Teacher, Ralph McCall School – When I started out the journey developing Connections as an idea in the Rocky View Schools Fellowships, the aim was always to engage students in meaningful learning experiences. Inspired by the great work already occurring in Rocky View, such as the WILD program or Building Futures for older ages, our idea was how can we engage younger students in similar ways. Working with administrators and Rocky View’s learning specialist team, we came up with with our idea for Connections.
At it’s heart, the intention of Connections is to inspire students to make social, emotional, physical and intellectual connections with their learning. At the beginning of the year we spoke about how making a connection in their brain, their memory, is a lasting thing. Positive or negative connections are lasting – therefore engaging in meaningful learning opportunities is an important way to ensure kids love coming to school everyday.
The idea itself went through growing pains, or an “identity crisis” – often described as a class that learns outside, I always felt it was and should be more than that. The students should be challenged to learn about the world in a hands-on way that utilizes experts and has a meaningful and lasting impact. From here, the path and the partnerships needed became much clearer. First, was the idea of using the community to improve engagement in the grade 4 curriculum. Then came the barriers to this and ideas to overcome them. Thus a partnership was born with Airdrie Transit, which has provided us affordable transportation to different places in Airdrie.
Suddenly opportunities to visit places opened up. Students visited the Airdrie recycling depot, Nose Creek Museum, Plainsman Arena, Airdrie Public Library, Chinook Winds Park, Nose Creek Park, the Airdrie Cenotaph, and the Airdrie Echo.
With this, came opportunities to engage experts on topics related to our learning. In our sustainability project we learned how to plan for a sustainable community from the City of Airdrie. We learned about waste, learned about protecting our natural spaces with CPAWS, how to plan a garden that provides food through Green Calgary, how to improve water security with CAWST and we examined the food waste in our school. This project was later presented to City of Airdrie Environmental Committee.
Over the winter we connected with an app developer who was looking to try out using their app in schools. Part of this pilot project and study was to offer students an opportunity to dive deep into the Alberta curriculum and share it in a unique and living way. Students were proud this past week to showcase their Discovery Agent’s missions on Alberta and Airdrie history, located in Nose Creek Park, to other students and invited guests. Not only were students able to be the creators of these missions, but engaging them in the competitive aspect of the app and utilizing a natural, outdoor space provided great tools of engagement for students.
It wasn’t always easy: relying on public transit rather than chartered buses requires organizing around it’s schedule; relying on the interests of 9 and 10 year olds; and relying on the weather (as you can see, it can snow in April). Seeing students “showing off” their learning, showing an appreciation for public transit when we walked places instead of taking the bus or when the weather turned and even enjoying our community and remembering their experiences were key elements to finding success in our class.
Discovery Agents testing in April
At we reflect and begin to plan for next year, I can feel confident that students were given opportunities to develop into well rounded citizens, challenged and engaged physically, socially, intellectually and emotionally.
“[student] was eager to apply things that he had learned and even helped us to change some things we were doing in our home. He also became interested in public transit and learned about the C-Train and bus schedules while visiting [family] in Calgary.” – Parent Feedback
Director of 21C Learning -The theme of ‘Education Week’ this year is ‘Learning is a journey.’ As educators, our own journeys began many years ago, as we entered the formal school system as students. Little did we know then, how our teachers would motivate, challenge, inspire, surprise, and ultimately educate us to take up the mantle of teaching ourselves.
In my own learning journey, my grade one teacher, Mrs. Thain, towered over us, as she inducted our rambunctious class into the expectations of curriculum, socialization, organization and civility as we donned the learners’ role. In grade six, it was Miss Bilyk, the brand new, hip homeroom teacher whose passion for her learners and learning compelled us to work hard, enjoy reading, get creative and have fun. Somehow she channeled our boundless energy into meaningful learning experiences that enthralled us. Mrs. Nelson, in grade nine, treated us like the young adults we were so excited to become, engaging us in the civic and provincial election process through current events, making connections between our school and our world. In grade twelve, whether it was Mr. Rakoz exploring reproductive systems in biology, Mr. Prodaniuk waxing philosophically about ‘Death of a Salesman’ in English or Mr. Seward outlining the merits of various economic and political systems in Social Studies, our teachers were doing their best to shepherd us out of the ‘system’ as well-prepared, soon-to-be, new graduates. That seems an eternity ago, and yet, the enthusiasm, expertise and passion of those teachers ‘back in the day’ holds sway with myself and fellow educators today.
