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.

Learn, Adapt, Launch, Repeat – Design Thinking at KCS Part 2

Design thinking came to KCS with the launch of our new student leadership group KCS By Design (KBD). While there has been significant student leadership at KCS for years, never before have we had such a powerful means for senior students to work with staff in driving innovation.

The KBD group has chosen to focus on helping KCS better enable differentiated learning. Discussing how to make that happen, it became apparent that we needed to carve out time for students to engage in learning that is designed both by them and for them. The easiest way to find that time was in our electives program. Available for students in grades 6 to 8, this time is dedicated to “Learning for the Love of It”. Perfect.

Inspired by our KBD discussions, Mrs. Drummond and I added an elective called “Go Ahead: Lead Your Learning” to the already enticing list of learning opportunities for senior students. Our elective description went like this:

Do you wish you could control how and what you learn at school? Do you have big ideas, and wish you had the time, tools and support to pursue them? Is there something you’d love to build/create/invent/compose/investigate that you can’t do at home or school (yet)? In this elective, you can go ahead. Involved faculty will support, encourage, and look for experts/resources/tools/trips to help. Go ahead, surprise us, and yourself!

To our delight, eleven students signed up. Five students want to write a book. Three are keen on an art project, though they’re also considering writing or possibly app creation. One wants to build a high-powered rocket from scratch. Another is keen to build a motorised aircraft. The final wants to build a motorised go-kart. Adapting the design-thinking process to fit our endeavour, here is what we’re calling their ‘Game Plan’:

    1. Inspiration Phase
      1. What do you think you want to create?
      2. Find related sources of inspiration and look through many possible examples before deciding what you specifically want to make
      3. If your idea is FOR others, understand their needs and wishes. Speak with others. Record their answers via writing or video.
      4. Do a visual sketch or general plan of what you aim to create
    2. Why do you want to create it?
      1. What values/adjectives do you want associated with your final product? Have an idea you believe in and are inspired by.
      2. For what purpose (play, use, learn, decoration, gift, just because)
      3. For what audience (self, friends, siblings, family, school showcase)
      4. Know what your questions are
    3. Prototype or Storyboard
      1. How will you prototype your idea?
      2. Will your prototype answer your questions?
      3. What do you need for the prototype?
        1. Materials
        2. Expertise
        3. Location
      4. What are you learning from the prototype? Any new questions to answer? (Be curious, open-minded and prepared to start again if the evidence says you should!)
    4. Go Ahead

At each step, our students will create a video log, or ‘vlog’, on our new Sesame electronic portfolio. Before they rush ahead, they have to reflect deeply on their plan, and articulate their thinking each step of the way.

To introduce the elective to our students, we showed them the video “Do You Dare to Dream?” Among other things, it introduced students to the concept of a ‘comfort zone’, where we immerse ourselves in what’s familiar; the ‘learning zone’, for those who embrace learning of all kinds; and the ‘panic zone’, for those willing to go out on a limb to pursue the unknown. Writing books? App creation? Art, rockets, electronics and motorized vehicles? The ‘panic zone’ may be speaking to me more than our students. This couldn’t be more beyond my routine, and more exciting.

Design thinking, reaching out to our faculty and parent community for expertise, and faith in our students are all I need to allay my fears. Our students have embraced the opportunity. There will be lots of learning for us all. We’ll adapt. They’ll launch their Go Ahead projects. If all goes well, we’ll keep repeating our use of design thinking to make KCS the best it can be. Let’s see where this journey goes.

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

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.

Shrek Jr. By Numbers

  • 3 unforgettable shows
  • 36 cast members
  • 73 members in the grade 1-3 choir
  • 27 members in chorus
  • 8 members in the dance troupe
  • 28 members in Tech Crew
  • 1 Student Costume Intern
  • 4 directors
  • 60 staff and parent volunteers

plus…

  • Professional musicians and theatre crew
  • Donations and additional contributions by many others
  • Collectively thousands of hours by over 200 people

The quality of the KCS 2016 musical, Shrek Jr. was undeniable. The acting, singing, dancing, stage, costumes and music were a feast for the ears and eyes. From where I sat supervising the choir Friday night, I had an extra special opportunity to watch the delight on faces in the audience.  I was also treated with the view of chorus members mouthing every word in the musical, they had memorised each part so thoroughly. The previous night I watched from the audience and it was my face among the delighted.

