Thursday, 27 April 2017

A Mission to Mars: Gamifying the Science Classroom

Teams have to complete a number of theoretical and hands-on tasks to win colonists
in this gamified approach to learning about structures.

It’s the year 2040, and you’re part of an intrepid group of colonists bound for Mars’ Jezero Crater to establish a landing site for future colonists. But there’s a problem: the damage to your Cryo sleep has affected your memory, and you’ve forgotten everything you know about structures

If you’re going to build the foundation for a new civilization, you need to re-learn the fundamentals - and fast.

In the Senior Science Lab on the third floor, Grade 7 students have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into this narrative. Working in teams, they have only one focus: to build the colony that can support the greatest number of colonists.

To do that, they’ll need to complete a number of theoretical and hands-on tasks that will teach them all about structures along the way. Science teachers Michael Schmidt and Samantha Moser have developed the “game” such that students can earn colonists by completing activities linked to their learning:

  • Each Theory Lesson earns one food/water token 
  • Each “Check For Understanding” earns 1 building token (these checks allow teachers to assess student learning in real time and redirect if necessary)
  • Building Activities earn one or two colonists, depending on difficulty

Teams need to have one food/water token for each colonist they support. The team with the most colonists at the end of the game wins!

A team conducts a "check for understanding" with Mr. Schmidt. These checks allow
teachers to assess student learning in real time and redirect if necessary.

How does the science lab support this activity?

The space is made up of a large classroom and an attached state-of-the-art lab. Students have plenty of room to rearrange the furniture for their group theory work and to consult with teachers, and the lab provides a quiet venue for conducting experiments. 

Today, one team is in the lab investigating forces such as torque and tension using sponges. Another is meeting with Ms. Moser at the back of the room, completing a check for understanding. A third team is trying out different bridge designs, determining which will support the largest load, while several other groups complete theory lessons at their desks. Though there’s lots of activity in the room, each group is able to complete their work without disruption from others.

It’s clear that students are enthusiastic about this “gamified” approach to structures - and that they like being in the larger space. “I love working on group activities in the big lab,” one student says. “It’s a really fun way to learn a lot of science.”

Another student loves the hands-on nature of the activity. “I like that we get to do lots of different activities, but that we first learn everything we need to back up those activities,” he says. “I can see how what we’re learning would be important for jobs like engineering.”

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Giving Students a Voice in the Theatre

Students add depth to their voice work with movement during a recent Grade 7/8 Drama
Major class in the theatre.

Our new performance theatre isn't just for large-scale productions - it provides an authentic environment for classes and workshops, too.

Down in Greenwood’s theatre, Grade 8 student Gabe has finished his performance and is ready for feedback.

“He’s crying,” says a woman’s voice offstage. “He’s just so panicked.”

Gabe takes this in and nods. “Okay,” he says. “So do I keep the old one as well?”

“If you want to layer [your performance], you can add it on top,” the voice responds.

The reply comes from Melissa Altro, an accomplished voice artist with over 20 years’ experience in TV and film. (You might know her as Muffy Crosswire from TV’s Arthur.) She knows a thing or two about using her voice to create character, and on April 12 she shared that expertise with our Grade 7 and 8 Drama Majors.

An Authentic Learning Experience

Experienced voice actor Melissa Altro's visit was part of the "Sound and Foley" unit
for Grade 7 and 8 Drama Major classes.

Melissa explained to students that one of the most important elements in voice work is putting your whole body into the character. It’s not enough to just read the lines; your facial expressions and actions are what add depth to the performance. To reinforce this message, it’s important that students work in an authentic environment - which is where the new theatre comes in. Students took advantage of the excellent acoustics as they worked with Melissa to create different voices, and the theatre’s state-of-the-art lighting added an extra level of professionalism.

Melissa’s visit was part of the “Sound and Foley” unit in both the Grade 7 and 8 Drama Major classes. For Grade 7 students, this experience came at the beginning of their unit and was used to introduce the different elements of voice, including pitch, articulation and tone. For Grade 8 students, their work with Melissa consolidated their understanding at the end of the unit. Both groups learned how to use their voices to bring a wide range of characters to life. This skill will support the completion of their culminating activities a little later in the year.

Melissa’s specific feedback - and the willingness of our students to take it on board - was a big part of what made her visit so impactful. Check out the video below to see how Gabe ultimately incorporated her feedback to add more depth to one of his characters.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Making the Case

Our new spaces give us tremendous flexibility when it comes to hosting big events.

On the morning of April 6, over 60 students are working hard in our new gym - but they’re not wearing shorts and sneakers. Dressed in their best business attire and seated in small groups, they’re reading case studies, conducting SWOT analyses and putting together presentations.

The working portion of the annual Grade 11-12 Business Case Competition - modelled after those students will experience in postsecondary business programs - has always been held in our gym. The large space accommodates all teams and ensures that they’re all getting the same instructions at the same time. 

Having additional space enabled all teams to present concurrently in order to get through their presentations by the end of the day. We had four rooms available for students to share their plans to help fitness giant Fitbit to maintain their market leadership position, each large enough to accommodate several teams and a judging panel.

We had four rooms available for students to share their plans to help fitness giant Fitbit to
maintain their market leadership position, each large enough to accommodate several
teams and a judging panel.

As always, our experienced judges added an extra level of authenticity to the case competiton. The panel included several successful businesspeople (including two Greenwood parents) in fields ranging from banking to entrepreneurship to marketing. We also had three alumni with business and mathematics backgrounds bring their knowledge to the competition.

Though the competition can be nerve-wracking, our students feel the experience is incredibly helpful. “I valued having experienced judges that asked challenging questions and made the presentation aspect of the competition much more engaging,” one Grade 12 student says. “I’m planning on taking a business program at university next year, and I definitely think that this case competition gave me a preview of what classes will be like.”