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.
Greetings from the Learning Department’s 21C team! Not sure who that is or what we do? Check out our introductory article, and then join us back here for an update.
Trailblazers investigate iconic Alberta images at The Stockman’s Museum.
If you follow #rvsed or #rvs21c on Twitter, you’re probably well aware that we’ve been doing some fun, out-of-school things with a number of RVS teachers these past couple of weeks. On those days we do tend to get a little excited and spam the Twitter account with updates and retweets of the work everyone is doing. We apologize to anyone whose #rvsed Tweet got buried in a stream of 21C exuberance.
It’s just that it’s difficult for us to control ourselves when we see and hear enthusiastic teachers diving into an interesting inquiry and creating excellent finished products in spite of some heavy time pressures. We believe one of the hallmarks of good instructional design is understanding it first from the inside – as the learner. Accordingly, a consistent feature of all the design cohorts is that teachers first act as learners and actually work through a designed exercise where they must explore an inquiry topic and use newly acquired tools or skills to create a product of significance.
In our Trailblazers Cohort, teachers inquired about the natural and man-made iconic symbols of Alberta at Cochrane Ranche, and exhibited their learning in a narrated SoundScape. They then put their new photography and graphic editing skills to use, creating icons of Alberta to be submitted to The Noun Project – an international effort to create a visual language.
Canada 150 teachers inquire about the identity of historical artifacts.
Our Canada 150 Cohort explored what we can infer about Canadian identity by examining the artifacts we curate, like the ones they explored at the Glenbow Museum. They went on to compose photographic pieces of art to accompany artist statements they made about their findings.
Lastly, our Architecture Challenge teachers took on the role of Professional Planners at the U of C, as they uncovered the ways in which public space serves our communities. After an inspiring tour of the Faculty of Environmental Design, including conversations with a Professional Planner, they began to plan scaled architectural models that will accompany infographics highlighting their findings.
Teachers pool the knowledge about public spaces for their Architecture Challenge.
You may notice that in each of these projects, teachers are asked to acquire and share knowledge (Inquiry), to create something that meaningfully displays their learning (Project), and to showcase this in a way that is authentic to the discipline they are exploring (Exhibition). These three phases are the key elements of our own instructional design process and what we believe can make for powerful design for student learning as well.
The part that we sometimes fret about is making teachers speed through all of those phases in a single day. In truth, the most important part of the design cohorts is when teachers design for their own students. While we believe the teacher projects have authenticity, the real value is in seeing the process from the inside and getting to use different tools and protocols that lend themselves to collaboration and creativity. In a future blog post, we’ll look at how these first days later translate into exciting student projects.
Our Visual Instructional Design Framework.
Thanks for reading! Janelle (@Janelle3904), Dan (@DMcWilliam), Jason (@JasonTeaching), & Sara (@mrssaramartin)