Showing posts with label Choice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Choice. Show all posts

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Maximizing Spare Time

Study bars and cruiser tables placed throughout the school provide additional options for
students looking for that perfect study spot.

The value of our new study spaces is more apparent than ever as final evaluations approach.

To a senior student in May, a spare is a precious gift: a whole 75 minutes that can be dedicated to completing homework and preparing for upcoming year-end evaluations. But to do that, students need spaces conducive to quiet study and collaborative work that are accessible throughout the day.

A quick tour through the school at any time of day makes it clear that our students are making the most of the new spaces Greenwood has to offer. The Learning Commons is as busy as ever - the booths, tables and soft seating are frequently in use, and the three breakout rooms are popular group study areas. The second-floor breakout rooms adjacent to the Student Success Centre are constantly filled with students reading, working on their laptops or chatting quietly in groups. The study bars and cruiser tables placed throughout the school provide additional options for students looking for that perfect study spot.

The booths in our Learning Commons are frequently in use.

Our second-floor breakout rooms are constantly filled with students reading, working on
their laptops or chatting quietly in groups.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Building Skills and Confidence in the Student Success Centre

The Student Success Centre hosts our Learning Strategies classes, and is also open to all
students before and after school and at lunch.

Located on the second floor, Greenwood’s warm, welcoming Student Success Centre helps students build confidence and develop new learning skills.

In addition to hosting our Learning Strategies courses, the Success Centre is open to all students before and after school and during lunchtime. A variety of spaces, including breakout rooms, quiet study areas and bar seating, allow students to select the right work environment for them.

“In our Learning Strategies classes, some students work best in small groups, while others want to work independently or have a one-on-one meeting with their teacher,” says Jennifer Lillie, Director, Student Success. “The new Centre meets all of these different needs.”

"With the glass walls, students can always see their peers and teachers working, and it
encourages them to do the same," says Jennifer Lillie, Director, Student Success.

The Success Centre is very popular with students, and two teachers are always on hand at busy times to ensure students have the support they need, whether it be study skills, organizational tips or time-management strategies.

“The space is very inviting,” Jennifer says. “With the glass walls, students can always see their peers and teachers working, and it encourages them to do the same.”

Ultimately, the Success Centre helps students to gain a greater understanding of how they learn, and to apply that knowledge both in and out of the classroom.

A variety of spaces, including breakout rooms, quiet study areas and bar seating,
allow students to select the right work environment for them.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Greater Customization Through Blocked Scheduling

Greenwood’s new state-of-the-art science labs not only encourage inquiry and discovery, but also give our teachers more opportunities to customize our science program.

Blocked scheduling is one way in which science teachers have been taking advantage of our new spaces. In a blocked schedule, multiple sections of a class - in this case, Grade 9 Science - meet at the same time. Some of the benefits of this approach include:

  • Grouping students based on readiness
  • Using space and teachers most effectively
  • Incorporating student choice, both in content and learning style

What does a blocked approach look like in practice? Here’s how science teachers Evan Morrison, Julie Way, Anne Wellnhofer and Alan Kraguljac used it to help Grade 9 students investigate characteristic physical properties and evidence of chemical change over a series of three periods.

Grouping Students Based on Readiness

After assessing students' prior knowledge using a quiz, teachers determined whether
students were ready to start the labs or should complete a teacher-led warm-up.

The focus of these three periods was a multi-lab circuit. Everyone in the two Grade 9 Science sections finished the circuit having completed five mandatory labs, but how they got there was different for each student.

Before students jumped into the labs, teachers assessed their prior knowledge using a Flubaroo quiz. This quiz provided both students and teachers with instant feedback, indicating which students were ready to start the labs and which students should first complete a teacher-led warm-up activity.

Students who completed the five mandatory labs with time to spare had the option to move on to extension opportunities building on the core concepts.

Using Space and Teachers Effectively

Three teachers were on hand to help students throughout the multi-lab circuit.

Seven lab stations were set up across two different rooms, with students free to move between the rooms as needed. One teacher was stationed in each of the two rooms, while a third floated between the spaces to check in with students and answer questions. 

Incorporating Student Choice

Our new science labs provide space for several workstations.

A blocked approach provides students with significant flexibility. Grade 9 students were able to choose:

  • Their pace when working through the labs
  • The order in which they completed the labs
  • Their preferred space for working

Students also had the option to watch online demos of some procedures.

The Results

All students finished these three periods having completed the five mandatory labs, and took away a thorough understanding of the core concepts and detailed notes. Students who wished to build on their knowledge had the opportunity to do so with extension opportunities.

“Giving the kids the flexibility to move at their own pace through the activities worked out really well,” says Julie Way.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

More Choice, Less Noise

Modelled on facilities found on university campuses, the Learning Commons offers a variety
of work areas including collaborative study rooms, independent work areas and soft seating.

