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!
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.
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.
RVS Principal, Ralph McCall School – As Program Chair for this month’s Palliser District Teachers’ Convention, I was sharing at a recent School Council meeting about some of the exciting Professional Learning opportunities teachers would be participating in. Our trustee was especially interested and commented that the Board of Trustees often hear about jurisdictional and in-school professional learning events, as well as participate in their own educational conferences, but know little about teachers’ conventions. While teachers’ conventions are “closed to the public” events, they needn’t be shrouded in mystery. In fact, they have evolved to become outstanding professional learning events, the details of which ought to be celebrated.
Teachers’ conventions began in the 1890s as a Department of Education event so that school inspectors and superintendents could meet annually in the fall with teachers at one school in each community. Over the next several decades they moved from individual school sites, to hotels to large conference centres. They further evolved from initially being a venue for inspectors to “correct” individuals’ teaching, to being mostly an Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) platform for sharing business, finally moving to the rich, two-day conference style event, complete with a plethora of sessions across all curricular areas that they are today.
The Palliser District Teachers’ Convention Association (PDTCA) sees delegates from nine ATA locals participate together. Geographically, the district covers most of rural and “rur-ban” southern Alberta (with the exception of Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat). With over 4000 PDTCA delegates in attendance, Rocky View teachers make up about 30% of this cohort. This year, we are proud to welcome three world-class keynote speakers to open our event: Mr. Mark Tewskbury, Dr. Temple Grandin and Mr. George Couros. Further to these speakers, our program is offering over two hundred other sessions, mostly at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre and Hyatt Regency. Sessional topics – many of them presented by local speakers – range from best practices in Literacy and Numeracy across all grade levels, to Coding, Robotics and Maker Spaces. Teachers can create hands-on visual art or musical pieces, enrich outdoor and environmental education programs, become better informed about the rising mental health needs of youth, improve second language and immersion instruction, participate in woodworking and culinary arts demos, hone content in religious studies, develop mastery in using Google Apps or scientific tools and more. So much more.
It is all accomplished, in Palliser, by a Board of volunteers who give up multiple evenings and weekends to plan an amazing event for colleagues. Further, these colleagues are receiving this professional learning gift through the contribution of $103 of their annual ATA dues. Where else could one participate in a two-day, world-class caliber event, put on by volunteers and at a cost of only one hundred dollars?! As I opened with, the details are to be celebrated!
So this year, on February 23 and 24 when the students are enjoying the end of their February break, please think of their teachers and the work we are participating in to make classrooms dynamic and engaging, yet still inclusive and achievement-oriented places. Yes, we ARE reuniting with former colleagues and networking with future new ones over coffee and lunch, but teachers’ conventions are NOT “paid days off”. We have our sleeves rolled up, our heads are down, and our minds are being challenged, inspired and re-energized. The teachers in Rocky View and the rest of the Palliser District are coming together to make schools the best they can be. We thank you for supporting these two days of professional learning…. and all the work we do!
Official Mascot (Re-post from Feb 2012) – When I was first approached to tell the story of how I came to be Rocky View Schools’ official mascot, I have to say that I was completely honoured and a little bit nervous. I had never written a blog before (although my paws are pretty dexterous, it’s hard to type without opposable thumbs), but I was up to the challenge! I think it’s safe to say that I’m the first Raccoon to have written a blog. Then again, as the mascot for RVS, I have probably done a few other things that Raccoons don’t usually get to do!
I got my start as a mascot thanks to Lance Rinehart, RVS’ Facilities Assistant, a very close friend of mine. Back in 2008, Lance had one of those light bulb-over-the-head kind of ideas: Rocky View Schools needed its very own division mascot. He did some research and then presented his idea to RVS’ Superintendent of Schools Greg Bass, who thought it was a great suggestion.
Shortly thereafter, Superintendent Bass presented Lance’s idea to the Board of Trustees who agreed that a mascot was just what RVS needed! Instead of the jurisdiction choosing the mascot, RVS created a contest for students to submit their best ideas. A small selection committee was struck and boy did they ever have their work cut out for them! After going through many creative entries, Rocky Raccoon was born based on a drawing submitted by a Grade 4 student named Ryan McHarg from Indus Elementary. Rocky Raccoon was officially introduced to the jurisdiction August 26, 2008 as part of RVS’ new brand.
As a mascot, I am RVS’ unofficial Ambassador responsible for bringing passion and goodwill to the entire jurisdiction. Being larger than life, I attract all kinds of attention and apparently I have created quite the presence in the community. One of the best parts of my job is when people tell me how much they love to see me at their school or their event and how my being there makes their day just a bit brighter.
Another great thing about being a mascot is getting to meet so many wonderful people from all around the RVS community. Rocky View has so many fine young students and staff members that it makes me proud to be their mascot. Not only to do I get to meet them, but I also get to meet their families! Over the past few years, I’ve also got to meet local and provincial politicians and even the Calgary Flames Alumni Hockey Team – not too shabby for a Raccoon!
Since starting at Rocky View, I have really built up my resume. New skills include riding unicycles and scooters in parades, skating and playing hockey with students and teachers, climbing playground equipment, and participating in other sporting activities! I may not do everything as well as some of the students, but I always manage to bring smiles to the faces of everyone I see and meet. I am a pretty good dancer though and I certainly have gotten a few people up on their feet during an event or an assembly!
If you haven’t guessed yet, I love my job as official mascot. I cannot say enough good things about the students and staff at Rocky View Schools. No matter where I go, whether it’s out to the schools or into the community, there is always at least one person that I can make smile or feel special and this reminds me why I do what I do and why it’s all so worthwhile. I love being apart of Rocky View and I can’t wait to see each and every one of you soon! I have made my mark here and it’s just going to get bigger with your support!