Showing posts with label Personalized Learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Personalized Learning. Show all posts

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Results of Change

A transformative year in Greenwood’s history is coming to a close. In his last blog address of the school year, Allan Hardy evaluates the results from two student surveys, and reflects on how our evolved facilities have impacted the Greenwood community.  

It’s hard to believe we have almost completed our first year in our new space. While our community began the year with great excitement, there were also real questions about how our new building would alter the school and the quality of the student experience. Would our larger physical space detract from Greenwood’s strong sense of community? Would new different classroom structures hamper personalized learning, or enable it?

Over the past several weeks we have conducted two separate student surveys that shed positive light on questions like these. When asked on the student engagement survey, conducted by researchers at the University of New Brunswick, to list some of the things they liked about Greenwood, students overwhelmingly cited their teachers and our school’s strong sense of community. This result was echoed in another student survey, conducted by Panorama Education which focused on students’ perception of their teachers and classes. Student relationship with teachers, which looks at how well they think their teachers know them, ranked in the 90th percentile.

On the student engagement survey, we posted modest gains from last year in our students’ sense of belonging and their development of positive friendships. Both scores also exceeded Canadian school norms, as did student involvement in athletics and clubs. Gains were also noted in interest and motivation, as well as being challenged at the appropriate level. This latter result was close to 30% higher than the Canadian norm. Our biggest gains over the December Panorama survey were in students being able to explain their thinking and trying different strategies when they get stuck. Both gains, as well as the strong result in being appropriately challenged, speak to a growing ability to self-direct one’s learning, which is a key outcome of personalized learning.

We also took a close look at the results from students who were in co-taught classes, as there have been many questions about this approach throughout this year. Survey results in co-taught classes showed improvement in learning how to direct your learning and understanding content. These improved results were equal to those of a traditional classroom. Survey results also indicted that engaging all students consistently and managing the learning environment effectively are two areas to continue to work on next year with the co-teaching model.

These surveys, as well as other feedback gained throughout this year, will inform our planning for next year. We are going to be more intentional about how we schedule co-taught classes. Many of the teachers participating in our Summer Teacher Institute will focus on further developing our use of co-teaching. Students also indicated they would like greater access to the gym, the fitness centre and the theatre, so we are going to see what can be done to accommodate this need.

I am really pleased with these results and by how hard our teachers and staff have worked to achieve them. Though there is still plenty to work on next year, these results emphasize that the changes we have made are meeting the needs of our students.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning

The participants from our first Summer Institute
for teachers shared how they have tapped the
power of personalized learning this year.
In Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning (2016), James Rickabaugh defines effective personalized learning as “an approach to learning and instruction that is designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs, and interests. Learners are active participants in setting goals, planning learning paths, tracking progress and determining how learning will be demonstrated (6).”

Throughout this year, the participants from Greenwood’s first Summer Institute for teachers have shared how they have tapped the power of personalized learning. Our Grade 10 history team outlined how their program allows for choice and connects with the power of student interests. Our French teachers have demonstrated the importance of creating authentic learning contexts as a way of addressing student needs and readiness. Our science teachers have illustrated how they have used technology to provide instantaneous feedback, which allows students to track their progress. And finally, our Grade 7 and 8 teachers describe how their integrated projects allow for students to demonstrate their deep learning about such important issues as sustainability.

These are just a few of the many exciting examples of Greenwood’s ongoing efforts to make learning something we do with students. In doing so, we are helping prepare students for the world in which they will live and work.

Allan Hardy

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, 5 May 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure

The Grade 12 English and Grade 12 AP English classes have now reached a point in the year in which their learning must be divided according to their own learning needs. Both classes are focused on the skill of critical thinking yet are moving through classroom activities differently because of separate course goals. Ultimately, we have the same goal which is to prepare the students to be critical thinkers and clear communicators as they move on into the world beyond Greenwood.

The AP course necessitates preparation for the standardized exam and these students are well engaged in in-depth analysis of a breadth of poetry spanning the centuries.

Node Chairs allow students and teachers
to easily rearrange the room based on
learning needs.
Students in the Grade 12 course are currently working on an integrated research paper connecting to their learning in another course. Certain students have also chosen to pursue research topics according to their own interests or subjects of focus for next year. The unit includes a trip to the Toronto Reference Library for an orientation tour as well as a workshop on the research process to help prepare students for future research projects in various institutes of higher learning.

As teachers, we realized that there are times when it is necessary to divide according to course priorities. We have found the flexible learning space allows us to do this. We use a moveable wall for visible separation and the Node Chairs provide easy room arrangements.

Within the classroom, you will find a very calm atmosphere with short lessons and plenty of quiet independent work time. Having two teachers allows us plenty of possible one-on-one conference time and facilitates the independent personalized atmosphere that is desired.

