Learning is a Journey

Learning is a Journey

Director of 21C Learning -The theme of ‘Education Week’ this year is ‘Learning is a journey.’  As educators, our own journeys began many years ago, as we entered the formal school system as students.  Little did we know then, how our teachers would motivate, challenge, inspire, surprise, and ultimately educate us to take up the mantle of teaching ourselves.

In my own learning journey, my grade one teacher, Mrs. Thain, towered over us, as she inducted our rambunctious class into the expectations of curriculum, socialization, organization and civility as we donned the learners’ role.  In grade six, it was Miss Bilyk, the brand new, hip homeroom teacher whose passion for her learners and learning compelled us to work hard, enjoy reading, get creative and have fun.  Somehow she channeled our boundless energy into meaningful learning experiences that enthralled us. Mrs. Nelson, in grade nine, treated us like the young adults we were so excited to become, engaging us in the civic and provincial election process through current events, making connections between our school and our world.  In grade twelve, whether it was Mr. Rakoz exploring reproductive systems in biology, Mr. Prodaniuk waxing philosophically about ‘Death of a Salesman’ in English or Mr. Seward outlining the merits of various economic and political systems in Social Studies, our teachers were doing their best to shepherd us out of the ‘system’ as well-prepared, soon-to-be, new graduates. That seems an eternity ago, and yet, the enthusiasm, expertise and passion of those teachers ‘back in the day’ holds sway with myself and fellow educators today.

And it wasn’t only those teachers…As a student, I did not fully appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ work that our school administration also did to support our learning.  It is not surprising how, over time, perspective evolves during one’s own educational journey.  Over the past two weeks in particular, I have been incredibly humbled and inspired by my administrative colleagues – the school based principals and assistant principals who are the lead learners in Rocky View schools.  Their dedication and commitment to learning, learners, the community and the greater good, is remarkable.  As role models, their fidelity to their own learning remains paramount at this time of year, when they simultaneously inhabit the present while preparing and planning for the future, 2017-2018 school year.  Despite their unbelievably busy schedules, they prioritize time for after school Book Clubs, graduate courses, webinars and online learning among other activities.  They continue to support staff and students in their respective learning journeys, celebrating their achievements and bolstering their supports as the learning gets deeper and more demanding.  As lead learners, they are also exceptionally generous with their own ‘best practices’. I have witnessed extraordinary generosity of ideas in multiple contexts, from elementary to high school teams across the jurisdiction. Our RVS administrators orchestrate rich learning for not only their students, but also their staff as they observe and demonstrate, “We are all learners.”

It was Henry Adams who once said, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.”  During Education Week, as we reflect on our own ‘Learning Journeys’ we can thank a teacher or an administrator, for provoking and stimulating our learners’ minds. It is with prodigious gratitude, that I thank those teachers who helped me along my educational path to becoming a teacher.  It is with equal respect, admiration and appreciation, that I work alongside our RVS teacher and administrative colleagues as they continue to illuminate the path of the learning journeys of our students and staff. We will delight in today’s students being motivated, inspired and challenged by their teachers and leaders, as they navigate and enjoy the ‘open road’ of learning.

The RJ Hawkey KINDergarten Kindness Ninjas!

The RJ Hawkey KINDergarten Kindness Ninjas!

Allie Apels and Kayla Williamson, RJ Hawkey Teachers – What are KINDergarten Kindness Ninjas? A group of spirited young learners, who have embarked on a journey to spread kindness to each other, their school, their community, and the World.

Our goal in the fall was to create a year-long project that helped our students adapt to classroom expectations and develop appropriate social and emotional skills. We found ourselves inspired by Tim McGraw’s song, Humble and Kind. We loved the simplicity of its lyrics and it’s powerful message. It was through this song that The Kindness Project was born and thus came the Kindness Ninjas. With our red headbands and covert training, we set off on our mission to Change the World with Kindness!

Some of our activities have included: Random Acts of Christmas Kindness(RACKS), making Christmas cards for the homeless in Calgary, participating in Alia’s Rainbow Rock Project, paying it forward on #spreadthelove day, publishing “A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Kindness Ninja”, adopting a Panda through the World Wildlife Foundation, making treat bags for the puppies at the Cochrane Humane Society and handcrafting bars of soap to be delivered to a village in Nepal. Currently, we’re fundraising for the Ronald McDonald House in Calgary; donate here www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/kindergarten-kindness-ninjas-mission-to-raise-mone/

We invited Kindness Experts in our community, and from around the world, to come speak or Skype with us. We were fortunate to have connected with the following: Airdrie Project Linus, Stephen’s Backpack, Soap for Hope, Lamb’s Soapworks, Airdrie Angels, Jaime Lawrence, Leon Logothetis the host of the Kindness Diaries, and Grammy and ACM award winning singer-songwriter Lori Mckenna. We’ve had many unique conversations and experiences; many we wouldn’t typically have in Kindergarten.

