Teacher, Ralph McCall School – When I started out the journey developing Connections as an idea in the Rocky View Schools Fellowships, the aim was always to engage students in meaningful learning experiences. Inspired by the great work already occurring in Rocky View, such as the WILD program or Building Futures for older ages, our idea was how can we engage younger students in similar ways. Working with administrators and Rocky View’s learning specialist team, we came up with with our idea for Connections.
At it’s heart, the intention of Connections is to inspire students to make social, emotional, physical and intellectual connections with their learning. At the beginning of the year we spoke about how making a connection in their brain, their memory, is a lasting thing. Positive or negative connections are lasting – therefore engaging in meaningful learning opportunities is an important way to ensure kids love coming to school everyday.
The idea itself went through growing pains, or an “identity crisis” – often described as a class that learns outside, I always felt it was and should be more than that. The students should be challenged to learn about the world in a hands-on way that utilizes experts and has a meaningful and lasting impact. From here, the path and the partnerships needed became much clearer. First, was the idea of using the community to improve engagement in the grade 4 curriculum. Then came the barriers to this and ideas to overcome them. Thus a partnership was born with Airdrie Transit, which has provided us affordable transportation to different places in Airdrie.
Suddenly opportunities to visit places opened up. Students visited the Airdrie recycling depot, Nose Creek Museum, Plainsman Arena, Airdrie Public Library, Chinook Winds Park, Nose Creek Park, the Airdrie Cenotaph, and the Airdrie Echo.
With this, came opportunities to engage experts on topics related to our learning. In our sustainability project we learned how to plan for a sustainable community from the City of Airdrie. We learned about waste, learned about protecting our natural spaces with CPAWS, how to plan a garden that provides food through Green Calgary, how to improve water security with CAWST and we examined the food waste in our school. This project was later presented to City of Airdrie Environmental Committee.
Over the winter we connected with an app developer who was looking to try out using their app in schools. Part of this pilot project and study was to offer students an opportunity to dive deep into the Alberta curriculum and share it in a unique and living way. Students were proud this past week to showcase their Discovery Agent’s missions on Alberta and Airdrie history, located in Nose Creek Park, to other students and invited guests. Not only were students able to be the creators of these missions, but engaging them in the competitive aspect of the app and utilizing a natural, outdoor space provided great tools of engagement for students.
It wasn’t always easy: relying on public transit rather than chartered buses requires organizing around it’s schedule; relying on the interests of 9 and 10 year olds; and relying on the weather (as you can see, it can snow in April). Seeing students “showing off” their learning, showing an appreciation for public transit when we walked places instead of taking the bus or when the weather turned and even enjoying our community and remembering their experiences were key elements to finding success in our class.
Discovery Agents testing in April
At we reflect and begin to plan for next year, I can feel confident that students were given opportunities to develop into well rounded citizens, challenged and engaged physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally.
“[student] was eager to apply things that he had learned and even helped us to change some things we were doing in our home. He also became interested in public transit and learned about the C-Train and bus schedules while visiting [family] in Calgary.” – Parent Feedback
Superintendent of Schools – It is graduation season across RVS. An exciting time for grads and their families. I have had the honour of attending three graduation ceremonies and have shared a brief message to the grads. All the other grads have had either an Associate Superintendent or an Area Director bring greetings. I thought I’d share my message to the grads with everyone via this week’s blog posting.
Welcome distinguished guests, parents, staff, friends and grads.
Let me start with my congratulations to the class of 2017. Maybe not for you but for your parents and guardians it is probably hard to believe you started school 13 years ago. You are the last grad class where the majority of you were actually born in the last millennium. Times flies! How about a quick trip down memory lane?
