Cambridge Elementary…Our School!
Updated August 26, 2016: School Learning Plan June 2016
Cambridge Elementary is a K-7 school in the Sullivan area of Surrey, B.C., Canada, currently in its tenth year. Cambridge is located in a rapidly growing area of new homes and townhouses. The school opened with 350 students and is currently home to 685 students. The community consists largely of young families, many with two incomes.
Many changes have taken place over the course of the past two years. A new administration team joined the community and there was a significant transition of teaching staff, including many new Teachers and Education Assistants.
The parents at Cambridge work tirelessly helping to build a positive school community with special events and fundraising to support the school. The Parent Advisory Committee plays a very active role in building a positive learning community. Many parents volunteer on a regular basis both in classrooms and on field trips.
Cambridge’s office and custodial staff work diligently to make students, parents, and visitors feel welcome and safe in our building. They are approachable, supportive, and great ambassadors of our school. Our student leadership team supports many school initiatives such as spirit days, morning announcements, “Drop-Off Buddies”, and charitable activities both at local and global levels.
The staff at Cambridge generously involves themselves in a multitude of activities that make Cambridge a very special learning environment. These activities include the Student Leadership program, athletic teams, recycling crews, library and lunch monitors, ongoing professional development, and exploration of innovative teaching practices. At Cambridge, we are proud of our caring, energetic, informed and thoughtful learning community.
Cambridge teachers are proud of and continue to dedicate efforts towards building and maintaining a strong collaborative and caring culture. Teams of teachers work together to consider, explore, and reflect on issues and approaches related to shared questions and intentions in an effort to improve and develop their practices and in turn nurture and support student learning.
School Learning Plan – Preparing for a Changing World
As we look towards the new Ministry Curriculum, district initiatives, and the changing needs of our students, we have identified one main growth area that we will focus on to help move our students forward in developing the competencies they will need as learners in the 21st century:
Making Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Visible
As a team, we recognize and appreciate the importance of our changing roles, and what it means to prepare our students for the changing world. As we move to an inquiry-based process and identify the areas of professional development and inquiry, we want to use the new Ministry curriculum as a lens, specifically focusing on the three cross-curricular core competencies: thinking, communication, and personal/social awareness and responsibility.
Last year we began our learning journey by reflecting on our learning environments, generating questions, exploring new resources, trying different approaches, and observing and collecting evidence of student learning, to continue to meet the changes that our education system is facing, and ultimately, to meet the needs of our students in a changing world. It had been said that when educators make their own discoveries, they become energized by the desire to inquire more deeply and to learn more broadly. So our journey continues.
- What do we know about our learning community?
- What evidence are we drawing upon?
As we reflect back to the start of the last school year, a significant “Catalyst Event” took place that made it evident that our community strongly supports meaningful work that allows students to be creative. In October 2015, we held our very first Cardboard Challenge and the response and participation was overwhelming:
This school-wide event reflected and modeled some very important beliefs and values about teaching and learning:
- We are ALL learners
- Relationships matter
- Learning is enhanced through connection and collaboration with others
- We are driven to do work that matters
- Creation over consumption of content promotes improved student learning and ownership
- Risk-taking is supported and encouraged in a safe learning environment
The Cardboard Challenge, a “Catalyst Event”, would come to represent an example of the type of learning experiences and environments that would be encouraged and supported. Such events have continued to take place at Cambridge, including the Marshmallow and Spaghetti Challenge last year, and the second annual Cardboard Challenge, Structures Challenge, and Upcycled Junk-Art Challenge this year. The staff at Cambridge continue to embrace the opportunity to provide open-ended learning experiences that reflect the principles of BC’s new curriculum: focus on personalization, and the development of core competencies such as problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, communication, and self awareness.
In December 2014, our grade 7 students participated in our first 30-Hour Famine. The community contributed a staggering $6000 to charities selected by students: KIVA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and BC Cancer Foundation.
In December 2015, our grade 7 students held the second 30-Hour Famine, raising another $6000 in support of KIVA, Rare Diseases Foundation, Team Diabetes BC, BC Lupus Society, and BC Cancer Foundation.
Students have made over $1500 USD in micro-loans via KIVA to entrepreneurs in third world countries, learning about finance as well as the hardships faced by many in underdeveloped parts of the world.
Students have also embraced the start of our “maker movement” by participating in hands-on learning such as carpentry, coding, 3D drawing and printing, soapstone carving, and video production.
Most important in our communication with our community is that we model what is important…clear communication and a focus on learning. Important initiatives have included making learning visible through teacher modeling during assemblies, sharing student-created video artifacts, and ongoing communication with the community via a variety of social media tools, including school blog, CambridgeLearns, that is published weekly. “Learning stories” are published which highlight not only what students do, but what they are learning and why. You can read “Learning Stories” HERE, HERE, and HERE.
The education system is changing to put students at the centre of their own learning and provide them with the best opportunities to be successful in our ever-changing global community. The Ministry of Education has been in the process of making significant changes to BC’s curriculum. Read more about these changes here.