Caley Blyth
English Subject Team Leader

Stephanie Martino
English Teacher

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Careers is Personalized to Prepare Students for Their Futures

Career Studies is a compulsory half credit taken in Grade 10. The value that students place on this course has increased significantly through the fact that much of the content is now personalized.

I send a consistent message to my students in this class that everything produced or learned in this course can be useful to them and their futures. Students have the opportunity to research postsecondary programs of interest to them. As well, they get support through the course selection process with postsecondary programs in mind.

Students find and prepare for jobs for which they think they will apply, and produce résumés that they actually use. They also prepare a profile that is used in postsecondary applications, research experiential or enrichment opportunities and practice job interview skills.

Students in Grade 12 often comment that they wish they had taken more advantage of these fantastic learning opportunities when they were in Grade 10.

This course has the potential to prepare students, as individuals, for their futures.

Student Feedback

Read about what some Grade 10 students have to say about the course this year:

"Careers is one of the best classes to help teach you about your future. Solely from what I have learned in Careers, I received one job offer on site and three based off of the reputation I have established from the interview in the small town of Baysville, ON. I learned how to be very professional and how to make interviewers interested in me. 

"One thing that set me apart from others was my understanding of the importance of job safety. When asked about the three most important things I should do if working in a business I said with the professionalism learned through Careers, “Without a doubt the most important concern is customers' satisfaction. The staff and I need to comply with every request made by the customers with utmost respect. Another necessity is food safety. We are working with raw meat that may contain salmonella or other diseases, ice cream that may have freezer burn, and so many other potentially hazardous materials. The business is liable for anything that may go wrong in its inventory. The third most important is employee relations. You need to treat each employee fairly and equally. Be kind to all and learn from them.” I happened to have everything on her list. She admired the charisma I exuded, which I had solely because of the confidence of my success from the information learned from Careers. 

"Without a doubt, all students should listen to every word Ms. Branscombe or any other Careers teacher says, because in the long run it all pans out."

"Careers class is personalized towards our interests in areas like potential jobs and postsecondary programs. This means the assignments and tasks we are doing now prepare us for our own individual goals and needs, which will be useful for our future."

"Careers has been a very helpful course this year. It's helpful because I am able to specialize the assignments to make them more helpful to me. For example, when we were looking at postsecondary options I was able to look at programs that interested me, instead of looking at general programs to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. This helped me with course selection as well."

Elizabeth Branscombe
Guidance & Careers Subject Team Leader

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Students Use pH Probes To Watch Chemistry Take Shape in Real Time

With LabQuest, students can see
their data displayed graphically, in
real time, as they collect it.
Use of Vernier technology has become widespread in the Science department this year. Almost every student in the school has now had an opportunity to experience the LabQuest 2, along with various probes and sensors, in their science classes.

Recently, the Grade 12 Chemistry class used the LabQuest with pH probes while conducting a titration to determine the Ksp (solubility product constant) of calcium hydroxide. Having performed several titrations in Grade 11, this procedure was fairly routine. Using this new technology, however, the experiment was really brought to life.

The Impact of Instant Feedback

With the LabQuest, students could now see their data displayed graphically, in real time, as they were collecting it. There was an immediate shift from students being passive observers to becoming more actively engaged in the experiment.

The visual feedback given by the Vernier equipment helped students develop a deeper understanding of the process of titration and made the experimental results more meaningful.

What did students think?

Many of the students reflected on the use of the LabQuest in their lab report assignment. Here are a few of their comments:

  • “Using LabQuest technology makes our experiments much more accurate and allows us to measure parameters that would be practically impossible to measure otherwise.”
  • “This technology is a great way to get accurate measurements and visually show us the titration curve forming.”
  • “The LabQuest can zoom so we could see the exact moment when (we) reached the equivalence point. After the equivalence point we could see the the shape of the curve has changed and that there was a huge drop in pH as it became more acidic. We were even able to take the derivative of the curve…”

Having become comfortable with the method and the technology, this past week Grade 12 Chemistry students used the pH probes to explore buffers. They each designed an experiment to compare the buffering capacity of various beverages (juices or soft drinks) and collected data and compared results using the LabQuest. This activity was a great example of how we can leverage this technology and allow students to personalize their lab experience.

Julie Way
Science Teacher

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Grade 10 French: Reading and Google Forms in the Learn Lab

The learn lab classroom allows
teachers to offer students different
different approaches to understanding
a graphic novel like Persepolis.
As the Grade 10s finish up the second unit, L’enfance et l’adolescence (Childhood and Adolescence), we look at how personalization continues to be offered in the learn lab.

