Lions Bay Community school is a shining example of quality
early childhood education. Nestled in
the woods along Howe Sound, the outdoors provides a perfect backdrop for a
child’s self-exploration. In fact, all
three facets of this learning environment; the Before/After School Program,
facilitated by the North Shore Neighbourhood House (NSNH); the Preschool for 3 and 4 year olds,
supported by a parent run Board; and the Primary
school, part of the West VancouverSchool District, are all interconnected.
Each unique program draws on the same philosophy that a child should
learn to explore their natural environment and ignite their curiosity. The adults that assist the children at each
level are committed to fostering the child’s sense of wonder and provide
opportunities and resources to investigate their questions. For children and parents this seamless
organization provides for optimal learning.
Lions Bay Kids Club
- Before/After School Program
We were very fortunate this year to start Lions Bay Kids Club, a before and after school care
program at the school. Since starting in
October of 2013 this outstanding childcare opportunity has been operated by the
North Shore Neighbourhood House. The
community was consulted in the Spring of 2013 through information sessions and
surveys and it was determined that the Village needed to explore coordinated childcare
options. The NSNH has a tremendous
reputation in this field and has been a valuable partner in maintaining the
integrity of school programming. The
students who attend participate in a variety of events and activities and the
children are outdoors as much as possible.
Our sites provide a
safe, secure and stimulating environment for all children. We provide time and
opportunities for children to explore and investigate their world and to
communicate with other children and adults. The environment fosters an
accepting, tolerant and flexible attitude towards others and respect for the
natural world. – North Shore Neighbourhood House
This focus on
nature even extends to the furniture they provide for each of their childcare
sites. The children work on tables and
play structures by Natural Pod, a ‘green’ company focusing on educational
material for natural play. The Lions Bay
Kids Club is looking to expand in the coming year to a full day childcare
format which would include infants and toddlers.
Lions Bay Playschool – Preschool for 3
and 4 year olds
The Lions Bay Playschool has been a parent run program since the early
1970’s. It has a rich history and has
been a strong supporter of early childhood education since its first charter. Parents who volunteer on the Board of
Directors are strong proponents of quality childcare and want the children to
be exposed to best practice in the early childhood education field. To that end there was an extensive search last
Spring for a new preschool teacher to carry on the long tradition of
exceptional instruction. The Board
invited school personnel to aid in the interview process so that philosophies
could align. This has proven to be a
major success this year. If you are
stopping by for a visit you probably won’t find them in the playschool room
upstairs, they are usually outside exploring their world of wonders.
Lions Bay Community School – Kindergarten to grade 3 – School District
No. 45 (West Vancouver)
Lions Bay Community School is recognized throughout BC as a first class early
years educational centre. Visiting
educators from all over the Lower Mainland are commonplace and come to study
how the school infuses self-regulation; inquiry based learning; Reggio Emilia;
and multi age learning into daily programming.
There has been a strong push in recent years to take advantage of the
natural surroundings and to bring the outdoors inside to explore. Daily lessons on their physical environment
fill this unique space and collaboration among students and staff is the
norm. Come in and tour their space
because you will not find a traditional structure. Their learning area is open and this allows
for continuous interaction with all children.
Cooperative learning is the true teacher and the students learn to
respect each other’s differences as soon as they enter Kindergarten. The Reggio Emilia philosophy of early
childhood educations sums up Lions Bay Community School.
The Reggio Emilia philosophy is based on the
principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery
in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the
children through a self-guided curriculum.
- Reggio Emilia
Parents are a child’s first teacher. When it is time for school isn’t it
comforting to know that expert childcare and school based learning is outside
your door. There is a reason you moved
to the Howe Sound and that is to be surrounded by beauty. This reasoning extends to your children and
their fascination with the natural world.
At Kids Club, at Playschool and from Kindergarten to grade three the
learning is – seamless.
Education (in schools) is a constantly evolving, dynamic,
creative process. The school experience for our children today
bears very little resemblance to that of even 15 years ago. Conformity and uniformity have gone the way
of the dinosaur (and good riddance!).
Students now choose from many different ways to show/express their
knowledge and understanding, which blows open learning doors and enables us to
celebrate and recognize all different types of learners. (Follow the link provided for more
information on Howard Gardner’s Theory of
Intelligences). Creativity, passion and
innovation are what we strive for. Proof
of understanding can take many forms – dramatizations, movies, clay sculptures,
posters, fliers … the possibilities are so varied! This variety is extremely engaging and
motivating for many more learning styles, and also fosters a sense of
responsibility for their own learning in each child. Choice is a very powerful incentive and gives
the children ownership over their learning.
