RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 1 of 4: Prairie Waters is one of only 11 schools in Alberta that is an authorized International Baccalaureate (IB) World School offering the Primary Years Programme (PYP). One of the unique features of this program is the PYP Exhibition. In our students’ final year at Prairie Waters (grade 5), they engage in an 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.
The IB explains the purpose of the PYP Exhibition:
- to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate independence and responsibility for their own learning
- to provide students with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives on an issue
- for students to synthesize and apply their learning of previous years and to reflect upon their journey through the PYP
- to provide an authentic process for assessing student understanding
- to demonstrate how students can take action as a result of their learning
- to unite the students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in a collaborative experience
- to celebrate the transition of learners from primary to middle/secondary education.
This year, under the Theme of: “Who We Are”, students developed the central idea for our Exhibition: “Actions, relationships and mindsets shape the global community.” We have 29 groups of students who are investigating 29 different issues, which they are emotionally invested in learning more about. From living a minimalist lifestyle, to gender judgement in sports. From media bias to addressing the needs of the homeless. From grief and loss to the importance of a good night’s sleep, we have a wide variety of issues that have been selected by our students, which they have deemed significant and relevant to learn about. Together with the support of their group members, their classroom teacher, their parents and a mentor, students engage fully in the research process. Mentors volunteer their time once a week to meet with their group to provide advice, support, and guidance on the inquiry process. This year we have mentors from the community of Chestermere, family members of our students, pre-service teachers, support staff, and teaching staff within our school. Exhibition certainly couldn’t be successful without the generous support of those who offer their time as mentors to our students!
Throughout their inquiry process, our students share, reflect, and connect with the world outside of Prairie Waters through our Exhibition Blog: http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/pwexhibition/ . We encourage you to follow along with our students as they embark on their Exhibition journey this year! We have visitors to our blog from almost every continent on Earth each month, through the power of Twitter and connecting with other classes around the globe who are also participating in the PYP Exhibition at the same time. You can find us on Twitter by following the hashtag of our journey, #pwex17. These avenues of sharing the Exhibition process provides our students with the understanding that their audience, their learning and their actions as a result of their learning are far-reaching and can have an impact all the way around the world. This wider authentic audience certainly encourages our students to step up their game when ensuring their information is accurate and credible.
This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters on the evening of Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 and the morning of Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15. Everyone, far and wide is welcome and invited to attend and celebrate the accomplishments of our students. We hope to see you there!
Child Development Advisor – Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society (CTDS) was created in 2014 from the heart and vision of an amazing individual, Steven King. He believes that animals, particularly dogs, can add tremendous value to our lives. From this vision, several programs have been developed. The one I would love to introduce you to is Listening Tails!
The Listening Tails program is designed to help children improve their reading skills and confidence by reading out loud to a therapy dog. Each student will read for 15 minutes once a week for six weeks. Prairie Waters Elementary School is so blessed to have two dogs (Shadow and Atlas) and two handlers (Tanya and Sheldon) once a week for an hour and a half. This allows for 10 students each week to participate in the program.
Listening Tails has been running strong at Prairie Waters Elementary School since the Spring of 2015. We have been lucky enough to provide this opportunity to approximately 75 students. The program’s success stems from the fact that dogs love the attention they receive when children read to them. Another key to the success of this program is that dogs are non-judgemental listeners. There isn’t an adult looking over their shoulders correcting them, and no added pressure of an audience of people.
Steven King quotes that “being a volunteer-driven organization, nothing could have happened without the dedication and commitment of the volunteers in Chestermere and surrounding areas who, from day one, have embraced the idea of help through therapy dogs. As an organization, CTDS understands that the dogs are the centre of attention, but nothing happens without the loving care of their dog handlers who give selflessly of themselves each time they attach the CTDS bandana around their dog’s neck.”
Our students absolutely love being chosen to participate in Listening Tails; choosing which child gets to have a coveted spot on the list is one of the hardest decisions to make. Every student who has participated in this program has nothing but positive things to say. Many students ask to partake regardless if they are an emerging reader. The connection our students feel towards the dog is magical.
Our school is a happier place when Shadow and Atlas are here. The dogs bring a positivity to the hallways that is difficult to describe. Prairie Waters is thrilled to have the Listening Tails program at our school and is so appreciative of the dedication and commitment that Tanya and Sheldon have for bringing the dogs once a week from September to June.
The Listening Tails program is truly a win-win situation. The students love the time they spend with the dog, the dog loves the one-on-one attention they receive from the student, and the handlers leave our school feeling they have made a difference in the lives of a child. If you have any questions about this program, please do not hesitate to contact me or visit the Chestermere Therapy Dogs Society website.
