CLICK ON A LINK BELOW TO ENJOY A LEARNING STORY:
•THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITIONS
•BUDDY CLASSES: BIGS AND LITTLES COME TOGETHER
•THE IMPORTANCE OF PATTERNING
•THE CARDBOARD CHALLENGE, CORE COMPETENCIES IN ACTION
•EVERY CHILD MATTERS
•GRADE 7 CELEBRATION TEACHES US ABOUT CHANGE
•WINNING BACK OUR STUDENTS
•WHEN YOU WALK THROUGH THE DOORS OF A SCHOOL…
•WHERE IS THE LEARNING?
•THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIPS
•THE POWER OF LAUGHTER
•DOING WORK THAT MATTERS
•WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL GREAT
•WHY I AM PROUD OF OUR SCHOOL
•“THE GIVING PROJECT” …WHERE IS THE LEARNING?
•DOING WORK THAT MATTERS
•FRIGHTENINGLY GOOD LEARNING
•PUTTING OURSELVES IN THE POSITION OF STUDENTS
•THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE
•EDUCATING THE HEART
•GRIT AND RESILIENCE
•SALMON IN THE CLASSROOM
•WHAT I NOTICE…
Winter break is just around the corner, and many sights, sounds, and smells of the season are being shared. As many of our Cambridge families prepare for the holiday season, many family traditions are being celebrated. Traditions represent an important element of family, culture, and society. Traditions remind us that we are part of a history that defines our past, shape who we are today, and who we may become. Research shows that children who learn to have a strong appreciation of their own family traditions and culture have an easier time appreciating the traditions and cultures of others.
Our BC Curriculum honours the importance of traditions and integrates a number of big ideas and content competencies around traditions. For example, “Stories and traditions about ourselves and our families reflect who we are and where we are from.” and “Each culture has traditions and ways of celebrating.” Our curriculum also honours and reflects Indigenous knowledge and First People’s Principles of Learning which are rich and embedded in tradition and oral history.
As teachers and parents, it is important to find opportunities to recognize and celebrate the traditions of our own families as well as the traditions of others. When we provide opportunities for children to share family traditions and learn about diversity in the classroom and around the globe, we help children better understand themselves and the world around them. We help children develop more social confidence, make friends easier, accept others, and appreciate differences with respect and understanding.
This week students participated in decorating gingerbread houses. This activity has become a favourite December tradition at Cambridge, which builds a sense of belonging, offers a chance to say “thank you” for the contribution others have made, celebrates diversity, and creates memories for our students to share and pass down.
A big thank you to our PAC volunteer parents who continue to keep this tradition alive at Cambridge! THANK YOU!
The value of children of different ages working, sharing, playing, and learning together are many. At Cambridge Elementary all our classes are partnered up with a buddy class providing many opportunities for learning and social-emotional development. During Buddy Class time, students are engaged in many different and meaningful activities as they all learn tolerance and acceptance for each other’s differences, needs, and interests. The younger children develop affection and admiration for the older children, and the older children develop protective attitudes toward the younger ones. The relationships children form with each other are family-like and grounded in a genuine and meaningful concern for one another.
Studies show that children of different ages working together promotes the development of balanced personalities by fostering attitudes and qualities that enable children to lead happy, well-adjusted lives in complex and changing social environments. Buddy Classes also give children an increased sense of security and stability, and promotes poise, enjoyment, and confidence. Students learn from one another; older children and younger children are models for each other, provide for a greater range of learning, and encourage students to work together and promote social responsibility.
BACK TO THE LEARNING STORIES…
THE IMPORTANCE OF PATTERNING
Contributed by Kelli Vogstad
This learning story is written for all those parents who have ever wondered why their child, whether in kindergarten, grade three, or grade seven, is exploring, identifying, creating, and naming patterns in Math class. It is also for the many teachers who want to help parents understand the importance of patterning.
Researchers say that when children explore and learn about patterns, we help them build important foundations for later number work. Creating, extending, naming, and talking about patterns help build strong mathematicians. Even the most scholarly mathematicians can be challenged with studying patterns. In many classrooms, students of all ages learn about patterns at the beginning of their school year. Patterns are at the heart of math. The ability to recognize and create patterns help us make predictions based on our observations; this is an important skill in math. Understanding patterns help prepare children for learning complex number concepts and mathematical operations.
Our BC Math Curriculum, from kindergarten to grade seven, identifies and describes the big ideas behind the tasks and activities students are engaged in and working on in their classrooms. These big ideas are:
- We use patterns to represent identified regularities and to form generalizations.
- Patterns allow us to see relationships and develop generalizations.
Patterns are everywhere! From the very simple patterns that repeats with two or three elements, to repeating patterns with multiple elements and attributes. Students learn to identify and create increasing and decreasing patterns, to name rules for patterns with words, numbers, symbols, and variables. Older students learn to record and manipulate number patterns using tables, charts, and graphs. Learning about patterns provides students with an understanding of mathematical relationships, which is a basis for understanding algebra, analyzing data, and solving complex mathematical problems.
We find patterns in math, but we also find patterns in nature, art, music, and literature. Patterns provide a sense of order in what might otherwise appear chaotic. Researchers have found that understanding and being able to identify recurring patterns allow us to make educated guesses, assumptions, and hypothesis; it helps us develop important skills of critical thinking and logic. The knowledge and understanding of patterns can be transferred into all curriculum areas and open many doors where this knowledge can be applied.
And so, when you see your child building a repeated pattern with blocks, recording a decreasing number pattern in their math journal, or creating a table of increasing multiples to solve a mathematical problem, you will know that they are building important foundations for future learning.
I invite families to explore and have fun with patterning at home. Go on a pattern hunt and identify and name patterns all around you. Create patterns with shapes and colours, letters, numbers, and variables. Share them, extend them, and record them. Talk about how patterns influence the world in which we live and the decisions we make.
Now when someone asks why are children building patterns again in school, you will be able to tell them the importance of patterning.
What an amazing success! Cambridge’s Third Annual Cardboard Challenge took place last Friday, October 7th and on behalf of all the teachers, I say, “Bravo, Cambridge!”
Cambridge students, parents, and teachers worked together in their classrooms, in our hallways, and our gym to build their cardboard creations. In the morning, I had the wonderful privilege to tour the school and see the construction challenge in action. The energy and focus was palpable! The learning was rich, meaningful, and engaging! It was amazing to see the careful development of the cardboard structures and to take note of the patterns of innovation that many students were demonstrating.
Students were challenged to think creatively and collaboratively to solve a problem as a team. When I think about the learning going on, I am amazed at how many intellectual, personal, and social and emotional competencies the students were learning and practicing – the very skills they would need in order to engage in deep, life-long learning as successful citizens in today’s society. Students were learning to communicate their ideas and thinking. They were learning to listen, contribute, and to consider diverse perspectives, and, importantly, to build consensus. Students were learning to collaborate and value the input of others. Some students were frustrated and had to learn to be patient with their group members. Others struggled to join in and had to learn to find their place and voice in the activity.
Once everyone’s cardboard creations were complete, students brought them down to our gym and learning lab to share and enjoy. In the afternoon, individual classes were called down to explore the creations, play the arcade-type games, and celebrate the coming together of a entire school. As I walked around, I was delighted to hear the encouraging and appreciative exchange of words as children shared with each other and played the cardboard constructed games. Students willingly, and with confidence, talked about their cardboard creations and their learning. I was moved by the thoughtful energy, the level of focus, and the care students showed for each other. Our Cambridge community came together to share the success of a learning challenge, creating a genuine school-wide feeling of belonging, celebration, and pride.
I hope you enjoy the video below. I apologize if I missed taking your photo. It was a busy and exciting day. See you next year!