Ever- important academics still reign supreme; they are just pursued in
ways that are uniquely meaningful, exciting, and relevant for each child. Curiosity and passion is celebrated, sought
after, and perceived by teachers as a critical means to any end.
So, what does this look like at Lions Bay School? Well, guests who visit the school all comment
on how calm and relaxed the environment seems.
The unobtrusive lighting (we try to avoid using the fluorescents),
natural colours and materials,
open/shared spaces and soft classical music in the background all are a
reflection of the Reggio Emilia inspired approach the teachers have taken. This
environment is conducive to keeping the children in the ‘green’zone - the state, according to the Zones of
Regulation, where children (and adults) are most receptive to learning and
consequently most productive. We should
mention here that the children are studying the Zones of Regulation, and
learning how to recognize when they are in the ‘yellow’ (tired,
understimulated) or in the ‘red’ (over excited and over stimulated) and
practicing tools they can use to bring themselves back to green.
The children do not have their own desks here, but instead claim
the whole school as their learning environment.
They work independently or in pods and generally get to choose where
they would like to work within a designated area. Some work better standing up and wiggling,
some prefer to sit quietly at a desk.
The best part is that they really get to know what works for them and
learn to tune in and self-regulate accordingly.
Big Ideas is a basic tenet of Inquiry Based learning. This term’s Big Idea inquiry is “How we take
care of ourselves”. This has been broken
down into mind, body and heart and the children have had big and small group
discussions and brainstorming sessions around these three basics. The resulting work incorporates writing,
reading, science and social skills and reinforces their knowledge on several
Another integral part of the Lions Bay School routine is the Daily Five.
Lions Bay was the first in the District to implement the Daily 5
(thanks Mrs. Southam) and has met with
such success that we now lead Pro-D day events and have a constant stream of
guests from other schools and districts coming in to observe how it is done
here. This year’s Grade 3 class is the
first to have had Daily 5 in their regime since kindergarten and the results
are quite spectacular. The peer coaching
and self-regulation that goes on creates a quiet but productive hum in the
school that is exceptional. Daily 5,
while fostering independence and self-regulation for the students, also
provides the teachers time to conference with students one on one or in small
groups, allowing for differentiated instruction, meeting the needs of all
Collaboration, team work, critical thinking and public speaking
are just some of the learning
outcomes resulting from putting on a school play. This year we headed to Santa’s workshop for an
elf-style Christmas with ‘It’s Christmas, Carol’. With only 4 weeks to learn 7 songs, numerous
lines, as well as create the set for a
play designed for intermediate grades, the
children amazed us all with their abilities and their confidence. Their performance was truly outstanding and
another testament to the caliber and scope of education available at Lions
Bay. It is never too early to begin
building the skills of collaboration, team work, critical thinking and public
speaking. Some proponents might even
argue that these skills should be center stage in all school curriculums.
For those of you interested in learning more about the coming
changes in education, please view Ken Robinson
- How to escape education's Death Valley.
Dear Lions Bay Families,
The summer is winding down and we are gearing up for an exciting and rich year of learning. I do hope everyone had a wonderful break and a lot of fun quality time with friends and family. Everyone at Lions Bay School is looking forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new members joining our vibrant school in the forest. I do hope that parents will be able to attend the yearly welcome back PAC tea held in our gym on opening day. The tea will be from 9:00am to 10:00am. Our opening day will run from 8:40am (welcoming bell) until 10:00am. This year, with our gradual entry into Kindergarten, there will be a very smooth transition into the school for our youngest learners and the Kindergarten teachers will be able to foster a deeper initial connection with their students and meet with parents. I am very excited and elated to have Amber Pascual and Sonia Southam sharing the role of head teacher. While it is with very mixed emotions that I will be heading on parent leave, I am so happy, confident and lucky to have such a great team, along with Principal Scott Wallace, leading the school until the end of December. Amber and Sonia are a dynamic duo with a passion for teaching that reaches beyond anyone’s expectations. Over the next week we are getting all of our plans in place, working on our learning environment and getting ready for all the little ones. I want to thank all the families for their support during my parent leave, this is a golden opportunity for me to grow as a learner and become a new kind of teacher, a parent. I will have so many exciting stories to share upon my return in January.