In this unit, students:

  • Interviewed a peer and wrote a biography based on taken notes;
  • Read and reflected on the graphic novel Persepolis;
  • Interacted in small-group literature circles;
  • Spoke in a conversation assessment about their goals, preferred strategies and impressions from the childhood experiences depicted in the novel; and
  • Compared and contrasted how youth in different countries express themselves informally, with their friends and on social media.

Reading an authentic graphic novel is a challenging task, so having two teachers in the learn lab classroom allows us to offer students different approaches to understanding the novel.

  • Some students may prefer a more structured reading environment: where they are coached on specific strategies and discuss with the teacher as they read.
  • Other students may work independently: with a set of guiding questions and a teacher available if they encounter a stumbling block.
  • Still others prefer to read aloud to a peer and create their own summaries and notes.

The flexible nature of the learn lab allows students to move between these methods easily and often (for example, they may prefer teacher guidance on a particularly difficult passage but prefer to read independently on another).  

Thinking About Thinking

Metacognition (thinking about thinking) remains a focus in this course.  Students continue to set specific goals and spend time considering their progress towards each of the overall expectations for the course.  Students can explain in detail what needs to be done in order for them to improve in each strand (reading, writing, listening, speaking).

Students use Google forms to give immediate feedback on their progress, allowing us to focus on areas of particular challenge for each student.  For example, many students identified that although they could listen and understand conversation effectively, they were less confident when hearing new accents in a variety of French media.  Based on this feedback, we could immediately incorporate more authentic media into the upcoming lessons to help the students progress toward their individual goals.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figures 1 & 2: Google form results showing how well students feel they understand French when spoken by others vs. how well they understand French in media sources allows teachers to instantly adapt for future lessons 

The use of authentic media was also emphasized in the French-teaching workshop attended by both teachers in the previous term.  Here we learned to further integrate the Common European Framework of Reference into our day-to-day teaching. This internationally recognized framework is used to objectively place the students on a language continuum (from A1 - beginner, to C2 - mastery) and helps to identify concrete pathways by which language learners can improve.

Emma Pickard
French Teacher

Heather Maxted
French Subject Team Leader

Friday, 23 October 2015

Creating Modules and Personalized Tasks In Career Studies

During Greenwood’s Summer Institute, Liz Branscombe, Lisa West and I worked together to reevaluate the Career Studies course content and program structure. We quickly found that the vast majority of the curriculum was current and valuable to students’ learning experience; however, we identified opportunities to enhance the delivery of the course. For example, we divided three units into eight modules, each having a specialized focus to allow for more specific teacher instruction and greater student exploration within each topic. 

We collaborated to look at the program from a student perspective, adding personalized elements accordingly. In the Preparing for Postsecondary Education module, students had previously worked in small groups to investigate and present to the whole class about one postsecondary option of interest. The reformed program has students working independently to investigate their top postsecondary choice. They will then present to small groups of individuals that have expressed an interest in that particular postsecondary option. This change will inform and engage students in presentations of postsecondary institutions in which they are directly interested. 

Jamie Lester
Careers, Civics, and Health & Physical Education Teacher

Friday, 18 September 2015

Greenwood’s First Summer Institute for Teachers - Collaborating to Develop Personalized Education

The teachers at Greenwood strive to create a personalized program for students through the use of technology-rich resources (blended learning) and innovative programming. The development of forward-thinking approaches to education takes collaboration, time, and support for teachers. To achieve this goal, we recently launched our week-long Summer Institute.

Science teachers Julie Way, Nancy Clarke and Vanessa Floras
developed technology-rich lab activities for students during the
2015 Summer Institute.
Teachers were enthusiastic about this initiative: we received 18 proposals from 30 teachers, which accounts for half of our teaching staff. Nine of these proposals were selected and 19 teachers participated in the Institute, using devoted time to collaborate with colleagues and develop curriculum to support personalized and visionary education

Listed below are the projects teachers worked on:

  • Developing a curriculum that integrates Grade 12 English (ENG4U) and AP English (ENG4UO) using a team-teaching approach within one learning space.
  • Developing blended learning materials for Grade 11 Biology (SBI3U) to provide a student-centred learning approach.
  • Designing the WWII unit in Grade 10 History (CHC2D) to integrate blended learning, community service, and experiential learning opportunities.
  • Generation of teacher expertise with Vernier Lab Equipment. Expert teachers spent time developing technology-rich lab activities for students and training modules for teachers.
  • Redesign of the Grade 10 Core French (FSF2D) course to integrate project-based assessment and more personalized learning activities.
  • Development of blended learning materials for Grade 10 Careers (GLC2O) to allow for personalization of the curriculum.
  • Development of integrated, cross-curricular projects for students in Grade 7 & 8.
  • Visionary investigation and planning for an enhanced Grade 7 & 8 program. Teachers looked at the new classroom spaces that will be ready in September 2016 and how these can be used to provide Grade 7 & 8 students with age-appropriate and integrated learning opportunities.

