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Grade 8: Creating Effective Surveys

Our grade 8 students are currently in the middle of large-scale study, combining both the Worldview and Renaissance components of the Social Studies curriculum. This study contains two sections, first the creation of a worldview survey, and then a study on the Renaissance, comparing the Italian City States to the conditions in contemporary Calgary.

To help with the first component, we've had few experts participate in the study, bringing the element of authenticity into the work. A few weeks ago our students Skyped with Wes Fryer, who informed us of some of the recent changes in networking technology, and how they are changing the way information is accessed and shared.

We had another guest speaker in a few weeks ago, Rob Pegg, who's one of the parents at our school and also a web designer. In his own line of work, Rob has often designed and implemented surveys, and so the teachers asked him to come speak, providing the students with a number of elements to consider when putting together an effective and unbiased survey.

After listening to Rob, the students discovered that making survey questions that pull out someone's worldview is very difficult. There are so many factors that influence someone's view of the world, and also the students found it challenging to make 'objective' survey questions that highlighted the key elements of someone's worldview, without being vague, general or leading.

After collaboratively writing the questions, we put the first version of the survey into Survey Monkey, and have since had our grade 9 students test the survey. Also, Survey Monkey has the feature of allowing comments on individual questions, so we asked two classes of grade 9s (who had just finished a math unit on surveys) to provide feedback on all the questions. The grade 9s were able apply the content they recently covered (on topics such as 'question bias', 'answer bias' and 'leading questions') to give focused feedback to the grade 8s on their questions.

The grade 8 are currently revising the questionnaire, and will be releasing it publicly in the new year - hoping to receive as many responses as they can from around the globe.

Grade 7: Remixing Historical Perspective

One of our grade 7 Humanities teachers, Dan McWilliam, just finished a project with his grade 7 students. In order to understand the concept of perspective in historical accounts, Dan had his students re-write a 'picture book' on colonialization from an alternate perspective.

Dan used the book "The Rabbits," written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. "The Rabbits" is an incredible visual story of a group of rabbits (the colonizers) who arrive in a new land, spreading their worldview over the native marsupials who reside there. The art work is stunning, and weaves in fantastic imagery of western philosophy and expansionism.

The original book,"The Rabbits" is told from the point of view of the native marsupials, and so Dan wanted his students to explore the motivations of the colonizing rabbits, so he had his students retell the story from their alternate perspective.

Working in pairs, the students were each assignment one page out of the original book. Students then had to imagine how the events on the particular page might be retold from the perspective of the colonizers, rather than the 'natives.' Dan scanned pages from the original book, and the students remixed pieces with other images they found. The students used Abode Firework to create the new pages, and then Dan assembled the pages, and had one book published from each of his two classes.

Through the re-telling of the story, both from the rabbits' perspective, as well as through the lens of Canadian History, the students included historical details relating to the fur trade, the signing of land treaties and residential schools. The students creatively used historical images from events in Canadian history, and using Fireworks, replaced the heads of the characters with the heads of rabbits and marsupials. In doing so, the students were able to weave in historical understanding and demonstrate an ability to retell historical events from alternative perspectives.

Here's a digital slideshow showing one of the two classes retold storybook:

Peace Festival

Every year at this time, our school community comes together around an event called Peace Festival.

Peace Festival started many years ago as a way to celebrate the multicultural make-up of our student body. It was also a way to focus our entire school population (teachers, students and admin) around topics of human rights, global awareness and the difficult living conditions of many people around our city, country and the world.

Grade 6 Graphic Design

Some of our grade 6 students have recently finished a large scale writing project, called the Penny Book project. This project involves students writing a series of short stories, capturing memories from different years of their lives.

The students have just finished all the planning, writing, editing and polishing of the stories, and the next step is to get their writing ready for printing. To do this the students are going to be introduced to the basics of graphic design and page layouts. To get the students creating effective page layouts for their stories, we're using a two-step process.

Grade 8's Skyping With Wes Fryer

Last week, our grade 8 students had the good fortune of having an hour and a half skype chat with Wes Fryer, an educational thinker and blogger from Oklahoma. Wes was very generous with his time - and we were very thankful for the opportunity to chat with him.

Our students are currently working on a project combining both the 'Worldview' and 'Renaissance' elements of the grade 8 curriculum. During our skype chat, Wes was able to assist our students' thinking about the changing role that technology plays in the spread of ideas. He also provided some suggestions about particular websites and 'marketing' techniques that our students should consider to help their survey find a wider audience.