As always we believe that educating the whole child is a key tenet at Lions Bay, providing a rigorous, exciting and challenging curriculum. A curriculum entrenched in the basics of reading, writing and math, supported by social emotional learning, and one that seamlessly and explicitly intertwines the 21st century core competencies, such as critical thinking, digital literacy and creativity. We will continue with our rigorous math programs, especially with our weekly whole school math lesson where students not only get to learn explicit math skills to solve word problems, but also build their peer coaching skills, connecting to peer buddies or groups to collaborate and learn from each other. We will continue with our strong literacy program with implementing the Daily 5 and have a focus on not only reading, but also look more deeply into the writing process. In addition, we will continue to investigate how our school environment and play-based learning impacts student learning and introduce a new tool to foster self-regulation called The Zones of Regulation. Inquiry and project based learning will continue with “Big Ideas” and we look forward to building our science and inquiry corner this year.
With field trips, outdoor learning, performing and visual arts, guest performances, connecting with our sister school, a professional, caring and dynamic teaching staff (we believe all staff members are educators, regardless of their position), multi-age learning and an academically rigorous and inspiring curriculum, I know that your children will be happily skipping to school ready to get back into deep learning. I have always believed that a fantastic and sound school is one that is comprehensive with their delivery of instruction, but does so in a manner so students feel like they are having fun and curious about what they are learning, and that the curriculum unfolds in a fashion that invites, encourages and coaches students to reflect on, take ownership over their learning and become inspired to transfer that learning to their everyday lives. Lions Bay does all of this and more. Not only does our educational family, which includes our fantastic parents and wider community, provide a safe and caring learning environment, but it puts student learning at the forefront and creates a feeling of family. When our earliest learners are put first and our mindset is set to have everything filter through the lens of “we will do what is best for children”, then we all have a common goal and focus to work toward, namely to have children highly educated and ready to move through this world equipped with the tools to live a happy and successful life. Welcome back to school everyone!
With the year coming to an end, I wanted to recap some of the amazing programming that occurs in our
little school nestled in the rainforest.
Like David Letterman’s top ten, below are my top 10 (okay maybe 20) highlights that occurred in the 2012-2013 school year:
10. We had our first
open house with students sharing their community projects. This inquiry was rooted in investigating who
we are as a community. After weeks of
investigating what makes a community, the students were in teams and created
their own community. Parents were
invited in to have students share their understanding and explain the
process. Our intention is to have more
public showcases for students to share their knowledge and understanding.
9. Garden beds and
linking with the Lions Bay Local Plant Society.
Students helped create a garden of local plants as part of our how we
share the planet inquiry and with our outdoor initiatives. This multi-subject inquiry focused on ways we
can improve our planet, including helping with planting more local plants that
are no longer in the Lions Bay area.
8. Whole school math,
math conversations and math tools. This
year, once a week, we had a focus on having the older students coaching the
younger students during whole school math.
We looked at math problem solving as a focus and students were
explicitly taught math strategies to help find the solutions. Through whole school math students were
taught how to find language that links with math operations and use strategies
such as, make a list, draw a table, and use math tools. Students were explicitly taught how to have a
“math conversation” and how to use math manipulatives correctly. The outcome was a group of students who
could collaborate and solve math problems independently and together using
7. Field Trips and
Special Guests! As always, we believe
the classroom expands beyond the walls of the school. In the first term, we did local field trips
and community walks to investigate community.
Second term, to link with how we express ourselves, students were able
to experience how musicians express themselves with our visit to the Vancouver
Symphony Orchestra. Recently, to link
with our how we share the planet inquiry, the students went down to UBC to tour
through the botanical gardens. In
addition, the students were scientifically enlightened with an engaging
afternoon from Hight Touch High Tech, with all students investigating the earth. With the Green Thumb Theatre, student watched an inspiring performance on overcoming anxiety. We were also so very lucky to receive an Artstarts
grant to bring the amazing DJ Rup Loops to introduce his diverse style of beat
boxing. The students are still creating
“mad” beats throughout the year. The
visit to the Aquarium; performing at the Lighthouse Festival; Remembrance Day
down at Gleneagles; a grade 3 trip to English Bay to interact with an outdoor
museum and beach day are just a few other “out of the school” experiences.
6. Creative and Fine
Art projects! From famous artist studies
to looking at local photographers, to an artist in residence, the students have
had an array of experiences expressing themselves through art. One highlight was the grade 3 Biennale Art
Inquiry. The grade 3 class, along with a
grade 5/6 class from Gleneagles and a grade 10/11/12 class from Rockridge, did
an art inquiry based on fears and transitions. Along with artist in residence, Amelia Epp,
the students created an installation that represented their hopes and worries
about moving on to unknown territory (grade 3 moving to another school, grade
5/6 eventually moving to high school and the senior high school students moving
on to post secondary). Click here to watch a short video on the project – it was an amazing experience. Moreoever, how could we forget our school
wide art project, the Post People. It
was amazing how many parent volunteers came out to help prime and seal the post
people. Each post person represented a
student and each student created a word that describes our school culture and
climate and pasted it to the posts.
5. Go Fish, our spectacular spring musical, has to be one of
the top events of the year. Students,
parents and teachers, poured their heart and soul into creating one of the best
performances ever seen in our little school.
The unbelievable costumes the parents made, the acting, and the student-generated
backdrop were top notch and the performance was overwhelmingly fantastic! It was a musical for the books! (Click here to watch it!)
4. Sports Day is always a hit, but for the first time in the past 3 years, we had an indoor
sports day. This meant that teachers,
parents and students, had to come together to work within the school and still
create an exciting and sporty event for everyone. The BBQ and the parent provided snacks were a huge hit and the relay races were fun. Let's not forget the winners ofthe Golden Shoe Award for good sportmanship, Team Yellow and Team White!
3. Weaving with members
of the Squamish nation from the Eslahan Centre and connecting with Gitwangka Elementary
School for Aboriginal Day. To connect
more with the Squamish Nation and to have students understand the importance of
Aboriginal culture, we partnered with the Eslahan Learning Centre for a weaving
project. Students wove quarter bags and
the learned importance of the quarter bag for special ceremonies. For Aboriginal Day we are hosting the
Gitwangka Elementary School of Gitksen
Nation for a day of singing and dancing at Lions Bay.
2. Fundraising for Jump
Rope for Heart was a huge success this year.
For the first time, students raised close to $1,000 in pledges for the
Heart and Stroke Foundation. Parents,
students and teachers jumped rope and helped raise awareness of heart disease in
North America. Way to go Lions Bay, you
have a lot of heart!
AND THE NUMBER ONE Highlight is…
1. THE TEAM! Parent
volunteers/PAC and the Amazing Teaching Team
A school is only as special as the team that works within
it. Our very involved and loving parent
community helped with so many initiatives and a thank you is warranted to all
that helped enhance the learning at Lions Bay.
The parent list is not exhaustive, but parents were very involved in:
Hot lunch; cross country; track and field; field trips; craft
days; Jump Rope for Heart; Helping with getting soil; The post people project;
connecting with our sister school in Guatemala; volunteer Spanish Class; chemistry demonstrations; Basketball Clinic; Sports Day BBQ and snack; Shelving Books; PAC helping with
various initiatives (microscopes; iPads; garden beds; enhancing our learning
environment etc..); Scholastic; the amazing costumes for Go Fish and the
decorating the gym; and grade 3 graduation ceremony.
Finally, in conjunction with our strong parent group, we
have a dedicated and exemplary teaching staff that provides a “power house” of
a primary program. The amount of work
and effort that this amazing team gives to provide a rigourous and unparalleled
curriculum for our students is astounding.
Not only do we root ourselves in the traditional academics, but we also
reinforce the 21st century skills needed later on in life. Thank you so much to the teachers and amazing
support staff for making Lions Bay School a model for 21st century
In addition to the events listed above, other highlights such
as our grand buddies program, the Mini-Science Fair, our sister school in Guatemala, the Quest food drive,
student author shares, and student council contributed to making Lions Bay School so rich and powerful. What a wonderful year it was in our little
school in the rainforest.
At the beginning of the year, I blogged on 4 different initiatives I wanted to dive deeper into. One of these initiatives was connecting more to community. Although there are a number of community developments underway, I wanted to highlight three ways we are connecting to our community through our inquiry and project based initiatives.
Lions Bay Community School prides itself on creating an educational setting that is fun, loving, safe and engaging. We have always been keen on having parents involved, and our parent community is very excited to help our little school to provide an engaging and rigorous learning environment, rich with new and exciting opportunities. This year, we wanted to move beyond our little school and involve our community more. This was a focus of our first term inquiry, exploring who we are. The students initially investigated themselves, then the school community, followed by how communities are built. As a culminating activity, groups of students created their own communities following guiding questions and co-created criteria. As a way to involve the parent community more, we decided to hold an open house and showcase what the students created and had the groups demonstrate their knowledge and understanding with explaining their projects. The open house was a huge success. Not only did it give parents the rich opportunity to see the learning that occurred, but it also gave students a sense of pride and success. The 'buzz' during the open house was amazing. Parents talking with children, laughter, learning and questions being asked and answered - community was being fostered and this formative assessment practise was a very educational experience for all. We have always enjoyed student led conferences, but an open house where students showcase their learning accomplished through inquiry and project based learning was so powerful that we will now hold open houses at the end of every whole-school inquiry/project.
