back outside to play, we examined the windows and discovered that they have a strong reflection, so we wondered if the bird might have mistaken a window for the sky.

“I can see the sky there! They still don’t know it’s a window!” -LH
“If the bird doesn’t know if it’s the sky because it’s the reflection then it will just bang itself on there.” -AB

Looking up at the windows to see the reflection of the sky

We shared our thoughts about solving the problem for other birds in the future:

“We need the birds to protect theyselves.” -OB
“Make them don’t bump into the window.” -LH

Mister C shared that sometimes people put stickers called decals on their windows to interrupt the reflection and help the birds to see that there is actually glass there that they should avoid. The SKs unanimously decided that they wanted to help the birds at KCS by making some window decals of their own! 

To make our decals, first we each chose our favourite kind of bird. Then, we traced an outline of the bird on a clear acetate using a photograph underneath.

Carefully tracing an outline of an eagle

We then painted a thick coat using a solution of white glue and dish soap.

Painting on the first layer of the special solution

When our artwork was dry, we coloured our birds with permanent markers.

We had the choice of using the bird’s true-to-life colours or coming up with our own

Finally, we peeled our designs away from the acetate. We were each left with a beautiful window decal of our own!

The stunning and unique finished products

When everything was finished, we placed our decals up on the windows overlooking our outdoor classroom. Gorgeous! We hope that this will help the birds to avoid bumping their heads in the future.

We used a bit of water to help the decals stick as we gently pressed them to the windows

We had to press them very carefully, but thanks to the dish soap they stay slippery and easy to adjust

When we finished our project, we noticed that there were still lots of windows left with no stickers. We talked about what we could do, and an SK suggested that other students could help.“We [don’t] need just our class to put stickers on, we need other class to put stickers!

“More, more, more!” -LK
“We can write a letter!” -AY

We are so proud of our bird decals, but we need your help

Now SK Usagi is calling out to you! If you would like to make your own decals, please check out the following website for a tutorial:  https://ny.audubon.org/conservation/how-create-window-decals-prevent-bird-collisions.

You can either add your finished decals to your own windows at home or you can bring them in to KCS so that we can add them to our windows here at school.

Our letter (To KCS: We need more stickers for the windows. We don’t want the birds to hit the windows. Will you please help us? Love, The SK Usagi Class)

If you choose to join our initiative, please bring your finished decal to your KCS Arrival door where a designated bin will be waiting!

Thank you in advance for joining us in helping to save the KCS birds one sticker at a time.

– Written by Mr.C

Place-Based Learning at the KCS Senior School

With the launch of the new KCS Senior School comes the opportunity to show what Place-Based Learning can be in the heart of Canada’s biggest city. Admittedly, Toronto is blessed with ample greenspaces, a wide variety of mixed-use neighbourhoods, and a population full of passionate community builders, artists, and changemakers. We are spoiled for inspiration and learning opportunities. This is all the more reason to launch a school that will connect student learning with such an enriched environment. Here’s how school can be.

Our year began last Thursday. After a walk along one of Toronto’s longest, mixed-use streets, our students spent the day in High Park: 399 acres of native flora and fauna, sports facilities, trails, and more. As befitting the first day, our students and faculty engaged in tone-setting dialogue and team-building challenges, all under the watchful gaze of a hawk who chose to spend the morning with us, even perching on a nearby tree when we stopped for lunch. In the afternoon, our students were introduced to the new responsibility they had as students in a place-based high school. They were paired up, given a scavenger hunt challenge, and a map with a wide range in which they could wander for the following 90 minutes to find the many items on their list. This was their introduction to the trust we had in them, and the trust they would want to maintain. All returned when expected, with the task complete. When told that offsite learning would be a regular part of the school experience, one student responded “I like that. That’s how I remember things.” Yes, we know.

Imagine what’s possible if learning were to regularly happen outside a classroom. Imagine what’s possible if learning included the sights, sounds, smells, artifacts, emotions, physical activity, and engagement with external experts that are available by stepping outside of school. This is intellectual and life-shaping enrichment that no textbook nor Google search can provide.

