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Grade 8s Need Help from Calgary Experts

"Does Calgary have the necessary conditions to be a Renaissance City?

This is the overarching question that grade 8 students at the Calgary Science School are currently working to answer. Over the last few months, students researched particular areas of the Renaissance, including trade/commerce, religion/spirituality, and art/culture to ascertain what conditions, developments and unique features were present in northern Italy during the 16th century. After completing their research, the students have condensed their findings into a short presentation video- with the intention of demonstrating the particular conditions that led to the flourishing of the Italian City States during the Italian Renaissance.

CSS Library - 1:1 Changes

Donna Alden, Teacher-Librarian

What changes in the school library program and collection have I already made in response to the 24/7-technology access our students have at this school?

Over the past two years, less emphasis is put on strategies for accessing information in print resources, and more has been placed on instruction and guidance in accessing online information sources, including online databases and Internet sites.

The school library collection reflects changes in the way it is being developed. Many topics students include in research and inquiry projects are truly better researched online. Topics as diverse as Canadian politics and legislation, cultural and demographic information, health topics, natural disasters and the topics such as the pine beetle epidemic are examples that can best be searched via the Internet and online databases. It’s neither practical nor effective to try to develop those parts of the nonfiction collection that require constant weeding and updating. Many magazines, journals and newspapers are available online and through online databases, and websites like Stats Canada and various almanacs make print sources obsolete and impractical for most school libraries.

I do see a place in a school library collection for some almanacs, atlases and other works of reference, as well as general and specific nonfiction areas. For one thing, access to some information is quicker than online (believe it…we test this often!), but I’m also convinced that seeing works of reference and nonfiction in a concrete format, permits a better understanding of how certain kinds of information are categorized and organized for access, and this understanding should be developed in our student body.

To understand that topics move from general and broad, to specific and narrow, and to be adept at generating alternative search terms, are easily demonstrated and reinforced when using print resources. But, they are also necessary skills for searching online library catalogues, and when those skills and understandings transfer to students’ online searches, I believe they become more skillful searchers and consumers of online information.

Grade 9: Food or Fuel

This project is a grade 9 Science Project examining the topic of biofuel development. Students were introduced to the topic through a powerpoint presentation designed to hook the students with some of the controversial facts on the issue.

Students worked through the development of a number of research questions, and then began a collaborative research process using school-hosted blogs.

All of this lead to the creation of a public service announcement (PSA) designed to make an emotional connection to the issue.

Grade 4 Regions: Project Outline

Previously on the site, we had shared a grade 4 project designed to cover the Alberta's regions component of the Social Studies Program of Studies.

Basically, the goal of the project is to have students, in groups of 4, design the layout for a community that combines their content understanding of a particular geographic region (natural resources, vegetation, unique geographical features) with some basic concepts of sustainable development.

The teachers met yesterday and planned out some of the particulars of the project. You can access the planning document and outline of the project here (including some initial drafts of rubrics).

"Examining Student Work" Introduction

As written before, our school wide focus this year is on examining student work to highlight student understanding. We have developed a framework through which teachers will collaborative examine a particular project from their classroom. The framework leads through an examination of (1) the key outcomes behind the project (2) the assessments used and (3) how the student work demonstrates deep understanding of the desired outcomes.

The purpose is to critically examine a planned unit, and to take seriously the nature of student work produced. It's our belief that carefully examining student work is a key element, if not the most important, in moving our collective practice forward.

Over the last month we have tested this framework with two different sets of teachers. The conversations were lengthy, one was 5 hours and one was 3, but we believe that a sustained and protected amount of time is necessary to engage in a deep analysis of student work.

During the two 'practice' sessions, many interesting and valuable insights were uncovered about the projects. After participating, all four teachers spoke very highly of the process, and all found some key elements of their practice that they want to focus on in future projects. These teachers were really excited about the process, both for themselves and for the collective professional learning of the staff.