And it wasn’t only those teachers…As a student, I did not fully appreciate the ‘behind the scenes’ work that our school administration also did to support our learning. It is not surprising how, over time, perspective evolves during one’s own educational journey. Over the past two weeks in particular, I have been incredibly humbled and inspired by my administrative colleagues – the school based principals and assistant principals who are the lead learners in Rocky View schools. Their dedication and commitment to learning, learners, the community and the greater good, is remarkable. As role models, their fidelity to their own learning remains paramount at this time of year, when they simultaneously inhabit the present while preparing and planning for the future, 2017-2018 school year. Despite their unbelievably busy schedules, they prioritize time for after school Book Clubs, graduate courses, webinars and online learning among other activities. They continue to support staff and students in their respective learning journeys, celebrating their achievements and bolstering their supports as the learning gets deeper and more demanding. As lead learners, they are also exceptionally generous with their own ‘best practices’. I have witnessed extraordinary generosity of ideas in multiple contexts, from elementary to high school teams across the jurisdiction. Our RVS administrators orchestrate rich learning for not only their students, but also their staff as they observe and demonstrate, “We are all learners.”
It was Henry Adams who once said, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.” During Education Week, as we reflect on our own ‘Learning Journeys’ we can thank a teacher or an administrator, for provoking and stimulating our learners’ minds. It is with prodigious gratitude, that I thank those teachers who helped me along my educational path to becoming a teacher. It is with equal respect, admiration and appreciation, that I work alongside our RVS teacher and administrative colleagues as they continue to illuminate the path of the learning journeys of our students and staff. We will delight in today’s students being motivated, inspired and challenged by their teachers and leaders, as they navigate and enjoy the ‘open road’ of learning.
RVS Learning Specialist – Another common theme that we hear about on site visits is the emphasis on relationships. Each school we toured had a different, yet effective way to connect their students, staff, and community. Crescent Heights High School in Medicine Hat has recently started on their High School Redesign journey. Their initial focus has been on building relationships with students and staff and encouraging the pursuit of their passions. Forty minutes each day is set aside for a flex/advisory block that they call “CHAT.” During CHAT, academic, social, and emotional supports are provided. Each student has the chance to connect with an adult in the building, who, along with the supportive peer group, stays as their CHAT connection throughout their time at CHH. One Friday a month they have a day they call “Spark Day.” On this day, during CHAT, students can explore a topic or learn a skill of their choice. Sessions offered range widely, including sports, music, cooking, knitting, computer programing, jellyfish, and many more. The offerings are based on the passions of the staff and the students, and they change regularly. Many schools are experimenting with advisories so it was extremely enlightening to talk to a school about what has been working well and where they are going from here.
In Bassano School, relationships are key. With a high population of students from the Siksika Nation, the school has worked hard to foster relationships within the First Nations community to ensure the success of all students. It is one of very few schools in Alberta that can report no significant achievement differences between their FMNI and non-status students. First Nation students are just as likely to graduate from Bassano as any other student in the school. One of the many ways they have engaged their community is by bringing one of their Parent Teacher Interview nights in to the Siksika community. This demonstration of the school’s commitment to community has lead to substantially higher attendance at these meetings and broader parent involvement in the school.
Bassano School is more than just a building where teaching happens; it is a central hub of the community – a place where kids want to be and where community involvement is high. In their multimedia classes, equipped with green screen and professional lighting, students produce high quality newscasts and advertisements for local businesses and sports teams. The school also has a Human Patient Simulator where students work with nurses from the nearby hospital to check vitals, diagnose, and treat patients with all the authenticity of a medical training facility.
These site visits have all been eye opening. There has been something to learn from each person we’ve been fortunate enough to speak with and each place we’ve been able to explore. Although touring other schools is a great experience, powerful insights don’t necessarily require a road trip. Within every school there are opportunities to discover and stories worthy of hearing. A great first site visit can often be a visit with someone just down the hall or on the other side of your building. Often a powerful professional learning experience can come from simply observing a colleague teach, or being observed by a colleague, and then having a conversation about it. The beauty of being an educator is that we are surrounded by people to collaborate with, to learn from, and who share our goal of wanting to do what’s best for students.
Then again, sometimes it’s tremendously valuable to see other contexts in order to better understand your own. Do you have an initiative you’d like to see in action, or a concept that you’d like to explore remotely? Contact our team to discuss a possible site visit to support that goal.