Having a week to work together and to focus exclusively on curriculum development was greatly appreciated by all participants. The school is fortunate to have the resources to provide these teachers some additional compensation for their efforts. This work also provided teachers with an excellent, job-embedded professional learning opportunity.

This work will support the transition in the fall of 2016 to the new learning spaces in our expanded campus and advance our ongoing, personalized learning initiatives.

Throughout this school year, teachers who participated in our Summer Institute will use this blog to illustrate the impact of these new teaching approaches on student learning.

Allan Hardy

Heather Thomas
Vice-Principal, Student Learning

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, 2 April 2015

Design Projects Add Creativity and Individuality in Physics Class

Each year in Grade 11 Physics, students build a multitude of contraptions, machines and gadgets to allow them to manipulate a real-world application of the theories they are learning. Physics teacher Emma Seaborn explains how these projects add creativity and individuality to the class.

Design projects are intended to let the students show their creativity in science and are also a great way to analyze the kinematics, forces or other physical components of machines. At the end of every unit, the class tests out their designs as a group, analyzes the findings, compares results and decides how we might build a better machine, slingshot or instrument.

The design project for the winter term was a whole-class Rube Goldberg machine. (Not sure what a Rube Goldberg machine is? Here's a great example.) Personalization is embedded within the project, as every student is responsible for one section of the machine. They can choose to make something simple, like a pattern of dominoes, or extend themselves to make something a bit trickier, like a pulley system.

Students must work collaboratively with the entire group to determine the order in which the components will run, and how to piece the machine together. This is an excellent opportunity for leadership within the classroom and students have plenty of space for creativity and individuality within each section.

When the whole machine comes together, students are very excited to see it in action, and with any luck, the whole thing runs from start to finish as planned. As a class, we then analyze the energy transfer in the machine and have a discussion about how to improve the design.

Students are already looking forward to building their very own instrument for our next design project!

Check out this video of one of last year's machines.

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

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Grade 11 Adviser Course: Creating Personal Challenge

At Greenwood, we are constantly striving to better prepare our students for life beyond high school. Liz Branscombe, Greenwood's Guidance and Careers Subject Team Leader, talks about the new Grade 11 Adviser course, Advanced Learning Strategies (GLS4O), as a forum for students to develop their self-awareness and to focus on preparing themselves for this pivotal transition.

The very nature of the course lends itself to personalized learning in very meaningful ways.

Postsecondary Planning

To better prepare them to complete their postsecondary applications, students in this course are given opportunities to research and document information about various programs of interest. They are shown how to navigate through college and university websites in order to find program requirements, course descriptions and specifics for admission consideration. This process helps students to choose the appropriate Grade 12 courses with the help of their Adviser, who is also their Postsecondary Transition Counselor.

The goal is that all Grade 11 students enrolled in GLS4O will have at least three programs that they have fully researched and to which they feel confident and excited about applying. Throughout the process, students are encouraged to reflect independently on postsecondary environments which will make them the happiest and the most successful.

Employment Readiness

Postsecondary graduates are increasingly having difficulty finding jobs because of their lack of actual work experience. Preparing for the world of work is a topic of discussion for these students as many of our students strive to get some work experience before graduating. Opportunities are given for students to receive feedback on their resumes and also to practice for job interviews. Students learn the importance of networking, as well as identifying skills that are transferable to the world of work. Some attention is given to the impact of an online presence and students work to create personal websites, which may be used to represent them in the future.

Developing a Growth Mindset

In the third of this course, students will demonstrate their desire to learn by setting their own personal objectives for a "Trailblazing Project." Students will practice their executive functioning skills by
  • Researching what they would like to achieve and identifying a "SMART" goal;
  • Planning out what they will do and when they will achieve this;
  • Planning out how they will check their progress.
The students will spend significant time on their proposals for this project and teachers will ensure that these are aligned with their goals.

This project is meant to support the students' future goals and help them develop skills around their interests. Various projects that students are planning on completing include:
  • Completing an extra-credit course online
  • Completing portfolios for their postsecondary applications
  • Learning a skill (such as a language or computer program)
  • Researching a topic
  • Creating something significant (such as a short story or a song)
The possibilities are endless, and I am excited to see what the students choose to accomplish!

To hear what students say about Advanced Learning Strategies, check out the video below. Click here to read about a recent field trip to the Ontario Science Centre where GLS4O students explored the human brain and how we learn.