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Creating Clay Dragons

As the end of the year draws near, our students are completing many diverse and engaging projects. One of these is a grade 7 art project where students created clay dragons, using a number of foundational skills they had acquired.

In this video, art teacher Lorrie Emin explains the details of the project:

Visit from the Dean of Education

On Thursday, June 10th the Calgary Science School hosted a number of special guests to our school. Dr. Dennis Sumara, the recently appointed Dean of Education from the University of Calgary, and Dr. Sharon Friesen, Associate Dean, were invited to CSS to experience the culture of our school first-hand. Also participating in the school visit were Dr. Garry Andrews, (Executive Director of the Alberta Charter Schools Association) Dr. Robert St. Onge, (Director at Alberta Learning), Dr. Bonnie Shapiro (Professor of Science Education) and Joanne Steinmann, (Alberta Initiative for School Improvement, University of Calgary) as well as members of the CSS Board of Directors and leadership team.

The purpose of the visit was to initiate discussion in support of a closer partnership between the Calgary Science School and Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary. Over the 10 years of the school, we have established a significant number of connections with the University through hosting student teachers (CSS teachers hosts anywhere from 8-12 student teachers a year) and participating in research studies (this year there are 7 academic research studies being conducted at CSS). However, while these connections are already in place and CSS is well known by the Faculty of Education, the intention of this visit was to explore the possibilities of an even closer relation where CSS would become a partner or lab school for the Faculty.

The visit was started with two groups of grade 8 students sharing their most recent inquiry-project around redesigning schools for the 21st Century. Both sets of students did a fantastic job of sharing their learning, and represented the school in a professional way. The Dean commented a number of times on the quality and depth of the student presentations. The rest of the visit centered around sharing snapshots of our school’s history, vision and examples of classroom projects and student learning.

Overall, the visit was very well received. In fact, the Dean subsequently wrote an opinion piece for the Calgary Herald in response to a recent Alberta Education Report entitled “Inspiring Education.” In writing this response, the Dean made specific mention of the strength of learning that occurs at the Calgary Science School, and highlighted the clear connection between our school’s vision and the direction of teaching and learning in the province.

In terms of the potential partnership with the University, we should know more details in the Fall.

Learning to Draw the Human Shape

Our grade 6 students have just wrapped up the tracing project that they've been working on through the last semester. As written about before, this is a project designed to have students learn to draw what they see, not what they think they see!

After doing the tracing through the glass, students transfer their drawings to water color paper, and then design and complete the full painting with background.

Virtual Machines: Final Projects

Over the last few weeks, our grade 8 students have been working on virtual Rube Goldberg Machines, using a physics simulator called Phun.

For the assessment of the work, the teachers really wanted to focus on the students' understanding of the various simple machines they were expected to build into their complex machine. With that in mind, the students were asked to create voice-over narrations of their machines - being asked to explain how the different machines combined and transferred the energy through the system.

One of the advantages of creating these machines with digital rather than real world tools, is that students are immediately working with the scientific concepts at the heart of the project. Within minutes of opening the program, students were testing, modifying, tinkering and working with their machines. While there is something important about having students build physical models, the disadvantage is that students are limited to whatever objects that can locate, and often spend more time on the building than on the scientific understanding. However, by designing the work in Phun students are able to play with a much wider range of gear ratios and different materials than they would have been able to had they been building a real life machine.

Having looked at a large number of these student projects, what is interesting is the range of creative solutions that the students built into their machines. Phun allows student to experiment with a number of materials including rubber, helium, glass, stone and water. While the core of the project revolved around students demonstrating their understanding of 6 simple machines, they were offered limitless creativity in how they would combine the tools and the task their simple machine would perform.

The program Phun was a free download - but due to the complexity of the machines our students designed, the program quickly became laggy. Many of the student machine bogged down and were very difficult to complete. However, both the students and teachers demonstrated an incredible amount of perseverance in completing the designs. The teachers are very committed to continuing this project next year - and we're looking at purchasing Algodoo for next year - the paid version of this program.

Throughout the project, and despite the laggyness of the program, students demonstrated a strong engagement in the work. Many students went home and immediately invested a great deal of time in learning and experimenting with the program. Students repeated asked to work on the machines - we are really excited about the potential classroom uses moving forward.

One student in particular was interviewed about the project - and mentioned that he wanted to continue worked on his design. He also commented that this was one of the only projects in school that has ever inspired him to continue working on it way past the due date.

What a strong recommendation for the project!

To complete the project, each student created two videos: (1) their final machine with a sound track, and (2) their final video with a voice-over narration explaining their scientific understanding.

Below are four videos, there are two students examples (with each of the two videos).

Student #1 with Music

Student Video #1 With Narration

Student Video #2 With Music

Student Video #2 With Narration