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
Superintendent of Schools – Like many of our RVS team, I spent some time away from work last week during RVS’ spring break. After spending a few days back in Saskatchewan celebrating a family milestone, we loaded up the van and returned home. I spent the good part of the next four days in the backyard landscaping. I have no green thumb, but shoveling, pushing the wheelbarrow, and installing edging is right up my alley. The immediate feedback of moving four cubic yards of garden mix from the front driveway to various beds in the backyard works for me. Like many challenges, at the beginning I thought we’d never get that all moved. Wheelbarrow full after wheelbarrow full and the pile was not changing. Suddenly I noticed the pile looked a bit smaller. A few loads later, it was smaller yet. A couple of loads later we were scraping the driveway to fill the last load. Wow, mission accomplished.
The next day it was three cubic yards of wood chips. The race was on. How fast can we move those light wood chips? 40 minutes – start to finish and that project was complete. We had time to tackle other pieces of the yard. The next day included three cubic yards of rock on the driveway. So much for another 40-minute job. The weight of the rock combined with my 15-year-old being at an umpiring clinic meant we labored away for 4 hours. Nevertheless, at the end of that day, all the major landscaping groundwork was complete. Now we are ready for the fun bits of planting trees, shrubs, and flowers.
By now you must be wondering, what is Greg writing about all this for? I guess my work is normally focused on the long game: next year’s budget; long-term student achievement growth; multi-year plans; and, creating the conditions for our staff to be successful. Looking back, this project was still about creating the conditions for future plantings to grow (which is not far off from my usual job). It was nice to tackle some tasks that had a defined start and end. I knew the tasks were complete when the piles were moved. I knew I was successful when the yard looked like what we drew up on our garden plan.
Sometimes it is just nice to have a sense of accomplishment with tangible results you can see from your deck!
RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 3 of 4: As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection.
During Exhibition, the student’s research is authentic as they take ownership for their learning from the very start. Once the whole grade 5 group decides on the central idea, each group/individual makes up their own lines of inquiry which decides what direction their research will take. From here they make up questions to investigate based on each of the eight PYP key concepts. When the students decide the path their research takes, it becomes more authentic for them and is truly something that sparks their curiosity. The central idea, lines of inquiry, and key concept questions will help the students stay focused and on-track during their investigation.
Students are required to select and utilize a variety of strategies and resources to meet the outcomes of the inquiry. Students should use a variety of secondary sources such as books, websites, magazine and newspaper articles, surveys, artifacts, science investigations, working models, field visits, studies, etc. The more sources they access the deeper their understanding will be.
A huge part of the student’s inquiry is based on primary sources. Some of the most important information is gathered from the experts who have lived and experienced the actual issues being investigated. These interviews are always rich in knowledge and provide an in-depth look into each group’s topic of study. The interviews can be conducted face-to-face, through Skype or FaceTime, over the phone or on-line. The students always get so excited when they get to interact with an expert and the information they obtain is so valuable. The students develop their own interview questions which are largely based on the lines of inquiry and key concepts. Not only do the students gain great inquiry techniques, but it also teaches them excellent communication and interview skills.
We strive for the students to engage in an in-depth, collaborative inquiry to provide them with an opportunity to explore multiple perspectives. By discovering various viewpoints, and not always ones they agree with, it allows them to see the whole picture of their issue and become even more of an expert on their topic of study. It pushes them to go beyond simple research and look at their issue from several different angles.
During Exhibition academic honesty is emphasized. The students are expected to correctly cite all the sources that they use for research. This does not only include text information, but also pictures, videos, articles, interviews, etc. It is of utmost importance that the students put all the information they access into their own words. We want the students to be able to confidently speak about their topic so it is important that they understand and make sense of the evidence they acquire.
On-site visits or field trips also give students excellent insight into their selected issues as well. By actually experiencing things first hand, it helps them develop a deeper understanding of their topics. The more opportunities and exposure the students receive, the more enriched their learning will be.
This year, our Exhibition Showcase will be held at Prairie Waters Elementary School on Wednesday, May 3 from 5:45-7:15 pm and Thursday, May 4 from 8:30-10:15 am. Everyone is more than welcome to attend and see what our students have to share. Hope to see you there!
RVS Teacher, Prairie Waters Elementary – Part 2 of 4: As Jen Friske outlined in Part 1 out of 4 in this blogging series, What is the Exhibition, Prairie Waters students in grade 5 participate in a unique 8-9 week, in-depth collaborative inquiry into an issue or problem of their own selection. This project is a culmination of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and gives a chance for students to demonstrate all of their attained knowledge thus far, as well as challenge them to go further in their learning. All five elements of the PYP will be on display during this inquiry: Attitudes, Knowledge, Key Concepts, Skills and Action.
As with all large student-initiated inquiries, naturally we wanted to capture the process of this wonderful student learning, but how? Fortunately for us, wonderful members of the RVS 21st learning specialists team were available to help us out with their expertise. Spending a day with Janelle Fortmuller allowed us to storyboard two different documentaries that we will focus on during the 9 weeks that will help visualize the students’ journeys. With a purposeful and deliberate attempt to capture learning each week, along with making room for the impromptu moments of learning, we hope these documentary storyboards assist us in making our learning visible.
Our first documentary will focus on the Exhibition in its’ entirety and the Exhibition as a whole process. From the first week of capturing students’ excitements and explanations of their topic, to identifying various self-management, communication, social, thinking and research skills used weekly, we dedicate each Thursday and Friday to capturing student voice about the process via weekly reflections. These powerful snippets of video allow students to tell their story as they go through the process, with the hope of capturing all of the A-Has’ and frustrations experienced by students, to be put together in a process of Exhibition documentary.
Our second documentary arose from the idea of educating parents and guests during the two Exhibition days of May 3rd and 4th. In the year’s past, we’ve urged the parents and guests to challenge students during the Exhibition to have a conversation about their learning and process they went through. As some teachers are aware, urging parents and guests to participate more can be more powerful when it comes directly from students rather than our teacher voice. We wanted to build on last year’s marginal success of a student created video that involved students urging parents to challenge them, to question them, to have a conversation with them. This documentary was influenced by Janelle’s insights as well and our storyboard has more clarity and purpose that builds off of last year’s success.
Along with making our daily learning as visible as possible through our Exhibition Blog and Twitter #pwex17, we hope our two documentaries open the doors to anyone within our division and beyond to see the growth and learning that occurs during the Exhibition and one of their final pieces of their PYP education.
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!