Start Them Young They Say!

Start Them Young They Say!

Students Hold Local Candidates to Task in All Candidates Forum

Amrit Rai Nannan and Anna Jensdottir, Meadowbrook School and Heloise Lorimer School Teachers – What better opportunity to get students interested in our democratic process than to let them grill local candidates? On October 11th, that’s precisely what grade six students from Heloise Lorimer and Meadowbrook Schools in Airdrie were invited to do. As teachers, we saw an incredible teaching opportunity, so we organized our very own political forum so that students would have the opportunity to interact directly with Airdrie’s political candidates and more importantly get their questions answered face to face.

We started off hoping to get one or two mayoral candidates and a few councillor candidates out. If we were lucky, the school trustees would be willing to join as well. CIVIX (a non partisan organization whose goal is to create civically engaged future voters) pitched in to provide our schools with the Student Votes Program. Scouring the internet we were able to scrape together contact information. The overwhelming response we received from the candidates was beyond what we imagined – three mayoral candidates, 13 councillor candidates and four school trustees. Excited talk about who was coming started to dominate the classroom discussion and students even started reaching out to candidates on their own. At this point we knew the students had taken ownership of their learning and we had succeeded in our goal of engaging the students in the electoral process.

Frequently, adults and students see candidates as foreign beings that are not approachable. We wanted to break down these walls and show students that the political process is accessible and relevant to them too. We have found that students feel that their voice is not heard because it cannot be translated into a vote on election day. This leaves them feeling alienated and frequently apathetic. After being involved in this spectacular day, students have gained a new appreciation for the power of civic engagement. Our students have been out and about in the community, discussing the issues with their parents and their aspiring representatives. Not only have they actively shown their own influence in our city, but they’ve also gained experiences that will follow them as they grow into our next generation of responsible voters.

They old adage says that “it takes a village,” and for us, it was a proud moment to see the whole village show up for our students.

View the Student Votes results for Airdrie here.

Inspiring and Driving Education

Inspiring and Driving Education

Learning Design Specialist – A couple of weeks ago, the Learning Design Team and the École Edwards Administration Team visited Ted Talk guru, Gever Tulley, at Brightworks School in order to understand his philosophy and to help inspire the Maker Space Movement at Edwards.

A self-taught software engineer, Tulley created a summer program called Tinkering School in 2005. The Tinkering School’s program provides children with a week-long overnight experience at a ranch outside of San Francisco. Participants are engaged in large projects, like designing a working roller coaster, constructing a rope bridge made out of plastic bags, or furnishing a three-story tree house. In 2011, Tulley opened Brightworks School, bringing the Tinkering School approach to a formal education setting, thus allowing students to learn through hands-on inquiry, facilitated by teachers, each and every day. Tulley explained that his school can best be described as, “lifelong play based kindergarten combined with the inspiration and questioning of graduate school.”

Brightworks develops their phenomenological approach to learning through “Arcs of Learning.” Every arc is divided into three phases of study: exploration (discover and explore deeply), expression (create meaningful representations of learning) and exposition (showcase and exhibit creations to authentic audiences).

The students at Brightworks are grouped into 10 bands based on maturity level (not age), each focusing on the same thematic arcs. This year’s arcs are: coins, fabrics and cities. Classes have an interdisciplinary focus and make use of community partners, experts and field trips whenever possible. With all students exploring the same arcs, collaboration between bands and ages is natural, and students serve as inspiration to one another.

The use of phenomenological arcs is based on the neuroscientific notion that everything in the brain is connected, and that learning is ultimately about creating connections and relationships between a variety of ideas and concepts. The arcs allow teachers to first explore the topic with their band through what Tulley calls, “facipulation” (facilitated manipulation) that guides students toward understanding the outcomes that teachers identify prior to learning, as well as co-learning along with the students. After exploration, students move into expression, where they participate in workshops to identify, design, and prototype ways to express their learning. Developing empathy and social understanding is also an important part of this phase. Finally, Brightworks hosts a one-week exhibition, during which families and community members are invited to view the work completed during the arc, and where students reflect on their experiences.

One of our insights from this visit was the notion that teachers should be co-learners alongside their students. Tulley mentioned that he started Tinkering School and Brightworks because he felt that kids were being educated primarily to be consumers, and not creators or manipulators of the environments they live in. By allowing students to express their understanding in ways that are meaningful to each individual, by trying, failing, fixing, and retrying, not only do students learn and understand more deeply, they can also apply the process later in life to remain lifelong learners.

Moving forward, the École Edwards administration will be using what they gleaned from the experience to inform the development and use of their maker space and the mindset that needs to be fostered built with it. The inspiration and direction gained from Brightworks will drive their design forward, and hopefully encourage lifelong learning, collaboration, and deeper understanding in their students.

Unleash the Power of Play

Unleash the Power of Play

Supervisor of Jurisdictional Programs – In September, Calgary hosted the International Play Association’s tri-annual conference titled Unleashing the Power of Play. Delegates from over 50 countries came together to celebrate, advocate, educate and learn about the latest research in relation to play and child development. This event couldn’t have come at a better time. Early childhood educators within Rocky View Schools are beginning a dialogue regarding play: the role of play in early learning, the delivery of the curriculum through play, and the balance between play-based programming and school-based academic requirements.