As I walked around and visited with families who attended Cambridge’s Community BBQ my belief about the power of food was reaffirmed. The sharing of food has always been part of the human story. The phrase “to break bread together” dates back thousands of years and captures the power of coming together to eat. Sitting down to share a meal provides opportunities to build relationships, make new connections, and foster positive feelings. This is exactly what I observed at our Community BBQ – food seems to unite us; it brings people together. Plenty of smiles and laughter were certainly abundant as I enjoyed a yummy burger cooked by PAC volunteers.
Growing up in a family that always sat down for dinner is something I took for granted as a child. As a mother, I also insisted my family sit down for dinner. In our busy, over-scheduled lives, it isn’t always easy to find time to come together and sit down to share a meal, but we still do.
No matter what our cultural background, or family dynamics, the preparation and eating of food is something we all have in common. Coming together to share a meal nurtures caring relationships, establishes good eating habits, and helps family members stay connected. As families eat, talk together, and reflect on the day’s events, the benefits are far reaching for all members of the family, especially for children. It teaches children manners and conversational skills, encourages them to share their ideas and ask questions, and helps them develop their listening skills as others around the table share. There are studies that show a link between the frequency of family meals and children’s nutritional health. Studies have also shown children who eat dinner with their parents have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, show better academic performance, and report being closer with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University).
Many Cambridge families make meal time a special event in their homes. We hope your family does too. The preparation of the meal, and the setting of the table, can also provide many learning opportunities for children young and old. So, Bon Appetite!
Over forty years ago, six year old Phyllis Webstad lived with her grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. They had very little money, but some how Phyllis’ grandmother managed to save enough to buy Phyllis a brand new orange shirt for her first day of school. Wearing her treasured orange shirt, Phyllis entered the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, outside of Williams Lake, BC. The mission quickly stripped off her new orange shirt and replaced it with the school’s institutional uniform. Phyllis shares her story and her memories of feeling unworthy and insignificant in the video below. She recalls all the children crying, frightened, and feeling that no one cared. No teacher was telling them that they would be okay and that they mattered.
Phyllis’ moving story is the nucleus for what has become a national movement to recognize the experience of survivors of Indian residential schools, to honour them, and to show a collective commitment to ensure that every child matters. The initiative calls for every Canadian to wear an orange shirt on September 30 in the spirit of healing and reconciliation. Phyllis’ story also reminds me of how important our role is as teachers. We are often the first person a child comes in contact as they enter our school. Here at Cambridge we all work together to send a message to all our students that we care, that they are safe, and that they matter.
Orange Shirt Day is this Friday, September 30th. It is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools, and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come. The date for Orange Shirt day was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.
Today we have the capacity and the opportunities to make our lives different from those that came before us. Phyllis’ story stands to remind us all that we can make a difference in the lives of our children and students, helping them feel worthy of love, respect, and belonging.
I am struck by the importance of our responsibilities as parents and teachers. As parents and teachers, we are in the business of person-making. The cultures we create in our homes, classrooms, and schools, the interactions we use, and the activities and tasks we ask children to do, can make important differences in their lives and who they become. Who we are in our homes and in our classrooms can have profound influences on who our children and students become. These are important understandings we must remember as we work to create environments that will have positive effects on our children. This is not always an easy task.
My belief, and my hope, is that the stories we remember and share from our pasts, stories such as Phyllis’, help us to become better people. As I continue working in schools with teachers, students, and their families, I must remember I am an agent of change and the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and actions which I bring to classrooms and schools influence and impact students’ own journeys to becoming who they are and the stories they will share.
Our challenge is to accept, value, and nurture our students’ developing selves in an effort to help all of them feel a strong and positive sense of belonging. We must remember, the way we live together in our classrooms and our school, and the way in which we appreciate each other’s struggles to become who we are, can make a lasting effect on each of our lives. With this understanding, the teachers at Cambridge work hard to create a special place – a place of belonging that sends the important message to all the members of our learning community: you matter.
Contributed by Antonio Vendramin
Originally published June 19, 2016
Friday was one of those days of conflicting emotions. I felt it … and I know many people in the gym during our Grade 7 Celebration felt it. Friday was a time to look back and celebrate how far our students have come. It was also a time for parents and families to reflect on how quickly the time has passed. There is excitement about looking forward and wondering what adventures lay ahead while at the same time, sadness and apprehensiveness about leaving the comfort of what is familiar and safe to us. In many ways, Friday was really about controlling your mindset and deciding how you choose to look at things. The status quo represents a safe haven for most. You know what you’ve done, you know what you’re doing, you know what comes next. There’s comfort in that. That’s why many people resist change and sometimes never find out what adventures or rewards could lay ahead for them. I also know that change is most definitely not an easy thing. If someone were to take a risk and make significant change in their life without feeling any sense of excitement, anxiousness, or reflection, it would make me wonder about them. Change is hard!
If I have learned anything in my life, it’s that challenges are constantly presented to you in life. How you decide to face these challenges helps you to define yourself. Growing up, I constantly questioned myself. I was afraid to take a risk and put myself out there because I worried about failing and what others would think of me. Some of this thinking still creeps into my thoughts now, but I’ve gotten to the point where what I think of myself is much more important than what others think of me. When I look into the mirror, I have to be happy with what I see both as learner and a person. So do you! Instead of fearing failure, now I worry that if I don’t risk-take and embrace change, I won’t be learning. And learning, I have discovered, is the only way to adapt and remain relevant to those who need us.
I heard many of our Grade 7 students share their favourite quotes on Friday. I heard quotes about not being able to find new oceans if you are afraid to leave the shore, or not being able to start a new chapter unless you turn the page. There is much that children learn from the wisdom of their parents. My dad immigrated from Italy to Canada by himself in 1960, with little to his name and not being able to speak English. Talk about risk! Talk about helping others understand the possibilities of rewards from taking risks. My dad’s journey helps me be courageous in the face of change.
But, there is also much adults can and should learn from children. Children are not afraid to be curious, ask questions, and take risks. Children teach us that if we fail, we learn and just need to try again. There is much children can teach us if we are willing to be open to learning from them.
To our Grade 7 students, best wishes as you leave the shore to find new oceans and turn the page to start a new chapter. And thank you for giving us the courage to embrace change…even if we’re a little afraid!
How do you look at change?
What mindset do you have towards change…risk…failure?
What changes lay ahead for you and what will you do about these changes?
BACK TO THE LEARNING STORIES…
I had the honour of attending a keynote presented by Dr. Gordon Neufeld a few weeks back. Dr. Neufeld’s work focusses on “attachment” and the power of relationships in the development of a child. We know intuitively that when a child has a strong bond with a parent, a teacher, or another trusted adult, they will do almost anything for that person. We also know that when that attachment is not present, children can be defiant, do the opposite of what is requested, and start to orient themselves towards their peers. One of the most profound statements Dr. Neufeld made during his keynote was, “We have to win our students back!” This statement resonates for me because I increasingly see students in our schools who we have clearly lost. There are a few reasons why I think this is so.
In these times of increased accountability in education and with teachers saddled with the overwhelming pressure to “cover the curriculum” and prepare for standardized tests, school has become irrelevant to many students and disconnected from their reality. For these students, school is tolerated, school is something that is done to them, and school is something they try to survive. In fact, as a teacher reflected back on his schooling experience during a recent conversation I had with him, he said, “I didn’t really enjoy elementary or high school, and when I got out…” His words struck me. He was talking about his schooling experience as if he had just finished his prison sentence. He then went on to share that his educational experience changed after high school because then, he actually had some input regarding his learning. We clearly need to do a better job of incorporating student passions into the work we do in schools. Students do a tonne of incredible learning on their own, but because it doesn’t take place between 8:30 and 2:30 at school, we don’t seem to value it. Learning that takes place at school represents only a small percentage of the learning a child does.