When you walk into Greenwood’s Learning Commons, the first thing that strikes you is how purposefully students are working. Whether they’re coming in early, on a spare or on their lunch break, students have been making wonderful use of the Commons as a quiet work and study space.

Modelled on facilities found on university campuses, the Learning Commons offers a variety of work areas including collaborative study rooms, independent work areas and soft seating. Whiteboards and projection screens located in these breakout rooms are frequently filled with idea-building and test preparation.

Whiteboards and projection screens facilitate
collaborative idea-building and test preparation.

What do students think?

Here’s what a few Grade 12 students have to say about this new workspace:

“In the old building, it was hard to find a spot where it was guaranteed to be quiet. There’s a mutual understanding that everyone here wants to keep the noise down, too.”

“I’m more motivated to work when others around me are working.”

“The breakout rooms are great for having quiet conversations and doing group work without disturbing other people.”

“A lot of people from our grade are using this space, so you can always find someone else who is working on the subject you’re studying.”

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Canadian History Through Interest!

Streamed field trips were key in
supporting this interest-based approach
to studying World War Two.
Interest-based learning is a potent factor in enhancing students’ individual experience during their secondary and postsecondary school careers. The Grade 10 Canadian history course has been an excellent avenue for students to experience the way that they learn and engage with their history and Canadian identity this year.

Through the use of historical thinking skills, including historical significance, historical perspective, continuity and change, ethical dimensions and primary sources, there are limitless ways that students can approach history’s events, people and places. Most recently, while studying Canada’s role in World War Two, students were able to choose specific topics to help gear content towards students’ interests. To further individualize experiences, students in each of the streamed topics (Living History, Holocaust or Technology) were able to identify specific events to which they could connect in order to develop a broader understanding of the Second World War.

This method led to several important observations for teachers. Students showed higher levels of:
  1. Engagement, motivation and accountability;
  2. Understanding of the content; and
  3. Perseverance towards learning skills.
I would like to write briefly about the last point above. It was my experience that through students’ increased level of interest, teachers were able to challenge students to persevere and develop a number of academic skills.
  • Students persevered through a critical analysis of primary and secondary documents. They challenged themselves to research, find and analyze primary historical sources which gave very specific accounts of perspective within each of the events being studied, and to think critically about how these particular stories fit into the global picture of World War Two. 
  • Students in the technology stream were able to choose various pieces of technology and determine how each individual piece of technology impacted the war overall. They chose items like the enigma machine, Alan Turing’s computer, the Spitfire, the Lancaster bomber and the Sherman tank, among others. 

While studying individual topics, students challenged themselves to:
  • Practice research skills more rigorously;
  • Write reports more thoroughly;
  • Organize their ideas more effectively; and
  • Present their findings verbally with increased confidence. 

Teachers agreed that there were some exceptional pieces of work and the consensus is that interest-based learning created a richer environment for students to grow.

What did students think about the unit? See some of the feedback below.

“I found it easy to find primary documents.  I like using the historical concepts of thinking because I think it takes your ideas out of your head and makes you put them on paper.”

“I enjoyed being able to explore a path I was interested in and not just what the teacher was teaching. I enjoyed going on a personalized field trip to a place suited to our unit path. I liked how all the classes learned the same thing, although all in different paths."

“I think that I was definitely able to pursue some of my own interests. Through the project, I was able to research a relative. This gave me the chance to know more about my family history."

“I think that the historical concepts helped me focus on my research and thoughts because they gave me a sort of guideline that helped me find more research."

“I think that being able to choose which subject I was going to study made me much more interested. I chose that subject because it was something I wanted to learn more about.”

There were some very good observations made by teachers and some excellent experiences had by students. Moving forward, teachers will be collaborating on how to enrich this unit of study further.

Anthony Costa
History Teacher, Health & Physical Education Subject Team Leader

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Grade 7 Integrated Project: Designing for Disaster

Shannon, Megan and Taylor with
their disaster survival prototype.
In March, Grade 7 students were challenged to ‘Design for Disaster’. The students’ goal was to use their scientific knowledge and understanding of resources to design a device that would allow their literary character to survive a natural disaster.

In the process of completing their prototypes, students were challenged to integrate subject knowledge, think creatively and develop their teamwork skills.

Students had the opportunity to create diverse products that covered several curriculum expectations. Project tasks were designed to provide appropriate structure, while being open ended to foster critical thinking and capture student interest. Students could choose how they demonstrated their design process, what they built, what supplies they used and even where they worked.

Choice served to empower our students’ thinking and creativity. Taylor Davis ('21) commented that “getting to be creative and build things without a written plan pre-given” was really rewarding. While reflecting on connecting her school subjects in one project, Zoe Starnino ('21) stated that she “really liked doing all of the science and math parts because it was kind of like you were solving a mystery, or going on an adventure, and you just kept discovering all these things”.

Learning should go beyond curriculum. A collaborative approach to design thinking was used throughout the week. This allowed students to learn from each other, as well as problem solve in a team.

Working in teams was a highlight for many of the students. Toby Bower ('21) stated that “sometimes we didn’t agree”, but as the project progressed they enjoyed  “coming together as a group”. Callum Thomson ('21) thought “it was really fun working with the same people. Splitting the jobs up worked really well for us because we got the work done quickly.”

Students experienced successes and failures throughout the week. While no two groups took the same path, all students realized their design goals in creating final products they were proud of.

Students and teachers are looking forward to the second Grade 7 Integration Project in June!

Elysia Jellema & Erin Klassen
Grade 7 & 8 Teachers

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Dispatches from the Field

Grade 10 Canadian History students get out of the classroom to experience history first hand.

Greenwood's history department maintains
a close relationship with the Sunnybrook
Veterans' Centre.
Greetings from the world of Grade 10 Canadian History! Previously, Eugene Henry blogged about new approaches the Canadian History team has taken to teaching the Second World War by making use of the blocked schedule and blended learning strategies. As well, we are focusing on authentic and experiential learning to further promote historical thinking. With the students having just returned from their “streamed” field trips, this blog installment appropriately focuses on the authentic and experiential learning element of this new direction.

Early in the second term, the students were asked to choose which lens interested them the most about WWII. Their choices were:
  1. WWII technology and the tactics that made use of that technology 
  2. The Legacy of the Holocaust 
  3. Living History: the legacy of Canadian veterans and our public memory of their contributions 
Allowing the students to follow their interests, they were reorganized into new groupings based on the above three ‘streams’. Deep into their studies of the Second World War, it is safe to say this approach has been met with great success, and student interest and engagement is higher than ever. Recently, the students headed out of the school to engage in authentic experiences tailored to these three streams. Here again, the results were better than we could have imagined.

Learning about WWII is an overwhelming experience and the statistics from this conflict are unprecedented. Giving our young historians the opportunity to engage in authentic and tangible historical inquiry by meeting the people and being able to reach out and touch the machines that fought this fight undoubtedly helps to breathe life into the history textbooks.

Technology & Tactics

Students of the “technology and tactics" stream headed to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, where they met with veteran air men and women and mechanics, to witness first-hand the magnitude of some of the most impressive Canadian warplanes that helped the Allies to victory - and still remain in operation today. The students’ experience was focused on stream-specific themes and provided them with opportunities to follow their unique interests in, and purposefully research real world examples of, technology and tactics used in war. They immensely enjoyed the rich experience!

Legacy of the Holocaust

For students of the “Legacy of the Holocaust” stream, the trip to the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre was an experience that will not soon be forgotten. Following a morning of interactive programming focused on the legacy of the Canadian Holocaust experience, the students met with Holocaust survivor Vera Schiff. During the afternoon, students worked in the Centre’s research library further researching survivors of the Holocaust and, in some cases, students’ own family experiences in this awful event. This proved a powerful and emotional experience, and here again the students’ interest was high and their time at the Centre was most rewarding.

Living History

Finally, students in the “Living History” stream spent their morning with seasoned tour guide Richard Fiennes-Clinton of Muddy York walking tours. The first stop on the tour was the Queen’s Park War Memorial, commemorating all of the wars that Torontonians have participated in.
The highlight of the walking tour
was the famous Soldiers' Tower,
which is rarely open to the public.
From there, the group explored war memorials in and around the University of Toronto. The highlight of the walking tour was the trip up the famous Soldiers’ Tower, which is rarely open to the public!

During the afternoon, the group visited and interviewed WWII veterans at the Sunnybrook Veterans’ Centre. The Greenwood history department maintains a close relationship with the Centre through annual visits and a special visit in October to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands. Students greatly enjoyed meeting the veterans and hearing their unbelievable stories of survival and heroism, and walked away with a new appreciation of the sacrifice made by these men and women. 


All in all, these trips helped the students to further grasp history by allowing them to follow their interests and to experience history in a real and authentic way. We may not be able to live during past events, but meeting the people and touching the artifact from these bygone eras has proved immensely helpful in bringing our history to life!

Charles Jennings
History Subject Team Leader and Adviser Coordinator

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Pre-planning of Careers Creates Ability to Meet Individual Student Needs

This past August, I had the opportunity to work with Lisa West and Jamie Lester on the Career Studies course during Greenwood’s Summer Institute. This mandatory, Grade 10 half-credit is full of content that leads students to learn more about themselves through online surveys, website exploration, activities and assignments.

The very nature of the course is driven by the students’ individual interests and personal career goals. Students get out of the course what they put in, and often find it to be a very practical course in terms of preparing them to make more informed decisions for their future.

During the Summer Institute, our goal was to create a fully developed online model of this course that could provide students with the ability to work more at their own pace and provide choice and extension wherever possible.

How is this working in the classroom? Exceptionally well!

Having taught this course for many years, I can say without a doubt that the solid planning we did for this course has been incredibly beneficial for me and my students. As we were able to dedicate time to thoroughly planning our modules, checking website links and refining tasks, students are able to work ahead or to complete work outside school when necessary, with very little instruction from me. This has allowed me to check in with students’ progress on tasks, to clarify concepts and to have meaningful conversations with individual students that help them apply their learning to their future goals.

As educators, we sometimes feel stress associated with planning lessons and delivering them effectively. As this planning has been done and the delivery is seamless, I can spend my energy on students’ individual needs, which makes for a more meaningful learning environment.

Liz Branscombe
Guidance & Career Subject Team Leader

Friday, 20 November 2015

Student-Centred Biology: Getting Student Feedback and Using Technology to Provide Choice

Lab Option 2 gave students the
opportunity to practice Punnett
, which are used to predict
the outcomes of breeding experiments.
Recently in the Grade 11 Biology classroom, we asked for student feedback about our revised learning cycle and student-centred approach to teaching Biology.

The feedback was positive:  students enjoy the predictable patterns in assessment and consistent exit card quizzes.

Online exit card quizzes are used as an assessment for learning. Students can practice their multiple-choice skills by completing these assessments as often as they would like to check their understanding of content. Students have mentioned that the multiple-choice quizzes are difficult and give them a good sense of the course expectations. Because the quizzes provide marks immediately, they get the instantaneous feedback they need while reviewing or studying.

Recently in our classes we provided students with two different fly lab assignments (Option 1, Option 2). Fly labs involve studying inheritance patterns in fruit flies. Both assignments met course expectations, and allowed students to investigate a lab they may complete in their post-secondary studies, but allowed for different levels of support and areas of focus. One simulation allowed students to proceed through a fly lab with the same steps they would complete within a post-secondary environment, while the other focused more on a more complex inheritance pattern, and allowed for students to practice creating Punnett squares to prove their understanding of concepts.

As teachers, we continue to seek out opportunities for students to experience choice, and engage in course material in a way that is meaningful for their needs. We look forward to investigating the diversity within a biological community when students grow their own bacterial samples in the lab in our upcoming unit.

Nancy Clarke and Vanessa Floras
Science Teachers

Monday, 15 June 2015

Personalizing Historical Thinking Skills

History teacher Alex Hurley explains how history students enhance their historical literacy and gain an increased facility in making connections to contemporary issues through informal conversational assessments.

This year in Grade 11 American History, students have been developing their knowledge and understanding of significant historical events by adopting a critical thinking framework that applies six historical thinking concepts:
  • Historical significance
  • Cause and consequence
  • Historical perspective
  • Continuity and change
  • The use of primary source evidence
  • The ethical dimensions of history

In order to practice and develop these historical literacy skills, we created a personalized sequences of learning that used a variety of teaching strategies and gave our students the opportunity to choose from a range of historical documents, events, figured, themes and final products based on their personal interest and individual learning style.

During a recent study of the African American Experience (1865-1965), students analyzed key events, figures and themes, ranging from the failed promises of Reconstruction to the struggle and hope characterized by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and its use of non-violent strategies, such as boycotts, marches and legal challenges to bring an end to systemic racism in the United States.

Students deepened their understanding of these events by focusing on the historical thinking concepts of applying the use of primary source evidence and analyzing multiple historical perspectives. They were given the opportunity to focus on these concepts in their Civil Rights Protest Song Assignment. This was a conversational assessment of learning that asked the students to prepare for and participate in a conversation about a civil rights protest song from the 1950s and 1960s. The students were given the opportunity to choose a protest song from a variety of musical genres (jazz, blues, folk, rock 'n roll) that was of personal interest to them. Some of the songs included Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Bob Dylan's "A Pawn in their Game," Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Happen," Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddamn," Charles Mingus' "Fables of Faubus" or Neil Young's "Southern Man."

There was also an extension opportunity for this assignment that allowed students to choose a protect song to analyze about the Vietnam War. Some of the songs included CCR's "Fortunate Son," Crosy, Stills, Nash and Young's "Ohio," Country Joe & The Fish's "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" and John Lee Hooker's "I Don't Wanna Go to Vietnam."

In order to prepare for this conversational assessment, the students were asked to annotate the lyrics of their chosen song by highlighting key events, figures, ideas and themes that they studied during our unit. They were also given a list of guiding questions to answer that allowed them to think critically about the larger themes of the course and communicate how the lyrics of the song could relate to any current struggle for rights that exists today - something that the majority of students successfully accomplished through their astute observations on parallels between Civil Rights issues and current events in Baltimore and the Black Lives Matter movement. Each conversation (which was about 5-7 minutes) was led by the teacher during which time we listened to the song in the classroom and the student answered the chosen guiding questions.

This assignment was a great example of how letting our students choose a topic based on personal interest and allowing them to demonstrate their critical thinking skills through an informal conversation with their teacher leads to an increased facility in making connections between issues that existed in the past and continue to persist today.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Greenwood's Grade 7 Climate Change Revolution

Recently, Grade 7 students completed a unit of work focused on gaining a better understanding of the key issues related to climate change. 

Having watched the documentary Revolution by acclaimed Toronto filmmaker Rob Stewart, students were tasked with orchestrating a public awareness campaign focused on an environmental issue of their choice. The aim of this task was to raise the environmental consciousness of the students, as well as develop their ability to learn, interpret and synthesize geographical information and data.

Students were challenged to select one of the global issues presented in the film, choosing from:

  • Climate change
  • Deforestation
  • Overfishing
  • Ocean acidification
  • Saving human life
Once they had made their selection, students had to conduct further research on their topic and then generate a public awareness campaign using a minimum of three communication outlets.

This project was differentiated based on students’ interest. Students were then able to further personalize their project by choosing the manner in which they communicated their message. While all students had to demonstrate the ability to explain the concept of sustainability and defend their point of view, they were able to show this in a number of ways. Some students created visual advertisements and others redesigned the poster for Revolution to reflect a focus on their issue.

For a period of time surrounding the project, the Greenwood community was made aware of these issues while students lobbied for support through petitions and utilized their social media accounts to spread the word online. Students also contacted politicians across Ontario directly to share their concerns. They even received a response from the Office of the Prime Minister, thanking the students from Greenwood for their intelligent communication about their environmental concerns.

Ultimately, the Grade 7 students developed their ability to locate and record geographical information and present and defend a point of view. They not only improved their awareness of environmental sustainability, but also raised the consciousness of the Greenwood community in regards to these important issues.

As climate change looks likely to impact future generations more significantly than previous generations, this foray into social activism (with support from Mr. Harper himself, no less!) was a valuable exercise that will hopefully encourage the students to engage further, as active global citizens.

Samuel Clark
Teacher, Social Studies, Health & Physical Education

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Students Showcase Findings at Annual Climate Change Fair

Each year, Grade 10 Science students have the opportunity to explore a topic of particular interest to them that relates to climate change. Their task is to design their own research project and apply what they have learned to a new situation. With this open-ended project template, we are able to personalize learning and help students discover areas of scientific interest, while guiding their exploration of such topics.

The opportunities for discovery are limitless. One student chose to extensively study the effects of global warming on the country of Tanzania, which has been severely affected by extreme droughts and floods. The student had the opportunity to then travel to Tanzania, where she could witness these issues firsthand and speak with the people who are being affected. Through photography, she documented dried-up river beds, as well as animals and locals suffering from food and water scarcity.

The significance of these experiences was evident. In her own words, "In Tanzania, I was able to apply my knowledge and get an incredible chance to learn how [climate change] is affecting these people...From this experience, I will rethink many of the things that I do at home that contribute to global warming because I can appreciate who is facing the consequences."

Depending on individual strengths and interests, some students were encouraged to design, conduct and analyze experiments to support a particular hypothesis related to climate change. Through controlled experimentation, one student analyzed the effects of deforestation on atmospheric temperatures. She found that environments exposed to high levels of greenhouse gases remained cooler in the presence of vegetation, thus illustrating the role that plants play in regulating climate change. Another student investigated the effects of carbon dioxide on rising sea levels. She designed a laboratory procedure to effectively demonstrate that atmospheres rich in carbon dioxide are able to rapidly melt ice, thereby contributing to rising sea levels.

In the end, students were able to explore topics of interest while developing scientific reasoning and research skills. The project concluded in a Climate Change Fair, during which the Grade 10 students showcased their topics and findings.

Caroline Ferguson
Teacher, Mathematics and Science

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Connecting Visual Arts to World Issues

The concept of personalized learning is likely most applicable to the visual arts when students are taught to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, and to make and justify critical judgments. Art teacher Colleen Petch shares how, in the senior visual arts program at Greenwood, students are provided with a tremendous amount of choice and are consistently challenged to problem-solve, persevere, be resilient and to find a personal connection to their work.

Recently, in Grade 11 Visual Arts class, students inquired about the correct technical approach to paint an acrylic portrait. My response was, "Well, that depends...on your comfort level with acrylic paint, your level of experience, how you want the viewer to feel about this person, what style of painting you appreciate, if you want to work on blocking the form or defining specific details first, how many tones of one colour you want to use, what your intended final product might look like, etc." Each student requires a different personalized discussion with the teacher and spends time developing an individual plan to approach creative assignments. One-on-one meetings and discussions are common during each period.