We’ve been documenting our journey on Twitter and, in turn, have inspired other teachers and classes to become Kindness Ninjas. Our students created 30+ Kindness Ninja Kits and have not only sent them out to our new friends within RVS, but also to Brazil, Scotland, England, Croatia, USA, Kenya, Nigeria, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, England, Hawaii, Nepal, Haiti, The Congo, and Dubai! Our Kindness Ninja Movement is making its way around the globe!

As teachers, we’ve been surprised by the profound impact this project has had on our personal and professional lives. It’s been so fulfilling and inspiring to watch our students develop a sense of belonging and a true identity as Kindness Ninjas. We’ve met so many remarkable individuals, who have amazed us with their generosity. Most of all, we have discovered that you’re never too young, or too old, to become a Kindness Ninja!

Please find us on Twitter @RJ_Kindergarten!

Allie Apels and Kayla Williamson
R.J. Hawkey School

The Joys of Yardwork

The Joys of Yardwork

Superintendent of Schools – Like many of our RVS team, I spent some time away from work last week during RVS’ spring break. After spending a few days back in Saskatchewan celebrating a family milestone, we loaded up the van and returned home. I spent the good part of the next four days in the backyard landscaping. I have no green thumb, but shoveling, pushing the wheelbarrow, and installing edging is right up my alley. The immediate feedback of moving four cubic yards of garden mix from the front driveway to various beds in the backyard works for me. Like many challenges, at the beginning I thought we’d never get that all moved. Wheelbarrow full after wheelbarrow full and the pile was not changing. Suddenly I noticed the pile looked a bit smaller. A few loads later, it was smaller yet. A couple of loads later we were scraping the driveway to fill the last load. Wow, mission accomplished.

The next day it was three cubic yards of wood chips. The race was on. How fast can we move those light wood chips? 40 minutes – start to finish and that project was complete. We had time to tackle other pieces of the yard. The next day included three cubic yards of rock on the driveway. So much for another 40-minute job. The weight of the rock combined with my 15-year-old being at an umpiring clinic meant we labored away for 4 hours. Nevertheless, at the end of that day, all the major landscaping groundwork was complete. Now we are ready for the fun bits of planting trees, shrubs, and flowers.

By now you must be wondering, what is Greg writing about all this for? I guess my work is normally focused on the long game: next year’s budget; long-term student achievement growth; multi-year plans; and, creating the conditions for our staff to be successful. Looking back, this project was still about creating the conditions for future plantings to grow (which is not far off from my usual job). It was nice to tackle some tasks that had a defined start and end. I knew the tasks were complete when the piles were moved. I knew I was successful when the yard looked like what we drew up on our garden plan.

Sometimes it is just nice to have a sense of accomplishment with tangible results you can see from your deck!

Greg

Engaging Kids in Authentic Research

Engaging Kids in Authentic Research

RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 3 of 4:  As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.

During Exhibition, the student’s research is authentic as they take ownership for their learning from the very start.  Once the whole grade 5 group decides on the central idea, each group/individual makes up their own lines of inquiry which decides what direction their research will take.  From here they make up questions to investigate based on each of the eight PYP key concepts.  When the students decide the path their research takes, it becomes more authentic for them and is truly something that sparks their curiosity.  The central idea, lines of inquiry, and key concept questions will help the students stay focused and on-track during their investigation.

Students are required to select and utilize a variety of strategies and resources to meet the outcomes of the inquiry.  Students should use a variety of secondary sources such as books, websites, magazine and newspaper articles, surveys, artifacts, science investigations, working models, field visits, studies, etc.  The more sources they access the deeper their understanding will be.

A huge part of the student’s inquiry is based on primary sources.  Some of the most important information is gathered from the experts who have lived and experienced the actual issues being investigated.  These interviews are always rich in knowledge and provide an in-depth look into each group’s topic of study.  The interviews can be conducted face-to-face, through Skype or FaceTime, over the phone or on-line. The students always get so excited when they get to interact with an expert and the information they obtain is so valuable.  The students develop their own interview questions which are largely based on the lines of inquiry and key concepts.  Not only do the students gain great inquiry techniques, but it also teaches them excellent communication and interview skills.

We strive for the students to engage in an in-depth, collaborative inquiry to provide them with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives.  By discovering various viewpoints, and not always ones they agree with, it allows them to see the whole picture of their issue and become even more of an expert on their topic of study.  It pushes them to go beyond simple research and look at their issue from several different angles.

During Exhibition academic honesty is emphasized.  The students are expected to correctly cite all the sources that they use for research.  This does not only include text information, but also pictures, videos, articles, interviews, etc.  It is of utmost importance that the students put all the information they access into their own words.  We want the students to be able to confidently speak about their topic so it is important that they understand and make sense of the evidence they acquire.

On-site visits or field trips also give students excellent insight into their selected issues as well.  By actually experiencing things first hand, it helps them develop a deeper understanding of their topics.  The more opportunities and exposure the students receive, the more enriched their learning will be.

Please feel free to follow along with our student’s progress as we continue to grow through the Exhibition process by accessing our blog at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/pwexhibition/   You can also find us on Twitter by following our hashtag #pwex17.

