Blog has moved, redirecting... ...

Market Collective, A Big Hit!

By Anton S (Student, 8.3)

Recently, grade eights embarked on a mission to complete graphic novels based on a list of short stories including Alice Munroe’s Day Of The Butterfly and Roald Dahl’s Lamb To The Slaughter. During the process of creating the graphic novels we were asked to convey the theme of the story through our illustrations. We were also asked to create graphic novels that draw in the reader through diverse paneling, the introduction of poetic language, and varying points of view. Although this process took over a month to complete the time and effort put into the project was well worth it.

At the end of the unit we were given the opportunity to present our exceptional creations to the City of Calgary. Specifically, the students were able to share their hard work at something called the Kensington Market Collective, which is a place where artists from all over Calgary come to display and sell their original artwork, jewelry, clothes, music and much more. Although we were not selling our novels, on Saturday, Dec. 10th the classes of 8.3 and 8.4 had a chance to showcase their graphic novels at the Kensington Market Collective. Overall, the booth representing our graphic novels at the market was a hit. During the all day session about 14 students took turns showing their work and explaining the process of making a graphic novel. Many came and went to see the wonderful graphic novels that our grade eight classes created. Having our work marked by teachers is nice but having our graphic novels appreciated by a wider community, many of whom were artists, is even better.

Students into Scientists

by Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park

It began with a conversation on how best to develop deep understanding of biological cycles. When we considered simply slicing fruit and vegetables in half and leaving them out in the open to observe the resulting changes, we never anticipated the smells, the new life, or the learning that would ensue.

The suggestion that we use Google Docs to facilitate collaboration and data management through the scientific process provided an excellent opportunity for introducing students to the incredible value of facilitating collaborative research and documentation through technology. See examples of our student work in Google Docs linked here.

From Day 1 to Day 12, our young scientists were engaged, excited, and passionate about their discoveries. Throughout the process, students developed deep understanding of decomposition, the scientific process, collaboration, problem solving, data analysis, and so much more.

The following video outlines the entire process and the amazing learning that resulted.

Verbal Assessments in Physical Education

by Tammy Berry, PE Specialist
Mr. Schmeichel and I are in the process of working on improving on our reporting process by conducting verbal interviews with specific grades of Physical Education students every term.
Our focus questions are as follows:
1) How does an Interview / Conversation (recorded and shared) based Term Assessment allow the students a deeper understanding of the PE programs goals as well as their own areas of strength / areas for improvement?
2) How is this form of assessment and parent feedback a more effective means of communication (compared to the written term-ending comments) for parents with regards to their son/daughters’ progress in PE?
Why are we doing this in PE?

Using the Model Method in Math Problem-solving

by Kevin Sonico

Mr. Cheng and I are conducting a research project in our classrooms on how using the model method or strategy in math improve students' problem-solving skills. Effectiveness of the method will be measured in the increased ability of students to solve word problems and enhanced confidence to communicate their thinking and process.

Students in Singapore are first taught the model method in the 3rd grade. Hoven and Garelick (2007) stated that “[i]n Singapore, where 4th and 8th grade students consistently come in first on international math exams, students learn how to solve problems using the bar model technique.” They go on to write that “the bar modeling tool has taught [students] not only to solve math problems but also to represent them symbolically – the mainstay of algebraic reasoning.”

The Internet is NOT a Library

The Internet is truly not a library, and shouldn't be confused as one. Ask most students what a library is, and they inevitably offer a reply with the words books, information, borrow, etc. included. If you truly understand a library, which in its essence must have at the very minimum, these words- information, evaluated, selected, categorized and organized for access- then the clarification becomes obvious.

The "Better" Life Strategy

After studying about different organelles that are present in cells and looking at examples of organisms under the microscope, students in Grade 8 explored the life cycle and life strategies of a unicellular and multicellular organisms. Through their research, students compared and contrasted these two different types of organisms. Students brainstormed on what content areas they could find out about each; these were a few of them: life cycle, life span, reproduction, examples of organisms. Several of them constructed graphic organizers like Venn diagrams and tables.