A second way we are connecting more with our community is through the arts. As a way to have appreciative inquiry and celebrate the diversity that is within the school and wider community, we have begun a project that involves looking at the virtues within our school and community and how we express ourselves. We are creating a school and community art project, where students and select members of the community create a "fence person". Student will receive a fence board on which they will paint themselves. Then, we will collaboratively discuss what makes Lions Bay a unique learning environment and each student will pick a word that is a virtue they find the school exemplifies. Community members involved will also do the same. We will then hang the fence boards along the fence of our entryway as a welcome and a sign of how we connect with our unique community in Lions Bay.
To further our connection and to look ahead to our third term inquiry, how we share the planet, we will be linking with the community to look at native plants. The Lions Bay Native Plant Society has noted a decline in native plants that are local to Lions Bay. As part of our outdoor learning initiative, each class will be given a garden bed to help raise local native plant seedlings. To help revitalize the native plant population, we intend on having the students explore why these plants are no longer thriving and to have them plant the seedlings in areas around Lions Bay. We are excited to see how this adventure will unfold and hope that students will connect with the local feeling of the project.
Connecting to our community is very important to creating a caring school. Honouring where we live, looking at local issues and having students and community members come together and learn from each other is something we strive to do at Lions Bay. Please keep your eyes open for other initiatives that will pop up during the New Year.
At the beginning of the year I
wrote on three topics that I wanted to dive deeper into. Social emotional
learning (grit, pro-social behaviour, character education and
self-regulation) was one of these topics and this blog entry will look at an
article on social emotional learning and highlight three reasons why I feel it’s
vital that we continue to educate the heart and the mind at Lions Bay School.
It is without saying that the
recent bullying of Amanda Todd is a sad and tragic event. Situations such
as this, unfortunately, end up highlighting what we could have done to prevent
such terrible occurrences and it's these reflections, in hindsight,
that place us in the mindset "should of's" - we should
have done this and we should of done that. I've always been a huge
supporter of helping students realize how to manage their emotions
appropriately, express themselves in a tactful way and to be mindful of other
people. We do this with our "fill your bucket" program, the Virtues Project and through new programs such as MindUp, which our staff
will be looking into this year. I don't believe that lecturing the
students about what is right and what is wrong is going to necessarily create
pro-social beings who are critical decision makers and mindful of others.
I believe that teachers, parents, community members and students all
have a responsibility in modeling behaviour that is positive, promotes
emotional intelligence and reinforces self-regulation. It is my hope that
through this, students will think before they act and, in turn, prevent/eliminate
situations that hurt others.
So why teach character development/
grit and social emotional intelligence? This is something educators pride
themselves on, creating caring and safe environments where students feel
comfortable to learn and take risks without ridicule - a safe space to
learn from failures and a safe space to learn how to manage their emotions and
self-regulate. In a recent Vice-Principal's meeting, we read an article
by Dr. Kimberly
A. Schonert-Reichl and Dr. Shelly
Hymel, entitled, Educating The Heart As Well As The Mind - Social and Emotional Learning for School and Life Successes. The article opens
with one of my favourite quotes of all time by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate,
Archbishiop Desmond Tutu:
"Educating the mind
without educating the heart has produced brilliant scientists who used their
intelligence for evil."
This quote sticks to me like
oatmeal and it's something I think about when interacting with students.
We have a responsiblity as adults to help students use their
intelligences to help the world. Schonert-Reichl and Hymel's article
gives us the "why" factor to educating the heart and the mind.
I encourage all of you to read this article, but three areas that stood
out for me were:
1. "Social emotional
learning (SEL) offers educators, families and communities relevant strategies
and practises to better prepare students for "the tests of life, not a
life of tests" (p. 21)
2. "Changes in academic
achievement in grade 8 could be better predicted from knowing children's grade
3 social competence than from their grade 3 academic achievement" (p. 22)
3. Various studies have shown
that pro-social behaviours (i.e., cooperating, sharing, helping etc...) are
better predictors of academic success than standardized tests and "that
school interventions that increase social and emotional competence result in
higher achievement levels, although the reverse is not true (i.e., academic
enrichment does not increase social responsibility)" (p. 23)
It seems perfectly clear that we
need to emphasize pro-social behaviours, character education and social
emotional learning to help create caring successful citizens that will have
educated minds and hearts. This cannot be a sole school issue alone;
we need the support of the community and families to help mold our future
minds. We need to use standards that foster and measure pro-social behaviour
such as the BC's Social Responsibility Performance Standards to help teachers and parents
see where they need to scaffold children in the area of character education.