A great example of this phenomenon is the recent fine arts performance at Cambridge Elementary titled, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. This play was about a magician and his assistant. Several times, the magician would send his assistant off with a task, such as preparing props, or finding items. Each time, the assistant would get side-tracked practicing and learning magic tricks because in reality, the assistant really wanted to be a great magician as well. The assistant learned so much each time she was sent off to do a task, but inevitably, the magician would return and become very upset because the tasks were never completed and because the assistant appeared to be doing nothing. I couldn’t help but feel that schools are very much like the magician in this play. We seem to think the learning opportunities we provide are the only ones that are valuable. The good news is that at the conclusion of the play, the Sorcerer acknowledges all the learning the apprentice had done and agreed to include one of her magic tricks in the performance. We need to make sure learning is relevant to students, places value on student passions, and that students are given the opportunity to learn through play.
Another reason “we have to win our students back” is that in our frenzy to “cover the curriculum”, “teach content”, and be accountable, we have lost sight of the fact that children need to be connected to people who care about them. Dr. Neufeld stated, “humans don’t do separation.” If a child comes from a busy home with working parents, has no other adult to attach to, and is surrounded by teachers who only focus on delivering content, that child will quickly seek help from people who are unable to really provide that support – peers. Dr. Neufeld shared that all children need to have a “home-base” at school and that person needs to be a caring and trusted adult.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost! I believe that schools are beginning to understand the important messages communicated by Dr. Neufeld. Some say that there is too much change in education. But really, can we afford to not change? Can we continue to live with the fact that almost half of high school students wait to “get out” of school so that the real learning can start? We are starting to see curriculum reform that focuses on the development of key competencies such as communication, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking, rather than a curriculum that is inundated with content that overwhelms students and teachers alike. Teachers are hearing the message that part of the important work they do in schools is connecting with students before directing them. And most important, those who work in schools are beginning to value and tap into the wide range of skills, talents, and passions that learners bring with them. Clearly, there is much more work to be done, but thankfully schools have started to fight the important battle to win back our children!
When you walk through the doors of our school, visitors often share that they feel a sense of home, a feeling of belonging and safety, and a special kind of energy that welcomes all who enter. I would have to agree. Cambridge is a school that welcomes all. Each morning, we welcome our students to a day of meaningful learning and engagement. Each day, we extend a welcome to our parents to share in their children’s learning. We are also a school who welcomes many visitors. On Friday we welcomed a group of visitors to our school: district educators from the Yukon.
When our guests arrived, they were first welcomed by our “Drop-Off Buddies” who stood outside in their bright red hard hats, smiling, holding the hands of little ones who they escorted to their classrooms. With warm hellos from our office clerks, our visitors stopped to listen to morning announcements over the PA shared by two student leaders. As I invited them into our learning lab, they were immediately drawn to the activity outside under a tent. As the rain fell gently, a class of grade six students were working on their soapstone carvings. With saws and chisels in hand, they carefully worked. Our guests were amazed at the thoughtful attention and engagement by each child. As I watched on the side, I was struck by the ease and comfort the children showed as they offered up their stories and shared their work with our guests.
As we made our way back into the school, we joined a class of kindergarten students and
followed them around the school to our forest classroom. As we walked, we could hear the peacocks calling from the forest, as though they, too, were saying, “Welcome, we are glad you came.” With magnifying glasses in hand and their Investigation Notebooks tucked under their arms, our youngest students eagerly shared their observations and questions as they explored the forest.
The morning continued as our guests moved through the hallways of our school. In one of our portable classrooms, students were seen connecting and engaging with each other in small literature circles. The children stopped and welcomed our visitors, answering their questions and explaining their tasks. In another room, students were busy uploading artifacts to their FreshGrade portfolios, eager to reflect on their learning. In the hallways, grade one and two students were huddled in corners, working collaboratively on research projects planning and representing their knowledge. One guest asked, “Tell me about what you are doing?” With no hesitation the child responded, “We chose Newfoundland to learn about because it’s all the way on the other side of Canada, and we don’t know much about it, but we will soon.”
As we walked by the library the young children looked up and waved to our guests as they passed by. The many other rich and meaningful activities and learning that our guests observed and our students shared were neither prepared nor rehearsed. It was just another regular morning of the rich and authentic learning at Cambridge. I can’t help thinking about the familiar phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” If home is where the heart is, the most literal definition is “home is where I am, where we are.” Home is where one can feel cared for, comfortable, and accepted. These are some of the important foundations to learning and doing work that matters. It’s a good feeling walking into a school and immediately feeling a sense of belonging and engagement, where everyone is welcomed. Wouldn’t you agree?
Cambridge is two years into our journey of documenting and sharing student learning electronically through FreshGrade digital portfolios. One very important thing that this process has done is essentially reflect back to the viewer a clear picture of the learning that is (and sometimes isn’t) taking place. The documentation forces one to ask the very important question, “Where is the learning?”
In the work I do daily, I have the opportunity to visit many classrooms. These visits allow me to not only connect with and support students and staff, they give me the opportunity to have a strong sense of the learning taking place. Like when I visit digital portfolios, my class visits always take me to the same question, “Where is the learning?” And when I talk about learning, it’s important to know that I don’t just look at specific curriculum connections, but also the development of core competencies and “soft” skills.
A phenomenon that has stormed into our school this year is 3-D design and printing. Everyone seems interested in the possibilities of this new technology and students are spending hours of their own time at home designing and testing items. As students become more proficient with their design, we gradually grow closer to the point where they begin to think of how they can use 3-D design and printing to actually solve real-world problems. We know students everywhere are doing this already! A great example of this is wonderful project completed by outstanding local Teacher-Librarian Anna Crosland and the students over at my previous school, Georges Vanier, who used 3-D design to create and print braille tags for doors to help a visually impaired student navigate safely from place to place within the school. Read more about this work here!
One teacher in particular at Cambridge, Peter Beale, has demonstrated a passion for learning about 3-D design and printing and has opened up this new world of learning to his students. Recently, they were given the opportunity to reflect back on their 3-D experiences and they were encouraged to go back to the all important question, “Where is the learning?” Sure we knew students were engaged and had a great time designing and printing their objects, but could they articulate their learning?
Kiera, a Grade 6 student shared:
“I created a 3D model of the Eiffel Tower. Later on I added two more towers like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Seattle Space Needle. You might be wondering how I made the Seattle Space Needle, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Eiffel Tower. Well, I searched up tinkercad models of these towers to try and find the right shapes. Somehow I was able to create these towers. I was pretty impressed myself.
Creating the Eiffel Tower wasn’t easy. I really didn’t know what shape to use for the base, until I started experimenting till I finally found it. I really only needed to use 3 shapes. Pyramids, Cubes, and the shape called a Round Roof. Once I was done, I thought it turned out pretty good but I thought I needed more things. You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t add the criss cross like the real Eiffel Tower in Paris. I tried making it but it was complicated. Some things would pop out and it just looked like a big mess.
Now the Space Needle was a different story. It was the hardest one. It took me days just to find the right shapes. I had to combine shapes just to have the right shape. I also searched up a model of the Space Needle and tried to make my Space Needle like theirs. The base wasn’t that hard until I got to the point where there were details that were almost impossible to figure out how to make. In the end, I was able to make it and I was proud of my self.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa was probably the easiest one to make. I didn’t really need to search up a model of it from tinkercad cause somehow I was able to just experiment with a bunch of shapes and create the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I duplicated a lot of things and didn’t add much detail as the real one does. I was really happy on how it turned out.“
Notice the powerful language…
- I created
- I searched
- I really didn’t know
- I started experimenting
- I thought I needed more things
- I had to combine shapes
This learning story talks about critical thinking and problem-solving, not knowing and searching, trying again in the face of failure, and most importantly that mistakes help us learn. She communicates clearly where the learning is. So if you were wondering if students actually learn anything in the process of 3-D design and printing, this student helps us respond to the question with a resounding “Yes.”
The older I get and the more time I spend in education, the more I realize that gaining a true and full understanding of the world around us is elusive. Just when you think you know how and why something works, it changes.