After collecting and researching, students were then prompted to write paragraphs on this question, "Which organism (unicellular or multicellular) has a "better" life strategy?" using the background research. Their arguments and the quality of them were entirely shaped by the quality of their research. When students seemed to struggle with providing strong arguments, they were urged to provide concrete examples, data, etc.

A pendulum debate followed where the two sides (unicellular vs. multicellular) provided their arguments and counter-arguments. A speaker from each side presented an argument then a rebuttal/counter-argument was made by the opposing side. Students were free to change their opinion/side as arguments and counter-arguments were presented - hence, the strength of one's arguments rested on the number of students you maintained or persuaded to change their opinion.

The ultimate goal of this activity was to acknowledge that despite the diversity that exists among organisms, there lies a common thread: that our need for survival shapes our life strategies and behaviour.

This was the students' first taste of the pendulum debate in Grade 8. This activity will later be used most extensively after this unit, following a persuasive essay on deciding which body system is the most important (to be explored in a later blog post).

Hungry Countries Math Exploration

by Erin Couillard

The last time I looped between grade 6 and 7, I noticed a gap existing in students understanding of equivalency and their ability to make connections between ratios, fractions, and decimals. This was after teaching the same group of students for two years, and placing a large emphasis on this strand. Through conversations with colleagues, we recognized that this is an area many students find challenging, in all grade levels. I began to think about other ways of teaching these concepts that would build a deeper, longer-lasting understanding.

While working in our Math lesson study with Galileo, a problem began to take shape where students would use fictitious countries (named Country A through I) which would each be assigned a number representing “People” and a number representing “Food Units”. Each country was assigned a people to food ratio where we purposefully built in combinations that would bring out student misconceptions (see the chart below). More about that in a minute.

In table groups, students were given a cup that contained the number of food and people present in their assigned country. This was represented by two different colors of tiles. Students had to decide, based on their population if their country was well fed or not. Groups then began to fill in a chart on the Smartboard and were asked, with their groups members, to rank the countries in order of best fed to worst fed. This generated a great deal of discussion within groups and as each group put their ranking up on the board, prepared to defend their choices. This is when the misconceptions began to appear. Students wrestled between countries C and G, finding it difficult to prove which country was better fed with their newly forming understanding of ratios.

Once a ranking was established that the entire class could agree with, students were asked to, using manipulatives, create a ‘twin country’ to each of the countries above that would have the same ratio of food to people, but a different population and to model this. Through this task, it was very apparent which students had a deep understanding of equivalency and who was able to represent their thinking concretely and pictorially. Students also began to generate other ways, besides using manipulatives of demonstrating and explaining equivalent ratios and fractions such as symbolic representation.

This problem led students into additional problems working more directly with fractions.


The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

Rachelle Savoie is a teacher currently on leave from the Calgary Science School. She has taken a position teaching junior high humanities at the Canadian International School in Abu Dabi, United Arab Emirates.

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

After working at CSS for almost 4 years, I had begun to take the act of questioning for granted. It is ingrained in our culture to question. It is what we base our charter on …inquiry.

However, historically, and in many educational institutions, questioning is not the predominant component of learning. In some cases it is not even encouraged. Upon arriving in the United Arab Emirates and meeting my students, I suddenly realized that many of them had been taught in schools where rote learning and memorization was the norm and questioning was a skill they had not developed.

This summer I had come across a resource called, 6 Hats of Thinking (see link below). Since September I have incorporated the 6 Hats of Thinking in various novel study activities, social studies assignments and current events discussions. This helped the students become comfortable with questioning and laid the ground work for a project I wanted to do for the grade 8 Renaissance unit.

Teaching the Renaissance is one of my favorite units in all the grades. The areas you can explore are endless and there are countless connections students can make to today. I was given an idea of a project a few years ago that I never got around to exploring, and because this year is all about trying new things, I thought it would be the perfect place to do it. This project has many of the elements that I believe all worthwhile learning needs to incorporate.