Our second day included two hours with an expert from High Park Nature Centre. Our guide began with the intriguing question: how does place hold time? We learned about the origin of the name Toronto (Tkaronto, where trees stand in the water) and the 5,000-year-old fishing weirs (those trees) created by the Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat nations that are still visible underwater north of Toronto. Our tour included an introduction to the white pine, also named the Tree of Peace, and the story of Hiawatha and peacemaking dating back 600 years. Another activity blended math and history by challenging the students to create a 30-foot timeline of local events, from the ice age to the 2010 resolution of The Toronto Purchase. We saw a decades-old photo of a sewer that stood 20 feet tall, which we erroneously guessed was a smokestack, before the ravine of Wendigo Creek at the northeast corner of the park was filled in to make for smooth road-building and community development. Those two hours introduced the students to the stories behind the neighbourhoods we inhabit. Those stories will support curiosity, humility, and an appreciation among our students for the role they can play in shaping their corner of the world for the better.

Learning immersed in our surroundings will continue beyond these first days. English class will include free writes that focus on characters and setting inspired by observations on walks such as these. French class will see students developing their vocabulary by commenting on their varied surroundings. Science is already planning a canoe trip on the nearby Humber River that will include an introduction to water sampling led by Swim Drink Fish, a charity committed to engaging citizens as active contributors to data collection and water quality oversight. All of these activities connect to the curriculum.

The theme that will weave through all grade 9 courses is “knowing our place”. Our collective effort as teachers will support deep insight into the nature, people, economy, challenges, history, accomplishments, and secrets of the streets and trails we’ll walk upon. Becoming intimately familiar with our small part of the world will set the stage for appreciating the depth and complexity of the unknown neighbourhoods around the globe.

Our students are regularly outside, they are active, they are learning in unforgettable ways, and they are growing as independent learners and leaders. This is the beginning of place-based learning at the KCS Senior School. This is the start of our story of what high school can be.

Recycling in Pre-Kindergarten

For our recent celebration of Earth Day, the Pre-Kindergarten students have been using recycled materials to build. Many of the children displayed an interest in space, so the PK teachers took this opportunity to practice teamwork in a fun and motivating way. In order to create a “rocket ship” and “a space station”, the class had to employ many of the KCS Habits. Building together alongside their engaged teachers developed their already emerging cooperation and collaboration skills. It began when the PKs themselves brought in recycled materials from home, providing a meaningful home-school connection, further enriching their collaboration experience. They were then able to brainstorm about what they would like to create – an activity requiring patience, listening skills, and the ability to take on another’s perspective. This is no small feat when you are three years old, but developing these skills in the realm of play makes for a safe learning space and only good ideas!

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After their structures were built, the children were given the opportunity to add paint, glitter and open ended art materials to their structure. The purpose of this was not only to make it look beautiful, but to add further meaning to something that the children worked on themselves. Engaging their senses and tactile experience, this step of the project also fostered focus, persistence and their individual sense of self within a group: a skill that will last them a life time.  The “rocket ship” and “space station” were completed, but the children carried the learning from that experience into their everyday play, by re-enacting the building process, singing about taking a trip to the moon, and turning their play dough into “a rocket ship”.  Recreating what they have seen, heard and learned, they are making meaning in their world.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Things You Should Know if You Go: Using QFT in the Grade 7 “Amazing Race”

Question and be CuriousThe Amazing Race is an integrated project in grade 7 which combines learning in geography, math, Language Arts, French, and physical education. It has become part of a culminating assessment project at the end of our school year. Project based learning, a teaching technique that allows students to work through a big question, happens at many grade levels in our school. In this case, the intermediate teachers worked together to develop an inquiry about travel and what it teaches us. Students conduct research about a particular country, and helps to inform their work on this project in all subject areas. For example, the information that they learn in geography helps inform the scripts they write for their French plays. It culminates in a race around the school to solve challenges related to their learning. We used the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to determine research questions.

The observations that struck me most about using the technique were:

  • Students came up with questions related to our learning this year in geography, and then some! There were more interesting conversations about what they could find out about the country than if I had assigned the questions.
  • Students really appreciate voice and choice at this age, and they felt that they could contribute their ideas without being judged; they also appreciated the ability to choose the questions that most appealed to them.
  • They were able to come up with thoughtful criteria for prioritizing the questions. I was impressed with their critical thinking at this stage.
  • They quickly learned to determine whether questions were open or closed, and tried ‘opening up’ some questions that they thought were worth exploring with more depth.
  • There was buy-in to the research that they were about to do. Since it was related to the Amazing Race, they knew that the research mattered. They were ready to jump right in and find answers to their questions.
  • Students were able to see subtopics emerge by grouping questions together.
  • There was very little ‘social loafing’. All students in the group were zoned in and came up with a long list of questions.
  • We noticed that some of the questions and subtopics related to the history themes we examined this year as well. The students noticed this before I did!