Here's some of the highlights from Wes' chat with our students:

Student Led Conferences: Using Podcasts

We recently had our first student-led conferences of the year. Like many schools, this is a time when students walk their parents through some of their learning over the term, as well as reflecting over the first 3 months of the year and setting goals for the next term.

This term a couple of our grade 4 teachers used garageband to have students record their self-reflections. They then posted the reflections on their class website, making them available to return to on an ongoing basis.

Write For Life

One of our grade 6 teachers, Rick Fawcett, has introduced a program in his grade 6 classroom to help engage kids in the writing process. Called "Write for Life," the program brings parents into the classroom to discuss how writing plays a role in their profession. It's a project that one of our Vice Principals, Dr. Shelley Robinson, has previously done with high school students, and has here been modified for grade 6 students. You can read the overview on Rick's classroom site by clicking here.

The program involves a number of stages:

(1) Rick used Google Forms to create a registration process on his classroom site. Interested parents signed up here.
(2) For each parent who comes in, three students are assigned to do some preliminary research on the profession. The students then craft a number of interview questions. Throughout the year, all students will eventually be assigned to one parent volunteer.
(3) These three students then write an email to the parent, introducing themselves and sharing the interview questions before the parent visits the classroom. There is a sample student email shared below.
(4) During the parent visit, the three assigned students are responsible for hosting the parent and running the interview.
(5) After the interview, the assigned students write a summary of the interview, posting it to the class website.

Here's the handout for the project and a sample student email:

Here's a video from the first parent visit to Rick's class:

Student Voice in Assemblies

Like other school across the country, we had a school assembly on November 10, remembering those brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for the protect of our country.

When our school has assemblies like this, our school philosophy is always to get students involved as much as possible - particularly having students share their voice and opinions on different issues. In the past, our student assemblies for Rememberance Day have contained student podcasts, tableux, readings and movie productions.

One of the great things about being a 1:1 laptop school is the range of possibilities that emerge for students to use technology to capture their voice, and create presentations to be shared with the rest of the student body. The work that students create in classes often has an authentic audience, right here in our own school.

Here's a great example, spearheaded by Rachelle Savoie, one of our Grade 8 Humanities teachers. Rachelle organized this production - offering the opportunity for any CSS student to come forward and share their thoughts and reflections on Remembrance Day. This was one among many student-centered productions shown that day - demonstrating the power of technology to allow students express their voice about a topic that matters.

Grade 6 Pre-Algebra Discussions

This year, our math team is taking a focused look at exploring student's numerical literacy, realizing that even in grade 9, students frequently struggle with foundational concepts such as number lines, fractions and ratios.
One of the ways our math team is accomplishing this is by taking a more in-depth approach and providing time for students to discuss, debate, and converse about their mathematical thinking as they work through different problems.

Grade 8: Is Calgary a Renaissance City?

Grade: 8
Subject: Social Studies, Humanities

Our two grade 8 Humanities teachers, Dave Scott
and Rachelle Savoie, are in the last stage of planning for the Renaissance component of the Social Studies Curriculum.

In planning this project, Dave and Rachelle wanted to take the concept of "Worldview" that runs through the entire grade 8 curriculum, and make connections with contemporary society. The goal was to move beyond a static examination of the 'Renaissance City' as something in the past, and find ways to connect the idea of "the Renaissance as the foundation of the Western World" to elements in our world today.

Through much discussion and deliberation, the teachers decided to focus the study on the question: "Does Calgary have the necessary conditions to become a Renaissance City?" There have been a number of public discussions in Calgary over the last few years, such as here and here, debating whether or not our city has the elements of a Renaissance City. The bring the study of the Renaissance into the 21st century, our grade 8 teachers have decided to take this question up with their students.

As they work through this project, students will be:

(1) working through the creation of a Worldview Survey
(2) creating a general mindmap of the Renaissance
(3) attending a lecture on the Renaissance at Mount Royal University
(4) analyzing some initial historical artifacts to get students thinking about the different elements of the Renaissance
(5) then choosing one characteristic of the Renaissance to focus on in depth :
  • Arts/Culture,
  • Religion/Spirituality
  • Trade/Competiton/Finance
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Thinkers/Philosophers
  • Social and Political Systems
In small groups, students will begin to research the role their particular element played in the rise of the Italian Renaissance. Students will be expected to discuss specific examples of their element, as well as develop some general themes.

(6) Students will then use their research to create a presentation on their particular element, either an iMovie or a Powerpoint with a recorded script. Then the students will upload their presentations onto a wiki site, with each different element having a different page. The purpose of the wiki site is to begin building a shared understanding of the necessary conditions for a 'Renaissance.'

(7) Next we're hoping to find contemporary local experts in each of the elements listed above. We want these experts to watch the student presentations on the wiki site, and then respond, commenting how the current conditions in Calgary compare to those of the Italian Renaissance City State.

For example, one group of students will research the role of the Arts in Renaissance Italy. They will turn this into a (5 minute) digital presentation, and will contact local people in Calgary's Arts community to watch their presentation on Art in the Renaissance. Then the experts will respond by providing insights into whether or not Calgary has these same conditions as the Italian Renaissance. These expert responses (either text or voice) will be posted on the wiki below the original student video presentation.

(8) Finally, having access to all the other group's findings, the students will be responsible for answering the initial question: "Does Calgary have the necessary conditions to become a Renaissance City?" Students will also be required to make recommendations on how Calgary might improve its conditions, which we're then hoping to present, either at City Hall or the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

It's a pretty big project - but we're looking forward to getting started soon!

As with all the other project ideas on here, we welcome feedback, comments and suggestions.

As well, we're looking for local Calgary experts in the following areas:
  • Arts/Culture,
  • Religion/Spirituality
  • Trade/Competiton/Finance
  • Science
  • Technology
  • Thinkers/Philosophers
  • Social and Political Systems

Grade 4 Regions: Sustainable Communities

Grade: 4
Subject: Social Studies

Our grade 4 Humanities students are about to start on a large inquiry project focused on the Alberta Regions component of the Social Studies Curriculum.

In previous years, the grade 4 teachers had done a project on the regions where they had students imagine they were early settlers coming to the land. The students had to pick an area in the regi
on to settle, and explain why that particular location would be livable for early settlers.

Using 'Ning' to Collaborate Between Schools

In a previous post, Dave Scott, one of our grade 8 teachers, discussed how Twitter and Skype had allowed him to connect with a philosophy teacher on Bowen Island, just outside of Vancouver, BC.

Having met and Skyped a number of times, Brad and Dave have now set up a Ning, a site that allows the user to create a 'facebook-like' space for collaboration. The philosophy students from both Island Pacific School and Calgary Science School have been invited into this protected space, and are now sharing and commenting on topics such as the nature of matter and the universe.

The beauty of a site like Ning is the simplicity of its set-up, as well as the networked structure. Everything posted on the site is easily viewed by everyone else, and Nings are great for handling video uploads.

Canada: Your Story is My Story

Grade: 9
Subject: Humanities, Social Studies

This grade 9 project centered around grade 9 students telling the stories of new immigrants to Canada. The project was done in partnership with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.

The hope of this project was to engage students in the issue of Canadian immigration and citizenship in an authentic way. It was an attempt to use technology to have students make meaningful connections with what happens outside of school.

Rather than just reading about the immigration process, students were able to experience immigration first hand. The power of the project lay in students experiencing the change in quality of life many immigrants experience in moving their lives to a new country. One immigrant told our students, "I used to be funny in my first language. I'm not funny anymore." Our students were able to connect and identify with the stories of lives being changed through immigration to Canada.

What Role Does the Library Play at CSS?

by Donna Alden, Teacher-Librarian

As CSS enters the second year of our full one-to-one laptop project, I’m curious about the changes in how students are accessing information resources for their research and inquiry projects.

In years past, when students used the computers in the library, there was a natural movement between the print collection and online resources that was observable. It seems to me what’s observable now is the decline in students accessing information in print (books), and I’m wondering what impact this change will have on student learning. A number of questions about knowledge are starting to emerge:

  • Is it still necessary for students to know how to access information in print resources?
  • Does having the knowledge of how information is organized in libraries and in books provide a structure for understanding how information is organized on the Internet and in online databases?
  • Is there a problem with our students having experience and knowledge of only online information sources when they go to other schools?
As the teacher-librarian at Calgary Science School, I want to start exploring these and other questions. I'm hoping to use this blog as a space to share my thoughts about knowledge and libraries in the 21st century. For now, I'm going to focus on two questions:
  1. What impact has one-to-one laptop projects had on school library programs?
  2. And, are there changes that need to be made to the collection and my role as teacher-librarian?
Please feel free to weigh in on the discussion!