Kindergarten teachers report that the pressure to teach academic skills earlier and earlier has been gradually gaining momentum. The popular notion that the earlier a child can read and write, the more successful they will be throughout their academic career seems well established in society. These increasing academic expectations have led some educators to up the academic rigor in the classroom, which unfortunately, often comes at the expense of opportunities for play.

While increasing academic expectations in kindergarten might appear to afford children an academic advantage, we now know that it does not. Children who have the opportunity to acquire foundational literacy, numeracy, and social skills through rich and authentic play experiences actually have the advantage. They will be better equipped to process and regulate their emotions, reason with information and solve problems; empathize and take the perspective of others. They will develop stronger communication skills, a more diverse vocabulary and will be better prepared for future formal academic instruction.

There is no question that educators ought to have high expectations for their kindergarten children. Play-based programming does not mean that children play all day without teacher support and direction or that there is an absence of goals or expectations. Programming through play is a way of engaging with the curriculum that honors children’s interests and developmental level. If we place more importance on the acquisition of academic skills at the expense of these opportunities, we are doing a disservice to our children. They will miss the opportunity to develop fundamental skills essential for their academic, social and emotional growth.

The Journey to Inclusion

The Journey to Inclusion

Director of Learning Supports – Have you ever read a book that cast a reflection on a part of your life? When I opened One Without the Other, I was introduced to the teaching world of Shelley Moore. It resonated. The students, conversations and meetings described in the book felt familiar. More importantly, the clarity in the work created by Shelley and her students provided a good model on which to reflect upon where we are in RVS on the journey to inclusion. (Please read the book to find out where that is!)

It’s only been about 10 years since large-scale laptop use in schools was implemented. Since that time, the proliferation of digital tools in schools has changed the educational landscape. Only a few short years ago, it was a source of frustration for families and school staff to have to search through binders of visual symbols for students who had no other means of good communication. Today, we are able to condense massive volumes, visuals and text to speech onto the tiniest portable devices. The landscape in schools has moved beyond digital device use as well. However, as dramatically as we have changed, we are stuck in many ways too.

In a way, One Without the Other describes the first competency in an inclusive education system. How do we make inclusion real and authentic for each of us? This is the nature of the work in the Learning Department. The things we are doing and the ways in which we do them is showing promising practice in Rocky View Schools. We are in the beginnings of a new iteration in curriculum design that has the potential to improve how we educate our children in inclusive settings. When I think of the intersects between the work of our design, literacy, learning and diversity specialists, I am brought to the place where the real and authentic becomes apparent once the learning is made purposeful for each of our students. When we work with synergy in our schools and with our parents, then we see inclusive learning in action.

Learning about Learning Sprints

Learning about Learning Sprints

Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was able to join one of our schools and take part of a pilot project being led by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The project is called the Agile Schools Network led by Australian, Dr. Simon Breakspear. Dr. Breakspear and his team have looked at educational research, effective teaching practices and what works in the business world to come up with their approach. Their model, called Learning Sprints, is not revolutionary, but brings laser focus to small, incremental changes in an effort to make large change. In our context, it is about working collaboratively, focusing on student outcomes and how to help students achieve success by addressing one small issue at a time.

Dr. Breakspear challenged us to work as a team to take “boulder” challenges, break them into “pebbles” (smaller components), and then find a narrow, specific outcome called a “sand” focus. Once the issue is defined, we work to understand the issue. Why are students struggling with this outcome and how might we be contributing?

Next we look at what we can do to design learning opportunities to specifically help students achieve the outcome. We don’t look to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead we look at what we can do in an effort to help students achieve that small, specific outcome. We identify a target group of students for the sprint. We look at what research tells us, as well as build on the collective wisdom and experience of the people in our sprint team.

Now it’s time to put the plan into action. We spend 1-4 weeks attempting the designed activities and we assess. We hold weekly stand-up scrums to discuss successes and challenges and share what is working. We ask ourselves, “How do we know if we helped address the outcome? What worked and what did not? Given the experience, what do we focus on for the next sprint?”

Dr. Breakspear and his team developed a number of tools, which he shared over the course of the day. The approach seemed very manageable and calls on us to collaborate and work collectively. We learn and grow as a small team focused on a specific student outcome. It builds on concepts of action research, spirals of inquiry, professional learning communities, but on a micro-scale. I liked the concept of multiple, micro-projects rather than spending the whole year on one outcome. Through addressing multiple “sand” problems we will be able to address the larger “pebble” challenges, which when put together helps tackle the “boulders”.

Favourite quotes from Dr. Breakspear over the day:

  • “Literacy and numeracy are the gateway drugs to learning.”
  • “The best way to do big things is to do a bunch of little things.”
  • “You’re not teaching if students are not learning.”
  • “Teaching causes learning.”

We will spend two more days with Dr. Breakspear and I’m looking forward to learning more. If you want to learn a more, check out http://www.agileschools.com.

Greg

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