This was the first time I used QFT, but it won’t be the last. Thank you to The Right Question Institute for the guidance in a new technique that I needed to get my classes going. We’re now off and running in the Amazing Race.

Ms. Gaudet
Grade 7 Teacher and Citizenship Coordinator

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 1

HeadandArrowssmallEarlier this year I wrote about our debut with design thinking. For readers still unfamiliar with what that means, here’s my attempt to describe it:

Design thinking is a process that takes a group of people from ‘complex problem’ to ‘solution’ in ways that are exceptionally correlated with success. Design thinking deeply engages all stakeholders, requires them to empathise with all affected, and reins in the more typical ‘rush to conclusion’ so creative win-win thinking has time to emerge.

While the specifics can vary according to task and organisation, the method is clear and comprehensive. Thanks to Project 2051 at the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS) Leadership Institute last summer, I became acutely aware of its power and potential. Inspired, we have adopted design thinking, adapted it to meet our needs, and launched two new innovations that are rocking our world.

The earlier blog explained how we’ve established a new form of student leadership that allows all interested senior students and staff to work together to make KCS the best it can be. Here’s the design thinking process we’re following:

  1. What is the design challenge?
    1. What problems are you aware of that need fixing?
    2. What challenges are you aware of that are worth addressing?
    3. What opportunities have occurred to you that are worth pursuing?
  2. What do you need to know?
    1. Who is affected?
    2. What are their perspectives?
    3. What research can inform you?
    4. What can you learn from others’ experiences?
  3. What ideas address your design challenge?
    1. What can you think of?
    2. Which are win-win for all?
    3. Get feedback from a larger group
  4. Act
    1. Pilot at a small scale
    2. Reflect and iterate
    3. Expand to address the challenge

We started as a small but intrepid group. Since our November launch, the group has quadrupled in size. The design challenge we’ve chosen to pursue first, identified by a grade 7 student, is the following: “How do we better enable differentiated learning at KCS?” We’ve since conducted a survey with the grade 6 to 8 students to learn more about how they best learn. Later this month, we’ll be launching this year’s Student Voice topic so we can hear from all students about differentiated learning and how to improve it. The KCS by Design members are currently preparing frequency distribution graphs and PowerPoint slides so they can share their findings through presentations to faculty, senior students, and the whole school (separately), as well as through presentation boards in the foyer for parents. Finally, Mrs. Drummond and I have launched a new elective as a prototype that makes more differentiated learning possible at KCS. That exciting venture will be Part 2 in the story of “Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat”.

This is what all leadership should be built upon. Engaging, listening to, learning from, prototyping with, and informing the whole school community makes smart innovation possible. I can’t wait to see where this journey goes. The inspiration that began with Project 2051 energises every step of the way.

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

“Can We Start Reading Now?”

It’s a Friday afternoon in the KCS Library, shortly after the Silver Birch program has begun.  There are swarms of children racing to the library after school to sign out books…..Silver Birch books!  Some of these students already have a book checked out for the weekend, but are worried that they may finish it early and not have anything else to read the rest of the weekend.  “Could I borrow a second book, just in case?”  How can I say no to such enthusiasm for reading?

The OLA’s Forest of Reading® Programs have been a tradition at KCS for over ten years.  Passports and reflection sheets, sharing thoughts and opinions through blogging, author visits, house competitions, and impromptu discussions in the hallway and classrooms are all part of the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch and Red Maple programs.  And like all traditions, enthusiasm for the program is passed from sibling to sibling.  I am often asked, the first week of school, when will it start this year?

I just love the BookBuzz around the whole school! Some things I’ve overheard:

  • “Did you like Space Raiders?”
  • “I liked The Swallow: A Ghost Story better than I thought I would!”
  • “Are there any more books by David Skuy?”
  • “My goal was 10 books last year, but this year I’m going to try to finish all 20!”
  • Clover’s Luck is here!  I can’t wait to read it!”
  •  “I’ve read all the books!  What else can I read?”

Not surprisingly, this tradition is my favourite time of the year.  There is an increased enthusiasm for reading, and even the most reluctant of readers can be found sitting on a beanbag chair in the library with a book in their hands.  At KCS, we are continuing to grow our culture of students who read for the love of it.  And there are many additional benefits. As People for Education published in a report, “Students with a more positive attitude towards reading tend to be more successful in all subjects”. (Reading for Joy, 2011.)

The Forest of Reading Program – It’s the Super Bowl of Reading!

Judy Dunn-Hoggarth
Teacher Librarian

Where Was This Thirty Years Ago?

