Ever Wonder Why Schools Have Official Openings?

Ever Wonder Why Schools Have Official Openings?

Sydney and Lily, RVS Grade 4 students – Have you ever walked by a school and wondered why they have official school openings? Well, in January, Fireside school had its official opening and we stopped and wondered why we needed an opening when our school was already open two months earlier. We learned that the purpose of having a school opening ceremony was to mark time and show that a new school was opening.

Many people may wonder why it is so important to have guest speakers. It is important because they provide a different perspective. Here are a few of the guest speakers who came to attend Fireside’s official school opening ceremony. The Minister of Education, Honourable David Eggen, came because, well, it’s a little obvious, he’s the Minister of Education and it’s a school opening. The guest speakers were treated very respectfully by the audience. Also, Mr. Jeff Genung was at the school opening. Jeff Genung is our Mayor. He came because he himself had been through Elizabeth Barrett’s school opening many years ago. Also, because a new school in his town opened and he needs to see the school.

Here are some things our principal, assistant principal, and we, Lily and Sydney think so far. The principal, Mr. Thomas Elbel, says “I think that we are a very fortunate school.” He says that he loves coming to work each day. He loves the students and staff. Mrs. Root, the assistant principal, says she thinks that all the students have good leadership. As well as Mr. Elbel, she loves the staff and students. We have about the same opinion of Fireside School. We think the school is great. We love the lockers, the other kids, we think the teachers are brilliant and we love the environment that Fireside school brings. We all can agree that Fireside school is a great place to be.

Check out Fireside School’s “We Are Fireside” video to see students and staff share what it feels like to build a new school community and school culture:

 

RVS Battle of the Books: And the Banner Goes to…

RVS Battle of the Books: And the Banner Goes to…

Literacy Specialist – This year’s RVS Battle of the Books tournament on February 15 could not have had a more dramatic and exciting conclusion with Mitford’s “Readasaurus Rexes” tied with the “Indus Irony” at the end of regulation time in the championship final round. Parents, teachers, coaches and students were on the edge of their seats as Sigmund Brouwer, our guest presenter and celebrated author, took over question master duties in overtime to eventually determine our winner… but that wasn’t the best part.

The best part… it was a day all about books, students and the celebration that reading deeply about a text and sharing that learning with peers can bring. It was a day full of joy, laughter and excitement for all those involved.

Students talked about books. Students laughed about books. Students made new friends through their book conversations and shared experiences with their books. Students dissected and reviewed books. Students were intimate with the characters and connected to the stories and perspectives told through these books. Students were collaborative and competitive in demonstrating their knowledge of these books. It is these books that brought the students new insights, new accomplishments, and new connections with others. It was a powerful day celebrating learning and all because of books!

For those of you who do not know, the Battle of the Books is much like a sports competition, where teams of six face off against each other in tournament-style rounds to determine which team has the strongest understanding of the 15 preselected titles. Students spent countless hours not only reading, but rereading the texts. They were prepared to answer questions that went far beyond the trivial facts held within the pages, but reached to understand the intricacies buried in the diverse plots and themes of each book. Impressed by the level of competition, Leslie Waite, Assistant Principal of East Lake School said, “In order to answer diverse comprehension questions about all the books, students have developed deep knowledge of each text. They discuss each text, create questions and quizzed each other. It is amazing how well they know these books!” And KNOW these texts they DID; not only with accuracy, but with speed and confidence.

“You get to read a bunch of books that you normally would not choose yourself. You get to make new friends at the event. You – It’s just – It’s just fun! It encourages you to read a whole series or new authors that you like and you want to keep reading,” Bella from Meadowbrook shares. “Like I said before, you get to make new friends. Having my teammates in different grades was cool because I can walk down the halls now and say ‘Hi’ to them and feel like we are equal.” The Battle of the Books facilitated opportunities for RVS students to harness the power of literature – the ability to share a common experience, create new understandings and foster relationships that may not otherwise have occurred.

This shared literary experience had students across the Division talking. In fact, in the Battle’s first year, 72 students were involved from nine middle schools. These numbers do not take into account the additional hundreds of students that were involved in each school’s home battles, where members were seeking to become part of a team, and they do not reflect the spin off events that have been inspired by the day. One group of inspired middle school students plan to organize and facilitate a Battle of the Books for their Grade 3s because it was so much fun! This pay it forward attitude is infectious, and encourages students to come together in establishing a strong foundation for a culture of rich literature and authentic literacy conversations in our schools.

The good news is that the Battle of the Books is here to stay. If you are interested in knowing more about or participating in this literacy initiative, please do not hesitate to contact Erica Legh or Jody Moore.

Oh, and by the way, our champions for 2018 are… Mitford’s Readasaurus Rexes! Congratulations competitors!

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.

Greg

Why Say “Oui” to French Immersion?

Why Say “Oui” to French Immersion?

Principal, Elbow Valley Elementary School – As an administrator at a dual track elementary school and a former French Immersion (FI) student, I am frequently asked, “Why FI”? With advanced registration upon us, what better time to write about my thoughts and first-hand experiences.

Let’s start with some obvious and not-so-obvious advantages to being bilingual in our great nation:

  • Canada’s official languages are English and French; as such, increased cultural, social and employment opportunities are afforded to those who speak both languages.
  • I can attest to the advantages of bilingualism within the education sector. When it comes to employment opportunities, districts across the country are searching for French speaking educators to teach both Core French and French Immersion.
  • The not-so-obvious advantages (and ones that I cannot yet attest to) include the increasing body of research supporting the notion that speaking multiple languages serves as “exercise” for the brain. Similar to muscles, the brain responds to this demand by strengthening executive functioning, eventually protecting against dementia as one ages.

With the above-mentioned benefits in mind, why say “no” to FI?

The most common parent question I am asked is, “How do I support my child if I don’t speak French at home?”

I sometimes liken this question to registering for other life skills. As a child, I begged my parents to allow me to join the local competitive swim club. Despite the fact that neither of them could swim, they agreed. They supported me by ensuring that two essential elements were in place: commitment and structure. I was committed to developing my skills by adhering to the practice structure that had been put in place. Mom and Dad ensured that I was at every practice – even those at 6 in the morning!

The French Immersion program is similar in that it is designed for families who do not speak French at home. All communication with parents (i.e., forms, report cards, etc.) is in English and homework consists of practicing skills that have been taught in class. The greatest form of support a parent can provide for their child is committing to daily reading – in their first language. Engaging children in authentic literacy experiences (writing emails, speaking with relatives, etc.) shows them that you value language. It also provides transferable skills and serves as the foundation upon which students acquire their second language.

At times, French Immersion programming is perceived as being for the strongest students. This has not been the case in my experience as an administrator or as a student. Speaking multiple languages is not a measure of intelligence. While programming may look slightly different, the curricular outcomes are the same as are the supports available to French Immersion students. Advances in technology and the increasing connectedness of our world have made resources more accessible than ever before! In addition to digital supports, there are invaluable resources in our own backyards. If you are considering French Immersion, seek out your local chapter of Canadian Parents for French (CPF). CPF offers many resources to families considering French and also provides French experiences within our communities.

It is my hope that this blog has provided some food for thought. If you have questions or you are simply curious about FI programming, reach out to your designated school. We are here to help all families make the best choice for their child(ren).

Happy decision making!

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?

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