What I know about teaching and learning is it needs to be relevant, engaging and meaningful. During PD days at CSS we often grapple with how to accomplish this. One way we often talk about authentic learning is allow students to ‘become something’ through their work – that is become a mathematician, become an artist, become a historian. This allows students to realize that the work they are doing is something that people do in the real world. The student becomes part of the learning and becomes something through the learning, as opposed to the learning just happening to them. The project, “Becoming a Humanist,” is something I believe meets these criteria.

Humanism is one of the key ideas that grew from the Renaissance worldview; Questioning, Curiosity, Risk-taking, Learning (For those of you who work in an inquiry based school- sound familiar?). To introduce the project we watched a documentary about Socrates. Many conversations were sparked from it, one in which was around Socrates most famous quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We started discussing why people believe the things that they do. We talked about how people hold many opinions, but wonder can people justify and explain their opinions? From there, students started asking questions about things they had always wondered. What transpired was an enthusiastic level of engagement that I strive to see every day in the classroom. All the work we put in at the beginning of the year on what makes a good question and what are different ways of thinking were starting to materialize.

One of the challenges, but also the liberating part of the discussions, was the fact I had no answers for them. What? A teacher who doesn’t know everything? Shocking, I know. The first part of the project, the part that I think is the most important part and the part I am focusing on in this blog post, was coming up with a question. I encouraged students to come up with a question that people are still searching for an answer to today, a question that many people hold different opinions about. When I started to give some suggestions, the students said, “Miss, if you tell us the question, then we are not being true humanists!” This is entirely correct, so I let them loose.

The next day they needed to have to have their question ready to share. All I can say is, wow! They came up with such insightful questions that I hadn’t even thought of. Questions like: Is it possible to become anything you want? Can dictators be good people? Is equality possible? What is fear? Can the world exist without war? Why do we have to lose something in order to realize how precious it was? Are you in control of what happens in your life? How do you know what you are doing is good? If many people believe something is true, is it?

We are starting the part of the project where they need to find an answer their question. This is requiring them to interview people (family members, teachers, experts) and do their own research. The questions they are examining are difficult and it is going to be a challenging journey to reach an answer that uses logic and reason. However, it is the process of questioning where the real learning is happening. I don’t expect them to be able to fully answer questions that people have been asking for hundreds of years. I am more interested in the process. They are living the life of a humanist; asking questions, having meaningful conversations and examining their own life. “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” –Arthur Ashe

Determining Historical Significance

-by Jody Pereverzoff, Grade 7 Humanities

Students in grade 7 Humanities are currently completing an assignment called 8 Events Leading to Confederation, adapted from the website

Historical Significance Unit

Inquiry Question: What event is the most significant event in Canada pre-confederation?
This unit opened with a discussion on the difference between ‘the past’ and ‘history’. We examine many events, past and present, using the following criteria:

– The event had deep consequences for many people

– The event affected many people

– The consequences of this event lasted for a long period of time

Inquiring into Waste and Our World

by Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park

Our Grade 4 classes have spent the past three months inquiring into the topic of "Waste and Our World" with the goal of developing an appreciation and understanding of their roles and responsibilities as global citizens of this environmentally fragile and increasingly endangered planet. We had hoped that our inquiry would help students feel empowered to sustain environmentally conscious action as part of their everyday lives.

Our first mission was to collect garbage from the school ground. Students were shocked to discover that we had collected over 4lbs of lunch-related waste in one day and that this amount was repeated by the following class the next day! This activity made it clear that action for the environment was needed and could have a very real effect in our immediate community. As a group, we concluded that one minute public service announcements highlighting a need for change in our daily practices would be the best way to inform our school peers and inspire action.

These Kids Get It!

Today was amazing for a number of reasons.

We finished our decomposition lab this morning. It had been an enlightening few weeks of learning what becomes of a perishable food, halved and left in the open for three weeks. Some awesome things happen to rotting fruit after it starts to smell, not least of which are fluid loss and bacteria growth. This morning, the tomato had given birth to a new family of fruit flies, all of whom remained happily trapped under the wrapping as our young scientists whooped victoriously while pressing their faces to the creeping mass of molding vegetable.


