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Forging Connections Kickoff

Tonight is an exciting kick off event for us!

On October 5th and 6th, 2011, the Calgary Science School is hosting the Forging Connections Conference.

This conference is a collaboration between teachers, art and science experts and parents with the goal of integrating art and science more authentically into the students’ learning. It will also provide professional development for the teachers.

Showcasing Student Work with QR Codes

We believe that one of the key elements of inquiry based learning is designing student work with an authentic and purposeful audience in mind. It's a key piece of the inquiry rubric that we use to guide our understanding of effective inquiry-based learning.

We are continually trying to find places where student work can live beyond just the teacher's desk, including submitting work to film festivals, posting student videos online, providing opportunities for students to share their ideas with Faculty of Education professors, and creating online museums of student work.

Working With Student Exemplars

by Shelley Robinson, PhD (Vice Principal at CSS)

One of the goals in our AISI Cycle 4 work at the Calgary Science School is that “teachers will find and develop student exemplars that demonstrate the expectations of the program while considering and then clarifying the standards and scope and sequence of the graded programs” (CSS AISI Report).

However, when we pulled teachers together to work with some homegrown student writing exemplars (grades 4 to 9) at a professional development day (2010), with the intention of grading these using a common rubric, some interesting observations came up in conversation.

We later made similar discoveries in a second professional development day where we examined some student IMovies (grades 4 to 9) with the same intention of grading them, but while looking at them first holistically, then normatively, and finally with criteria-referenced rubrics (2011). What we found in both professional development sessions with both types of learning outcomes was that by actually participating in the matter of exemplars, things were not quite as straightforward as we had expected. A series of questions emerged as we entered each phase of our professional development work together.

What we first noticed in both professional development days with student exemplars as our full staff focus was that we had some difficulty finding exemplars from our teachers representing “poor”, “satisfactory” and “very good” work. Teachers have a tendency to save the “very good” examples of their student work, and lose the other examples along the way. In fact, teachers often save only their very “outstanding” examples of students’ work. What we are learning is that students often respond positively to being able to see the varying standards of product and performance (insufficient, poor, limited, satisfactory, proficient and excellent). They often identify with a specific exemplar standard and can then strive to achieve or exceed it. By only providing examples of excellence, there is not always a way for students to see the discreet ladder of success that they must climb to get to the target of defining their work as exceptional at their grade level.

We also found that sometimes the student exemplars that we did save were far above what the provincial grade level expectations would need to be for that type of assignment. When we looked at all of the student exemplars as a full staff (which also served as an informal exercise in cross-graded and curricular scope and sequencing), we found some discrepancies in what we were expecting from our students.

For example, with certain Grade 5 IMovies, when students were given numerous hours and opportunities to complete a representation of their curricular understanding, the work far exceeded what might have been a reasonable curricular expectation of a Grade 5 student. In fact, in some cases, a few of the IMovies resembled something of a Grade 7 or 8 standard. We then asked ourselves: Is it then fair to hold this Grade 7 standard up as a model of a Grade 5 achievement of “excellence”? Or, would it be better to suggest that this (above grade level exemplar) is what might be achieved with an exceptional amount of time and dedication, but here (grade level) is a more reasonably targeted grade level exemplar to share with students?

The question then became: How much time do we give to students to complete an assignment or project to demonstrate core understandings and competencies in a subject area? If we hold exemplars up from projects to students, where an exceeding amount of time is given for an assignment, (and in some cases, we determined, too much time) do these models serve as accurate targets for students to achieve in a reasonable length of time, on their own, with a normal amount of teacher and parental support?

What we determined in our post-activity discussion was that in some cases the form of representation media or technology was superfluous to the curriculum expectations. These projects did not help students to develop knowledge or even enrich the experience. Instead, it was a time-filler or an exercise in mastery that took multiple hours away from learning other valuable curriculum outcomes in their programs.

We concluded that assignments, and in particular, larger projects, require careful attention by teachers to be sure that they support, are relevant and align with the curriculum outcomes. Otherwise, these end products became exemplars of work that might precipitate future assignments of the same type that are not necessarily valuable to the program.

We determined as a staff that when working with student exemplars, there is a strong need to look at our assignments very carefully in terms of how we set students up to succeed within them, and then in turn, create products that we can in turn hold up as examples for future generations of students doing similar work:

1) What are the curriculum outcomes that these types of assignments will demonstrate?
2) What will be the criteria by which we assess these outcomes?
3) How will we communicate and collaborate with students about the language of the curriculum and representational media/technology (ICT) outcomes (and other integrated curricula)?
4) What varying exemplars (varying standards of success) will we use to help promote students to identify and then attempt to rise higher on their own ladders of academic success?
5) How will we update our exemplars in light of ongoing student collaboration in any given project?

We all agreed that using student exemplars is a powerful way of holding up learning targets to assist students to better understand how to represent their understanding in various forms; however, when not thought-through, exemplars have the potential to mislead, and misrepresent how students should best learn their school programs.

Therefore, we endeavor, as a teaching staff, to begin harvesting more student exemplars that consider very carefully these fundamental questions about the use of exemplars in our programs.

Using iMovie for Scientific Thinking

As a 1:1 school, one of our continual goals is to leverage the power of technology to support deep and intellectually rigorous work. Like many others, we believe that teaching and learning should not be about the tools, however emerging technologies, when embedded in well designed projects, can assist students in deep understanding and meaningful assessment.

The research report from our school confirms that technology becomes a powerful tool for engagement, when partnered with effective teaching practices.

One of the ways that we have seen technology have a significant impact on student learning is around assessment. Here at CSS we have seen many examples where technology has empowered students to demonstrate their understanding in different ways - enabling students to show what they know in better ways than traditional pencil and paper formats.

