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 – I am so grateful for the many opportunities my role affords to get to see our RVS students excel, contribute, and make a difference in their communities. Teens especially get a bad rap in our society. Most adults forget what it was like as we transitioned from kids to young adults. We all made mistakes, and the occasional poor choice, but society seems stuck on judging all teens by their mistakes. I’d love to wear the body cam to share just some of the amazing things I get to see kids and teens routinely do.
I saw 75 teens from eight different school give up an evening and full day away from their regular classes to participate in RVS’ Honour Band. The concert band performed for a group of adults and students at Chestermere High as a culminating activity. The teens in the audience watched the concert – many of which probably would not list concert band on their top 10 interest lists – and where incredibly well behaved. They listened intently, recognized the efforts of kids from across the region, and when the concert ended, picked up their chairs and put them back – and then many turned around and grabbed the chairs for the adults in the room.
My twitter feed is consistently full of kids collecting something for those in need in their community, kids participating in basketball and curling playoffs/playdowns, grade 10 students working with grade 2s to share their knowledge and experiences, kids learning with members of our communities, kids teaching people in our communities, teens helping volunteer groups, teens raising funds for those in need both locally and globally, and teens taking on leadership roles within their schools. Watch the #rvsed hashtag or a couple of the schools in your community for a week and I assure you that you will feel a lot better about our communities and country when you see the amazing things our kids are doing.
Lastly, I cannot forget to recognize our amazing RVS staff who empower and enable students to make a difference. Our staff volunteer countless hours, create highly engaging environments, which allow kids to shine. Staff make a conscious effort to have high expectations and build skills so that students can be successful.
Director of 21st C Learning – As I sit and observe our first SAIT Dual Credit Management 200 class, with learners from RVS, CBE, and via WebX from Prairie Rose and High Prairie school jurisdictions, I reflect and concur with the SAIT Academic Chair that ‘this isn’t education as we once knew it. It is amazing and humbling to facilitate the experience for high school students to take a post-secondary business course, in a face-to-face as well as distance setting. These participating students are navigating this new course, and key to successful 21C learning in this circumstance is ‘making connections’. In this case, it is students from four RVS high schools engaging with students from a multitude of other schools taking advantage of this post-secondary opportunity delivered in a blended learning format. It is simple to point to this as an example of 21C learning and I think it’s important to consider that it’s also what we do EVERYDAY that is 21C learning.
While we focus education in 2017 on connecting curriculum and competencies such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, cultural and global citizenship, managing information, creativity and innovation and personal growth and well-being, we have not lost sight of the educational foundations of literacy and numeracy. RVS is aligned with Alberta Education’s focus on literacy and numeracy and we are elevating the conversation around these fundamental skills, and how they connect with the identified 21C competencies in our work. As the Director of 21C Learning for the past six months, it has been fascinating for me to observe the intersections of the work that professionals are undertaking in their day-to-day work, preparing students to be successful in their next steps – whether in the realm of school, work, or service to others. Collaboration and connections between professionals in schools and within the Learning Department have expanded understanding and supports for staff and students in all schools; in our own learning, we are extending our understanding of design thinking, planning, and trans-disciplinary work.
One thing has been crystal clear in the learning and teaching in this role – we are ALL learners and regardless of one’s job, whether it is as a student, teacher, support staff, principal, bus driver, secretary, tech assistant, director or caretaker, it is imperative that we take responsibility for shaping our individual growth plans to suit our own learning needs. Being part of a design cohort, participating in a book club, engaging in an online course, attending a conference, collaboratively planning with peers, are all meaningful and worthy learning endeavours. Our learning becomes even more relevant to us when we are authentically engaging in our study – in my own case, learning more about design thinking by taking an online course and then using that to plan sessions with and for others. This has extended my comfort zone and helped to keep me current pedagogically. I relish the opportunity to be a learner and to be able to connect with and assist others in their respective learning journeys. As professionals in education in 2017, it is certainly exciting times and we can truly say, ‘there is never a dull moment’, as we tackle the dynamic landscape that is ‘school’ where connections between people, pedagogy, and curriculum in our work are made.
Building Futures Teacher – “It’s not about the house!” It is what I say to visitors all the time about the Building Futures program, where 34 grade 10 students spend the whole school year in a double garage working side-by-side with McKee Homes amazing sub-contractors to build beautiful homes, all while learning their core classes. If it is not about introducing students to the construction industry, then what is it about?
My partner teacher, Erica Rozema, and I are in the pursuit of creating learning experiences that matter, ones that try to help build a student’s future. Connecting students to their community has been a major component of this pursuit over the years. Students have been involved in putting on their own fundraising events, they built and set-up little free libraries in Airdrie, donated a book barn to the Airdrie Recycling Center and helped set up the Airdrie Festival of Lights – all in the name of giving back to their community.
This continuous pursuit to connect our students to their community is a driving factor in what we think makes learning experiences matter. Connecting with other humans from all different backgrounds, connecting to the place you live, connecting to ideas that impact our world, connecting to experiences that bring students a sense that they belong. I do admit one of the better “connections” we offer students is the experience of learning to belong in building a most basic need, a home. The construction journey is just one of the learning experiences we have created. We have other learning experiences that have connected students to starting a business, a challenge to create the staging and sales write-up of the homes, re-designing urban spaces, creating a marketing plan for an innovative program and building a solar-powered tiny house. These experiences are because of local experts whom we connected with in the Airdrie community who shared their expertise and feedback with our students.
Building our student’s futures means that we keep pushing ourselves as teachers to connect learning beyond our “classroom”. It means that we push ourselves to connect learning to people who want to share their knowledge with our students. It means we want to push ourselves to connect learning to a student’s sense of place and allowing them to see themselves as contributors to their community. It means that we push ourselves to connect learning to having students fall in love with the world around them. It means we push ourselves to connect learning so that our students, at the end of the school year, can say “it is not about the house, it is about connecting!”
Teacher, École Airdrie Middle School – When I was approached by a colleague in 2009 to join her in the pursuit of becoming a UNESCO member school, I was all in! I didn’t know what to expect in terms of what it meant to be a UNESCO school, but I knew anything related to this moniker was generally good.
All Aboard! Getting school staff on board can be difficult, but once goals are set in place teachers quickly realize that what they are already doing in their classrooms conforms to a lot of the ASPnet and UNESCO criteria. School activities can vary between aligning projects with social justice, sustainability, safe and caring, or tolerance initiatives. It can be as simple as choosing a novel study that focuses on inequalities, or partnering with a school across the world or province via Skype to create a global classroom.
A Lengthy Process If you choose to embark on becoming an ASPnet/UNESCO member school don’t expect your accreditation overnight. It took our school six years before earning our status. We were, however, committed to reaching our goal. This meant filing annual reports that logged our initiatives, all of which aligned with UNESCO’s pillars of learning. I would recommend having a team of two people to take this on, as it requires attending two annual meetings at Barnett House in Edmonton and compiling information throughout the year.
Flying The Flag Upon becoming a member school, you are given a plaque to hang on your school wall along with, the privilege of posting the UNESCO emblem on your school’s letterhead and website. The proudest moment of all has to be the raising of the UNESCO flag, letting your community know that your school has achieved something great!
Editors Note: Congratulations go out to École Airdrie Middle School on receiving official status as a UNESCO Associated School! Founded in 1953, the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network (ASPnet) is a global network of 10,000 educational institutions in 181 countries. Member institutions – ranging from pre-schools, primary, secondary and vocational schools to teacher training institutions – work in support of international understanding, peace, intercultural dialogue, sustainable development and quality education in practice. If you get the chance, extend your congratulations to the school!