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Posts Tagged ‘Sentinel’

Last week I was listening to a local university professor answer a question about some common characteristics about unsuccessful students at university.  It was an interesting provocation.  We often list off qualities of those students who are most successful in making the transition from high school to university.  The list usually includes characteristics like grit, determination, flexibility, time management and communication skills.  The answer to the question about the unsuccessful student was interesting – what this professor observed was that if the first day of university was the student’s first day on campus, he or she was likely going to be behind.  This speaks to the power of transitions.

Transitions is something we think a lot about in the K-12 system.  We have several that consume our focus.  There is that first transition from pre-school to kindergarten.  One often hears the term “k readiness” used to describe the ability of these 4 or 5 years old to make the transition to the increased structure of formal schooling.  And there are many other transitions along the way, most notably as students move from elementary to high school.  It seems that the move from buildings is more than just a physical move for students.  In districts that start high school in grade 8, I often hear about that age being the most challenging, while in places that start high school in grade 9, those communities see that grade as the greatest challenge.  It is clearly more than being about a certain age, and also about the change in buildings, routines, teachers and courses that is the key challenge for young people.  And finally the transition from high school to post-secondary and the world of work is one that requires a lot of attention.

Traditionally, we have spent great energies focused on the curriculum transition between these different levels.  We want to make sure that when students enter grade 8 social studies, they have been well prepared by grade 7 social studies.  This is most often true in academic areas.  And this kind of preparation is important.

More though, we are seeing transitioning more holistically.  We are offering courses outside the regular timetable to grade 6 and 7 students that they can take with a high school teacher at the local high school – a way of pursing a passion and also beginning to grow a familiarity with their next school.  More than ever, we have elementary students playing sports, participating in music events and engaging in other events at local high schools to help build relationships.  Without being so direct, we have been doing in our system what the local university professor spoke about.  We are trying to find ways that the first day of high school is not the first day in the building for our high school students.

I was struck last week by an amazing presentation from Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary at the BC School Superintendents Conference.  These are two of our schools that share a field and clearly much more.

Chartwell Elementary and Sentinel Secondary shared the work they are doing around capstone projects, in which students pursue independent research on a question or problem of their choice, engage in scholarly debates in the relevant disciplines, and with the guidance of a teacher, work towards a deep understanding of the topic. Sentinel Secondary school has embraced the Advanced-Placement (AP) Capstone project as part of their robust AP program, and they have shared their knowledge with Chartwell Elementary school. Having seen this in action at Sentinel, Chartwell has built a capstone program of their own for grade 6 and 7 students. Students are getting the chance to experience the type of learning they will be able to choose later in their school careers. It is inspiring to see both the younger and older students so passionate about their research areas.  And what a great way for students to have a common language across grades and schools.

I was so impressed by UBC President Santa Ono who spoke at TEDx West Vancouver ED earlier this fall (click on the link – it is a must watch video!) and shared his commitment around tackling the mental health crisis that crosses over from high school into post-secondary. This was a good reminder of the stresses that cross our systems, and how we need to work together to make sure students are not just ready for the academics of the next stage, but are supported with a far more global view of transitions.

I worry about conversations of readiness.  I hate the idea that the purpose of “Grade X” is to get students ready for “Grade Y”.  The purpose of grade 4 is not to get students ready for grade 5, the purpose of grade 4, IS grade 4.  That said, we need to continue to find ways to assist in the various transitions that students engage in throughout their school careers.

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http://avaxhome.ws/blogs/igor_lv

You can call it a passion project, a portfolio, a capstone, a demonstration of learning – heck call it anything you want. More and more, as I see these type of expressions of student work at the end of school years or the end of school careers, I am becoming convinced they should be regularly part of our system.  And, in fairness, more and more they are the new normal in our schools.

Just over a decade ago there was a major push to move in this direction with the short-lived Graduation Portfolio.  There are numerous reasons why it was abandoned.  Two lessons I took from the experience, were 1)  at the time the technology was not good enough to do what we wanted in terms of documenting learning and it became a paper-heavy process and 2) a cumulative portfolio or project should not be simply the checking off of boxes as tasks are completed, it needs to be more meaningful.

There are numerous different examples of these demonstrations of learning in West Vancouver schools.  Some of these presentations are built into programs.  We currently have four International Baccalaureate (IB) Programs  in West Vancouver – two at the Primary Years level (PYP), and one at both the Middle Years (MYP) and Diploma levels (DP).  In each of these programs students have a structure to bring their learning together.  In the MYP Program, our Rockridge grade 10 students present an exhibition of their personal projects.