The challenge becomes determining what the key or essential understanding for a particular topic are, and then determine how technology might improve or deep students understanding of those skills, outcomes or ways of thinking.

A recent grade 5 science project by Candice Shaw and Greg Neil demonstrates the connection between clear content-based outcomes and technology usage. In grade 5 in Alberta one of the science topics is Building Electrical Devices. The purpose of this unit is to have students create a device using simple concepts from the electricity unit. The challenge becomes how teachers might assess the understanding of the students by looking at a final device.

At the same time, some of the general science outcomes involve scientific thinking and rigour. Through the year students should be demonstrating their understanding of the scientific method, how to design measurements to collect data, how to test and improve a design and then document scientific thinking.

Also, across our program, in all subjects and grades levels, we strive to create learning environments where students are producing their own solutions to engaging problems and can be creative while address core competencies.

The way Candice and Greg addressed both the specific and general learner outcomes was to have their students create a podcast documenting their process. As students went through the building and testing phase of building their electrical device, they took pictures and then created a video explanation of their device and the accompanying scientific concepts.

This video captures teacher Greg Neil talk about the role technology played in demonstrating students understanding about the electricity concepts:

This video podcast shares a grade 5 student discussing their electrical device:

The rubric used by the teachers to assess the podcasts:

Drawing Fractions: Fine Arts Integration

Written by Candice Shaw, Grade 5 Math/Science Specialist

One of our new initiatives this year is a Fine Arts Integration Program with our grades 4, 5 and 6students. The purpose of this initiative is to deepen the collaboration between our Fine Arts program and the core subject areas.

As part of this new initiative, a Fraction Art project was created in collaboration between a visual arts specialist and a math/science specialist. In math, Grade 5 students had completed most of the fraction unit when this project was introduced.

The project is based on the artwork of Piet Mondrian, who often used a grid of horizontal and vertical lines, filled in with primary colors.

In order to create their own "Mondrian" type pieces of art, students followed a general set of instructions, which were written in fractional terms for the whole area of one piece of paper. All students followed the same set of directions and then compared their creations with peers. An exemplar of the project was shown to students prior to beginning their own artwork.
This activity reinforced fraction concepts taught in class, as well as some concepts that were not directly taught at a Grade 5 level. Concepts covered:
  • Representing, identifying, naming and creating fractions using a region model.
  • Visually creating equivalent fractions: Students were challenged to find interesting ways to represent the fractions. For example, some students used long skinny rectangles, instead of one folded square to represent one twelfth.
  • Division with fractions: Papers were folded into 12 equal sections, which then had to be changed into smaller equal pieces for more complex directions. For example, to break the paper into twenty-fourths, students decided they could split each section (twelfth) into 2 equal sections, creating twenty-fourths.
The initial folding of the paper into twelfths was chosen because it allowed a variety of fractions to be represented within the folds of the paper (e.g. thirds, fourths, sixths, etc.). The directions can also be easily adapted to allow for different types of folds.

As an extension to the project, students were asked to create their own artwork, which they then had to write fractional directions for (similar to the original project).

Here's some of the sample pieces of student work:

Inquiry Book Study: The Final Week!

Due to our school Spring Break - this final blog post for our Inquiry Book Study is a little tardy...

This book study has been an enjoyable experience for us - and we plan on running another in the Fall. Thanks so much to all our previous bloggers!

Chapter Seven: Learn the Game of Learning

Bio: Keith Hadden is currently principal of Prairie Waters Elementary School in Rocky View Schools. Prairie Waters is a K-5 dual-track (English-French) school of 530 students with approximately 35% English Language Learners. The school is currently working towards application for the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme. Follow Keith on Twitter here. Read more of his blogs here.

Like many others in their late teens, I spent the

first couple of years of my undergrad degree sitting in large lecture halls taking notes, trying to keep up with readings, and cramming for exams (which usually meant memorizing what I could regurgitate). Finally, I started to learn the game of learning, making more of an effort to connect with professors, attend tutorials, and, having shed the shroud of multiple-guess tests that pervade first and second-year classes, reflecting more critically on lectures and readings. Still, it was undergrad…

I recall once proudly going to a University professor and asking him some questions of clarification, confident that I could make sense of coursework. I still remember him asking me, “Weren’t you in class?” I was. Now, many years later, I understand what I didn’t then; I’m not lectured to easily. I now know how I learn and how I do not. I do not enjoy being read to either.

Even adult learning situations often place one in a role of being read to, as good literature is shared by others. I’ve sat next to others who have felt such emotional attachment to what is being read that they have cried in response, while I sat wondering what it was that was being read. I’ve now learned the game of learning.

What implications does learning the game of learning have in today’s classrooms? Questions that need to be asked include: How do we help our students understand how they learn? How do we meet their learning styles? How do we help them develop the type of skills Perkins talks about: memory strategies, problem-solving strategies, deep reading, time management, choice points, self-assessment, collaborations, etc? Some students will master these anyway, but not all will. Those that automatically take the driver’s seat will get it; those in the passenger seat will need to be encouraged to move over. Things just matter less in the passenger seat. And learning is enhanced when it matters.

Perkins’ argument that it is important to learn the game of learning should resonate with every teacher. I equate it with meta-cognition and transference of learning. Connections to background knowledge, to how we learn, and to other games makes the learning whole. I think this is where inquiry comes in. It’s the difference between planning for learning and micromanaging learning. Giving students as much ownership over their learning, and letting them pose questions and study problems relevant to them will allow them to make the type of meaningful connections necessary to maneuver their way on new routes.

It took me a while, but the undergrad learnings I made about how I learned served me well as I became a lifelong learner. I finally learned how to drive.