Superintendent of Schools – Our Four-Year Plan (4YP) has three key goals – learners are engaged, supported, and successful. Another means we use to describe the key work of RVS is making learning visible, real, and for everyone. One only needs to watch the #rvsed Twitter hashtag to see daily examples of how schools and staff create amazing learning opportunities for our students. In any given day, you will see teachers creating learning opportunities bringing those three concepts to life.
Last week I was at an event at Banded Peak School where students were given a place conscious challenge – utilization and beautification of a piece of land in the town area. In parallel, the community has created a committee looking at the space and trying to decide what to do with it. The students were challenged to design a functional space that would become a community asset. Students surveyed members of the community to see what people wanted. They asked about overall concept, preferred materials, activities that could take place in the space, and learned about lighting concerns, strategies to make the space low maintenance, and many other ideas. Students also met with local experts to gain further information. Students toured the site. Ultimately, students produced a scaled drawing, key information panels, and a model of the park. I was among a number of adults who walked through the student stations and had students explain the details of their designs. It was a great opportunity for making their learning visible.
Often we get caught up in the final product of the learning activity, but it is the process that is truly important. In gathering the information and ultimately explaining their learning to a stranger, students had plenty of opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of our 21C competencies. I asked students tough questions about their design and I am pleased to say they could answer the question or at least recognize the issue as a challenge in their design. The kids were invested in the activity because it was engaging and real. They walk or ride by the land in question and want to contribute to a solution to make it better. They were given an authentic problem and access to real world experts and resources. This was not open the textbook, read a chapter, and answer 1,2,4 and 7. Kids toured the site, learned the nuances of the land, looked at a solution from multiple perspectives, and had to handle competing priorities and diverse opinions. It was real and they made their learning visible.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a common occurrence in RVS. I saw on Twitter the previous week about grade 3 Sarah Thompson School students designing and building models/blueprints for ways to address opportunities and challenges in the hamlet of Langdon. They shared their ideas and presented to the local county Policy and Priorities committee. I cannot list all the examples so just watch #rvsed to see some of the amazing ways our staff are making it real.
Superintendent of Schools – Like many families, my family is a very busy family with everyone hustling to different events. In the fall and winter my family is consumed with hockey. Hockey practices, games, skating on the pond, skating treadmill appointment, hockey fundraising activities, getting skates sharpened, weekend tournaments, checking out the latest gear, spring hockey tryouts, etc. The same can be said for most families, but you can substitute soccer, basketball, dance, swimming, piano, language learning, skiing, dirt biking, 4-H, sledding, etc. for hockey.
It is challenging because it seems like all activities are asking youngsters and families to commit to only one activity. Specialization is commonplace and the days of kids playing multiple sports, while skiing recreationally and learning the piano are gone. Now that said, we are guilty as we allow ourselves and kids to get sucked up into the vortex of hockey in the fall & winter and baseball in the spring & summer.
Despite the busy schedule, we try and make the time to eat together most evenings. It remains the best opportunity for us to have conversations, check in with each other, and see what else is going on in our lives. I’ve recently engaged in another opportunity for discussions with the boys, the captive audience hockey road trip.
As we have two boys typically heading off in different directions for hockey, we have to divide and conquer. Both of the last two weekends I’ve been out of town with one of the boys at different hockey tournaments / away games. The drive to and from the event provided me the opportunity to talk with my boys. My car is the low-tech vehicle in the family, so there is no TV, videos, satellite radio, Xbox and Wi-Fi to distract us. This past weekend we listened to a story on CBC about the US election and it spurred a great conversation about democracy, political organizing, voter turnout, media, and more. We would not have had that conversation if not traveling in a car for an extended period. The previous weekend, as we drove down Hwy 2, it was talking about ranching, which neither my youngest nor I know much about. We were engaged in a conversation based on what we saw while driving. It was a place-conscious inquiry project where we just talked and on a few occasions had my son open up my phone to find out some information that furthered the conversation. Visiting towns that are new to us provides more opportunity to talk about what industries are in that town and why, the age of the hockey rink, and why it is where it is, how we develop an appreciation for things that are different and so much more.
We are fortunate that friends of ours always volunteer to drive their kid and their kid’s friends to and from events. The kids are older and often it means going out on a Saturday night at 11 pm (or later) to pick up a group of kids. I asked them why they do it and they told me, just like my hockey road trips, it creates an opportunity to talk and learn about what is going on in their kids’ lives and the lives of their friends. No need to stalk their Instagram account or SnapChats, the kids talk in the car. The adult can ask questions and while their own child typically rolls their eyes, other kids in the car will chime in and respond. They describe it as a direct pipeline into the lives of their kids.
So, the next time you are heading out to drive the kids somewhere, take the long route, turn off the radio (or put it on CBC), pretend you forgot the phone charger, and see where the conversation takes you.
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!”