Girls in STEAM

Girls in STEAM

Technology Learning Specialist – On Nov. 23, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of 50 girls, their teachers and guests at the Girls in STEAM Day. STEAM is the integration of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts to stimulate inquiry, innovation and creativity.

The enthusiasm these young ladies had for learning, experimenting, failing and trying again was electric. The conference began with the girls creating name tags that represented them: who they were, their interests, and their aspirations for the future.

We then had the opportunity to listen to three outstanding RVS teachers (Jill Quirk, Jenn Hummel and Shauna Taves) and their students describe the ways they support girls in STEAM in their own schools. Students also discussed what STEAM meant and learned about the stereotypes and biases they may face in the future.

The rest of the day focused on hands-on activities: making Christmas cards with lights and circuits, doing science experiments that resulted in Christmas ornaments, learning about robotics and coding with Little Bits, Spheros, and EZ-robots, and creating a band with found instruments.

Why did we do this? We need to encourage girls, especially those between 11 and 15, to pursue their interest in science and math. Society is missing out on the diversity needed to stimulate innovation and creativity if we are not attracting girls to engineering, sciences and math.

In a study commissioned by Microsoft, Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics states, “Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls’ career choices away from STEM fields.”

“This means that governments, teachers and parents only have four or five years to nurture girls’ passion before they turn their backs on these areas, potentially for good,” states Microsoft. “When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems.”

“If the cure for cancer is in the mind of a junior high girl, the odds are that we’ll never find it.”
– Dr. Jenna Carpenter, Louisiana Tech University

Making Learning Meaningful

Making Learning Meaningful

Director of Schools – For generations, learners have been asking the questions, “Why do I need to know this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?” I am convinced that if we wish to engage our learners, we need to start by considering these age-old queries.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take several lessons related to some new software tools that I will need to become proficient with. The Office 365 modules included One-Note, Sway, Groups and SharePoint. Frankly, I admit that I was not prepared to delve into these new programs with zest and zeal. As you may surmise, I am quite comfortable using the tools that I have become familiar with.

I remember asking the instructor specific questions about how I may be able to use each of the programs for various facets of my work. Once I understood how these tools could be useful, I became much more interested in trying the programs and learning more about them. The importance of making real-life connections to the concepts being learned cannot be understated.

Simon Sinek, one of my favourite authors, states, “Start with why.” Essentially, his message is that people may be inspired to action if they understand the why. Similarly, learners solving real-world problems and learners who can make life connections to the outcomes they are studying will be far more engaged and will develop deeper, more thorough understandings than learners studying concepts that have little or no meaning for them. As educators, our challenge is to ensure that we make learning meaningful for each and every individual!

Add Another One to the List

Add Another One to the List

Superintendent of Schools – There are so many jobs I could not do. I am consistently impressed with the skills of others and after watching them for a bit, I start to wonder if I could pull off what they are doing. Upon reflection, I normally come to the conclusion that I probably could not. I don’t think I am really different from most because each of us has a unique set of skills and experiences that allow us to be successful at different things.

The latest job I realized I could not do is music/band teacher. I am, and was, a pretty good teacher, but I do not think I could be a music teacher. I honestly do not think I could do it. I was at two winter concerts this past week and while I was impressed by the student performances, it was the two teachers who gained the majority of my attention. They were so generous and positive with their young performers. They beamed with excitement. They were so encouraging with their students, who had only begun playing that instrument two months before. Every so often, I could see the teachers in that “flow” state described by author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The work appeared effortless; they seemed lost in the moment. Yet through the movement of the baton, the encouraging prompting, or the rise of an eyebrow, they supported the young musicians. I saw pride in the teacher as a youngster hit the note that they had been struggling with. When the teacher put their arm around the struggling soloist, I saw care, support and encouragement for the young risk taker. It was a lot more than just a winter concert!

So, add music teacher to the list of yet another job I could not do. For all of you who are music teachers (including my niece who is going to school to be one), kudos to you. Thanks for all that you do!


The Need for Balance

The Need for Balance

“Focused” (high content wolf-dog) taken at Yamnuska Wolf-Dog Sanctuary, October 2017. Photo: Sharon Rhodes.