Guest post from Calgary Science School student teacher, Mariana Sanchez.
(Cross posted on Mariana's blog)

December 2nd was my official last day as a student teacher. The last day was a total whirlwind! I felt like I was running all over the place trying to get our last minute labs organized while I was trying not to focus on the fact that it was our last day.

It’s so hard to think that I won’t get to go to the school everyday. The group of students went from being a group of kids to my kids. I’ve grown attached to all of them and I will miss them! If I had any doubt about being a teacher I now have 50 extra reasons of why I want to keep teaching. Having the ability to inspire someone to push themselves to excellence or to get them to keep going when they want to give up is something not to be taken lightly. To have a student say that I’ve made their day, is amazing. It’s not something that I can just walk away from.

As much as I taught them about algebra and integers-they taught me about patience and acceptance. They waited calmly as I sometimes stuttered and fumbled through material. I will always remember my very first lesson when I said I was nervous and they all started to clap for me, and told me I would do just fine. I got the impression that they were thinking, ‘we’ll make a teacher out of you, don’t worry.’ The students were so encouraging after the first couple lessons and would tell me I did a good job and that they learned something (even though I’m pretty sure it was a review)

It will be hard to leave the school community too. The whole staff was supportive of us. When we were having questions about assessment one of the teachers started a “Lunch and Learn” where we could bring any questions about school and she would help us work through them. We had questions about portfolios and social networking and got a crash course in how to set up Twitter and Blogs. I had a question about how to use algebra tiles and we got a mini tutorial. Even when we were trying to write our proposal for a conference coming up we got extra help and got ideas from the conversations we were having in the staffroom. I felt like everything was open to us and they didn’t hold back any knowledge from us. This had a huge impact on my experience this year!

I am glad that I can keep volunteering in different areas at the school. The only hard part will be trying to balance this with my own classes and work. I don’t think I’m quite ready to leave the school yet and the learning/teaching environment they have built. There is still more learning to be done!

Mixing the Real and the Virtual

As written in a previous post, one of our teachers, Dan McWilliam has been playing with augmented reality in his wood shop elective class.

As a new semester begins - students can now visualize how their designs will appear in the real world. And even go so far as to place themselves digitally beside their 3D designs as this student has done with their chair design..

Demonstrating Understanding through Pixton

-by Dave Scott, Grade 8 Humanities

This term the Grade 8 Humanities team has been experimenting with creative ways for students to demonstrate their comprehension of key concepts and ideas surrounding the Italian Renaissance.

Informed by Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design, we are interested in shifting the focus of learning from students memorizing isolated bits of information to designing tasks that require performances of learning that show deep understanding of concepts and big ideas encountered over the course of a unit.

For Wiggins and McTighe understanding can be divided into six facets including:
  • explanation
  • interpretation
  • application
  • perspective
  • empathy
  • self knowledge
Searching for mediums that would allow students to explain their understanding of events and developments that make up the Italian Renaissance, recently we have been exploring the potential of the digital story-telling medium Pixton to achieve this end. (Another project using Pixton to create graphic novels based on short stories can be found here.)

We felt Pixton had significant potential for gives students the freedom to design their own comic characters and add real life backgrounds, we felt this would be an ideal medium for students to be both creative while also showing deep understanding of events and developments associated with the Renaissance.

As we set out on our study of the Renaissance we wanted to highlight for students that the Renaissance can not be reduced to one simple definition; in fact it can be understood as a whole series of developments and changes that occurred over a long period of time.

After supplying our students with a series of resources to draw from, the task we devised for this performance of understanding was as follows:

Within a group of five choose one of the developments associated with the Italian Renaissance. To show your understanding of this development, using the program Pixton create a one page comic explaining how your topic responds to the question: What was the Italian Renaissance?