KCS_Where-Was-This-30-Years-AgoLast week, staff and students were asked to fill in a thought bubble about what mental health meant to them. After reading many of them, a flood of emotions and memories came to me as I have a brother who lives with a mental illness. Words like “brave” and “hero” put a smile on my face because that’s how I would describe my brother. These were not words I heard when I was a young girl dealing with this issue in my family.

People did not understand that my brother was sick. Maybe if he were in a wheelchair, people would have been more supportive. It is hard to understand something that you cannot see.

We have come so far with raising awareness and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, but we still need to continue with these conversations, not just on Bell Let’s Talk Day. Here, at KCS, teachers encourage these dialogues with their students to promote good mental health. As uncomfortable as it may be for some, we embrace it.

KCS instills in our students key habits such as Act with empathy, Do what is right, and Make the world better. These children will carry kindness and empathy towards others for the rest of their lives. It makes me hopeful that this next generation of students will do their part to end the stigma towards mental illness. This makes my heart happy and it made my brother’s heart also very happy when I told him about what our students were saying!

Lucy Rizzuto
Senior Kindergarten Teacher

Practising the Hard Part of Listening

soundOne of our Habits at KCS is Listen to Understand. Hearing comes easily for most of us. Listening requires a bit more effort but we usually try our best with that. It’s the ‘understand’ part that is trickiest. Some cool things are happening here with that Habit and they’re a reminder of why it matters.

Understanding means stepping out of our old opinions, assumptions, and even otherwise-justified practices to fully understand those of others. It requires another one of our Habits, Flexible Thinking. Cognitive science Daniel T. Willingham helps explain why that makes it so tricky. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School:  A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, Willingham explains that the brain, surprisingly, is not designed for thinking. That’s right. For all its smarts, it’s actually designed to avoid thinking. When listening, the unmotivated and undisciplined brain will work to hear what it wants to hear, or rapidly defeat what it finds contradictory and therefore too much trouble. Hmm. Does that sound like some conversations you’ve heard (or even had) before?

The KCS Habits are not just for students. Listening to our senior students recently, we introduced a modified timetable during the week of exams so grade 7 and 8 students had choice in how they spent their mornings: either in subject-specific extra help or an open-study session. Earlier this year, when our senior students asked for more independence, numerous other new practices based on student suggestions were introduced (some examples include: freedom to eat lunch with friends from the other class; grade 8s being allowed to eat lunch in the Student Lounge; Special Lunches for 7s and 8s in their corridor instead of Canada Hall; more choices for students who want to stay in to work during recess). Readers of “Stay Connected” are learning direct from the students about some of the changes they helped make happen. We listened and understood. The result has been a breath of fresh air for us all.

“Respect, manners and try your best” are school rules that we all strive to follow. Figuring out what’s best is tricky. Listen to Understand is the first big step. Students and faculty are showing they can take it from there.

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

Addressing the important question of “How do we keep our kids safe online?”

Stock Photo Child with Laptop

Join us for “Keeping Our Kids Safe Online” – Kingsway College School on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.

When organizing a panel for our February 9th KCS  Encouraging Dialogue Speakers Series, our committee kept hearing from families that they would like this year’s panel to address issues around social media and our children.

To start our search for speakers, we called KCS alumna Marianne B ‘01., whose work is with the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University.  Marianne’s expertise helped guide us in the right direction, and this year’s panel is a result of her leadership.

In our initial conference call, Marianne said something that really resonated with our group.  I’m paraphrasing now, but she said, “When I was in grade 5 at KCS, at the end of the day I went home, played with my toys, ate dinner, did my homework, maybe did some extra-curricular activities or spoke on the phone, and then went to bed.  I didn’t have a phone connected to the Internet, and I didn’t have a laptop or iPad in my room.”  And this was only a little over a ten years ago.

A short pause to think about how things have changed, and will continue to change for our children, leaves one amazed.

Marianne and her parents did not have to deal with cellphones, texting, Facebook’s Likes and Dislikes, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or cyberbullying.   Although we might not have appreciated it at the time, I’m sure a number of today’s parents would like to see a return to just having their children play with their toys after school.  But that’s not going to happen.  For today’s parents and their children the ‘online world’ is a big part of their everyday lives.  Given this, how can we help our children navigate their digital experiences and keep them safe online?

We are confident our Encouraging Dialogue panel will help families address this important question.  We look forward to seeing you at “Keeping Our Kids Safe Online” on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.

Derek Logan
Head of School