“Was it only a decade ago that a blackberry was a mere summer fruit, green was just a colour, cameras used film and tweet was something that birds did?” Source
Examples of this rapid change are everywhere. For example…words! Words are continually being added to the English language while others become obsolete. We didn’t “GOOGLE” things 10 years ago, nor did we take a “SELFIE”. We didn’t “TWEET” or “BLOG”, “FOODIES” didn’t exist, and we videotaped TV programs we wanted to watch, we didn’t “PVR” them. Now, it’s hard to get through a conversation without using one of these new terms. In fact, a few days ago on the radio I heard that BING (Microsoft’s browser) was trying to start a campaign to get people to use the word “BINGING”. I wondered … will we soon “BING” like we “GOOGLE”?
So as we move though life, we need to be comfortable with the fact that we will never know everything and that truth and understanding may always lay just beyond our reach. Rather than be discouraged by this fact, we need to have a growth mindset, the simple idea that “basic abilities [and understanding] can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” People with a growth mindset understand that they can acquire the knowledge and skills they require through determination and perseverance. People with a growth mindset don’t get discouraged when they don’t do something well initially, or don’t understand something at first. People with a growth mindset are not embarrassed by failure but embrace it because failure shows they’re trying.
An example of this type of mindset took place on Friday as our wonderful parents prepared for the Staff Appreciation Lunch. Both ovens were needed to heat food, but one was apparently broken and was displaying the error code “sab”. Like the parents and teachers present, I’ve used many different stoves over the years and I’ve never seen such a code before. A growth mindset prompted us to not simply accept that the stove was broken, but rather to try to solve the problem. I was surprised by a couple of things: what the “sab” code meant, and how easy it was to solve this problem.
Did you know that many stoves have a “Sabbath Mode?” According to Wikipedia:
“Sabbath mode, also known as Shabbos mode (Ashkenazi pronunciation) or Shabbat mode, is a feature in many modern home appliances, including ovens andrefrigerators, which is intended to allow the appliances to be used (subject to various constraints) by Shabbat-observant Jews on the Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The mode usually overrides the usual, everyday operation of the electrical appliance and makes the operation of the appliance comply with the rules of Halakha (Jewish law).
Halakha forbids Jews from doing creative work on the Shabbat. Observant Jews interpret this to include various activities including making a fire, preparing food, or even closing a switch or pressing an electronic button. A range of technology solutions have been created for those who need to use electronic (or electronic-controlled) devices on the Shabbat, including a special “sabbath mode” for otherwise standard appliances.”
The second thing that surprised me was how easy the issue was to correct:
Carol Dweck is a leading researcher on mindsets and she shares good news: a growth mindset can be developed. She offers 25 ways to develop a growth mindset, but my 10 favourite are:
1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections.
2. View challenges as opportunities.
3. Try different learning tactics.
4. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.”
5. Value the process over the end result.
6. Emphasise growth over speed.
7. Reward actions, not traits.
8. Portray criticism as positive.
9. Place effort before talent.
10. Use the word “yet.”
So, do YOU have a growth mindset? Does your child? What will you do to start fostering this mindset in both yourself and those around you?
I am fascinated by schools and school culture, and by the question, “What makes a school great?” I’ve written about this topic before, and a couple of events from the past week prompt me to dig into this topic again.
The first event was the yearly publication of BC Schools Ranking by the Fraser Institute. While I maintain that this sort of ranking based on one standardized test is superficial, my curious nature forced me to have a look at the publication. I was happy to see that the students at our school did well on the Foundation Skills Assessment, which provides a snapshot in time of a student’s ability in reading, writing, and numeracy. But, it continues to disappoint me that this data is used to rank schools. It makes me wonder if parents think private schools are “better” because of these rankings, or that children receive a more rich learning experience at a private school because of these rankings.
Anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time in a school knows that these places are vibrant, alive, and complex in nature and can’t be reduced to a single number. I believe the purpose for all schools is to build the human capacity of all community members: students, parents, and staff members. This doesn’t just mean reading, writing, and numeracy, but includes:
- physical and mental wellness
- developing perseverance, work ethic, and a growth mindset
- superior communication skills
- competencies of creativity, critical thinking, problem solving
- caring for others with a “servant heart”
- fine arts skills
Schools build this capacity through exemplary teaching and learning, and meaningful collaboration. However, none of this capacity building takes place in the absence of meaningful relationships. This brings me to the second event. Late Friday afternoon as teachers were saying their good-byes and heading home for the weekend, I asked Mrs. Weber about her weekend plans. She mentioned that she was off to take her son to a baseball game. When I asked her where he was playing, she said, “Walnut Grove” which happens to be where I live. I don’t necessarily believe in “signs”, but I took this conversation to mean that I should probably go catch part of the game. Shortly after, off I went to head home, get changed, and walk over to the baseball diamond. I found out four Cambridge students were on the team and that two of the coaches were Cambridge parents. Siblings, parents, and grandparents were in the stands and needless to say, the players were a tad surprised to see me in the stands.
I mention this event because I think in order for us to expect students to take a genuine interest in school, schools need to take a genuine interest in students, their passions, and their world outside of school. When schools do this, the important message, “YOU MATTER” is communicated to students.
Relationships are the foundation of all work done in schools, and is one very important part of helping a school be great!
BACK TO THE LEARNING STORIES…
Cambridge students and teachers enjoyed a fantastic performance by the Dufflebag Theatre Company this past Friday. The talented group of “nearly world famous” actors engaged and entertained us for over an hour. Not only do I applaud this fun-filled, interactive, storytelling theatre production for its brilliant script and skilled actors, but for the gift they gave us – the opportunity to laugh. Watching and hearing all the students and teachers got me thinking about the power of laughter. It’s contagious! It’s one of the best medicines for when you’re having a bad day or simply feeling down. And best of all, it’s free!
As I write this post, I stop and think about the busy lives we all live, and I reflect on the hour performance when our students and teachers came together and laughed. We need to remember to slow down and grab more moments in our lives to laugh. When laughter is shared, it seems to bring people together and increases our levels of happiness and optimism. It’s infectious. I don’t know whether every student understood all the jokes being shared by the Dufflebag storytellers, but it didn’t matter; the laughter was heard, and everyone joined in. Sharing a good laugh helps build healthy caring relationships, and healthy, happy relationships are so important to help children succeed as learners who move through school less burdened, less anxious, and less afraid.
Laughter may not be directly related to student learning, but it sure seems to be connected to it and it creates conditions conducive to learning. Humour and laughter increase attention, motivation, and excitement. This was certainly true during Friday’s performance. Humour and laughter increase interaction between student and teacher. Again, this was evident in Friday’s performance. Above all, humour and laughter reduce anxiety and stress; it sure did on Friday. All these factors can impact learning in positive ways.
Scientific research tells us that laughter triggers healthy physical changes in our bodies. It can strengthen our immune systems, boost our energy levels, and even lessen physical pain. Imagine, adding some laughter into our daily routines may help us live healthier lives. So how about it Cambridge families? I encourage you all to find some time every day to simply laugh, laugh quietly to yourself, or laugh out loud. Share a laugh with a loved one, a friend, even a stranger.
We thank our Cambridge Parent Advisory Committee for funding this special event which allowed us all to come together and experience the power of laughter. Thank you!
Students, like adults, deserve the right to do work that really matters. Some say that school should prepare kids for the real world. At Cambridge, we believe that school should be the real world! A great example of this kind of work is our work with KIVA. KIVA is a micro-lending company based out of San Francisco that allows ordinary people do extraordinary things by provided micro-loans to entrepreneurs in third-world countries. It all started with our Grade 7 students and their 30-Hour Famine. This event raised over $6000 for charities they selected. One of those charities with KIVA. With funds in our Cambridge Kiva account, we now simply ask students, “Do you want to help change a life today?” Now that’s real! Students do this by researching and funding loans through KIVA.ORG. Students develop core competencies such as critical thinking (on what basis do I choose one loan to fund over another), communication (articulating to others their choices), and social responsibility (analzying complex issues, taking action to make positive change, take action to support diversity, build and sustain positive relationships with diverse people).