Student Teachers Teaching Through Skype

by Jason Cooper, University of Calgary Student Teacher at Calgary Science School

Over the last couple of weeks, I've had the pleasure of being involved with both the Grade 8 and 9 Philosophy classes here at CSS and at Island Pacific School in Bowen Island, B.C. in their study of pre-Socratic philosphy. The classes have been studying the subject together, collaborating using various internet technologies.

Because of my background in physics, and I was invited to speak with both classes about the perspective of modern science on the fundamental nature of the world. We discussed some challenging fields in modern physics, including quantum mechanics (and what it says about fundamental particles, the greek atoma) and general relativity (and what it says about space, the greek void).

On October 1, I led a discussion with the class here at CSS, and on the 14th, I was part of a similar discussion via Skype with the class at IPS. It was great to collaborate and share my knowledge with teacher Brad Ovenall-Carter, and his grade 8 students 1000 km away!

Skype video-chatting allows for a lot of interaction between the people on each end, and despite the fact that I was participating from home, with the IPS discussion taking place during our fall break, connection speed was never a problem. Voices were sometimes hard to hear on the other end, so some investment in audio hardware would certainly be worthwhile where a group is participating.

One challenge that I found unique to the Skype conference was that with the bulk of the participants on the other end of the line, it was sometimes difficult to guide the course of the discussion. I often felt that I was sitting in watching a class discussion, rather than being a part of it.

Despite the challenges both conceptual and technological, both classes were very successful. For more than an hour, we discussed some very difficult ideas in modern physics. The questions students from both schools posed to me and to each other, and the responses they gave, showed an ability to think creatively and critically. Maybe even more exciting, I understand that for many students, these discussions continued well after the class was over!

Thanks to Braddo for mixing the vid.

Developing Numerical Literacy

As as team our Math/Science teachers are focusing on improving the numerical literacy of our students, from grade 4 to 9. During team meetings, teachers are beginning to discuss some of the foundational concepts that students struggle with in mathematics.

After the team's first discussion, Principal Darrell Lonsberry had this to say:

I came away from the meeting with our math/science team absolutely energized and excited about our conversation. All of our teachers recognize that there are two fundamental, and very much related, concepts that our students consistently struggle with in math: proportion and number lines (number sense).

Some of the observations from teachers to support this supposition are:
  • Having to re-teach operations with fractions to our grade 9 students.
  • Students not being able to correctly place any sort of fraction on a number line (they may put the fraction 7/8 between 7 and 8 – but closer to 8, of course, because 7/8 is a large fraction).
  • Difficulty understanding the relationships between fractions, percents and decimals.
I believe that the problems our students are having regarding developing a firm conceptual and operational understanding of these two topics is fairly universal. We know that there are some methods of teaching that promote thinking errors for proportional understanding – relying on the pie or pizza method of teaching fractions, for example. What we don’t have a firm grasp of, and what we are seeking assistance with, is good teaching practices from grades 4 to 9 on how to promote a deeper understanding of these universal mathematical concepts.

We will look at enlisting the help of the Galileo Educational Network to help us sift through the research and design authentic learning experiences to promote deeper conceptual understanding of proportion and number sense.

This team focus on basic skills in numerical literacy will be taken up in subsequent posts and videos from Calgary Science School classrooms.

Four CSS teachers at the AB Social Studies Conference

Next week four of our teachers are presenting at the annual Alberta Social Studies Conference.

Jenn Woodard is giving two presentations:

Canada: Your Story is My Story This presentation will cover a grade 9 project on immigration. Our school partnered with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Services and our grade 9 students interviewed recent immigrants to Canada. The students documented immigration stories, collected images and artifacts, and created iMovies that were then played back to the new immigrants during a celebration at the school.

Your Dollar is Your Vote Jenn will explain the parts of this grade 9 project on global economics, which covered fair trade, globalization and how students impact the world through their own purchases.

Tanya Stogre and Chris Dittmann are giving a presentation on Grade 5 History iMovies.

Neil Stephenson is giving a presentation on the Cigar Box Project.

Grade 6 Water color Portrait Project

"I Used to Think I Couldn't Draw"
by Lorrie Emin, CSS Art Teacher

Our grade six art students are currently working on a watercolor portrait project involving a number of steps and components- from developing life drawing skills, transferring the work onto watercolor paper, creating a background, learning about color mixing and painting techniques, to actually painting the portrait.

