Teaching About My Old Hometown

Teaching About My Old Hometown

Superintendent of Schools – This week I had the absolute pleasure of teaching for a bit! Okay, to be honest, it was more like I got to be a guest speaker. How did this happen?

About eight weeks ago, I walked into the Wildrose meeting room at the Education Centre where a group of teachers were working with our Learning Design team to develop rich, engaging learning opportunities for their students. As I often do, I walked around observing projects that were being collaboratively designed. I came upon a group of teachers from Elizabeth Barrett Elementary School who were building learning opportunities about Saskatoon for Grade 2 and 3 students. I casually mentioned, “Hey, I used to live in Saskatoon.” Instantly the teachers looked at me and said, “Do you want to come to our classes and share?” I said yes and suddenly I was now on their planning map under the resources list.

Full disclosure: I’ve worked with kids of all ages, but all of my formal teaching was with high school students. In planning what I’d share, I needed to remember that these were seven and eight year olds, so I attempted to include some student participation, keep things light and connect a few stories that you might not find online.

Three classes of students squeezed into a classroom and we learned about Saskatoon together. They had already learned lots about Saskatoon and we even had a handful of students who lived in Saskatoon at one time in their early lives. Plenty of other students had visited or driven through Saskatoon. Early on, I shared that I grew up in Moose Jaw and, of course, I had to ask who had seen “Mac the Moose” while visiting Moose Jaw.

Mount Blackstrap

When we were talking about the land, I shared a picture of both Cochrane and Saskatoon and asked the students to tell me which picture was which town/city. They nailed it. And when I asked how they knew, they talked about seeing the mountains in the background of Cochrane. I asked if there are mountains in Saskatchewan and most kids said, “Nooooooooo.” I clicked to my next slide and there was a picture of Mount Blackstrap just a few minutes outside Saskatoon. As you can see in this picture, “mount” is probably a significant stretch. We laughed together and I shared the story of how Mount Blackstrap was built in order to allow skiing at the 1971 Canada Winter Games.

In the blink of an eye, the 40 minutes were up. I hope the kids enjoyed talking about the land, weather, population, housing, things to do, major events and listening to me try to answer their “I Wonder”-ings. I certainly did. The kids were polite, grateful, funny and inquisitive.

Thanks to the teachers for allowing me to join your learning community for a short bit. I hope to rejoin the crew in April when they hold their celebration of learning about Saskatoon.


Regular School Attendance: Building the Habit Early

Regular School Attendance: Building the Habit Early

Project Lead for the Attendance Innovation Campaign – It should not be surprising that regular school attendance is important in fostering academic success, positive relationships, and a sense of belonging. Research suggests that students who miss more than 10 percent of available instructional days – translating to just two missed days a month – are at an increased risk for a number of negative outcomes, including academic underachievement, social challenges, and school drop-out.

As parents and teachers, we all care about a student’s success in school and life; however, we sometimes do not realize how quickly school absences can add up. It is important to consider that attendance matters in all grades, including Kindergarten. In fact, studies show that up to 40 percent of students who are chronically absent in Kindergarten continue to demonstrate chronic absenteeism in Grade 6. These types of patterns can translate to difficulty reading at grade level, lower provincial tests scores, and an increased likelihood of high school drop-out.

Schools can promote the importance of regular school attendance and help build healthy attendance habits by:

  • Creating a safe and caring school environment that emphasizes positive connections between students and staff. Students are more likely to go to school if they know someone cares whether they show up.
  • Discussing attendance at parent-teacher conferences.
  • Using data regularly to identify attendance patterns and ensuring early intervention for students and families who may be struggling with attendance.

Parents and families can also encourage healthy attendance habits by:

  • Avoiding extended vacations that require children to miss school. All absences add up and result in missed instructional time and lost opportunities to interact with peers and teachers.
  • Setting up regular bedtime and morning routines. Charts, checklists, or routine boards can help children keep track of routines.
  • Communicating with the school regularly about attendance and absences and tracking your child’s attendance patterns using PowerSchool.

For more information about the Attendance Innovation Campaign and to obtain access to useful educational resources, please visit the RVS website.

What Do You Make?

What Do You Make?