One of the really powerful outcomes of the practice sessions was a series of voice-recordings. We audio-recorded both discussions, and then pulled out clips to highlight the depth of critique we hope all teachers will bring to the discussion. The teachers involved agreed to having these clips shown back to the staff - a vulnerable step, but such an important one to set the tone for making our practice more public.

These teachers have gone the next step and agree to have their discussions publicly available. Each of the following clips are about 5 minutes long, and give a glimpse into the depth of analysis that came out of these collaborative discussions.

After conducting the two practice discussions, we introduced the "Examining Student Work" framework to the rest of the teachers. Last Friday one of our staff, Neil Stephenson, gave a presentation on the framework, shared the audio-recordings from the practice discussions, and had teachers begin the process of collecting evidence for the facilitated discussions. Teachers will have a month to gather the necessary artifacts, and create a short presentation. The reflective discussions with the rest of the staff will take place on February 11th.

Here's the presentation given by Neil that introduces the "Examining Student Work" process. The actual framework and guiding questions can be found here.
Finally, here's a video of Neil introducing the theoretical background of the framework during our PD day last friday. As we continue to move forward with the process, we'll share teacher reflections and outcomes. We're excited about the emerging possibilities.

"Examining Student Work" - Reflective PD

This year our Professional Development goals are focused on three question:

1. What do we want students to know?
2. How do we know that they've learned it?
3. What do we do when they haven't learned it?

These questions are so deceptively simple - yet as you begin to unpack them - so many discourses about good teaching and learning come falling out. Even taking seriously the first question - what do we want them to know? - unravels into many questions about what counts as something worth understanding.

In our experience, it's difficult to boil a curricular topic down to a key essence or 'enduring understanding.' If we're looking at forestry, or pi, or european explorers, what are the core outcomes that I want students to 'get' or 'develop' or 'uncover' ? (or whatever metaphor best fits the experience of understanding something) This requires a solid understanding of the content knowledge, in addition to having an ability to connect the content knowledge to real-world disciplines, and also finding space for students to locate themselves within the study to build engagement.

But as a staff, we've also seen how crucial it is to take the time to make these core goals clear before starting on a project or study. If the teacher isn't sure where a particular project is going, then how are students going to be able to know where to go - and how is a teacher going to collect evidence that they've demonstrated or performed the core understandings that are the focus of the study?

The second question - how do I know if they've learned it - relies heavily on the first. As teachers, we need to set clear outcomes for the study and for the students. These outcomes need to be clearly articulated, and then the assessment practices that are used need to be strongly linked to helping students improve their understanding of the core outcomes.

One of the key PD experiences of our staff this year is to work through a process where they take one project/lesson/study that they've done in their class, and reflect back on it using these three questions. And this year, we want to focus mostly on the second question - how do we know if students have a deep understanding of a particular topic? What would constitute evidence of deep understanding? To achieve this we're having our teachers work through this reflective structure.

At the end of the day, the focus must be on the student work. We want teachers to be able to collect artifacts of learning - evidence that students have demonstrated deep understanding of the core outcomes of the project. We are asking teachers (in teaching paris) to collect assignment sheets, rubrics used and finally, examples of student work that demonstrate beginning, novice and mastery of a given topic.

Our school's plan is to collect these reflections, along with student work, rubrics and assignments and make them publicly available through this site. For our teachers, this becomes yet another level of vulnerability - being willing to admit what worked, didn't work, and what you'd like to change about a project is something not many educators are willing to share in a public forum. But we're moving ahead - and these reflections are a key part of our school wide focus on making our practice more public.

For now, we'd appreciate feedback. What do you think of the structure? The questions? And as an outsider - what would you love to hear from our teachers as they wrestle with building strong inquiry - based work?

As always, we continue to appreciate any thoughts or comments shared.

Thoughts from the CSS Library - Resources

Donna Alden, Teacher-Librarian

So, are all students becoming critical consumers of Internet sources? Are we purposefully integrating the teaching of strategies students need to critically evaluate sources of information before they select them off the Internet?