We need to now think more about social emotional learning as the new
"R" - relationships (positive and caring relationships). If we
work as a collaborative team to help foster this at home, in schools, online
and in public, perhaps we can avoid people being bullied to the point of no
longer having the ability to cope with their situation. We need to ensure
that we are not creating brilliant scientists who are evil, but brilliant
citizens who think of others and how their actions impact the world.
October 5th is a very special day
in the world of education. Teachers, the frontline heroes of schools, are
the backbone supporting and scaffolding our future leaders and problem solvers - they deserve a
huge thank you for all they do for children. This year, a big interest of mine is
motivation and connecting with students. We all know fostering educational relationships is a key to creating trust between student and teacher, thus creating an
environment where students can take risks. But how can teachers connect
with students and ensure they are able to engage and inspire to help move their
learning? How about linking to student passions?
When I was in high school I had this outstanding art teacher
who personally connected with her students through humour and recognizing
student interests and passions. Quirky and talented, Mrs. Merrick took
the time to get to know her students and she cultivated student motivation by
linking art with the passions of her students. My connection happened to
be "Old Hollywood" (insert laugh track, but don't laugh too
hard) and Mrs. Merrick gave me the freedom to use this in my art.
She saw an "in" and took it. For a while, I created
pastel portraits and James Dean, then went on to learn water colours by
creating Marilyn Monroe. I didn't have to follow what Mrs. Merrick wanted me to
create, but she used my passion to teach me the skills I needed to express
myself through art. Because of her ability to connect with her students
and go with their passions, I was successful as an artist - and I am still an
artist today. Mrs. Merrick not only connected through understanding her students'
passions, she took the time to listen and continued to "check in"
with her students even after they had left her class. I recall one time,
two years after I graduated, Mrs. Merrick quickly walked into my work, at
the time I was burger flipping at the local Dairy Queen, and handed me a
beautiful black and while hard cover book of various movie stars from the
past. She quickly explained that she saw this book and thought of how it
could help me with creating portraits. This personal touch, the ability
to recognize a way to continue a student's passion, is something I strive to
attain as an educator.
Teachers who take the time to find out what
students are passionate about and how to use that passion to leverage learning
is a gradual skill. For myself, I continue to think about Mrs. Merrick on
a monthly basis, thinking about where she may be. So, thank you Mrs.
Merrick for allowing me to learn through my passion. I wonder how many
other “Mrs. Merricks” recognize that using the passions of students help leverage
learning? Happy World Teachers' Day - be sure to hug, thank or high five
your “Mrs. Merrick”.
The year is underway, students have transitioned and we just had a wonderful curriculum night where the staff had a chance to showcase the amazing magic that happens at Lions Bay. The only thing left was to create a blog. I have been struggling with what to write. I am inspired by my job on a daily basis and I wish to share with parents, students and the wider community new ideas that have come up over the summer and that are linked to the West Vancouver opening day keynote speaker, the amazing Dr. Jennifer James. I did, however, find it difficult to blog for blog's sake. For me, blogging has to be meaningful and applicable to my location, the school climate and culture . After brainstorming, four main topics surfaced:
1. "Grit", character building and self-regulation - What is it and how do we do it?
2. Community building - What is it and how to we do it?
3. Assessment - What is it and how do we do it?
4. The Lions Bay Way - What is it, how does it change from year to year and how do we do it?
Over the year I will be blogging on these topics and revisiting past topics such as Reggio Emilia, Daily 5 and Parents as Participants. I don't want to forget what I've already discussed, but I wish to add to the buffet. With all the new "buzz" out there in education, I wish to focus and dive deeper into the four topics above. It's easy to get distracted with new initiatives and trendy acts, so the next few posts will focus on "Grit" and character building.