At Westcot Elementary, the Passion Projects represent seven months of exploration,  discovery and learning. Students are given one afternoon each week to pursue any area of interest. Nearly 100 grade 6 and 7 students follow their passions, blog about their progress and ultimately present to the school community in a culminating exhibition. Whether the finished product is a graphic novel, a fundraiser for school supplies for underprivileged children or an animated short film, students are encouraged to reflect upon the process each step of the way.  In this photo ( Credit – Cindy Goodman), Grade 7 student Rory Scott demonstrates the quarter pipe ramp for skateboarding he built for his project.

Westcot elementary passion projects

The most recent version of this type of learning I have seen in action in the Advanced Placement (AP) Diploma.  These grade 11 and 12 students take two courses – AP Seminar and AP Research. These courses see students doing team projects, research based essays, and public presentations – all in a context of student choice.  Students that take and score 3 or higher on 4 AP courses and complete the Seminar and Research course receive the AP Capstone Diploma.  The Capstone Diploma is being piloted in a limited number of Canadian schools, including Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver.

As we look out over the next five years, it would be wonderful if all of our students get a chance to pull together their learning – ideally at least once in the elementary grades and again during their high school career.  As we work in the system to break down thinking of learning in content based compartments, there needs to be an opportunity for all our students to share their learning across curriculum and from inside and outside of school.

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final-exam

Changes in structure gives one an opportunity to step back and take a look at usual practices.  Last year, almost all Grade 12, Provincial Final Exams were eliminated. These exams, which at one point were worth 50 per cent of students’ final marks, were offered in courses from Chemistry to Spanish to Geography. With changing requirements from universities, a government policy decision to make the exams optional (among other reasons) the exams were poorly attended, and then eliminated.  At this point, most students will take five government program exams in their high school career: three in Grade 10 worth 20 per cent of their final grade (English, Science, Math); one in Grade 11 also worth 20 per cent of their final grade (Social Studies), and one in Grade 12 worth 40 per cent of their final grade (English).  There are a few other options for students, but this is a fairly common pattern.

As a History 12 teacher, I regularly complained about the Grade 12, Provincial Final Exams.  The History 12 exam was not a terrible exam. It had some opportunities for students to analyze documents, identify bias and think critically, but it was also quite focussed on content.  With a final exam focussed on coverage and facts, my class was (at least, on some days) a bit of a race to get through all of the required content. I would have liked to go into deeper discussion in some areas and allowing students to explore more areas of interest. So, one day it was Korea, and the next day was Vietnam, and then it was Ping-Pong Diplomacy.

The elimination of these mandatory exams, which so many of us championed, has been met with a variety of responses.  I regularly hear from teachers, who love the new-found “freedom”, who do not feel burdened by the final exam and are creating more inquiry projects, presentations, deep research opportunities they felt were limited with the content-based final exam.  It is not that content is not important, it is just it is not the only thing that is important. In terms of transferable skills for other courses and other life experiences, the skills of being able to analyze a historical document seem to trump the date of the start of the Suez Crisis (before you Google it, it was October 1956).

This said, another reaction has been to replace the ministry exams with school-based exams to “fill the void.”  And with all this as background, we get to the real topic of the post — are we moving to a post-standardized system in education that should lead to the elimination of the traditional “final exam” for most courses in secondary school?

While there are exceptions, in most schools and  in most districts across the province, most academic courses have a summative final exam from grade 8 to 12.

The elimination of the Provincial Final Exam has also brought about some new interchanges  – it has set a new model that final exams may not be the best way to assess performance at the end of the year, and has also led to the scaling back of “exam timetables” — the time required for doing exams is being recaptured by instructional time.  With more days in class and fewer exams at the end of June this leads to a lot of questions about what to do.