In Kindergarten, you might have gotten the Dancing Dora or RoboSapien for Christmas. Just after grade 3 you wanted to go see The Dark Knight at the theatre but got stuck having to see Kung Fu Panda or WallE because The Dark Knight was too scary – clearly life was not fair! Most of you were into music by grade 7. In late June 2012, the Billboard top song was Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. Sorry to the parents in the crowd but you weren’t cool then nor now if you could sing every word while chauffeuring the kids around. When you came to high school you rolled in probably with a hand-me-down iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 or if you were lucky you had a funky coloured iPhone 5c. You were probably an early adopter of Pinterest and Twitter while all of us old timers were still using Facebook And here we are. June 2017 and you have just reached one destination and hopefully are ready to embark on another journey.
Not to down play today or your graduation but this is just the start. The next bit of your life will be focused on where do you want to go? What do you want to try and experience? Well, that is up to you now. You get to pull out your phone and enter the next destination in Google Maps.
What is important is:
Make sure your charged up and have supplies and tools onboard so you are able to take on a wide variety of challenges along your route; It is time to gain some independence but don’t worry your AMA membership (a.k.a. your family) will be there if you get stuck; Understand that it is okay for your phone to tell you it is “recalculating” when you make a quick left turn and change courses; Have the courage to close the app and use your common sense to get to a destination; And even though you entered location X as your destination; if something really interesting is seen along the way it is okay to stop and check it out.
Now don’t get freaked out if you lose connectivity or if you don’t have the whole trip mapped out. It is important to understand that there are many ways to get from A to B. Just make sure you are moving forward toward your ultimate destination. Be smart because when the app tells you to keep driving straight and you see the cliff ahead … don’t think the device is smarter than you are. Keep your hands on the wheel, don’t forget that your Civic cannot actually fly.
Aspire to be the person: who has lots of travel stamps in your passport; who helps others take on adventures; who designs the latest mapping app; who helps those who get stuck; who builds the self-driving car; or who blogs about the journeys taken.
I do want to thank and recognize all of the staff here today that helped you get to this point. Your contributions getting the class of 2017 out onto the road is much appreciated.
Lastly, it’s all about you today but I encourage you to take the time this week to thank those who helped get you to this point on your journey. Say thanks to your parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, friends, teachers, bus drivers, secretaries and everyone who has helped along the way.
Superintendent of Schools – Late last week I swung out to Beiseker Community School for a visit and to view the new addition recently completed and opened. The addition is relatively small, but provides a common, large area connected to two existing classrooms. Sliding walls were added in between the existing classrooms and the new area. The addition is very bright and fresh and really changed the tone of that area. Students were milling about, working independently, while sitting in flexible pods in the larger common space. Other students were working on a high counter style work area with phones plugged into USB style wall outlets. A teacher was working in one corner and the students had access to him if needed. A wide variety of furniture was available in different heights and styles depending on student preference and comfort. Soft seating was intermixed with hard surfaces. Cubby chairs also were available in the larger space so that you could sink in and create a bit more isolated space if that works for you too. It was an example of how we are working hard to provide flexible learning environments to support learning.
The week before this visit, our Board spent time talking about two other school renovations, aimed at providing a more welcoming environment for the students, parents and community. It is amazing what changing an entrance or lunchroom can do to make a school more inviting, while providing a flexible, modern space. The physical change provides opportunities to revisit what goes on in that space, adjusts the flow, provides a space that facilitates collaboration, and builds pride in the school as it now includes features similar to what our brand-new schools contain.
The Board has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past year to support schools in updating furniture in primary classrooms. Libraries are being retrofitted to support the philosophy of Learning Commons. Schools are requesting and designing outdoor classroom spaces. Slides walling have been retrofitted into some older facilities. These are all examples of how we are looking at our spaces, furniture and equipment in an effort to best support learning.
In the end, it is not the walls or even modern furniture that makes the difference, but it is our RVS staff that leverage that space to make it great. RVS does an outstanding job maintaining all our facilities given the limited funds we have available. Our maintenance crew, building operators, and custodians are absolutely great. We are so lucky to have such great people supporting our physical plants. Even in our older spaces, small tweaks are constantly being made to provide the very best service we can.