Learning aside, this type of work just makes students feel good because they know that in a small way, they are making a positive difference in the lives of others. As a result of this year’s 30-Hour Famine, we are ready to deposit more money into our Kiva account. In doing so, we will continue to give students that chance to “change a life, $25 at a time!”
“And then parents, you’d walk into the front office and the people
don’t even look up at them, let alone see them as who we’re serving.”
–Steve Barr, Green Dot Charter School Network
This past week, I had an interesting chat with a parent. Her family had just moved into the area and she wanted an opportunity to speak with me about the school (Georges Vanier Elementary) and to have a look around. She also said something that really interested me. She shared that according to the Fraser Institute, our’s was a “good” school and was trending in a positive direction. While I am obviously pleased that public perception of our school is good and that this parent was doing the leg work to gather information about our school, I am disappointed that the Fraser Institute’s Report Card on British Columbia’s Elementary Schools is one of the few tools parents have to determine the quality of a school. Even more, when parents realize that the Fraser Institute’s Report is based almost completely on a standardized text taken once per year by Grade 4 and 7 students, they realize that this is one very narrow measure of school quality.
But, schools are like organisms and are therefore complex in nature. Schools are alive and dynamic and can’t be reduced to a mathematical formula. In the video below, Steve Barr of the Green Dot Charter School Network talks about his view of what makes a great school. Qualities he includes are:
- Quality teachers
- A welcoming environment
- Students are treated with care and respect
- Teachers are empowered
- High expectations exist for all
- There is a sense of family
- Quality resources are available for teachers and students
- Parents are viewed as partners
- Schools are accountable to parents
- There is a belief that all kids are worth it and that they can all learn
So much of what Barr talks about is relationship-based. Relationships are central to the work we do in schools. What I think also needs to be included is a teacher’s ability to engage learners. With all the competition that exists (peers, television, social media), this is becoming harder year after year. But from my experience, kids are like adults and therefore thrive on doing work that is interesting and meaningful. I am proud of the many examples of such efforts from staff at our school: Innovation Week, technology integration, the WikiSeat project, 30-Hour Famine, Genius Hour, KIVA, and promoting creativity. I am further buoyed when I think that our efforts are not isolated, but are evident in many other places throughout Surrey Schools.
So, what would you add to this list of qualities that makes a great school?
Do you think your school is great? How do you know?
If you read this blog weekly (and I hope you do), you will notice a feature that looks back at the previous week in the form of TWEETS and IMAGES. You can CLICK HERE to read the variety of tweets sent from and about our school. As I compile and share this media every week, I am given the opportunity to stop for a moment and reflect on the busy week that has just passed. As I selected the images to share this week, I was struck with a distinct feeling of pride. Of course, I am proud all the time to call Cambridge the place I work and learn, but the images this week resonated with me in terms of how they aligned with my values and my beliefs. So, what are some of these values and beliefs?
- We learn best by doing
- We learn better together
- School shouldn’t prepare students for the real world, it SHOULD BE the real world
- Kids aren’t just learners, they are teachers
- Learning happens everywhere, all the time
- Learning should be fun
- Students should feel a sense of ownership, both of their learning and their school
If you glance down at the images and their captions, this alignment between these beliefs and the learning taking place becomes evident. And if you look even more closely, you’ll notice that most of the images are absent of teachers. Why is this? It’s not that teachers aren’t present and working hard – because they certainly are! I think the images reflect a major shift taking place in schools, and that’s a shift away from teacher-centred learning, towards student-centred learning. Thankfully, teachers:
- No longer feel that they need to be the experts of everything
- Allow students to explore, make mistakes, and guide students towards learning goals
- Take student passions and interests into account when planning learning experiences
- See the value of students reflecting on and assessing their own learning
- Give students a variety of ways to show what they know
- Encourage students to teach others what they know
- Know that the “stand and deliver” method of teaching of the past, isn’t the most effective way for students to learn
Kudos to our teachers for embracing this shift. Kudos to our students for taking ownership of their learning!
Last week when I visited Mrs. Weber’s Kindergarten class, I learned about a heartwarming project they were planning. They called their project, “The Giving Project”. A collaborative class discussion around how to help people who have less than us blossomed into a beautiful idea. Students talked about how it might feel to leave their home because it was no longer safe, and flee to a safe country, like Canada. Students shared what made them scared, especially at nighttime, and what made them feel better. Students talked about their favourite stuffies and books, and the comfort of a hug, or gentle words, from mom or dad. Together, teacher and students thought that they could help new refugee children by collecting gently used stuffed animals and books so our new friends could feel comforted, and know that Surrey, Canada is a safe, caring, and welcoming place. They set a goal of collecting 500 stuffies and 500 books. The kindergarten students from division 23 will invite the rest of the Cambridge community to join in when they present their project at our next assembly on November 30th, at 1:45 p.m.
As I continued to listen, I asked the question I always ask myself: WHERE IS THE LEARNING? What struck me most was that not only were our youngest students learning that we can all have an impact on others by helping, if even in a small way, but that this type of learning is a perfect example of why the changes to B.C.’s curriculum are such a good thing. There is a current shift away from a focus on content, and towards the development of competencies. The world continues to change rapidly and we simply don’t know what students will need to KNOW. What we do know is what students will need to be able to DO: to problem-solve and think creatively and critically, to communicate clearly, to be aware and responsible for oneself, and to be socially responsible.
After a quick review of the Kindergarten curriculum, the richness of learning in the “The Giving Project” becomes evident:
- Everyone has a unique story.
- Listening and speaking builds our understanding and helps us learn.
- Begin to use language to identify, create, and express ideas, feelings, opinions, and preferences
- Exchange ideas and perspectives to build shared understanding
- Plan and create a variety of communication forms for different purposes and audiences
- Connect mathematical concepts to each other and make mathematical connections to the real world
- Acknowledge different perspectives on people, places, issues, and events in their lives
- Students are expected to know the needs and wants of individuals and families
- Students are expected to know the rights, roles, and responsibilities of individuals and groups
B.C.’s new curriculum is also meant to be viewed as a developmental process. This means that students are not assessed in YES/NO terms, as in they either do or don’t demonstrate a competency. Rather, students are assessed and moved along a continuum. Students at the same age level may be at very different points on the continuum. For example, the COMMUNICATION competency has 8 profiles, starting at very basic and moving to quite complex (see below).
Here are two communication samples. Where would you place them on the continuum? What would help the student in each case move to the next profile?
SAMPLE 1: Apology Letter
SAMPLE 2: Fun Being Little – By: Emily P.
Everybody has that moment in their life that stands out over everything else. Whether it’s the very first time you do something, or the 100th time you do that thing, something incredible happens. Or maybe it’s just that pride in yourself that you succeeded. Maybe it’s that thing that you were expecting for a while and it eventually happens. Or, it could even be scary that moment you never thought you would ever do, but after doing it you realized it was fun…
“Everybody get in,” the attendant yelled.
As we load up, I can feel the tension rise, even though all we’re going to do is fall. You can feel the nervousness shoot from one person to the next. That shaky leg from the person on your left. Those goose bumps from the person on your right. You feel a light breeze of air pass through you. You all stand there in a pool of fear, excitement, and sickness. You know exactly what you’re doing. You know exactly what’s going to happen, but for some reason you’re still nervous.
You sit on the benches next to your friend. Her brunette hair tied back in a ponytail. Her brown eyes covered in fear. You can see the fear. It looks like a thin wet sheet of ice. The look of it makes you think of a sad puppy looking right up at you. You giggle quietly. You can tell she is thinking. You know exactly what’s going on in her head right now. Silence fills the room. You can hear a light whisper from your friend beside you. She’s trying to make conversation.