Grade 12 Visual Arts students recently completed their first independent large-scale work for their final exhibition, based on their year's personal theme. They were required to
  • create a large-scale work of art based on a current social, environmental, global or political issue of their choice;
  • take a stance on this personal interest and then express this stance visually; and
  • connect this issue to their personal theme.
The students were challenged to find an interesting way to connect the issue and their personal theme visually, which then became the subject matter for a creation in a medium of their choice.

The process involved individual and group process work, such as:
  • An evaluation of each student's technical strengths, weaknesses and goals
  • Class critiques in which students expressed issues of interest, as well as their personal and thematic connection to the issue
  • An exploration of materials, subject matter, techniques and approaches.
The final works are thought-provoking and technically impressive. Each represents aspects of the students' identities and creativity, local and global and concerns, and a superb commitment to their artistic studies. As the students reflected:

"I am proud of the message I represented and how I have portrayed it. My main goal was not just to represent the issue, but to [also] evoke guilt and responsibility for the issue, which I feel I have accomplished."

"The one main thing that I have learned is that, once I go deeper into [the] thought [process] of making a more creative piece, I can make it look amazing. I have also learned that I can paint and do very well with issues and pictures that I am passionate about."

"I scrapped a piece the day before the final critique and started a new one. This new image captivated my thoughts and with the help of espresso coffee, I painted throughout the night to meet the deadline. Switching my idea was worth it in the end."

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The AP Challenge: Close Text Analysis of Hamlet

Close text analysis, or close reading of a text, is one of the core skills developed in English classes. It forms the basis for much for the AP English Literature and Composition exam, and requires critical thinking about how texts create meaning, both in terms of structure and content. In Grade 12, we apply this skill to a challenging text: Hamlet.

In the regular Grade 12 English course, the focus of close text analysis is a critical reading of the text and how it functions in the play as a whole. Assessments are chunked to help students differentiate between the importance of the information in the scene and the importance of how it is said. For example, how does word choice reveal character? How does a recurring image recall a larger theme? The goal is to be a critical reader, a skill that students can apply in any discipline and later in life.

Students in the AP course also hone their critical reading skills but have the increased challenge of deciding how to organize their findings in an essay. This essay is written in class over about thirty minutes, emulating the format of the AP exam. While this task may seem grueling, it enables students to make their own decisions about how to prioritize what they notice in terms of both its importance and how their ideas should be grouped within paragraphs. Students in both classes are taught to notice the same things; the difference is the depth to which students explain what they have noticed.

Close text analysis is a great example of how AP courses can increase academic challenge for students. Looking forward to applications to Greenwood's future flexible classrooms, the fact that both skills are taught during the same unit and can be done with the same readings also means that students can choose to challenge themselves with the AP model of the skill even if they are in the regular course. This way, students are given more opportunity for "challenge by choice," as they expand their critical reading skills.

Stephanie Martino
English Teacher

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Bonjour Toronto! Exploring Francophone Culture in the City

Drama and French teacher Emily Hincks explains how an assignment exploring francophone culture in the Toronto helped push students out of their comfort zone while providing an authentic learning experience.

Earlier this year in Grade 11 French, we explored the many French-speaking countries and cultures around the world. In this unit, students were asked to find francophone culture in Toronto, participate in a francophone cultural activity in the city, and report back to the class in an oral presentation. As part of their outing, they interviewed a francophone person who was involved in the activity and took photos or a video of their experience.

Some of these excursions involved activities such as interviewing the head chef at a French restaurant, learning about pastry making at an authentic French bakery, and attending a francophone service at a Roman Catholic Church. Grade 11 student Sarah Langill visited the Alliance Française to attend a lecture by French mathematician Cédric Villanin, winner of the prestigious Fields Medal. According to Sarah, "I enjoyed participating in the francophone activity in Toronto. It made me work independently and encouraged my organizational skills. If you were with a group [or on your own], you had to make sure you were free to attend the francophone activity. Also, asking a person who speaks French fluently or is from a francophone country [for an interview] can be intimidating, so it was a good opportunity to venture outside my comfort zone."

This project was personalized for students as they had choice in which activity they wanted to explore. Their learning was inquiry-based and authentic, as they connected the course to the city in which they live in a meaningful way. It created challenges, as they had to rely on their French skills outside the classroom and use them in a real-life setting. The depth of conversation that each student had with their interviewee varied based on language level, and students felt compelled to challenge themselves to their full level.

When I first assigned this project, the students were a little overwhelmed, asking questions such as "Where can I find French culture in Toronto?" and "Is my French strong enough to participate in a cultural activity in this way?" In the end, the students were pleased with their findings and proud of their accomplishments. It was rewarding for all of us to see how and where francophone culture lives in Toronto.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Grade 12 Leadership Takes Students Out of Their Comfort Zone

Leadership at Greenwood is an opportunity for students to engage in activities and conversations with peers and staff that often require them to go outside their comfort zone as they strengthen old traditions and create new ones for the Greenwood community.