Your Renaissance comic will be evaluated on how clearly and concisely you are able to communicate the most important elements of your topic, your ability to bring in supporting details from your research including quotes and other specific facts and information, and how free of errors your comic is in terms of spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

The topic areas are as follows:
  • A period of rebuilding and renewal after the devastation and destruction of the 14th century
  • A period of rebirth of Greek and Roman thought and styles that provided a model for all aspects of life including art, writing, architecture, and politics
  • A spirit of Humanism that put man and his potential at the centre of life and learning
  • A time of great artistic activity and innovation
  • A spirit of discovery and scientific inquiry into the inner workings of nature and the world
Here are some examples of student work that followed from this task:

The Expert in the Classroom

By Ivy Waite

It is so amazing to come to work and know that you have a team of people ready to support you. While I do still have days where I feel overwhelmed, I know that I will pull through alright. How can you drown in a pool full of life preservers?

This term I am so thrilled to be able to collaborate with an expert in my drama elective. Caroline Murray is an amazing arts educator, and has joined the CSS team to work with me regularly to ensure that I am delivering the best possible fine arts education to my students in a drama elective. On our first day working together she walked in ten minutes before class, and together we brainstormed a lesson that had students focused on using their bodies as tools with which they can powerfully communicate.

ConnectED Canada is Coming to CSS!

In May 2012, a new annual Canadian educational conference is starting and the Calgary Science School has been asked to be the first host! This exciting event will be taking place at our school May 25-27, 2012.

ConnectED Canada will be a yearly educational event that brings together teachers, administrators, students, parents and other stakeholders with the purpose of sharing innovative practices and building a national collaborative network.

Rather than traditional conferences which are usual held at hotels of off-site conference centres, ConnectED Canada will be held in different schools across the country each year . The purpose of hosting the event in a school is to allow participants to experience living examples of innovative practices and classrooms. Hosting it in a school also allows for a student voice to be included - a key element of ConnectED Canada.

Additionally, as opposed to more presentation-driven professional conferences, ConnectED Canada will be built around conversations and discussions. The event will provide time and space for educators, students and parents to discuss various topics, share current practices and ideas and built relationships that will extend beyond the three days.

Are you interested in hosting a discussion?

Right now we are collecting proposal for conversation topics that attendees would like to facilitate. If you are interested in facilitating a discussion, please complete this form.

ConnectED Canada will be accepting proposals until December 8th, 2011. Those who submit proposals will be notified by December 22nd.

General registration for the event will begin in early 2012. Due to the limited size of our school, we are capping the event at 300 participants.

For more information contact George Couros or Neil Stephenson.

And be sure to spread the word!
See you in May!

The Gift of Team Teaching

by Candice Shaw, Grade 7 Math/Science Teacher

As a teacher with 2 full years of experience, I acknowledge that I have learned a tremendous amount in those years, much more than University education could ever teach me. However, I know that I have even more to learn in order to better my practice.

I graduated from University in 2008, so my education is fairly recent. This means that I was taught in the ways of current pedagogy, such as practices in inquiry and constructivism. These principles are ingrained in how I teach and develop activities for students. I have not needed to learn another way of teaching, but just simply how to further develop my skills in this current practice.

As part of my professional goals this year, I am focused on reciprocal collaboration with colleagues, as well as keeping my practice innovative and current. Recently, I stumbled upon the most effective professional development opportunity to date: team teaching.

To date, I have been involved in 2 team teaching lessons. The first lesson was with my Humanities partner, working on research skills, reading strategies and writing of factual information in students' own words. The second lesson was with my Math/Science partner, in order to have our students "think like mathematicians", focusing on building a mathematical community and providing clear mathematical communication of ideas.

The process of planning and assessing collaboratively and delivering a lesson with a colleague is a powerful experience in learning, for both teachers and students. I have discovered that team teaching provides many professional development opportunities, such as:
  • Observing and reflecting upon colleagues' teaching styles, routines and methods, especially when they are different from my own.
  • Receiving positive and constructive feedback from colleagues on my own teaching and delivery of lessons.
  • Collaboratively planning more authentic and engaging questions and lessons.
  • Improving my enthusiasm for topics through brainstorming and discussion with colleagues.
  • Improving my knowledge of new topics through discussion with colleagues.
  • Ensuring teacher expectations and assessment are consistent for all classes and students.
Student learning is also enhanced by the team teaching experience. After our math lesson, students reported that they enjoyed working with another teacher and learning different ways to complete the same math procedures that were already taught. They were able to share with peers from other classes and it was reassuring when their ideas corresponded. It was a novel experience for them to work with another teacher and different peers, so attention and engagement were generally high throughout the activities.