"Grit" and Character Building - What is it and how do we do it? Part 1
At the beginning of the school year, the West Vancouver District Leadership Team (DLT), brought in keynote speaker, Dr. Jennifer James. Dr. James is an urban cultural anthropologist and one of her interests is how people act during times of change and stress, particularly looking at humans and technological change. If you have not had a chance to hear Dr. Jennifer James speak, please visit this following link to view a video from a past lecture (It's long, but wonderful). During her West Vancouver speech, Dr. James spoke from her heart. She highlighted how people act during times of crisis and explained this new "buzz" word "Grit". Her premise was that we need to have some failure to learn from our mistakes in order to gain the necessary tools to persevere during times of high stress. "Grit", the ability to be optimistic during difficult times, to perservere and be resilient. This is something I wish to instill in our students. We can build "grit" by learning from our mistakes. In a recent professional development session with the West Vancouver Administrators, the DLT had us read an article on success and learning from our mistakes. The idea is for students to build their character, to persevere and understand that there are lessons in the mistakes. The notion of continuously rescuing our students in order to prevent failure needs some re-examining. I'm not saying make them fail. I am saying, however, that we have to find the teachable moments to learn from our mistakes to help build character and build "grit". If this seems muddy, it is. This is a new concept for me, but the idea of having the students build resiliency and character is something I've always believed in. Over the next few months, I'll be exploring "grit" and looking at how we can help our students build good character. For now, I will highlight "the how" of the way Lions Bay fosters character building:
1. The Virtues Project - highlighting those traits of great character. This resource is fantastic and teachers can use this to reinforce character virtues such as forgiveness and perseverance.
2. Reinforcing our Code of conduct - Be Fair, Be Safe, Be Respectful, Be Kind and Honest. This is done through explicit teaching, highlighting students when they are following the code of conduct and with teachers modeling the language and behaviour. The school-wide language is a way to reinforce and model a safe and caring environment from K-3.
3. Restorative Justice - restoring those relationships when there is a conflict. This process is less about blame and more about having students own up to their behaviour, think about who is impacted by the behaviour and look at reasonable and fair consequences with such behaviour.
4. Our Pro-Social Fill Your Bucket initiative. If you have not seen this initiative in the school, you must take a moment to learn it. It's such a simple concept, kid friendly and we have witnessed great transfer with parents seeing it at home. The concept is that each of us has an invisible bucket over our heads. This is where we keep our feelings. If we do nice things for people, we fill their bucket and they feel great - we become bucket fillers. This act, in turn, fills our own bucket and makes us feel great. When we are not so nice to others, it empties buckets. We often highlight when students are naturally filling buckets and with my grade 3 class, I have a daily mini-meeting of bucket filling noticings. Students are eager to fill other buckets and enjoy sharing when their bucket is full. Again, it empowers the students with a language that is applicable from K-3.
My hope is that these pro-social initiatives help develop good character and equip the students with the perseverance and optimism necessary to get that "grit". We want our students growing up and interacting in the world positively and we want them to have the "grit" to move through times of conflict/change and problem solve in a way that learns from mistakes - looking at mistakes as opportunities to help move the world to great places.
This year Lions Bay has embarked on a number of initiatives. From connecting with our sister school in Guatemala, to more outdoor learning. One big initiative that the students and teachers have been very excited about is meaningfully integrating technology. Last year the school and PAC began talks on what kinds of technology would be appropriate for a primary school. In the fall a tech team was created and the group researched various ways to integrate technology. The teachers wanted something that would be seamless, instant and act as a motivator for student engagement. The iPads were a natural choice. The iPads had the "just in time" learning that we were looking for - no need to wait for booting up the desktop. The tech team created a plan and the iPad initiative was presented to the PAC. From this, the PAC purchased 10 iPads and a syncing tray for the school (merci!).
The staff decided to do "in house" professional development. Each staff member had a chance to take an iPad home and "explore" how to use the tool meaningfully in the classroom. Next, the staff decided to determine which apps would be educational and which apps would be considered a "game". The students even had a chance to determine what is an educational app - it's amazing how quickly a 6 year old can give criteria on what is educational and what isn't, THEY KNOW. The staff then decided to focus on three ways to use the iPads in school. First, we wanted to use the iPad in a formative way to help move our teaching and coach the students to move their learning. Second, we decided to work with an app called ScribblePress, where students can publish their writing in a digital format. Finally, we agreed we would use an app called ScreenChomp. This multi-functional app could be used as both a tool for children to show their learning and a way for teachers to store student work. This journey has been wonderful. The students had purposeful uses for the iPads and below are some examples that came from the students:
Grade 2/3 - Using multi-media to showcase their understanding of pollination. The students used plasticine to create their characters, wrote a script following criteria generated in collaboration with the students and then used ScreenChomp to record their story. This all related to our Big Idea of survival. Click on the ScrrenChomp Logo to hear one of the storiesl:
Grade 1/2 - After doing an author study on Laura Joffe Numeroff, author of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie", the students created their own circle stories. From their drafts, they have begun to publish using ScribblePress. This is still a work in progress, but below is an example of one book:
Grade K/1 Students have been reinforcing numeracy skills during Math using the app Hungry Fish and the teachers have been using the iPads to document student learning with recording the students explaining their work. We have only begun to scratch the surface of how we can use technology in the classroom. Stay tuned for more fun ways to have the students use the iPads to showcase their learning!