When I decided to try this activity with them, I had very high hopes, but was a little nervous about whether or not my expectations were too high for them. In the past, I have done this project with older kids in grade seven and eight and at a later point in the year once many skills were established.

I must say that so far the grade six kids have surprised and impressed me with their level of engagement, effort and willingness to get outside their comfort zone and just draw!

For the drawing portion of the project students were asked to select a partner to draw. The students are responsible for providing each other with a great portrait to develop into a painting. This has made them accountable to each other both as the drawer and still-life model.

After a demonstration and some instruction, students were
sent off into the hallways with clear mylar, wet-erase markers and their partners to find a window. The first step of the project was to trace the lines of their model onto the clear mylar. This is a great drawing activity for kids on so many levels. It is motivating and exciting for them to be out of the class and drawing in a very public location with teachers, peers and admin stopping by to check out their work.

The clear mylar and glass provided a new and unique drawing experience...challenging, motivating and fun, while the wet erase markers made it easy to erase any mistakes and make corrections. Because the mylar was not the final product, but rather a step in the process, kids were very open to making changes to their work.

In doing this activity, the students were challenged to make the switch from left brain to right brain processes. The projet pushed kids to move beyond what they "knew" a face looked like and to focus on the lines and shapes of what they were looking at. They were forced to move beyond drawing what they believed they understood about the subject and into developing stronger eye/ hand connections, bypassing the analytical left brain and tapping into their more creative right brain.

This switch was evident in the focus the kids had and in the products they produced. Infact I was a bit surprised by how many times students came back to class well after the period had ended, stating that they had lost track of time (and didn't seem to notice the hundreds of students moving past them during class change). If not focused, they were certainly engaged!

Another cool aspect of this project was that it is such a great transition for kids this age to move from "tracing" into "drawing" from life. It straddles the line as kids are asked to simply look through the glass and trace the person on the other side. "Just follow all the major lines", is what I asked of them. They delivered.

This project has become a wonderful way for students to develop observation and drawing skills and to build confidence without the pressure of looking into a mirror or sitting across from the subject and wondering where to begin.

One of my boys made this comment at the end of a recent class. "I always thought I sucked at drawing." "And now?", I asked. "I rock it!", he replied. Wow. That's a pretty great endorsement. The pride that the kids have in their work is impressive and the drawings are wonderful.

Right now the students are just finishing the transfer of their drawings from the mylar to the water colour paper. I'm looking forward to moving into the painting process next.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE: After publishing this blog post, Lorrie was approached by two art teachers from another school in the province. The two teachers were excited about the project and wanted to talk to Lorrie about how to use her ideas in their classrooms. We set up a Skype chat, and Lorrie was able to answer questions about this project, and help two other teachers get started. Thanks so much to Jen Deyenberg for setting up the opportunity.

If other teachers are interested in the project, and would like to chat with Lorrie, please comment below.

Collaboration with the University of Regina

50 of our grade 6 students are about to embark on a "Powerful Learning Opportunity."

Dean Shareski, education professor at the University of Regina, has a class of student teachers that he is partnering with various classrooms around the world. The purpose of this project is to:

• Provide online opportunities for K-12 students to receive feedback on their classroom work
• Allow student teachers a broader experience of teaching methods
• Explore the possibilities of using technology to open up classrooms

In light of this opportunity, we have decided to connect 50 of our grade 6 Humanities students with two student teachers from the University of Regina. Over the next few months, two student teachers, Amanda Marcenko and Danielle Gomersall, will be assisting our students as they work through writing their “Penny Books.” Amanda and Danielle will dedicate about 30-45 minutes a week to be ‘virtual student teachers’ in our classes.

As it stands right now, the plan is to select a couple of students each week to share their writing with either Danielle or Amanda. Having access to the mini-lessons that our students are using to improve their writing, the student teachers will read and provide feedback to our students. Our students will use their Calgary Science School accounts to email their stories to the student teachers, and there’s also the possibility of having the student teachers video-conference directly with our students about their writing. If this element of the collaboration works out, it would be done through my personal Skype account.

Again, the overall goal is to help our students’ writing improve by increasing the amount of feedback they receive.

We're excited about this innovative use of technology to improve our student writing. Thanks to Dean for setting it up!

We'll be sure to report back on the project as it begins to unfold over the coming weeks.

Making Assessment Criteria Visible

“When students communicate their learning using a variety of work samples, they go beyond what grades, numbers and scores alone can show; they are able to examine the depth, the detail, and the range of their own learning to figure out their strengths and what they need to work on next” Anne Davies

Here's an example of how one of our grade 6 Math/Science teachers made the assessment criteria transparent and visible to students. The assignment was to identify a leaf using a dichotomous key and then create a summary of the student's observations.

Working together, the teacher and students created the descriptors for the four marks (1-4). Students then taped their own summaries to the board, self-assessing their work based on the criteria they developed as a class.. At the end, students were given the opportunity to reflect on the mark they gave themselves, and were able to change and improve their assignment.

New Possibilities for Teacher Collaboration

by: Dave Scott, Grade 8 Humanities

After an off-hand statement with one of our APs over lunch, I found myself teaching a course on the history of Western philosophy for the first time. As no one in the school had taught this before, I was thrust into a course with little preparation or ability to draw on others more experienced than I to gain some insight into how to best organize this course.

However, through Neil Stephenson and a twitter connection he had, I was able to Skype with Brad Ovenell-Carter, teacher on Bowen Island who had taught a course on Philosophy for over fifteen years. Resulting from this conversation our classes will now be conversing through a Ning (a form of collaborative website) where we will dialogue and share reflections on enduring issues in philosophy. Additionally, Brad directed me to several resources related to a Renaissance unit our grade 8 students will be doing later in the year.

One article in particular will be of use, making the Renaissance into a case study to better understand how we could make Calgary a more culturally and economically dynamic centre. This article argues that the same radical transformations that occurred with the induction of the printing press are similarly happening today as we enter a new phase of hyper connectivity. Consequently, as the old modes of communication and control are overthrown we too may be on precipice of a renaissance of sorts. Ultimately, these chance connections have shown to be rich in possibilities and open up avenues for collaboration that would never have existed in the

In terms of how this is shaping my professional development, the ability to connect with teachers a thousand miles away through SKYPE changes the whole model by which we often do PD. In my previous experience, PD entails choosing from a range of workshops that may or may not be relevant to what you are teaching.

In contrast this model allows me to collaborate with someone doing a similar course which as a result has both offered insight into how to organize the class as well as opens up possibilities for our students to cross-collaborate and dialogue. In my conversation with Brad, he discussed how tweeting is becoming his main source of Professional Development since he now has networks right across North America.

I am starting to see how new technologies have the ability to open up a transformative space for education, and that teachers will no longer rely on school or district boundaries to initiate new approaches to education.

Using Wikis for Knowledge Building in Science

Grade: 7
Subject: Science

Our two grade 7 science teachers are starting a research project for the "Plants for Food and Fibre" unit of the grade 7 program of studies. The plan for the project is to have students examine a number of variables to determine which plant need has the greatest impact on plant growth.

In pairs, students have selected a variable to examine, and over the next month, will begin to design ways test the impact variable on plant growth, and to collect and document data along the way.

To collect the data, the teachers have decided to set up a wiki (using for each of our four grade 7 classes. On the wiki, each pair of students will create a page for their particular variable.

This is the first time these two teachers have used a wiki in class and they're excited because it allows for a number of authentic extensions to the project.

First, using a wiki means that the data collected by each set of students becomes public. This means there's a more authentic audience for the student work, increasing the potential buy-in by the students.

Also, at the end of the data collection period, the teachers can now build in a synthesizing task. Right now the teachers are thinking of asking the students, "Which of the different plant needs has the greatest effect on plant growth." While this final question might change, still the power of the wiki is that all the different groups' research now has a meaning and purpose, for all the other students, not just themselves. Each pair of students in now relying on all the other students to accurately produce methods and data to benefit the whole class. While the teachers could have had each group present their data, building a collaborate wiki means that greater analysis of others groups findings can occur.

This means that additional conversations and expectations need to be had around the presentation of student data. The teachers are planning to build a rubric with the students around how best display the data. The quality of the communication now matters significantly more because other students need to be able to interpret and understand each groups findings. What these wikis create in a knowledge building environment, where the quality of each groups' findings directly impacts the collective experience of the whole class.

They're getting started later this week - we'll keep you updated with the process!

As always, if you have feedback/suggestions/other ways to take this project, please do comment below. We know we don't have all the answers, and are always looking for ways to improve the work we design for our students..