I have discovered that team teaching is an absolutely invaluable experience for my professional development. Many of the barriers to participating in PD are overcome. Time is not taken away from teaching, although the planning stages require more time investment than solo planning.

Team teaching allows for observational opportunities of other teaching styles and approaches in an authentic setting. It is engaging and active for all participants, and feedback is relevant to actual teaching practice. Team teaching allows for skilled to be practiced and improved through reflection, rather than PD where you are 'told' how to improve your practice.

I have found that all of the stages of the process, including planning, teaching and assessment, offer valuable learning opportunities. Of course, the real value of team teaching will be in the continued collaboration and reflection between colleagues in order to further shape and extend teaching practice.

Creating Graphic Novels 2.0

Over the last few weeks grade eight Humanities students have been working hard to author their very own graphic novels based on a list of selected short stories including Alice Munro's Day of the Butterfly and Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter.

Inspired by Larry Lessig's Ted Talk arguing for the revival of our creative culture, our goal was to get students creating, rather than just consuming graphic novels. To this end, we structured the learning in a way where they would be introduced to modes of thinking and creating practiced by graphic novelists in the real world.

As part of this process, students learned to construct the important elements of graphic novels:

• paneling (storyboarding)
• varying point of view
• moving the story forward through images
• working with dialogue and captions
• flow/sequencing
• creating mood and
• incorporating elements of theme

This was the second year that our grade 8 students have worked on the Graphic Novel project. Learning from our first experience with the project last year, we made a number of changes that resulted in stronger student-created graphic novels with more interesting paneling, greater demonstrations of perspective and visual innovations that did a far better job of capturing the idea of theme within their short story.

Learning from last year we:

• Used the more manageable genre of short stories instead of novels
• Brought in professional graphic novelists to offer guidance and advice
• Discussed and analyzed more real world exemplars of graphic novels
• Provided more strategies on how to visually tell a story in a compelling way

Here is one of the student created Graphic Novels:

We believe that this project encompasses numerous facets of authentic inquiry-based learning including:
Connecting with the Experts

In order to expose students to how professional graphic novelists incorporate these elements in their own work, we invited a local graphic novelist, Justin Scott, to present to our students. In the video below Justin speaks to a number of important aspects in creating a graphic novel:

Integrating Technology in the Classroom

Students were given the freedom to create their graphic novel in a medium of their choice including using the comic-making website Pixton or drawing it on their own. This video from Pixton does a great job of explaining the technology our students used to demonstrate their learning!

Showcasing Student Work

In an attempt to validate all the hard work students put into this project we provided students with a space to showcase their work. Now that the graphic novels are finished, we are teaming up with the Kensington Market Collective to give our students an opportunity to display their work to thousands of Calgarians. At the same time, our students will be able to teach Calgarians what they learned about graphic novels so they can make their own!

Building Deep Understanding

Learning from the structure of the project last year, we made choices to focus more on building students’ understanding of the literary elements that point to the theme of a story including poetic devices and the central conflict. Further, we embedded additional discussions around compelling examples of graphic novels and explored the different ways that graphic novelists create mood and develop characterization. Through this process students created more effective graphic novels as well as developing greater understanding of the different elements of short stories. This short video shares one of the grade 8 students commentary on how they created mood and visually represented the theme of the short story in their graphic novel:

Providing Formative Feedback Loops

The final piece of the puzzle is to provide students with meaningful guidance at key stages in the creative process. As a part of a formative feedback loop, students received extensive praise/criticism for their graphic novel rough drafts. Students then had the opportunity to consider the feedback and make appropriate changes. At the end of the project they were asked to demonstrate how they enhanced the project based on the feedback they received. The Podcast below is an example of type of discussions that were embedded throughout the project:

Overall we were extremely pleased with the quality of the student work, as well as the engagement and buy-in demonstrated by students.

Here’s a final example of a student-created Graphic Novel: