Principal, Prairie Waters Elementary School – My 15-year-old son asked me the other day, “Dad, has the world ever been this messed up since you’ve been alive?”
It was a great question. His question was prompted by his knowledge of recent current events that include, but aren’t limited to: increasing tension with North Korea, White Pride rallies, athletes kneeling during the national anthem, and devastating hurricanes that seem to arrive one after another. Not to mention, the Las Vegas tragedy, which occurred more recently. I replied to him somewhat sadly, “I’m not sure that I have.”
We know that if there is one thing that is constant, it is change. However, the pace and complexity of this change seems to be growing. Our world is becoming increasingly connected. Information moves rapidly and our individual and collective decisions can have significant impact, both positively and negatively.
Rocky View Schools’ mission is “We engage all learners through meaningful and challenging experiences, preparing them to understand, adapt and successfully contribute to our changing global community.”
It is an inspiring and worthwhile mission; however, as expected, it leaves us begging the question, “How?” The question becomes particularly complex considering that by the time many of our students in Kindergarten join the workforce as an adult, Earth is expected to have approximately another 1.2 billion humans joining the 7.6 billion that already share this planet (United Nations, 2017, June 21).
I believe that to respond to this extraordinary complexity, our children must become internationally minded in a way that is extraordinarily uncommon. It lies in our ability as educators to develop tremendous compassion for others and a humbling ability to be open-minded. The International Baccalaureate Organization believes that we must “encourage students … who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” This way of thinking is somewhat contrary to what many of us have been taught; however, to successfully respond to our world’s challenges, we inevitably must think differently.
As parents and educators, it is important that we deliberately and mindfully look for ways to build compassion and open-mindedness in our students. Should we create more opportunities for our students to be involved in service learning opportunities? How do we provide opportunities for our kids to be exposed to and learn from our differences? Should we explore issues more deeply through multiple and “competing” perspectives. And, as parents and educators, how do we approach multiple perspectives without bringing in our own biases that will limit our kids’ abilities to approach challenges deeply with an open mind.
Maybe if we are successful in answering these questions, our children’s children will have more optimistic questions to ask their parents.
Literacy Specialist – The research is very clear about the rewards of motivating kids to read, to think deeply, to talk about what they have read and to find something new. After all, practice makes perfect so that means read, read and read.
The only way we will see our students’ reading improve is to provide them with literacy-rich environments where they have access to copious numbers of books; they are surrounded by adults and peers who model strong reading behaviours; they are provided opportunities to question, wonder, make connections and have authentic conversations about what they have read with the people in their lives; and they are taught to read for joy, pleasure and purpose. Literacy researchers such as Allington, Calkins and others tell us that if we provide these environments, students will do better in school, achieve higher results and most importantly become successful, lifelong learners.
But motivating students to do what is good for them can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some suggestions to cultivate a culture of reading in our schools and classrooms:
- Have students help to curate classroom libraries. Let them categorize, group and organize your library and in turn provide them with ownership over the collection. Use student librarians to help keep classroom libraries in order, organized and returned.
- Create Personal Reading histories about books that matter and that have had a significant influence in their lives.
- Organize book talks about summer readings or organize monthly discussions.
- Show that you are a reader: create teacher book clubs, write your own book reviews, facilitate student/teacher breakfast book clubs and encourage parent/student book clubs.
- Create a “buzz” around book selections by reading snippets of books that are funny, serious, sad, dramatic, strange or mysterious. Kids and adults love to be read to. There is a book for everyone; helping students find it is the key.
- Host a book tasting or speed dating with text.
- Create a Battle of the Books team to compete in the RVS Battle of the Books competition on Feb 15.
- Use QR codes and Image Mapping AR apps like Aurasma to make reading and vocabulary activities come to life.
- Have authentic conversations about reading with students and encourage them to have them with one another. This is a way to explore the deeper aspects of reading comprehension with readers.
- Meet with students in different contexts (one-on-one, guided groups, small targeted strategy groups, partnerships) to target and support their growth in reading, introduce strategies, and to set goals.
- Become a book champion! Share what makes books great and why students need to read them!
- Invite the support of community members and organizations through Rocky View Reads partnerships.
- Incorporate podcasts that can hook reluctant readers while boosting critical thinking and comprehension.
- Vocabulary Parade: Students and staff dress up to illustrate vocabulary words in interesting ways (think of a roving cardboard rowboat full of sailors for the word nautical).