In any collaborative planning with teachers, one of the first points of discussion after deciding upon the inquiry question and how the product and/or process will be evaluated, is that of key resources that will be accessed by students. Not that many years ago, we would have integrated knowledge of specific key print resources to be used, depending upon the topic or assignment.

At a school with a 24/7 access to technology, however, it goes without saying that online resources will be accessed, if not exclusively, certainly most often. So, will it be an open Internet search, or will it involve websites pre-selected by the teacher? Younger students are most often steered toward the online databases available to Alberta students through the Alberta Learning website (Online Reference Centre), as well as “kid-friendly” search engines to do Internet searches. These two guidelines usually are all that are required to ensure students are accessing reliable resources.

However, even at the younger grades, evaluative criteria for Internet resources are continually being introduced and required as an integral aspect of online inquiry. As students advance through the grades, so too must their evaluative skills and knowledge. There are many online evaluative tools available, but as our teachers and students become more experienced, I notice that the evaluative criteria are becoming more astute, practical, quick and effective. They are often shared among teachers, and thus students gradually become equipped with an evolving, and deepening toolbox of evaluative strategies necessary for being wise consumers of information sources on the Internet.

Have You Used This Blog?

We're now about half way into our first year of experimenting with this Connect Blog, and we're hoping to get some feedback from those educators who are accessing it. Our goal is to gather some data on the impact of this form of Outreach, and receive feedback on how we might improve the content.

So, if you have read content on this blog, and made use of any of the resources in your classroom, or if you have been impacted to think different about any elements of your teaching practice, would you please consider taking a couple of minutes to complete this short form?

Your feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Thoughts from the CSS Library - Databases

Donna Alden, Teacher-Librarian

A library that has been professionally managed, whether in a school, academic or public library has resources that have been evaluated and selected for a specific user population. Searching for information in that library should garner reliable results. Once the search expands to an Internet search, the evaluation and selection procedure becomes the responsibility of the researcher, and that’s not a bad thing.

It does, however, necessitate making clear that the Internet is not a huge online “library”, where resources have been evaluated, selected, and organized for access in the same way as a library. There is a basis of trust we assume when searching for information in a library, a basic understanding of what the function of a library is, that really shouldn’t be transferred to the Internet. Do we make this clear when working with students researching online?

On the other hand, online databases, to my mind, are true “libraries”, collections of evaluated and selected online resources by library professionals for specific purposes. And in so many ways, the value of online databases far surpasses that of a print collection. Factors such as cost, space, scope and depth of information, format, currency and ease of access weigh heavily on the online resources side of the decision.

I notice students who may struggle with spelling still can’t always locate their topic, but certainly alphabetical order is no longer an issue! The hot linked cross-references, see also’s, related and suggested topics greatly enhance the results in an inquiry, and far surpass print indexes.

Another huge bonus with online databases- many offer a variety of resource formats- encyclopedia articles, newspapers and magazines, multimedia, and website links, many more and to greater scope than many public and academic, but certainly, school libraries could hope to hold.

Grade 8 Worldview Survey is Live!

Our Grade 8 study of Worldviews is in full swing. As written before, the students have created a survey with the hopes of gathering global data on worldview trends.

The students worked with Rob Pegg to learn the important elements of survey design. We then had our grade 9 students critique the grade 8 survey questions, providing detailed feedback and suggestions on how to refine the survey.

We then used Skype to video-conference with Wes Fryer, a leading educational technologist and blogger in Oklahoma. Wes provided our students with insights into current social and communication tools, and how they can be used to spread messages virally.

And now we have begun to spread the survey out into the world!

So far, in the first 24 hours of the survey we have had over 850 responses from 34 different countries! We will continue collecting responses for a month - and then the students will begin the task of analyzing the results.

Please feel free to complete the survey yourself, and pass it on to your own contacts. We're particularly trying to get results from non-North American countries.