Some reasons (I have heard) for the continuation of final exams:

  • they are an important part of many college and university programs; so the practice of exams in high school is important
  • they help to instill good work and study habits in students
  • work authenticity — in an era when cheating (or at least the suspicion of cheating) is high — everyone in the room at one time makes cheating almost impossible
  • exams are a common test that everyone in a class, school, district or province can take to ensure there is a common measure of comparison
  • by having exams at the end of the school year, this ensures students will stay focussed until course end, and not fade out in June
  • their elimination is another example of coddling students and the weakening of standards in our education system
  • they keep teachers honest — ensuring they cover the entire curriculum so students are fully prepared to write their final exams

Some reasons (I have heard) for the elimination of final exams:

  • they often test superficial content and the multiple choice formats lend themselves more to trivia than a reflection of learning
  • there are a number of other more authentic ways to determine what students have learned — such as portfolios
  • those who excel at them are those who are best at memorization and regurgitation — two skills not widely seen as part of 21st century learning
  • if we are truly moving from a “sorting system” to a “learning system” do we need to continue with standardized final exams for students?
  • there is no feedback mechanism for students to understand their mistakes and learn from them
  • they create an amazing level of stress, anxiety, and create a high stakes experience for students not necessary or conducive to learning
  • they are actually very difficult to properly construct; they often don’t allow high-end students to push their thinking and are more about “gotcha” not learning, and there are many examples of poorly-created final exams
  • by removing them, it forces us to have new conversations about learning, about what students know, how we know it, and how to demonstrate it

Just because we “have always done it,” is not a good enough reason to continue.  And when there are external changes that force a second look, it is a great opportunity to see if the reasons bear out.

My general view is there are far richer ways to have students demonstrate their learning than a two-hour, scantron-heavy test. My answer is also slightly nuanced, recognizing that math may lend itself more appropriately to a final exam than English or Social Studies.  If the exam period was to disappear tomorrow, and we were forced to find other ways to account for student learning, we would likely come up with some very powerful and effective models.  I agree with the current BC Teachers Federation advertisement that we should be working towards “more authentic means of assessment.”

I look forward to this discussion.

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We tried to stop them, but they just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

As a follow-up to my “real-real” learning post (here), last week I had the chance to spend some time with four Sentinel Secondary students, Adam Mitha, Justin Wong, Jun Jeagal and Sailesh Suri, to hear a story, firsthand, of what this kind of learning looks and feels like.

Supported by their teacher, Joel Gibson, the four young men, former classmates in Joel’s Information Technology class, were inspired to develop an “App” for the school that could easily match any created by experts in the field. They didn’t get paid, they didn’t get school credit, but it was some of the best learning they had ever experienced. In my conversation with them, they expounded about the 300 hours of coding, developing and designing that went into the finished product that has just been loaded to iTunes here (it is a free download).

So, just why did they do it?  They wanted to leave a legacy for the school. They described it as a mostly an out-of-school project, but they loved it because they were doing stuff they wanted to do and were interested in learning about. They emphasized the role of their teacher, Joel Gibson, “saying, I believe in you, is the best thing a teacher can do.”  When Joel saw the group needed to obtain more technical expertise for some parts of the project, he connected the students to experts from within and outside the system. Along the way, he connected them to the school PAC and others who could help.

Of course, as I stated at the beginning of this post, we didn’t make it easy for them. We (the system), limited some of their access to computers, were slow to support them technically, and made it challenging to move forward. They said that it was a good thing they had Mr. Gibson to mentor and guide them, but also, that they were part of the hacker culture. The hacker culture, as they described it, is “doing things over and over again. At school, the culture is that you do it right the first time.” One student remarked, “I had 30 failed projects before this one.”

I have been inspired by their inventiveness, determination and passion. How can we help students balance this kind of work with school, or better yet, how do we make this type of work systemic to the work of the school?  These four students were pursuing their passion, creating real work of value, and they were learning — for the benefit and reward of learning.

Often, this type of informal learning can be incredibly powerful. While our current structure does limit this “real world” opportunities, students like Adam, Justin, Jun and Sailesh, describe these as often the most exhilarating school experiences.

Be sure to download the fabulous Sentinel App:  HERE


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Over the last month, I have actually had the opportunity to speak to 700+ graduates from Rockridge, Sentinel and West Vancouver Secondaries.  While each speech reflected the uniqueness of each school, there were a few common themes I thought were important to share with all of our West Vancouver graduates. Here are the three themes I spoke about at the ceremonies:

We have an Excellent System

This past fall the PISA results were another external measure of the strong system we have in British Columbia, and in Canada.  Once again, BC placed among the top jurisdictions in the world.  When we look at provincial measures, we also know that West Vancouver students are academically strong. It is fair to say our graduates are some of the top-performing secondary school students in the world.