As if that wasn’t enough, the sheer number of people involved, who invested countless hours and their full array of talents, left me equally impressed. It’s not unusual to have special things happen at KCS. This year’s musical takes special to an astounding level.

The curtains are now drawn and the cast party is over. Many of us continue to hum the songs from Shrek Jr., and the inspiration among young students to follow the lead of older cast members will linger. Not much else remains, however, except for one heartfelt thank you from the audience to all who brought the story, song and experience of Shrek Jr. to KCS.

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

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

A Wonderful (Reading) Thing

Kids dash across the playground to update Ms. Pollett-Boyle on their progress. Since I’m the lucky one to distribute certificates when students complete a level, I’m swarmed daily with messages of “I’m done Level 5!” or “I’m now travelling in Egypt!” or the rather direct “Where’s my certificate?” The first week after Christmas holidays I heard more about levels achieved over the break than about presents under the tree.

Lexia at KCSLast year we piloted a new online reading program called Lexia Core 5. It is offered as a supplement that students can use at school and at home, even on holiday if they so choose. It’s an adaptive program that helps develop core reading skills at the level and pace that’s individualized to be just right for every student. It includes re-teaching after mistakes, compelling graphics, and enticing little interludes, all designed to support, motivate, and optimize learning. The pilot was an evident success. One family was so impressed they generously offered to purchase a 3 year school-wide license. Each week, between 40 and 105 young students log on to accelerate their reading skills. — A heartfelt thank you to this family!

It’s wonderful to watch students learn. It’s not always adrenaline-fueled. The pace can be slow. On skills that are difficult, the school includes a fair amount of push and pull on the teachers’ part. So imagine the pleasure watching dozens of students driven to read (even learning the boring stuff like ‘dipthongs’ and other pesky vowel rules!).

Full disclosure, some runaway enthusiasm has led to excessive competition. That was a topic for a recent class meeting, and one more worthwhile lesson thanks to this powerful tool.

Lots of wonderful things happen at KCS and we’ve written about many of them already – the proof is in our blogs. Children swarming me with their achievement in reading? This certainly counts as one more.

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

An Inspired Lunch Hour with Random Acts of Learning

Every Friday at lunch recess, Mme Smith and I host Random Acts of Learning (RAOL) in the KCS Library. It’s a drop-in for any students from grade 2 and up to do, well, random acts of learning. Here’s what happened during last Friday’s lunch hour when 47 students came to RAOL:

  • Three students from grades 5 and 6 met to talk about a leadership project supporting Syrian refugees
  • One brought his Arduino kit to build a machine for his grade 7 service learning project
  • Two others worked on their littleBits ‘keytar’ (their own musical synthesizer)
  • A few others worked on the video games they’re creating themselves
  • Multiple others worked on their own independent projects, just because they want to learn more about something; this will culminate in a class presentation (Habit: Share What You Know)
  • Others are working on writing books, a few of whom are writing to submit a French book in a national contest
  • The newspaper club came to work on their upcoming edition
  • Some older students chose to study for exams
  • Many others just wanted more time to read

That was my lunch hour. How inspiring was yours?

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

Haircut, Anyone?

We knew we were in for a treat when PK, JK and SK students joined KCS three years ago. But we didn’t expect manicures, facials and haircuts!

Anyone walking down our Senior Kindergarten hallway last week will have doubtless noticed the many signs advertising these services and more, for a price, by our SK students. No, this is not a mandated unit of study. Much better, it’s what an enterprising and imaginative young group decided to make happen.

From what I’ve seen, these young entrepreneurs are working on establishing about a dozen of our KCS Habits – habits that will set them apart wherever their future takes them. Their writing and counting are also getting emotion-driven practice. Positive emotions are booster fuel for learning.

Thanks to our faculty’s efforts with Project-Based Learning and their readiness to support student initiative, the whole KCS community benefits from dozens of student projects equally delightful. But this is the first where I can also get all fancied up for the holiday season. Thank you SKs!

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