RVS Learning Specialist – Friday November 18th was a fantastic day at the Education Centre in RVS! There were BB-8 robots whizzing around the room, bots making art, virtual reality rollercoaster trips, coding, and paper airplanes that could carry cargo.
Teachers and students from around our jurisdiction met to discuss the lack of girls and young women represented in STEAM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in our schools. Even though it is 2016, statistics show that girls and boys are still choosing career paths that they feel are “gender appropriate”. Participants of the day were able to talk with young women to hear what it’s like to be a woman in STEAM in the real world. We spoke with Stephanie Campbell, an engineer at Google, who has found herself in meetings with 50 people and has been the only female in the room. That doesn’t stop her from innovating and creating incredible things. Maddie and Kedra from the WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) program at the U of C talked about supporting women in programs that have been traditionally dominated by men. Our RVS girls asked great questions like “What did you like to do when you were my age?” and “What advice would you give your younger self?” The girls came away with the knowledge that if you are curious and fascinated by STEAM, don’t be discouraged if you aren’t an expert. You will be successful if you know how to learn.
It warmed the cockles of my heart to see a grade 3 girl struggle with getting her paper airplane to carry popsicles. She redesigned her plane several times and made a lot of test flights. By the end of the day it flew 3 metres, while carrying 10 popsicle sticks! She told me the secret was to make sure the sticks were even on each side. Another girl made an art-bot that drew circles. Her design was based on a toboggan because she thought sleds are slippery and she wanted her art bot to slide around the page, instead of vibrate or jump.
What the adults in the room came away with is that girls are inventors, designers and creators. When certain pressures or influences are removed, such as competitiveness, and they are just allowed to play, they will use iterative processes to make innovative creations. None of the girls gave up on things, even when they were frustrated. A certain secretary who couldn’t get her art bot to work, took it back to her desk to keep redesigning. Over lunch people near her work station could hear it buzzing. She was thrilled with her accomplishment and showed me her bot generated art.
Teachers and students are pushing ahead in the coming weeks to implement projects, clubs and initiatives that will encourage more girls in STEAM. Ask around your school to see what you are doing to support girls. The problems of today and the future will be solved by people in STEAM. Let’s make sure that we are providing opportunities for everyone to be exposed to STEAM at young ages, so they can discover if that is what they are interested in, without the background noise of what is “gender appropriate”.
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!”
RVS Humanities 8/Reading Intervention/Drama Teacher, Chestermere Lake Middle School – Nothing brightens my day more than seeing kids learn a new skill or strategy and knowing deep in my gut that it will pay off in their lives for years to come. As a reading/writing workshop teacher in the middle school, luckily this happens regularly and my days are extremely bright!
For all of you middle school ELA teachers out there, choosing a method/strategy/program… can be extremely frustrating. The ELA Program of Studies is extremely complex, and how can we possibly teach “the good stuff” that is going to stick, when all of those outcomes are so incredibly vague?? (Pet peeve #1) I learned long ago, that implementing a reading and writing workshop in my class was the only way that I was going to move kids forward in multiple strands and enjoy the ride along the way.
I have had the pleasure of studying with Lucy Calkins and the Reading and Writing Project at Teacher’s College at Columbia University in NYC for the last two years. After teaching 23 years, I wanted MORE STRUCTURE with MORE STUDENT/TEACHER CHOICE in my reading/writing lessons and the new middle level Units of Study in Reading were exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, these reading units for grades 6-8 weren’t available to the public yet, so I decided to save my pennies and take the plunge to learn straight from the masters at TCRWP and get my hands on those units!
In my grade 8 classroom, the first month is spent developing the students’ reading lives. Many students read very little outside of school time anymore, so I need to give them mass amounts of time to explore, investigate and analyze their reading interests, skills and goals. While building this reading life, I also focus on one aspect of narrative reading that is beneficial to them in later analytic endeavors – characterization. It is difficult for kids to analyze and interpret the themes in a piece, when they are still struggling to analyze and interpret the characters and their actions. Through a series of read-alouds, minilessons, conferences and mostly INDEPENDENT SELF-SELECTED READING, I see kids slowly reaching their reading goals (which were all based on growth mindset, of course), talking about books they are reading daily.
Mentor Text for Unit 1: First, French Kiss: And Other Traumas by Adam Bagdasarian – Humorous memoirs of a boy growing up in the 80s…so many cringe-worthy, laugh out loud moments! This novel was exactly what I needed to motivate uninspired readers to want to search harder for more books that interested them.
At the end of the unit, I followed the lead of my colleagues at TCRWP and celebrated! This year, I decided to have a “Glow-In-The-Dark Reading Party” complete with toasts to their reading accomplishments (with water in champagne glasses) and gummy worms (to symbolize their status as bookworms, get it??). I don’t know about you guys, but after 25 years of teaching, I need to pat myself on the back more often for a job well done and the students need that boost as well. Candy is usually part of that celebration in my world!
As part of a balanced literacy program, I alternate a reading unit of study with a writing unit of study, so my students have now moved on to building their writing lives and figuring out what moments of their lives they want to share in their first published memoir. Now how should we celebrate? I’ll let you know when we do!
Until next time,