“A…ar…are… you sc…scare…scared?” she stutters…
As parents, you are encouraged to explore B.C.’s new curriculum as this will assist you in further understanding communication that comes from the school. If you have any questions, we are always here to assist.
I am excited to work and learn in an environment where people yearn to understand and embrace change, but also proud that Cambridge is a place where learners are kept at the centre and get to do work that really matters!
I am a firm believer that school shouldn’t prepare you for real life … school should be real life! Children, like adults, are driven by doing work that matters. You can read more about this here and here. I am writing about this idea once again after reflecting on a recent meeting I had with our grade seven students about our upcoming 30-Hour Famine. Every year, we encourage our students to take ownership of this event, and to lead with their hearts by selecting the charities they would like event proceeds to go to. Last year, students rallied around a peer who had just lost his mother to breast cancer; they overwhelmingly decided that the BC Cancer Foundation would be one of the main charities selected. This year, the process of brainstorming charities was an emotional one, and the stories that were shared resonated with our learners. I shared the story of one of our students and the great challenges his older sister, a former Cambridge student, was facing. His sister, a promising ballerina, was struck by Lupus, followed by a stroke. Now, unable to walk, she is currently undergoing expensive and difficult rehabilitation. Another student shared the plight of his little brother suffering from Smith-Magenis Syndrome, a chromosomal disorder, and the long road ahead as he faces a lifetime of significant developmental delays.
What impressed me most was, when it came time to vote on the charities, how students decided to fully throw their support behind their friends and select Lupus and Smith-Magenis Syndrome as two of the organizations that funds would be donated to. The 30-Hour Famine, which prior to the meeting hadn’t meant anything to students, now became meaningful work because of the personal connections to these stories and charities the students felt.
Interestingly, later in the week, another student approached me quietly and asked if he could come speak with me about a matter after school. When he did, he shared that he was absent the day of the 30-Hour Famine meeting and that had he been there, he would have suggested Diabetes. When I asked why, he shared that a family member was battling the disease. He was quite pleased when I suggested that, based on what I knew about why students selected the charities they had, I was quite certain his peers would support his request.
In the end, great schools aren’t necessarily the newest ones, the ones with best resources, or the ones with the highest scores on standardized tests. Great schools are those that are always trying to give students a voice and providing them with opportunities to do real-world work that is personally meaningful to them. Here at Cambridge students are doing work that matters!
I don’t really care much for Halloween and haunted houses, but I do care about students being completely engaged in purposeful learning. This is exactly what I saw happening as I was escorted through Mr. Stemler’s grade 7 students’ haunted house. It was brilliant! Beyond the scary content befitting a ghostly mansion, I noticed many sound pedagogical principles at play, including all the Core Competencies of the New Ministry Curriculum. Students were definitely communicating. They had inquired into a topic that interested them and were then given the opportunity to interpret and present their ideas to a captivated audience. The students obviously had worked collaboratively in small groups to plan and design their mini playlets, which would be part of the whole haunted experience. Each playlet demonstrated a great deal of creative thinking, another important core competency.
Students had creatively generated new ideas from thought to reality, incorporating elements of the narrative, storytelling, staging, artistic design, technology, voice and acting. And finally, students demonstrated a high level of social responsibility. It was clear to me that students were mindful of the nature of the material they were working with and respected those who may be uncomfortable or scared. I may be called faint of heart, but strangely, as I walked through the dark passageways, and watched the students perform, I wasn’t scared or offended; I was truly captivated and amazed. The students had accomplished their goal of creating and maintaining a positive experience, not only for each member of their team, but also for the visitors who came through their haunted house.
This past Friday afternoon after a busy week at school, many Cambridge staff members participated in a few fun social events. First, we headed over to the Bose Corn Maze where we had a great time answering trivia questions and navigating our way through the corn in teams.
However, this learning story is much more about the second event – Curling. I’ve watched Curling many times on television, but never appreciated the amount of skill involved. I very quickly found myself on my back after trying to actually curl my first stone. I wasn’t really embarrassed because I know that while everyone had a chuckle, no one was making fun of me. As I continued to try, and try really hard, I began to grow frustrated that I was struggling so much with a task that others made seem so easy. In fact, some teachers who had never curled before looked like experts right away! My struggles had nothing to do with the instruction either. Our teacher broke down the task into small parts, modelled these, and gave us ample time to practice. I just was not going to catch on to this activity without more time and practice.
In that moment, my mind immediately went to our students…your children…who are asked every day to put their learning out there, to risk-take, and to try things that are very difficult for them. I thought of the feeling many students have when they struggle to learn new things.
That’s why I think it’s always important for us all – principals, vice-principals, teachers, parents – to be learners too. When we put ourselves in these positions – positions where we play the role of the learner – we are made conscious of what it feels like be a little afraid, to take risks, to struggle, and most importantly to persevere and see ourselves get better at something.
Despite the quality of our instruction, not all students will grasp concepts the first, second, or maybe even third time around. I think the most important lesson we can teach children is to always work hard and to keep on trying because with enough time and practice, any of us can be great at something.
When is the last time you put your own learning out there?
Refused to give up?
I have been an Elementary Principal for 6 years and I love my job! Many views in education run deep and one such view is the role of the Principal. As I think back to my own schooling and how I viewed the Principals I had, it is clear to me that many students and parents still view Principals as I did. To me, Principals were scary, distant figures. You didn’t go “see” the Principal unless there was big trouble. The Principal stayed in the office and it was rare if you saw him/her outside or in your classroom. And, you most definitely didn’t want the Principal to phone your parents because you’d have consequences at school and even worse consequences at home. Does any of this resonate with you?
When I first became a Principal, I remember being outside at recess and a young student coming up to me saying, “Shouldn’t you be in your office?” Or recently when a parent came up to me in some distress asking, “Is everything OK? I heard James (not the student’s real name) was in your office today?” As a new Principal, I remember everything coming to a halt in a classroom when I walked in, with the teacher stopping whatever was happening to either have the class greet me or explain what the class was learning. The view of Principal, it seems, runs deep…even though much has changed in education since the time I was in elementary school.
Each day, I try to transform this view of a Principal’s role because I don’t want students, parents, and teachers to view me the way I viewed my Principals. To me, Principals need to model the learning they expect to see from others. Principals need to experiment and take risks, reflect and learn from mistakes, help others with their learning, and share their learning with others. Principals need to be people that ALL students, parents, and teachers trust and feel comfortable speaking to. Principals CAN’T be figures that people are afraid to approach and talk to.
What I do, I do because I believe relationships are central to the work Principals do in schools. I believe Principals should:
- Go to school everyday with what I once heard called a “servant heart”. Effective Principals serve others, which in turn, encourages people to do the same.
- Try to be outside before and after school greeting families and making sure they feel welcomed.
- Also go outside at recess, play, and say hello to as many students as possible.
- Get out of their offices when they can and get into classrooms because that’s where the magic happens.
- Do everything possible to not be “scary”, and that often means being a little bit silly.
- Invite groups of students to work or have lunch together in their office.
- Be vulnerable because that lets everyone know Principals are human too!
Sure, sometimes Principals have to deal with difficult situations, upset parents, students who need reminders about expectations, and a myriad of other scenarios. All of these interactions are made much easier when Principals are viewed as the caring, involved, professionals they are, rather than the scary monsters some people think still lurk in the Principal’s office.
