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Building Homes in South Africa

This year one of our Grade 6 Humanities Teachers, Chris Dittmann, is volunteering for a organization, Hands at Work, that works with HIV orphaned children in Africa.

Chris has dreamed up a project that he's hoping the Calgary Science School community will help support.

A letter from Chris:

Greetings to all of you at CSS from hot and sunny South Africa. For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Mr. Dittmann and I am usually a Humanities teacher at CSS. I say “usually” because this school year I have taken a leave of absence from my teaching position at CSS in order to serve as a volunteer with an organization called Hands at Work in Africa. I am currently living near a town called White River in the province of Mpumulanga, which is in northeast South Africa, close to the border with Mozambique.
Hands at Work is a non-governmental (charity) organization that assists communities in eight countries in Africa that have the highest numbers of orphans and vulnerable children and have little or no access to things like hospitals, clinics, and schools. Hands at Work doesn’t deliver any of the services, like food, education, or health care. Rather, people in the community itself get organized to do this and Hands at Work tries to support them and help them to do even more things to help the kids in their community.
Most of my days here are spent helping local Hands at Work volunteers. I try to do whatever I can, like teaching computer skills (not many Macbooks here!), writing proposals and reports about projects that the communities are doing and also writing stories about some of the kids who are getting help in the community. Not many people in the communities own cars or drive so I also spend part of each day driving volunteers around. I enjoy it, although people drive on the opposite side of the road here in comparison to North America, which was a little confusing at first!
Many of the kids in the communities I’m working in face huge challenges in their lives. Many children have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS. Some of these kids are taken in by relatives, who already have difficulty providing for their families. Other kids end up living on their own. We call these “child headed households”, where the oldest kid becomes the caregiver and head of the family. Some of them are barely teenagers. It’s very difficult for these kids to provide food for themselves. Some are forced to quit school and try to earn money. Safety and security are big issues for these kids living alone.

Even though I’m not at CSS this year, I have had lots of contact with my fellow teachers back home. In fact, we have been busy coming up with some ideas of how you at CSS can connect with what is happening here in Africa. Through technology, we’re looking at ways that CSS teachers and students will be able to see what life is like for some of the kids here and get to know their stories.
There are two households in particular that I’ve been working closely with – and that I’m hoping CSS will support over the next few weeks. These young people are currently living in very unsafe conditions – and it’s my hope to build two secure house for them – at a total cost of $7000.
I am still working out the details of how to collect funds for these families – but I’ll communicate that shortly. The great thing about being here is that I’ll be the project coordinator for buildings – and students at CSS will be able to skype with the families in January as the homes are being built.
Thanks for taking the time to read this!
Chris Dittmann
Chris made a short video about this project:
Chris has also created this document that adds additional information about two of the orphan boys (Mthandazo and Sipho) he has been closely working with:

More Math Podcasting

In a recent post we shared an example of podcasting as a powerful tool for students to demonstrate their mathematic thinking.

Here's another example of students recording their mathematical thinking, this time by a grade 4 student.

We believe that this is one of the most powerful uses of a 1:1 laptop program - how technology can empower students to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways.

This video was made by a grade 4 student using this National Library of Virtual Manipulatives website - and then using the SMARTrecorder tool (comes with the SMART notebook software).

As with all our projects - we welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions in the comment box below.

Google Earth for Mapping Math

Our grade 5's have just finished using Google Earth to solve a math problem designed to build large number sense.

The students were challenged to find a route across Canada, starting in Calgary, that would take them to each of the capital cities. The trip could go in any order after leaving Calgary, but the students needed to complete their trip using at least 20,000 km and not going over 25,000 km.

In order to complete the trip, the students first needed to know the names and locations of all 14 capital cities, including territories and the capital of Canada, and how to add digits with decimals. Interestingly, many student used print altases to gain remind themselves of the names and locations of the cities. (It was also a great review of the capital cities of Canada - also part of the grade 5 curriculum!)

A Google Earth demonstration was given before the challenge. The class was shown how to fly between locations using addresses as well as the names of locations.

Other tools that shown included: how to measure between two locations using the “line” and “path” function, how to move within the screen, how to zoom in and out of locations and how to mark locations that they had visited.

The class first explored these tools by locating their homes, the Calgary Science School and the Calgary International Airport. Once all the locations had been found, they were asked to find the distance between their home and the school, the school and the airport and the distance around the school yard.

Armed with these basic measurement skills in Google Earth, the students were let loose to solve the problem:

Here's one of the student's final calculations (you can see the three attempts made):

As with all our projects - we welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions in the comment box below.

Reimagining the Future of Education in the 21st century

At the end of last school year, the Grade 8 Humanities team (Rachelle Savoie and David Scott) and their students embarked on a project examining the question:
If schools got it right for adolescent learners, what would they look like?
To prepare students to respond to this question, we looked at various resources that provided context around traditional approaches to education and the history of schools in North America.

1:1 Research Report - Year Three

Here at the Calgary Science School we are currently in our 5th year of 1:1 computing.

As part of our 1:1 program, the University of Calgary, along with the Galileo Educational Network have been researching our 1:1 program.

Below you'll find the full research report from year three of our program:

Citation for 1:1 Report:
Jacobsen, M., Friesen, S. & Saar, C. (2010). Teaching and learning in a one‐to‐one mobile computing environment: A research report on the personalized learning initiative At Calgary Science School. Report delivered to the Board of the Calgary Science School, March 2010.

Resources for MT Year-One Lecture

This week, three of our teachers are giving the two morning lectures to 350 first year education students at the University of Calgary.

We are sharing the vision we have for inquiry-based learning at the Calgary Science School, and using some of our classroom projects as a way to illustrate how strong inquiry-based work is carefully and thoughtfully designed.

The two slide shows given are:

Illustrative Examples of Inquiry-Based Learning

Here at the Calgary Science School we build our understanding of inquiry-based learning around the Inquiry Rubric developed in conjunction with the Galileo Educational Network.

To help unpack how the Galileo Inquiry Rubric is lived out in specific projects from our school, we've compiled the following list of projects tied to particular elements of the Inquiry Rubric:

Academic Rigour
Active Exploration
Assessment for Learning
Connecting with Experts
Elaborated Communication
If you're familiar with the rubric, you'll notice that Appropriate Use of Technology is absent from the list. This is because technology integration is embedded in each of these illustrative examples.

Assessment Discussions at CSS

Assessment has been a hot topic at the Calgary Science School over the last year. (AISI Cycle 4)

Our AISI funding has allowed teachers to meet periodically in 2009-2010 to review the assessment strategies of the school as they pertain to our AISI assessment goals, and to review some of the pillars of the school's assessment philosophy.

The following video is a compilation of numerous assessment-related discussions that occurred during PD days during the the 2009-2010 school year.

In the video you'll see teachers discuss the following three key areas over the course of three professional development days offered over a six-month period:

1) What do report cards tell parents, and how do we consider reporting information to parents?
2) How do we collect data in an effective way that best represents the understanding of students?
3) How do rubrics and exemplars help teachers and students communicate the language of assessment in a classroom context?

As you watch you'll see teachers debate some of their own understanding of assessment in light of some of the assessment data, report card exemplars, grade books, student rubrics and exemplars shared in these PD days. By the end of this professional development time together there seems to be a shared sense of what quality assessment looks like at our school.