Recently, I toured a former colleague I worked with from a BC school division around three of our sites. He was amazed by our facilities. He repeatedly commented on how well our facilities are designed to support learning. I must say I was pretty proud to be part of RVS after that tour!
Project Lead for Attendance Innovation Campaign – Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing more than 10 percent of school days in a year, represents one of the largest barriers to school success – one that a variety of school divisions and provinces across Canada are beginning to address in a targeted manner. It represents a significant issue and affects students as young as kindergarten and first grade, whose poor attendance hurts academic performance and sets a pattern for years to come. While we understand that parents can be powerful allies in preventing absenteeism, the power of family-school relationships are often overlooked.
In Alberta, it is estimated that over 151,000 students are impacted by school absenteeism and placed at significant risk of negative future outcomes, such as economic disadvantage, incarceration, and mental health challenges. According to an analysis of 2014-2015 attendance trends in Rocky View Schools, 22 percent of students could be described as chronically absent. To begin addressing this problem, Rocky View Schools launched a pilot initiative with matched financial support offered by an anonymous donor. The appropriately named, Attendance Innovation Campaign, had three main aims and intended to 1) educate communities as to the importance of attendance, 2) empower schools to utilize data to guide their practice, and 3) eliminate barriers to regular attendance in whatever manner they may appear. Beyond these three aims, the Campaign recognized the importance of family-school relationships and embraced growing research that showed how simple, low-cost strategies can reduce student absences and pave the way for academic success. In our four pilot schools, we asked teachers to do three things throughout the year
Make a positive in-person or phone connection, at the beginning of September, with the parents of students in their homeroom, or as otherwise indicated by their school administrators.
Reach out and perform a positive phone call, letter home, or email with parents of students in their assigned group on a monthly basis from October to June. This connection should describe how the student is doing or something positive they have observed.
Make a positive phone connection, at the end of each month, with the parents of students in their assigned groups who were identified by school staff as missing a significant portion of school within a given month (e.g., 3-4 days). Please connect with the student as well if it is appropriate.
Through adopting the strategies listed above, the Attendance Innovation Campaign reduced chronic absenteeism within the identified schools from 10 percent to 1 percent in under one year of direct service. Rocky View Schools has committed to allowing elements of the Campaign to extend divisionally for the 2017-2018 school year.
For more information about the Attendance Innovation Campaign, please visit:
Superintendent of Schools – After repeated check-ins over the long weekend, at 8:15 on Monday night my youngest son pulls out his backpack and finds some math homework that needs to be completed. Sound familiar? After a moment or two of panic, followed by some sage parental advice, it was time to get it done. In an effort to try and help get him to bed at a reasonable time, I pulled up beside him and watched him tackle his homework.
The homework was a series of questions about division – three and four digit numbers divided by a single digit number. He was quite good; I was impressed that he could solve most of the questions and explain the strategy being utilized. He had the majority of the homework completed in class, but identified about three or four questions that he had questions about because they just did not seem right. We tackled one of those together and then he was able to complete all the remaining questions.
I thought we were finished, but then he flipped the page and I saw there were MORE questions on the back. He was not sure if he needed to do them as they were listed as advanced. I read them and grimaced as they were quite a bit more challenging than the earlier problems. These problems were provided to challenge some students to extend and apply their learning. I’m not sure if it was to delay going to bed when he said he would like to try a few. He persevered to solve the first couple of questions, then the next question stumped him. I told him that is okay and that we’d think about it some more and then see if we can develop a plan to tackle that question on another night. I liked that he wanted to solve the question and we’ll see when I get home tonight if he has any ideas on how to tackle the question.
Anyway, in the end my takeaways are: while trying to teach independence to your child is important, for your own sanity, be physically present when your kids check for homework prior to 8:15 pm on the Monday night of a long weekend; doing homework with your kid can be fun; and having the resilience to tackle a problem that does not come easy is a good life skill.