Our first week has come to an end and throughout our school, students and teachers are settling in to their assigned classes, getting to know each other, and learning to follow classroom routines and expectations. As we visit classrooms, talk with students, listen to the voices, observe the faces, and see the activities students are engaged in, we notice the focus has been on establishing how we learn to work together and build caring relations. For some a new school year is welcomed with excitement and confidence, for others, it brings anxiety and disappointment. Together we are helping students accept changes, look for the positives, and open their minds and hearts to new opportunities, friendships, and challenges. In many of our classrooms, students are participating in team building activities, making family graphs, sharing stories about their strengths and interests, creating name art, and more, in an effort to establish learning environments that will set the stage for risk taking, hard work, and caring for each other. With compassion, acceptance, and tolerance, we are giving students time to settle in, to feel safe and a sense of belonging, and to prepare for a wonderful year of growing and learning together. Thank you to all for making out first week back at Cambridge a success!
The idea of “educating the heart” has been around for a long time. Aristotle once said, “Educating the mind, without educating the heart, is no education at all.”
Here at Cambridge the importance of “educating the heart” is real; together we are working to create conditions, which will help all our student succeed in school and in their lives. I hope you enjoy the video “Educate the Heart” from the Dali Lama Centre for Peace and Education.
The learning story this week is all about grit and resilience. We know that life is a journey full of ups and downs. To find joy in life, it’s important to celebrate successes, learn from mistakes, and push through times when things are challenging or don’t go our way.
Yesterday was an excellent example of how our learning community demonstrates grit and resilience. Yesterday morning, we were in the middle of final preparations for our Talent Show. Staff, students, and parents had worked tirelessly to prepare for this event. Right before recess, I received news that there was a disturbance outside. This caused our school to go into “lockout” mode. Our staff and students handled the incident extremely well. Despite this, you can’t argue that events such as these put a strain on a learning community. Everyone waited…and waited…until the “all clear” was given. After a de-brief, everyone re-focused on the Talent Show. Within an hour, the gym and stage were packed and we all began to celebrate the talents of our wonderful students.
Two things caught my attention. One was when our youngest participant, a boy in kindergarten, stumbled as he was getting on the stage. It was clear that when he fell, he hurt his knee. But, what did he do? He got up, brushed himself off, walked to centre stage, and began to sing. Halfway through the song, amid the cheers of the audience, our performer got lost in his lines. Again, rather than panic, he waited for an appropriate time, and jumped back into the song. Talk about grit and resilience!
The second great example of grit and resilience comes from the act just mentioned. As our singer belted out his tune, two intermediate students provided the background by slowly waving snowflakes in the air. What most people don’t know is that one of the intermediate students began to have a nose bleed. But, just the like the singer, this student continued on as if all was well. She knew what the performance meant to the younger student and how important it was for the show to go on!
Yesterday, I was truly inspired by the focus and determination demonstrated by not only these learners, but the Cambridge community as a whole!
BACK TO THE LEARNING STORIES…
“I’d rather fail at something important than succeed at something trivial.”
“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
The learning stories this week are all about doing work that matters. Doing meaningful work is something adults demand, yet I wonder if we ever consider that our students have the same need. Simply saying, “You will need this one day” isn’t good enough anymore!
I love that when I travel the halls at Cambridge, I see more and more that students are engaged in this meaningful work.
The first learning story comes from our students who have been working away diligently over the past few months, creating beauty from a block of stone. If you have been following this blog, you will recall seeing this slow, but dramatic transformation of raw materials. This past week, the first group of students completed their soapstone carvings and began to display them in the display case by the front office. The first comment that came from the mouths of parents who visited is one of surprise: “Students made those???” Students have had the satisfaction of creating a piece of art that will last for years and one they are proud to share with the world!
The second learning story is about an event that took place last week. One of our grade 5 students, Griffin, lives with diabetes. Simply living with diabetes wasn’t enough for Griffin – he wanted to make a difference. About two weeks ago, he decided to approach me about the possibility of selling lemonade after school one day in order to raise money for diabetes research, as part of the annual Walk to Cure Diabetes. Announcements were made and the day finally came. As the end of the day neared, the sun came out, as if shining down on Griffin, and everyone was invited for a cold glass of sugar-free lemonade. The response was overwhelming and within minutes, the lemonade stand was SOLD OUT! Better yet, Griffin reached his goal of $1000.00. Looking beyond the simple details of Griffin’s story, this is an example of giving young people the opportunity to not just accept the issues we or others face, but the chance to do something about it! Way to go, #TeamGriffin!
The final learning story is about the Cambridge community. Our community cares and I am reminded of this often. You will recall back in December that our Grade 7 students raised over $6000 as part of their 30-Hour Famine. About $800 of those funds went to create a KIVA account. You can find out more about KIVA here. Most of this money has been lent out and now, loans are being repaid. This allows our students to research and fund new loans over and over again. Students learn about the issues that face many in third-world countries, and the challenges faced, particularly for women, when trying to run a business in order to support their family. You can see the status of all of our loans here.
Needs continue to arise around the globe and Cambridge continues to respond. The citizens of Nepal were recently struck by a series of deadly earthquakes. What did we do? Our leadership students called the community to action and asked everyone to bring in donations so that our funds raised would be matched by the Canadian Government. I am proud to say the we exceeded our goal of a dollar per student, raising a total of $1067.30.
Opportunities such as these teach students valuable lessons about not only looking out for those in need, but acting on that need.
Thank you Cambridge Staff, Students, and Parents for yet another week of awesome learning stories!
This last Friday, Cambridge’s first school-wide Spaghetti Marshmallow Challenge took place. It all began from a simple tweet sent by one of our Cambridge teachers; “Let’s try the spaghetti challenge next week”. That’s all it took for Mr. Vendramin and I to begin planning, inviting teachers and classes who were interested to join in; before we could say spaghetti, all 26 divisions, 612 students, were ready to participate.
As we prepared for the big event, we started to investigate where this challenge originated. Watching Tom Wujec’s TED Talk, we learned that this Canadian global leader in 3D design and technology began this challenge. In his TED talk he shares the impetus and learning principles behind this learning experience.
We also found out that this challenge has been conducted by tens of thousands of people in every continent, from the CFOs of the Fortune 50, to students at all levels, Cambridge Elementary could now be added to this list.
On the day of the event, students were organized into teams of three to five students, “bigs”, “middles”, and “littles” were mixed and together. Each group was given a Marshmallow Challenge Kit, which included 20 pieces of dry spaghetti, 1 metre of string, 1 metre of masking tape, and 1 marshmallow. The teams of students were instructed to work together and to apply the very best of their thinking, feeling, and “doing” to the task. Their challenge was to build the tallest structure possible that would support one marshmallow at the top. They had 18 minutes to accomplish this goal.
At 11:12, an announcement was made to the entire school: “Let the building begin!” For the next 18 minutes students from kindergarten to grade seven worked together to build their towers. As I walked around the various classrooms, the multi-purpose room, and the gym, the energy and focus was palpable. It was amazing to see the development of the structures and to take note of the patterns of innovation that many teams were demonstrating. The learning was rich, meaningful, and engaging!
The learning intentions behind this hands-on, minds-on, team problem-solving task were many. It moved beyond helping students to understand and begin to identify the hidden assumption in the problem. As Tom Wujec shares in his TED talk, “Every challenge has its own marshmallow”. Students learned, some sooner then later, that the marshmallow was not as light and fluffy as they initially thought and the spaghetti sticks did not easily support it. You could hear the conversations among the students, “Oh no it’s bending over.” “We need to make it stronger.” “Look out, it won’t hold, we need to do something different.”
Some groups were quick to learn that they had to test their structures out early, and often, if they were to succeed. This is the mechanism that leads to effective innovation. Others waited until the final minute and their once considered tower of strength became a leaning spaghetti disaster. Students were learning to work together in a shared experience to find a common language and a common stance to build the right prototype in solving a problem. This task challenged students to think creatively and collaboratively to solve a problem as a team.