Remixing Canadian History

Grade: 7
Subject Areas: Humanities, History

One of our teachers, Neil Stephenson, is offering a session at the upcoming Alberta Social Studies Conference, October 16-18, on a year-long Humanities project called the Cigar Box Project.

Empowered with 21st century tools, Neil’s Grade 7 students reinterpreted events from five periods that have shaped Canada’s current historical landscape. Over the course of the year, students collected and analyzed historical images and artifacts, and then used graphic design principles to digitally assemble new cigar panels, each one revealing a unique, visual perspective of an historical event or time from Canada’s past. At the end of the year, students physically built their wooden Cigar Boxes, creating their own historical artifact that pulled together the story of our country. Along the way, students encountered a variety of assessment practices, created mini-documentaries about their artifacts and met a number of experts who supported their historical learning.

You can read more about the Cigar Box Project at the Galileo site about the project, or on Neil's personal blog, Thinking In Mind.

How to Design Powerful Digital Stories

Grade: 5
Subject Area: Humanities, Digital Storytelling

Two our of Grade 5 teachers are giving a presentation at the upcoming Alberta Social Studies Conference, October 16-18 in Lake Louise, Alberta. This presentation will focus on how to incorporate digital storytelling into the classroom, particularly where teachers want students to focus on understanding multiple perspectives and marginalized groups in history.

When designing the work (in partnership with the Galileo Educational Network) the teachers used an online space called Intelligence Online, designed specifically for the planning of large-scale, inquiry-based projects. One of the benefits of IO is how it creates 'project pages' or publicly accessible websites that contain an overview of the project, as well as specific tasks, handouts, due dates, resources, and assessments. These project pages are designed to communicate the overview of a project to both students and parents.

Grade 8 Graphic Design: Effective Logos

This year at the Calgary Science School, there's a new structure to the Fine Arts Program, bringing in the element of choice at the grade 7 and 8 level. One of the new courses being offered is an introduction to Graphic Design.

The first assignment students are working on is a logo design project. To set up this project, students were introduced to 5 principles for effective logos. Using this great post by Jacob Cass, students were able to examine clear examples for each of the 5 principles, as well as many examples of poorly designed logos.

Next, we used the great database of logos at Brands of the World, and students were asked to select and sketch 5 logos that clearly used the 5 principles of effective logos.

After that, students were given their first design assignment. One of the other new grade 8 Fine Arts courses being offered is a Calgary Science School News Channel. This new CSS News team needs a logo, so this became the first assignment for our graphic design students.

Here's some of the students sketches as they work toward their final design.

After finalizing our sketches, students will begin the process of digitally building their logos using Adobe Illustrator.

We're thinking about posting some of our final designs on line, to help us choose the logo that gets used by the CSS News Team.

What do you think - will you come back and vote on the winner?

Building Inquiry into Physical Education

Last week, our Physical Education team met in order to weave more 'inquiry-based learning' into the way Phys Ed is taught at our school. The team came away excited about the planning session, and is now making two significant changes to the way the Phys Ed program is being presented this year.

1) Enduring Questions. After much discussion about the long-term goals of the teachers, we boiled down the vision of the P.E. program into 2 questions. These questions are given to the students as a way to weave common threads throughout all the different units.
  • How did you best develop your skills?
  • What makes an effective team member?
The purpose of the first question is to move students beyond the basic, what skills did you learn this unit/year, to begin thinking about how they develop their skills. The desire of the teacher was to move students toward being self-directed, become better at self-assessing their skills and abilities, and to put the onus on students to identify areas for improvement. The goal is to help students think about learning resources for skill development other than the teacher.

As a way to build more authenticity into the project, the Phys Ed team is also hoping to get local athletes to provide their own answers to the two questions. They're wanting to collect video podcasts of the athlete's responses to be shared with students.

The purpose of the second question is to have students reflect on the particular attitudes that our P.E. teachers nurture. As the students move from sport to sport, each unit is designed to have a different attitude that is stressed, for example: leadership, risk-taking, or goal setting. The question what makes an effective team member is a way to pull together all the different attitudes that are presented throughout the year.

2) Portfolio Based Assessment. This year our Fine Arts and Phys Ed team are adopting portfolio-based assessment, and moving away from traditional report cards. In Phys Ed, the two questions: How did you best develop your skills? and What makes an effective team member? will become the focus for the student portfolio. Here's an example of the year plan from our grade 4-6 Phys Ed teacher, outlining the units covered, the skill development, the attitude stressed and the form of assessment used.