Leadership at Greenwood is a progressive model in which each grade of students is afforded more opportunities and responsibilities than the previous year. This culminates in the roles that some of Greenwood's Grade 12 students take on as executives for various committees such as Arts, Athletics, Diversity and Social Affairs. The Grade 12 students also act as leaders in the fall to younger students at Kilcoo Camp during the fall outdoor education program.

Starting their graduating year as counselors, large group activity coordinators, small group activity leaders and skill developers is the greatest leadership challenge our students face and, I would argue, the most important. At Kilcoo, the grads are responsible for welcoming new Grade 7, 8 and 9 students, mentoring and guiding them through their first week of school, and helping students navigate the social climate of high school as cabin counselors.

Beyond these general leadership roles, the grads are able to personalize their own Kilcoo experience with the additional specialized roles they select. A Grade 12 student can request to
  • A large group activity coordinator - Student in this role work in conjunction with teacher-advisers, House captains and members of the Student Council to plan three-hour integration blocks. In this role, students are challenged with the logistics of organizing up to a hundred students at a time, while liaising between different facets of the school community. This experience provides excellent preparation for those who will go on to create initiatives for the entire student body throughout the school year.
  • A small group activity leader - These Grade 12s work with groups of ten of fewer Grade 7, 8 and 9 students, as they move through traditional summer camp activities, such as kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, and more. The challenge for our grads here is to build a cohesive group that stays motivated, engaged and safe throughout an exciting but also tiring week.
  • A skill developer - Assuming a graduating student has been at Greenwood since at least Grade 9, they have a wealth of their own outdoor education experience to share with our younger students. Grads that choose to be skill developers will instruct activities such as kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and so on. The challenge with being in this role is much the same as being a substitute teacher. The skill developer does not have a developed relationship with the students who come to their activity. In this role, the grads learn how to manage and troubleshoot the dynamics of smaller groups and break down larger skills into a manageable and logical progression, while keeping engagement and safety at the forefront of their minds.

The relationships the grads make with the younger students set the tone for the school year and have an enormous impact on the school's culture. In my mind, leadership development and the opportunities Greenwood provides are the best examples of building and stretching each individual student's leadership potential and ultimately character.


Erin Porter
School Life Coordinator and Mathematics Teacher

Friday, 27 February 2015

Do You Hear What I Hear? Teaching Music by Ear and Finding Student Strengths

Students in Grade 7 and 8 can choose to take music as a major focus, which runs throughout the year as a band program, or as a minor focus, which runs for half the year as a ukulele program. This approach, as well as the program within the major and minor music courses, allow students to personalize their music experience.

Music as a Major

The music major program involves students from varying backgrounds in music - from those who have taken instrumental or vocal lessons for years outside of school, to those who have never read or performed music before.

Many of the beginner musicians are scared away by the idea of reading music. There is a common misconception that being a musician requires the ability to read those black dots on a page; however, there are many famous musicians today and throughout history, particularly in genres such as jazz, who could not read music at all. In an effort to personalize learning and to draw attention to different types of music, the Grade 7 and 8 program includes a variety of experiences, including reading music and learning by ear. This allows students who are already experienced at reading music to expand their learning to aural retention, and vice versa. It also enables those who are new to music to find their strengths.

Earlier this month, students participated in the Ontario Band Association Festival, a formal competition where they performed notated band repertoire and received feedback from professional adjudicators. In a more recent undertaking, the Grade 7 and 8 band students have begun learning the skill of "getting off the page" by aurally learning a new piece of music.

To ensure the authenticity and engagement of the students' learning experience, the band voted on popular music to play. The students listened to popular songs by artists such as Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars, then broke down the music into chunks and experimented on their instruments to emulate the notes being played. This type of learning is engaging for all students because it challenges students at their individual level of achievement:
  • Beginner students focus on finding the melody or chorus.
  • More experienced students attempt to create more advanced parts such as harmony and counter-melodies.
As each student finds his or her own way to contribute to the ensemble at an appropriate level of difficulty, the end result is a satisfying experience for both performer and audience.

Music as Minor

Students in the music minor program are also learning the skill of aurally learning music.
  • Grade 8 students are currently studying the blues and experimenting with non-rehearsed techniques.
  • Grade 7 students are learning traditional folk songs using imitation and repeat-after-me techniques.
All classes look forward to performing these pop pieces in the school community at upcoming events and assemblies.

Becky Stewart
Teacher, Music and French

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Using Leveled Worksheets to Challenge Math Students

Students enter Grade 9 at Greenwood from a variety of different schools with very diverse backgrounds in math, which leads to a large array of abilities collaborating in one class. To help ensure we are able to reach each and every student in the room, we need to rely on differentiated learning.