Learning Design Specialist – In preparation for the Learning Design Maker Cohort, we thought it would be interesting to ask teachers, “What do you make and why?” Tough question! Immediately I put on my teacher hat and thought, “Well, I make awesome lessons, labs and fun projects because… curriculum!”

And then I thought about what making really is: making is finding creative solutions to unique problems. Teachers are designers of learning; we are here to design for our students and to learn alongside them. One way teachers can create authentic experiences that are fun, engaging and real, is to come up with interesting and relevant challenges for kids to solve. In making, students rise to the challenge by creating authentic, high quality products. They will be engaged, reflective, collaborative, and feel accomplished. During the Learning Design cohort, our goal was to generate engagement by encouraging teachers to make something they were proud of.

The modern maker movement is about making high quality products for an authentic audience or consumer. Whether a person knits a blanket to give as a baby gift or bakes cookies for coworkers to enjoy, creating a high-quality product worth sharing is the essence of making. When a student produces something that they take no pride in, either because they lacked the skill to reach a level of quality they could be proud of, or the product has no consumer beyond a teacher who will grade it, the engagement can be limited. When students have an opportunity to create products that are meaningful to them, that they can be proud of, and that can be shared with an authentic audience, making becomes magical! Teachers don’t have to be experts. Being willing to pose a question and learn alongside students can be just as powerful. Providing an opportunity for students to explain, exhibit or show off to parents, industry or local government adds even more to the experience.

Making requires more than knowledge and some remembering. It often requires deeper understanding, reflection, and an application of knowledge. And isn’t that the goal of teaching – to create authentic learning experiences that drive students to be engaged learners ready for problems of the future? So what are you making?

Girls in STEAM

Girls in STEAM

Technology Learning Specialist – On Nov. 23, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of 50 girls, their teachers and guests at the Girls in STEAM Day. STEAM is the integration of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts to stimulate inquiry, innovation and creativity.

The enthusiasm these young ladies had for learning, experimenting, failing and trying again was electric. The conference began with the girls creating name tags that represented them: who they were, their interests, and their aspirations for the future.

We then had the opportunity to listen to three outstanding RVS teachers (Jill Quirk, Jenn Hummel and Shauna Taves) and their students describe the ways they support girls in STEAM in their own schools. Students also discussed what STEAM meant and learned about the stereotypes and biases they may face in the future.

The rest of the day focused on hands-on activities: making Christmas cards with lights and circuits, doing science experiments that resulted in Christmas ornaments, learning about robotics and coding with Little Bits, Spheros, and EZ-robots, and creating a band with found instruments.

Why did we do this? We need to encourage girls, especially those between 11 and 15, to pursue their interest in science and math. Society is missing out on the diversity needed to stimulate innovation and creativity if we are not attracting girls to engineering, sciences and math.

In a study commissioned by Microsoft, Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics states, “Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls’ career choices away from STEM fields.”

“This means that governments, teachers and parents only have four or five years to nurture girls’ passion before they turn their backs on these areas, potentially for good,” states Microsoft. “When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems.”

“If the cure for cancer is in the mind of a junior high girl, the odds are that we’ll never find it.”
– Dr. Jenna Carpenter, Louisiana Tech University

Making Learning Meaningful

Making Learning Meaningful

Director of Schools – For generations, learners have been asking the questions, “Why do I need to know this?” and “When am I ever going to use this?” I am convinced that if we wish to engage our learners, we need to start by considering these age-old queries.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take several lessons related to some new software tools that I will need to become proficient with. The Office 365 modules included One-Note, Sway, Groups and SharePoint. Frankly, I admit that I was not prepared to delve into these new programs with zest and zeal. As you may surmise, I am quite comfortable using the tools that I have become familiar with.

I remember asking the instructor specific questions about how I may be able to use each of the programs for various facets of my work. Once I understood how these tools could be useful, I became much more interested in trying the programs and learning more about them. The importance of making real-life connections to the concepts being learned cannot be understated.

Simon Sinek, one of my favourite authors, states, “Start with why.” Essentially, his message is that people may be inspired to action if they understand the why. Similarly, learners solving real-world problems and learners who can make life connections to the outcomes they are studying will be far more engaged and will develop deeper, more thorough understandings than learners studying concepts that have little or no meaning for them. As educators, our challenge is to ensure that we make learning meaningful for each and every individual!

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