When I think about the learning going on, I am amazed at how many intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies the students were learning and practicing – the very skills they would need in order to engage in deep, life-long learning as successful citizens in today’s society. Students were learning to communicate their ideas and thinking. They were learning to listen, contribute, and to consider diverse perspectives, and, importantly, to build consensus. Students were learning to collaborate and value the input of others. Some you could see were frustrated and had to learn to be patient with their group members. Some you could see struggled to join in and had to learn to find their place and voice in the activity. Students came away learning that teamwork was integral to building a successful structure. They were learning to collaborate to plan, to carry out, and to accomplish a goal. For some, this was not an easy task. Students were learning to evaluate their ideas, decide which ones to develop, refine, and work to realize them. Students had to learn to persevere and use failure productively if they were to succeed. Some may question the time 612 students and 35 teachers spent playing with spaghetti, tape and string, but here at Cambridge we know and value that this is exactly what learning is all about.
In January, we welcomed 108 Coho eggs from the Serpentine Enhancement Society’s Tynehead Hatchery into our classroom incubator. There were 110, but two of them died before we put them into the tank. We kept our tank dark and cold to duplicate what the environment would be like if they were in the river but we made observations every few days.
After a month, our eggs began to hatch into alevin. A few of the alevin died, but because we are learning how to be good scientific observers, we put the dead alevin under the microscope and had a good look at them. Here you can see the colouring camouflage that they have to hide from predators as well as the eye, nostril and mouth. Bennett wondered if we could get the mouth open to have a look at the teeth, but the mouth wouldn’t open wide enough.
Once the alevin began to button up [turn into fry] we had a lot of visitors come to see the salmon! We explained how the salmon migrate, about the different species of salmon and why our tank was a great place to rear salmon. “We learned how important the salmon are to our marine ecosystem and how culturally they are to First Nations peoples. “ ~ Mason and Jacob
Part of our learning included visiting the Historic Gulf of Georgia Cannery in Steveston to learn about the historic perspective of the salmon industry to BC. “I learned how important salmon are to BC’s heritage.” ~ Eric We saw the canning line and learned about the people who worked in the cannery. Some of what we learned was disturbing – depending what your job was and what ethnicity or gender you were made a huge difference to your pay. We visited the Fisherman’s Memorial at Garry Point and reflected on how dangerous fishing can be.
Our final event was last week when after five months, we returned the Coho to the Serpentine River. We met Carol and Chris who, along with many others, volunteer at the Hatchery. “…releasing them [our Coho] was
hard because we’ve had them for five months and we got kind of attached to them (and seeing 10 000 hatchery fish released at the same time was AWESOME!) We learned a lot of new things during the tour, as how to identify a fish as male or a female, and we got to hold some huge frozen fish of different types. We got to release their fish, and we got to fish them out of their artificial habitat. We got to feed the adult steelheads and saw a CD farm, used to protect the Coho salmon living there. (Birds can’t land with little runway) We surveyed the surrounding area by the hatchery, and found some interesting wildlife and plants. We learned about some invasive species, species that aren’t naturally from there. Knowing that all the people that work there are volunteers makes it even better, that people actually care about the salmon, and learning that salmon are such a crucial part of or culture is very cool and interesting.” ~ Caellum
We released 92 fry into the river which is a success rate of 85%. We are very proud of our job ensuring that the salmon live in Surrey rivers for generations to come!
Something that has become evident to me is that students are just like adults: they thrive when doing work that is interesting and meaningful. As adults, we value our time and consider it precious. We don’t tolerate requests to do tasks that are irrelevant to us. We demand to know WHY we are doing what we are doing. BUT…
Do we treat students’ time the same way?
Do we ensure that students see the relevance of the work we ask them to do?
Is the work we ask students to do in fact relevant?
How do we react to students who express (in various ways) that the work they do in class is not personally meaningful?
Do we pay attention to these reactions and what do they mean?
When I speak to others about school, I always say that if I ever went back to classroom teaching, I would be far more effective than I ever was before I became an administrator. Why? Years of visiting classrooms and witnessing what does (and doesn’t) work has given me valuable perspective. Where I used to focus on the teaching, I now focus on the learning. Teachers jokingly say that they get nervous when I visit their class. Of course, that is never my intention. I visit to experience the learning from a student perspective. I ask questions:
What are you learning?
Why are you doing this?
How will you know you’re done and that you’ve learned what you were supposed to learn?
Most of the time, students respond by explaining what they are DOING, rather than what they are LEARNING. Students always find it challenging to articulate WHY they are learning something. Most of the time, there is value and a good rationale for the work teachers ask students to do. The missing link is that we often don’t share this information with students. What we are talking about is “Learning Intentions“: sharing with students WHAT we expect them to learn and WHY. Learning intentions are most effective when they are clear, visible , and in language students can understand.
This past week during class visits, I noticed students in several classes engaged in hands-on, meaningful, and interesting learning experiences.
My first learning story comes from a grade 5/6 class that participated in a hands-on activity whereby they learned to frame a wall – a REAL wall, with lumber, nails, screws, and carpentry tools. This activity was part of a larger project in which students design an actual home. The why of this work is obvious: our students will one day be homeowners, they will be required to design and build, they will measure constantly throughout their life…
Before constructing their walls with power drills and hammers, the Learning Intention for this activity was made explicit for students: they were doing this work because eventually, they will have to use tools to perform tasks in their own home. If we are skilled in taking care of small tasks on our own, we can be independent and not rely on others all the time. We also shared that there will be a huge demand for skilled trades people in the future and for students to consider trades the next time someone asks, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The following images show students excited, engaged, proud, and fully understanding not only the WHAT of learning, by the WHY.
My second learning story comes from a Grade 3 class I visited. When I arrived, I was intrigued by what I saw: black tarp on a table, and four eggs standing lengthwise in bottle caps. This I had to stay for! Students were going to test the strength of these eggs by slowly stacking heavy textbooks on top of them. All of this was part of a structures unit where students were learning how structures could be built to maximize their strength. As each textbook was placed on the egg, suspense grew. 25, 26, 27, 28 textbooks. Then the 29th textbook was placed on the stack and there was a slight movement. A moment later, the eggs began to crack and the stack toppled:
The students in this class were riveted, and so was I. Because we decided to record the event in slow motion, we had the opportunity to view the eggs cracking over and over again. Eventually, students identified the egg that cracked first, second, third, and last. They noticed that they cracked in sequence and in a clockwise direction. The “wheels were turning” and the questions started. What if we did this demonstration again? Would the eggs crack in a similar way? This is evidence that learning isn’t always about coming up with answers!
My third learning story is about how we do our morning announcements. Students have ownership over this activity and take it very seriously. Very often, students arrive early to school to prepare, even though we don’t do announcements until 10:15 a.m. When it is time to do announcements, students arrive on time and prepared. I think a large part of this ownership comes from the fact that not only do the 650+ students and staff hear what is said, but that the announcements are recorded, tweeted, and published on our school website and blog in real-time. In other words, their audience is the world. Listen to our morning announcements HERE. This is doing real work!
My final learning story comes from Kindergarten. I love to visit Kindergarten classrooms because of all the pictures and cards that get made for me. Students experiment with language and demonstrate that they understand that language is used to communicate their thoughts and feelings. During a recent visit, I received a detailed drawing so I asked the student to tell me about it. I had my iPad with me so I asked if the student wanted to send his story to someone. He said “Yes” and that he wanted the story to be sent to his teacher, our music teacher, and our teacher-librarian. Using the ShowMe app, I recorded the story. Hear Keaton’s story here. Once others knew they could record their stories and send it to others to hear, I soon had a line of students ready with pictures in hand. Again, I think this goes back to the inherit need students have to do work that is meaningful. The audience in this example made the learning meaningful! Listen to a few other stories HERE and HERE.
All of these stories took place in the last week and all have a common thread: students actively engaged in interesting, hands-on, and meaningful learning experiences. As educators, it isn’t always possible to prepare “home-run” lessons that wow students. What is important is to ask good questions during planning:
Would I want to do this task?
Why are students learning this and how will I let them know?
How will I engage students?
I am buoyed by that fact that many of these questions are being asked at our school!