Each student will have their own blog, and are being asked to capture evidence (written, video, image or spoken) from their Phys Ed classes that answers the two questions. At the end of each term, students will be responsible for compiling and sharing their findings to their parents, using their blogs to host the evidence of their learning over the term.

Overall, the Phys Ed team is excited about the possibility - although there's some healthy fear and concern about this new direction.

We'll be sharing the results as the students begin to collect artifacts of their learning.

Designing Inquiry Based Learning

Here at the Calgary Science School we have a mandated focus to build our practice around Inquiry-based Learning.

As a charter school, we are required by the Alberta Government to re-apply for charter renewal every 5 years. We are currently in our 11th year of operation and the first year of our third charter. Our current charter is built on the following Vision and Mission Statements:
  • Vision: The Calgary Science School will inspire passion and innovation within an inquiry-based learning community by bringing learning to life and life to learning
  • Mission: The Calgary Science School will provide its students the opportunity to experience inquiry-based learning within an environment of mutual respect. We will do so by using 1)technology; 2)outdoor education; 3)the sciences; and 4)authentic research experiences for staff and students to enhance learning in the middle school core and extra-curricular programs

This Grade 8 Project Needs Your Help!

Our grade 8 teachers are currently working on a large-scale project that will soon need your help!

In Alberta, the grade 8 Social Studies curriculum revolves around "Worldviews." One of the core concepts our teachers want to get across this year is that different groups of people have different worldviews.

The plan for our grade 8 students is:

1) to build hypotheses about which indicators (age, location, gender, etc) might have the greatest impact on people's worldviews.
2) in their math classes (stats are part of the grade 8 curriculum) design the indicators and data analysis they want to run on the data after they collect it
3) to build a questionnaire that collects data on people's worldview - based on the sample from Alberta Learning
4) make the questionnaire digital using Google Forms
5) make it go viral using social networking - hopefully getting some responses from around the world!!
6) make the spreadsheet of responses publicly available
7) analyze the data

The idea for the project came from a "Personal Worldview Questionnaire" put out by Alberta Education as a curriculum resource. Here's the original:

We're pretty excited about the idea - even though it seems a little audacious! We think it will be fantastic for our students to track the data as it streams (or maybe trickles!) in.

We're also excited about the cross-curricular connections between the Humanities and Math curriculum areas.

Since we haven't yet introduced this project, we value your feedback and suggestions.

CSS Podcasts: First Nations Defense Assignment

Grades: 7
Subject: Social Studies

In this episode, a grade 7 Social Studies teacher shares an approach where are students are asked to defend a chosen First Nations group against historical critiques. One of the goals of the assignment was to include a problem or challenge for the students to respond to while they were researching Canadian First Nations.

As always, we invite feedback and discussion on the materials we publish. Please feel free to comment.

CSS Teachers at the Calgary Science Network Symposium

Two of our Grade 4 teachers are presenting at the Elementary Science Symposium hosted by the Calgary Science Network on Sept 30th. Our teachers are offering two 90 minute sessions on the Light and Shadow unit of grade 4 Science. They have some fantastic hands on material ready to share.

You can find more information about the Science Symposiums by clicking here.

The Start of a New Journey

Connect! is the Professional Learning Journal of the Calgary Science School.

As we start up this new initiative, the blog will serve a number of purposes:
  1. As a place to share the classroom projects, assignments and assessment practices of the Calgary Science School
  2. As a place where CSS teachers and administrators can publicly reflect and engage in dialogue on their practice
  3. As a place where CSS can build a learning network outside the walls of our school. We want to collaborate with and learn from other teaching professionals, around the city, province, country and around the world.
Come join us on our new journey!

About Connect!

Connect! is the Outreach blog of the Calgary Science School.

The Calgary Science School (CSS) provides students in grades 4 to 9 with an enriched educational experience, infused with ubiquitous access to laptops, an exciting environmental and outdoor education program, and a safe and encouraging school culture in which to learn. CSS students are excited, engaged, and empowered.

The Calgary Science School offers a full 1:1 computer program to students and teachers and has 600 students in grades 4-9.

The goal of this blog is twofold: to share the work we design for our students and to connect with other educators, and find meaningful opportunities for collaboration and sharing.

If you wish to learn more about our school please email Dan McWilliam, PD and Outreach Coordinator for the Calgary Science School