Superintendent of Schools – On January 27th, I had the pleasure of being part of the kickoff for Langdon School’s Headstrong Summit. All grade 6 to 9 students and staff participated in a day long event to learn about mental health and stomp out the associated stigma. The school was able to garner phenomenal support through partners like Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Headstrong program, Alberta Health Services, Synergy, Connecteen, Stepping Stones to Mental Health, and some community groups.
I was provided the opportunity to say a few words to kick off the day. Here is the text of my message:
I am honoured to be here for a short bit this morning to help kick off your day where you are coming together as a community to talk and learn about mental health and help break the stigma related talking about mental illness.
Recently, I’ve seen a ton of commercials on TV and Twitter about the Let’s Talk series sponsored by Bell. We all need to be encouraged to talk about our mental health – kids and adults too. We need to recognize that it is okay to talk about our mental health just like we talk about our physical health. No one blinks an eye if you talk about a sprained wrist, if you need glasses or if you are seeing your doctor for a checkup but somehow for many of us it is not okay to talk about if we are struggling with depression or anxiety or seeing a counselor. We need to change that.
I encourage you to:
be that friend who will listen without judging or thinking less of the person who shares their challenges.
be the same warm, caring and non-judgmental friend as you were before your friend opens up to you.
encourage friends that are struggling with their emotions, feelings, stress, anxiety, sadness to reach out and ask for help. That help can come from any adult in your life – teacher / parent / grandparent / coach / older brother/sister. They might not have the answers but they can help find the answers.
Thanks to the school for organizing this event. Thanks to the presenters joining us today.
Lastly, Be brave! Reach out! Speak up!
Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for the full day where kids had small group opportunities to hear and learn from the stories of brave presenters, who shared their knowledge and their personal stories related to addiction, grief and anger, healthy relationships, acceptance, suicide, physical harm and other challenges. The event provided information to students about where they can turn to for help and the stories provided opportunities for students to learn, grow, accept and stomp out stigma.
Vienna and Sydney, WG Murdoch School Students – How in the world will we feed 9 Billion people in the year 2050? The Airdrie / Crossfield 4H Helping Hands Club went on an eye opening field trip Saturday, Jan. 21, to Journey 2050 and we think everyone needs to hear this message!
As the population pushes up to 9 Billion by the year 2050, will it be possible to produce enough food to feed everyone? This was the key question posed to our Airdrie /Crossfield Helping Hands 4H Club members who attended the Journey 2050 Educational Session sponsored by Agrium currently set up at the Agrium Western Event Centre at the Calgary Stampede grounds.
This engaging five-hour program is being offered to school groups, 4H groups and more from all over the Calgary Region. The goal is to teach students about how important jobs and roles in agriculture will be, and what they might look like, as the world braces for the reality that we will need to produce 65% more food from the current land and water base. Is that even going to be possible? What will it require? Our 4H group was lead through a guided conversation around these concepts with the instructors who taught the day long program through games and interactive challenges.
The activities placed in front of our members helping them learn about farming and food production practices around the world today and how agriculture is going to become even more important as an industry as the population grows. It was a great chance to learn from experts, and work alongside other 4H members from all over the Calgary region.
We personally will be in our 40s in the year 2050. How will our diet compare in 2050 with what we enjoy now? Our members discussed the importance of balancing environmental, social and economic issues as the world tackles the key question of what we will all have to do to secure food production for 9 billion.
Crops will likely need to change, we will need to find ways to put lands like swamps and mountainous terrain into use for rice production and grazing animals like goats that can adapt to rocky outcrops for grazing space. We will also need to preserve the current supply of farmable land and not mow it over with urban sprawl.
Our club members left the session feeling the weight of this challenging issue. We found ourselves talking about what we can do now to 1. Reduce our personal food waste, 2. Eat and consume sustainably, 3. Monitor and reduce our personal water use, 4. And how we can reduce our environmental footprint. This is only a small number of topics and questions posed in this day-long session. Our club members are very grateful for the chance to learn more about this important environmental question – we hope everyone in the Rocky View region will attend Journey 2050 while it is in Calgary and we would encourage classrooms and 4H clubs from around Rocky View to consider checking it out!
Big thanks to our 4H friends in the Flatlands for organizing a 4H day at Journey 2050. More information is available online at Journey2050.com