Director of Schools – As an educator, I have always believed in the concept of “lifelong learning” and have, throughout my career, challenged myself to continue to learn and improve. Over the past couple of years, I have taken a keen interest in taking good photographs, so as an educator, it seemed only fitting that I take some courses in photography to improve my skill. Now, don’t get me wrong; I never signed up to become the next Ansel Adams. I just want my photos to look like what I see so I don’t have to explain what the fuzzy blob in the centre of the picture is!

As the student, being an educator gives you a very different perspective on learning. I find that I am often assessing the lesson plan, or the assignments, or even the final assessment. I hold it up to what I know and value as an educator and measure it against the standards that we have set as a division.

In some of the courses I have taken, the instructor has inspired me and really allowed me to tap into my passion. The course has been designed in such a way that there is a mix of information and hands-on experiential learning, and it provides for personalization. For example, I was excited to be out in the mountains at sunrise on a Saturday to get the “perfect” shot at daybreak. Or tromping around at daybreak in the bush in thigh-deep snow to possibly get a picture of a bull moose! Seriously… on a Saturday. And I hate getting up early on the weekend!

“The Three Bears” taken at Churchill, MB, November 2016. Photo: Sharon Rhodes.

A few courses were less than engaging. One course had mostly lecture and little hands-on. In another, learning the Photoshop program (I use “learning” loosely here), the instructor presented the information in rapid-fire format, jumping from one concept to another so quickly that there was barely time to blink to re-hydrate my eyes! Needless to say, I didn’t learn a whole lot. Thank goodness for manuals and YouTube videos!

My point is that, for a student (any student), we really need to present information in a balanced, engaging way – offering as many hand-on opportunities as possible to reinforce the learning and allowing the student to present their learning in a personalized way that ignites the passion of the learning. I don’t remember much about the Photoshop course and often consult other resources to get me through. Yet I still get extremely excited about planning my Saturdays and getting up before the sunrise to get photos of the next “thing” on my list!


Digging into Our Results

Digging into Our Results

Superintendent of Schools – This week we will present our proposed Annual Education Results Report (AERR) to the Board. I blogged about this earlier this fall, but now we’ve laid out the various survey results, achievement measures, transition data, drop-out rates, and information from our audited financial statement and capital plans, into an incredibly ‘readable’ format to share our story about the 2016/17 school year.

It is important to remember that the jurisdictional results are the compilation of all the individual school results. Over the fall, schools have been looking at their specific school results as a staff and with parent council. Principals build a School Annual Results Report as a summary document, which highlights their accomplishments related to our three divisional goals (Learners are Successful; Learners are Engaged; and Learners are Supported), priority areas for future school education plans, and their specific school results on both the provincial measures and RVS’ satisfaction survey.

In RVS we have many reasons to be proud. Specific accomplishments we are highlighting this year in our AERR include:

  • Increased satisfaction about the efforts we are making to build foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
  • Maintenance of an incredibly low drop-out rate and very strong high school completion rates.
  • Provision of safe and caring schools where people believe they are receiving a high quality of education.
  • Our stakeholders noting that we are focused on continuous improvement.
  • Our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students performing significantly higher than their provincial First Nations, Métis and Inuit peers on many academic measures.
  • Putting supports in place to increase students’ regular attendance.
  • Utilization of inquiry and project-based learning along with balanced assessment practices.
  • Learners taking ownership for their learning.

While we have much to be proud of, we must address those items where our results are not where we want them to be. All of these challenges will take time and effort to address and we do not believe that we can resolve them in one year. Specific areas for improvement identified in our AERR include:

  • Math performance from K through 12.
  • Providing students voice and choice in their learning, which will improve student engagement.
  • Eliminating the performance gap between RVS students and our RVS students who self-identify as First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
  • Building connections, confidence and resiliency for our students.
  • Enhancing parental involvement in their child’s education.
  • Supporting students with special needs achieve their learning goals.
  • Improving a student-centred focus across our jurisdiction.

One other item in our AERR shares how we spent our money for the 2016/17 school year. Based on a cost breakdown per student, RVS spent: $8,828.44 on instruction, $1,559.87 on Plant Operations and Maintenance, $726.54 on Transportation, and $327.32 on Governance and System Administration.

We are committed to continuous improvement and supporting students to be successful. Thank you to our staff for all of your work.


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