We also know that when we celebrate the success of our students, we need to celebrate the outstanding teachers and administrators in our system.  We continually hear about the pivotal role school leadership and the relationship with the teacher plays — and we are in great shape in both areas.

Thank You for choosing West Vancouver and Public Education

There are a lot of choices for schooling, particularly in West Vancouver where private schools have a long history in the community. I want to personally thank the students and parents for placing their trust, faith and partnership in our schools.  We are very proud of our accomplishments.  In West Vancouver, more than 1,000 students attend our schools on a daily basis from other communities, and over 500 students come to our schools as International students.  There are lots of choices, and parents want the very best for their children — so thanks for choosing public education and choosing West Vancouver.

Hopefully, we didn’t replicate your Parents’ Education

Most parents have fond memories of their schooling, but if we educated their sons and daughters the same way today, we would be doing these students a dis-service.  There is nothing wrong with the education of a generation ago, but the education of today needs to prepare students for the world tomorrow. Hopefully, beyond memorizing facts and regurgitating details from a textbook, our graduates are leaving with a series of powerful skills including collaboration, cooperation, communication, creativity, organization, problem solving, self-regulation and technology fluency. Our graduates are well prepared to be the leaders and role models of the world tomorrow.

It is an exciting time of year and attending graduation festivities is one of the most powerful and rewarding aspects of my job.  All the best to the graduates of the West Vancouver School District, and all graduates around the province.

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The Value of School Sports

Photo Credit:  Mike MacNeil, WVSS

There is a rhythm to school sports and secondary school sports are approaching their second of three crescendos in the year.  One has its pinnacle in early December with the conclusion of sports like volleyball and football. Basketball among others play for championships in March and rugby and track-and-field are among those that climax in late May. In February, many schools turn to the basketball playoffs as we approach B.C.’s March Madness.

I don’t spend as much time in gyms as I did even a few years ago when I was often consumed by them — first as a coach and then as a school administrator — but the value I see  in school sports hasn’t changed.  There is a great deal that can be written about what is changing with school sports, and what needs to change, so they remain vibrant parts of our schools (clearly, more posts to come), but this post has a tighter focus.   The photo above, taken at last Friday’s game between West Van Secondary and Sentinel, shows amazing school pride in action.

What do I love about school sports?  They provide a lens through which to see the world.  It is positive values that make sports meaningful.  These values are still alive and well in two ways — the value of school sports, and the values that we hold in school sports.  It is a wonderful ritual that links our school experiences to those of our parents and our kids.

From time to time, I am concerned about athletics and values.  Mostly, I am worried school athletics in the larger community are not valued as they should be.  We often hear about how we need to improve reading, writing and math skills — and the implication is, it’s okay if the arts or athletics fall off.  I sometimes feel like I missed a memo somewhere — are school sports not important anymore?

For many adults, some of our greatest moments in high school came from outside the classroom, at a school drama performance, as part of a school trip and, for many, from school sports.  We also know, absolutely, school sports make an important contribution to the culture, character and definition of our schools.

I have seen, and still see, school sports much like Bill Bradley described in his book Values of the Game.  So many of the qualities of a full and meaningful life are honed on a soccer field, in a gymnasium, or in the pool.  The passion that drives you to compete and better yourself.  The discipline that forces you to maintain a schedule and balance your life.  The selflessness that epitomizes being a great team player.  The respect you develop for each other, teammates, opponents and the games you play.  The perspective and resilience you find by realizing life goes on, even after a big loss, and winning and losing is not only about the score in the game.  The courage you show to triumph over adversity, and the leadership which defines special athletes whose greatest accomplishments are not only about making themselves better, but raising the level of all those around them.

We are lucky to have the model we have for school athletics.  A model built on volunteerism — teachers and other staff coming together with parents and others in the community, to foster not only the growth of school sports, but also the building of life values.  There are few better feelings than when a former athlete sees you some 10 or 20 years after you worked with them, calls you coach and tells you that he or she is now also coaching.  While we can lament there is not more money in athletics, or that we don’t have a paid coaching model like some private schools, or many places in the United States — we do have a model where communities come together and make school sports happen, and often “pay it forward” athletes later in life become coaches to offer others what they once had.

Thanks to everyone in our district — and in all districts — who support our students through athletics, helping our students to sharpen their values.  School sports continue to be a wonderful ritual worth celebrating.

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