Grant Wiggin’s, who has done a lot of work on Inquiry and Project Based Learning, looks at the difference between knowledge and understanding. Anyone can memorize facts and regurgitate these facts for a test or a brief moment in time. But these facts do not always spill over to long-term memory. This is evident with weekly spelling tests. Students memorize their words, practise all week, spit the words out on the day of testing and they get all their words correct. There is a brief moment where one thinks they know the words. Transference, however, would dictate otherwise. In my experience with spelling, the students do not always transfer these words to their daily writing. This is where knowledge and understanding duke it out. The students have the knowledge of the spelling, but they may not understand the spelling pattern/rule application that helps move this to their long-term memory. The spelling test is not always formative. It’s a mini-summative of how well a student can memorize some facts. This does not mean that memorization does not have its place in education. Knowing facts helps create fluency and helps students gain confidence with their learning. I believe, however, it needs to come after the understanding. Students need to understand the concept and how it applies to the real world. The understanding of concepts and the application to authentic real world scenario is at the heart of how we do inquiry and project based learning at Lions Bay, and formative assessment allows us to see if students have the knowledge and the understanding to master a concept and apply it to real world situations.
The notion of mini-summative and formative assessment came up last year when I had the chance to meet and discuss assessment with Lorna Earl and Helen Timperley. If you have not read their publications and articles on assessment, they are a must. The mini-summative was very big eye opener for me. It allowed me to see that formative assessment is not easy, but it’s so necessary for moving students to the next level.
Earlier this year, our school looked at the big idea of change over time in Canada. We had the students show their understandings of how First Nations people in BC have changed over time. This was a wonderful inquiry and we wanted to incorporate the multiple intelligences to allow more student choice and voice. After reviewing criteria with the students and after the students investigated and explored how First Nations people have changed over time, it was time for students to showcase their learning and for the teachers to “check in” and assess student understanding. There was no “test”, but there was criteria around looking at how First Nations people had their needs met in the past and compare it to today. The students chose their mini-learning studio which focused on a particular smart and when I went to check student understanding (to help with misconceptions and see where we can move the learning next) I was stumped. One child handed in a piece of paper with some plasticine, some pipe cleaners and some shiny paper. The plasticine was smudged, the pipcleaners looked like they were joined, but one could not be sure, and the shiny paper was barely glued to the paper. The one thing I wasn’t stumped about was the child’s name, neatly printed in the corner. It was apparent, that regardless of the criteria, examples of using the materials in the mini-learning studio and regardless of teachers moving through the studios coaching, I was not going to be able to assess this student without having a conversation. The power of the conference and the power of a smudge emerged.
I needed to see if this student truly understood the criteria and truly had an understanding of the inquiry - I asked him about his creation. This was such a powerful learning tool for myself as an educator because I had to grapple with the idea of what was I exactly assessing. Was I assessing how well this child created at the art smarts learning studio, or was I looking at how well he understood how First Nations people in BC had changed over time? The latter was the big idea, but the product was not pretty and neat and it was not clear what the student was trying to show. What surfaced, however, was a deep understanding of how First Nations people, in particular the Haida nation, in BC had changed over time. The smudges were Haida longhouses. These longhouses, the student explained, were located in Haida Gwaii. The student explained all about the how longhouses were used in the past and how they are still used today for celebrations and meetings. The child explained that the pipe cleaners were totem poles. He then explained the significance of the totem poles and explained how today they are important part of Haida culture. He continued with explaining how basic needs were met in the past and how they are met today. The amount of explanation was immense and it was clear he had an understanding of the learning intention. This child was meeting all the criteria that was outlined. I was able to coach him and discuss how we could make his product clear for people to see his understanding and he explained adding labels would make it easier to understand. He then went off to add labels to his work so that others could clearly see what his smudges were. What amazed me most of all, was that I had to think outside my own box. I had to look at process versus product. We could have easily done a whole class popsicle stick model of a longhouse, or easily traced totem poles. These would have been token activities that would not have been as deep. The formative piece was important. I was able to help the child make his product a bit more manageable for the onlooker to understand it, and he was able to show me his understanding. You can learn a lot from a smudge when you take the time to conference, move beyond your own hang ups on product and look at the process of knowledge versus understanding.