Very early last school year and continuing into the current year, our staff continues to ask questions about curriculum change and how learning evidence is collected and communicated. There is continued excitement in exploring options that allow us to improve the work we do in this area. In an effort to enhance student learning through a focus on core competencies, and align students’ learning with the transforming curriculum, we needed to change the way we assess and communicate student learning.
There is little evidence that letter grades improve student learning or motivation. Currently, provincial curriculum is being redesigned to include greater emphasis on big ideas and major concepts with an emphasis on assessment for learning principles. Our staff strongly believes that effective communication of student learning:
- Includes teacher, parent, and student voice
- Is ongoing
- Includes meaningful descriptions/collections/demonstrations
- Is too complex to be reduced to letter grades, numbers, and symbols
In 2015-16, 25 of 26 teachers at Cambridge are using FreshGrade to make learning visible to parents and to involve students in the assessment process. This number is up from 17 of 26 teachers last year. Teachers continue to share their practice with each other and to explore better ways to document the learning taking place in their classrooms. “FreshGrade Fridays” take place 2-3 times per month and are opportunities to share with, question, and challenge each other.
The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive and we continue to elicit feedback and make adjustments to our work. We have been respectful in acknowledging that although the changes have been rapid and challenging for teaching staff, the way we communicate student learning has been a huge shift for our families.
On November 4th, our community forum was well attended. Many teachers were on hand to help share with parents the changes taking place in education today, including changes to curriculum and reporting.
Student engagement in the assessment process has also been a significant part of making learning visible. Travel through hallways and classrooms make it quickly evident that students have been given ownership of the documentation process. It is common to see students documenting their learning using a variety of tools including FreshGrade, Explain Everything, blogging platforms, and iMovie.
- What focus emerges as a question to pursue?
How do we best assess and evaluate student learning which reflect the core competencies and essential curricular concepts for deeper and personalized learning?
How do we best communicate to parents and students which reflect more meaningful descriptions, collections, and demonstrations of student learning?
What impact will our initiatives (emphasis on doing meaningful work, making learning and assessment visible) have on student learning and their attitude towards learning?
What will we do?
Continue to explore the use of FreshGrade as a communication medium, while developing expertise in capturing and sharing authentic, meaningful learning over time.
Continue to encourage more parents and students to be active participants within FreshGrade portfolios.
Transform how we communicate learning as a school. Cambridge Elementary has moved away from traditional, once-a-month paper newsletters, to a weekly blog that focuses not just on events, but on the what and why of student learning. We have also heavily harnessed social media to ensure our community is as informed as possible regarding not only event and information, but also the learning taking place. This includes our District Website, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed.
Continue to emphasize learning opportunities that will allow students to develop and demonstrate a wide range of competencies. Teachers will be supported to explore innovative practice and curriculum change in our developing Learning Lab.
Model the transformative use of learning tools and continue to provide students and teachers with a variety of tools that will allow them to demonstrate and share their learning.
Develop an understanding of formative assessment practices, embed these practices consistently and seamlessly in instruction, and actively involve students in the process. These practices are modelled during staff meetings, assemblies, and during collaborative learning sessions.
Staff Development: Communicating Student Learning, Formative Assessment Series, formal and informal teacher collaboration, weekly “Chat and Chomp” sessions, commitment to use Professional Development time to explore this question.
- Is our focus making a difference?
How will we know:
Students will be able to talk about their learning in authentic, accurate, and meaningful ways. Students will move from “what they are doing” to “what they are learning.”
There should be visual evidence that students are using a variety of tools to create their own content, share learning, and connect with others. In other words, there should be a shift from replicative to transformative use of learning tools.
FreshGrade portfolios will move beyond “glorified scrapbooks” and become records of student growth over time, with teacher, student, and parent voices present.
Parents and students will participate in the learning process, communicating their understanding as well as areas for growth.
There will be visual evidence of teachers planning, implementing, and communicating formative assessment practices in their classrooms.
Teachers will shift from “reporting” to “communicating student learning” providing ongoing, meaningful communication between teachers, parents, and learners (FreshGrade, 3-way conferences).
There is significant evidence of the indicators above. Our school has welcomed many visitors over the past two years, interested in the work we are doing in the area of communicating student learning. As Derek Sivers shares in the video below, we continue with the “ordinary work” that others consider amazing, including visitors from Hyland Elementary, James Hill Elementary, North Vancouver School District, Bullis School District, Thames River School District, Abbotsford School District, Apple Canada, IBM, and Peel School District.
Travels through hallways and classrooms indicate an increased level of student ownership in the documentation and assessment process. At the conclusion of the year, we look forward to doing some analysis of the comparison of digital portfolios from last year and the current year, both in term of the quality of artifacts, descriptive feedback, and parent and student “voice”.
There is also an increased visual use of formative assessment strategies and principles, specifically learning goals, criteria, descriptive feedback, self assessment, and questioning. A striking example of this is one teacher who has moved completely away from the use of letter grades and percents to communicate student learning, to the use of FreshGrade and descriptive feedback.
- Does our inquiry require adjustment?
This process will be ongoing. Data will be qualitative in nature and will be collected through conversations with students, teachers, and parents.