One of the most popular tools in the Grade 9 math toolbox is the use of leveled worksheets. The leveled worksheet is a series of questions sorted into levels that progressively increase in difficulty. Each worksheet will have a section to extend students who need a challenge. Students may be asked to explore variations of questions above and beyond the scope of the course.

There are a few different ways in which we employ leveled worksheets in the classroom. Sometimes, we differentiate by speed and allow everyone to start at level one and see how far they can get in a given time period. Other times we will differentiate by readiness and we will either allow students to choose their starting level or guide them to a starting level based on previous assessments. Differentiating by readiness works very well in a diverse classroom because it allows confident students to spend more time challenging themselves with more difficult problems.

The students really like when we work with leveled worksheets because they get immediate feedback and they are able to appropriately challenge themselves.  

Matthew Donkers
Teacher, Math & Physics

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Teaching and Learning in Greenwood's LearnLab Space

Room 207 is a flexible space where students and teachers learn in tandem with one another. A flexible space demands a flexible approach. This post focuses on the value of having a flexible physical space in terms of the diversity it creates for instruction.

In Grade 9 English we have found a good balance between consistent classroom routines to start and end the class, and a variety of cooperative learning strategies throughout the lesson. The large room provides opportunities to co-teach and the teachers act as facilitators of learning, moving smoothly throughout the space

In the classroom, abstract learning goals become concrete physical arrangements. In advance of the class, we determine groupings and seating arrangements so that students may choose, or be placed, in a grouping based on their strengths, their interests, or the level of support they need to learn and interact with the material for the day. We also have the benefit of being able to easily rearrange students as the lesson progresses. When students work ahead, or need to meet with a teacher one-on-one, their needs can be met right away. The teacher-student conferences have been especially supportive and informative. We are able to meet with students one-on-one for anything from conversation assessments of learning, to relaxed check-ins. Getting to know the students in this way informs us about how to make our groupings and how to adapt our teaching to meet the needs of each student.

This space allows the more abstract elements of differentiated instruction to be made tangible. Students make choices and have to partner their choices with a physical action. Something as simple as moving to the corner of the room that reflects their favourite style of instruction, their need for support in the moment, or their choice of text to read, allows students to become partners in designing their course. While reading Into the Wild in our survival unit, students were able to choose to actively read the book alone in one corner of the room, read the book with a partner in another corner, read the book in a 'popcorn' style in a larger group, or have the book read to them by one of us teachers aloud. Even as the activity was taking place, students were able to move to the corner that they realized suited them best for the day. The fact that Grade 9 students are aware of their learning style to this degree is excellent. Similar activities have been done with instruction and support. It has been interesting to observe their level of engagement and self-awareness as the year has progressed.

In our current unit about family and friends, students will be in literature circle groups based on one of four novels that they chose based on interest and stretch. We're looking forward to applying what we have learned about the space and the students to these discussions.

Catherine Menard
Teacher, English

Caley Blyth
Subject Team Leader, English

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Challenge and Complexity in Fashion Design

Learning different forms of art allows students to push their creative boundaries, express themselves in various ways and explore new skills and techniques. Art students are learning to communicate effectively and are involved in the community in different capacities. In Fashion Design, students access challenge through consultation with their teacher, who pushes them to grow and take risks with their designs.

Throughout the fall, Grade 11 and 12 Fashion Design students applied their knowledge and understanding of costume design and their sewing skills to a real world situation by designing and creating costumes in different capacities within the school's community. The Grade 12 students worked on the junior play production, The Little Mermaid, while the Grade 11 students teamed up with the Grade 7 Drama class to work on costumes for their production of James and the Giant Peach.
James and the Giant Peach

The Grade 12 Fashion Design students were assigned three to five costumes based on preference, construction complexity, intricacy and skill level. The Grade 11 students were assigned one costume based on the same criteria.

In both grade levels, students were encouraged to explore a variety of options and experiment with different techniques before moving forward with a final design. This ensures students consider multiple factors to create the most successful design for a particular character while still fitting a specific actor.

James and the Giant Peach
Receiving feedback and reflecting on one's work throughout the process is a key stage in the the creative development of a successful piece of work. Students were required to document their costume journey and how they worked through the creative process to achieve their final product.

Each student designed their costumes using techniques that they were familiar with but that also challenged them in some way. Students who had not sewn prior to taking this course created garments using techniques such as elastic waistbands, ribbon ties and hems. Students who had some experience sewing were challenged with more structural features such as boning, darts and zippers.

The Little Mermaid
With support, guidance and encouragement from both adults and peers, each student conquered their own personal challenges, developed solutions when problems arose and created a unique costume design following their own creative interpretation. These successful art students created cohesive and elaborate costumes that truly reflected their individual ideas, skills and styles.

Michelle Bianchi
Teacher, Media Arts and Fashion Design