This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters Elementary School on Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 pm and Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15 am.  Everyone is more than welcome to attend and see what our students have to share.  Hope to see you there!

Who Are You? What Is Your Story?

Who Are You? What Is Your Story?

RVS Teacher, Ecole Edwards -The story of our beautiful Canada 150 Identity quilt starts with an old photograph. As the 2016-2017 school year was about to begin, and I began to review the Grade 5 program, I decided I wanted to share my learning about my Metis identity with my students. I realized that I could use my voice to ensure that my students would learn about an FNMI perspective through engaging programming.

While I researched resources for Social Studies, I was reminded of a recent visit to my parents’ place in Edmonton with my daughter. We usually have lunch sitting on the back deck in the warm summer sun. After all the greeting hugs and the delicious food, we begin our family visit. During these times we
usually talk about what is happening in our lives, tell stories, tease one another, and laugh. On this particular visit, my daughter was talking about her newest learning as a humanities student focusing on Indigenous Women in Canada. Mom brought out all the vintage photos in their collection and with that a photograph of my Great Great Grandmother, Angele Chalifoux (nee Delorme dit Lemay). Dad’s Metis ancestry is something that my Daughter and I share a keen interest in. In the photo, Angele is a beautiful Indigenous woman sitting proudly with her mustached third husband George Chalifoux. Behind them is a rough sawn log cabin with rifles adorning the exterior walls. The photograph is striking. Both my daughter and I were immediately smitten.

Old family photo

Upon researching Angele’s life through online archival research, I came to learn that prior to this particular photo being taken, she was in fact one of the infamous Edmonton Stragglers. She was one of 84 band members, mostly single women and their children who were struck from Treaty in 1877 by Timothy P. Wadsworth an “Indian Agent” negotiating the relocation of Papaschase reserve- for not being a close enough relative to Chief Papaschase. As a result, Angele left Treaty and applied for Half-Breed (Metis) Scrip, refunding the government $47 worth of Treaty payments. Angele was widowed, starving and supporting her children on her own. Being struck from Treaty made it next to impossible for her to survive, without a “reserve” community to rely on, therefore she assumed a new identity through the “half-breed” commission. All of this information was new to my family. While Angele was a familiar person in a photo, she also had a story, and a fleeting identity. A story that is well documented by government records, yet a story we didn’t know.

I thought about my connection to this information, and how it had affected the identities of my family members before me, and how it will affect the identity of those after me, and ultimately how it affects my identity now. I also considered how I came to know this. I had to search for it, I had to do the work to learn about this history. At no time in my formal schooling was there a focus on the perspective of the FNMI population and history in Alberta. My Father was taught to be ashamed of his Metis ancestry and identity. He told me that I didn’t have to tell anyone about it when we researched and engaged our Metis membership.

Any knowledge of the Metis in Alberta was not taught to me by formal school history, but through a strong connection to the land and an oral history. Fortunately, my father has always lived with a very close connection to the land. He taught us to appreciate and utilize the natural world in a respectful way. At school, I was the only 13-year-old girl who had experienced handling a hunting rifle and hunting knife, shooting and skinning an animal, and then consuming it. Dad taught us about trapping; showing us his father’s rusty old traps and pelt stretchers. My Grandfather, a trilingual man, would regale us with legends of the Whiskey Jack, tell us stories about his trap line, and talk of his days as a fiddler.

To develop an authentic understanding of a FMNI perspective, I started the journey by carefully selecting a number of historical novels written by Indigenous Canadian authors for my daily read aloud time. My first pick was Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s Fatty Legs. A story about an Inuit girl’s experience in a residential school. Students were hooked after the first chapter! We also read historical fiction about the other important groups of people existing and surviving in Canada pre and post Confederation who also suffered oppression and hardship. Many books were written from the perspective of a child in the context of hardship, collaboration and problem solving. We also looked closely at archival photos of the First People in Alberta and Canada, and the assortment of immigrant groups to help develop a context for students to make a connection to the past by comparing it to today. Learners connected strongly to the idea that their identity, like Angele’s, is ever evolving.

This rich content led to exquisite conversations and naturally scaffolded activities for highly motivating writing experiences connecting the qualities of the people of the past, the present and the future. Many students have developed a taste for historical learning and thinking far beyond my imagination. As a culminating activity we decided to make a quilt to tell the stories of Canada in the past and the present using symbols to portray the identities of important groups of people in Canadian history. Each child carefully chose a symbol to represent their identity as a young Canadian at this point in time, these are included on the quilt. Students insisted that I include my identity as a Metis person on the quilt, I chose an infinity symbol. Lastly, each physical region of Canada is represented by a symbol on the quilt.

It is the student’s wishes that our quilt is given to a child in need. Our quilt tells the varied stories of the people of Canada pieced together with a common thread of collaboration. We are currently searching for an agency that will ensure that our quilt is delivered to a child who deserves warmth, happiness, joy, hope, comfort inspiration and security. It is our hope that this quilt will deliver those things and so will our community. In my heart, I hope this child has a mother like Angele Delorme dit Lemay; a strong, determined, resilient woman.Canada 150 Quilt

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