So, as the school year begins, let’s all roll up our sleeves and work together to create literacy-rich environments that will open our students’ worlds to new vocabulary, new ways of thinking, new perspectives and new understandings. Let’s continue to build a culture of reading in Rocky View so that our students can reap the rewards of a literate life. For more ideas and information check us out at http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/makingliteracyvisible.
Settler Students Learning with Elders and Knowledge Keepers on Treaty 7 Territory
RVS Teacher, Heloise Lorimer School – Over the 2016-2017 school year, I collaboratively planned and facilitated learning opportunities centered on Indigenous-land based pedagogy. As a Settler, a non-Indigenous person, I have received guidance, knowledge and kindness from three Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. Together we facilitated sharing of Indigenous ways and offered land-based educational experiences to my students.
Heloise Lorimer School opened as a brand-new school for Rocky View Schools in the fall of 2016. The school is situated on traditional Niitsitapi, Nakoda, Tsuu T’ina and Métis territory, also known as Treaty 7 lands from 1877 and Métis Region 3. For thousands of years, the territory has shared knowledge, care and the ancestors of these nations; past, present and future. It is essential to relationships that the recognition of traditional lands and treaties takes place on an ongoing basis. As a new school, we have had our first year to connect with Nations and establish our relationship together.
Each Indigenous Knowledge Keeper had land sites that were important to their Nation and places for the students to develop relationships with. Each site provided a place for understanding and contextualizing knowledge that would be shared with them. These places were generously offered by Knowledge Keepers and became the centre of our planning for visits and sequencing of learning events.
Place-based learning incorporated ceremony, stories and sharing of knowledge. The places where this model of learning took place were:
- Our classroom
- Heloise Lorimer School Field
- Glacial Erratic, Airdrie
- Kings Heights Pond, Airdrie
- Nose Hill, Calgary
- Grotto Canyon, Exshaw
- Blackfoot Crossing, Siksika
Over 100 students were able to learn with Niitsitapi, Nakoda and Métis Knowledge Keepers. Multi-grade groupings for experiences took place, as well as interdisciplinary learning. The greatest outcome was the relationships that students created. Students found connections to one another amongst their experiences. Guided reflection empowered students to share and have pride in their ideas and knowledge. Furthermore, students gained success in understanding and meeting curriculum objectives related to Language Arts, Science, Mathematics, Physical Education, Art and Social Studies. My grade 3 class was significantly influenced by our collaborative learning opportunities with Indigenous ways of knowing and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers.
Please visit the following website to review our learning together in detail: http://schoolblogs.rockyview.ab.ca/indigenous-land-based-education/.
RVS Student, George McDougall High School – Seven years ago, George McDougall organized their first ever Ride of the Mustang after one of our very own mustangs was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, this annual 48-hour fundraiser has raised over $765,000 for the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, which has gained us popularity throughout the community and granted our school the Top Fundraising School award from Kids Helping Kids every year. There are no words to describe just how special this fundraiser is. Although it takes over the City of Airdrie every year for only 48 hours, it will continue to leave a mark on the community forever.
After my first Ride of the Mustang, I knew I wanted to be involved. I had never in my life been in a room filled with so much energy, pride, and community. Over the 48 hours, there were fun games during all hours of the night that included everyone, a school-wide head shave, and memories that will last a lifetime. (Also, I will never un-see some of my teachers on stage doing a midnight karaoke session).
Since then it had been my goal to be a part of the ride and to make it bigger and better every year. As of 2017, for my senior year, I was the Chairman of the Operations committee and because of this opportunity I have had amazing experiences that have not only impacted me, but also the community.
A few of the committee members and I were given the chance to take a tour of the Alberta Children’s Hospital in December. We were given a detailed tour to see where exactly the money we raised was being spent. It was unbelievably heart warming. Seeing the hospital first hand opened our eyes and I remember leaving that day being completely overwhelmed with a sense of pride. There is no better feeling than to physically see how much of a difference you make in someone else’s life. Although the students of George McDougall may not know who we are helping personally, we believe that there is never a reason to turn down the opportunity to help someone in need. This is our school’s way of showing that children and families are not alone in the fight and we hope to ride forward for however long it may take.
This event proves how much of a difference can be made when a group of people come together with one common goal in mind. I will forever be inspired by our bikeathon and hope that it will encourage others to work together to make a difference in whatever it is they believe in.
As time passes and classes graduate, there is not a doubt in my mind that future students will hold true to the Ride of the Mustang legacy for years to come. I am so proud to be a Mustang!
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!