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Posts Tagged ‘West Van Secondary’

longshot

It was one of those magical nights.

Last Friday night I joined a sold out crowd at the Kay Meek Theatre (one of two sellouts of close to 500 people each that night) to see the premier of Longshot: The Brian Upson Story.  It was like a community reunion – for one night our community was transported back in time to 1982.

The Brian Upson story is hard to believe.  It feels like a script for a Hollywood movie, the kind that people would read and say, this is not believable enough.  With the premier of the movie, it has been told several times recently.  The short version of the story is that the West Vancouver Highlanders won their only provincial basketball championship in their history in 1982.  They won the final game defeating their league rival Argyle by a single-point, after losing to them three times earlier in the season in-front of a capacity crowd at the Agrodome in Vancouver. And it is far more than just a story of winning a basketball title, as the Highlanders were coached by Brian Upson, who, battling colon cancer had not been expected to live long enough to make it to the championships. He coached the team to the title, and passed away two weeks later.  This does not fairly tell the story – it is worth reading the full story.  In 2012, Len Corben described it as the most memorable sports story in the 100 year history of West Vancouver.  Recently, in anticipation of the film Rosalind Duane did a wonderful feature in the North Shore News and Steve Ewen did a feature that ran in both the Vancouver Sun and Vancouver Province.

This post is not about retelling the Brian Upson Story – others have told it far better than I ever could.

I have seen many student films.  This was different.  I thought I was watching an ESPN 30for30 documentary.  It was a professional film.  I have a vision in my mind what a school project film looks like.  But this blew me away.  Teacher Dave Shannon and his students had taken on an incredibly challenging project and done an amazing job.  And what a great reminder – when students do real work for a real audience they will rise to the occasion.  I realize they didn’t have much choice – they had to do a great job.  They were telling the story of the greatest sporting event in our community’s history.  They had interviewed Upson’s wife and children and the players from the team – they were all going to be in the audience.  And the students delivered.  This is one of those great reminders about school.  We too often don’t do real world work, but when we do it is magical.

And the power of real work was not the only reminder from the movie.  The movie reminded us of the power of high school sports.  All of the players, now 35 years later, spoke to the impact of the team and being part of the experience.  The crowd footage from 1982 was amazing – as 5000 people cheered on the teams in the final – many of them students.  It was something that connected the school.  Schools are more than just taking courses in the same room together, they are communities.

And the film also reminded us of the power of a teacher.  The players spoke about the profound impact Mr. Upson has had on their lives.  He helped make them who they are today.  Teachers and coaches have an enormous impact on young people and the movie serves to remind us of that.  It also reminded us that it is very often those connections outside the class that are most significant – for teachers and students.

Even though everyone in the room knew how the story would end – they cheered along.  When the buzzer sounded and the game ended the crowd in the theatre madly applauded.  We were all transported back thirty-five years.  Thanks to the students of the Rockridge film program.

Friday night was one of those special nights.  It showed the best of community.  And reminded us of the power of teachers, coaches and schools.  Pretty impressive.

Here is the Official Trailer for the movie:

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words

As the 2015-16 school year comes to a close I want to share the comments of my colleagues in West Vancouver who have been addressing their students moving on – both from elementary to high school and from high school to the post K-12 world.  You can feel the power of the relationships coming through . . .

Principal Judy Duncan at West Bay shared with her grade 7’s just how important elementary school has been for them and what challenges are ahead:

As you embark on the next leg of your learning journey, continue to do your PB (Personal Best). Continue to strive for excellence. Continue to follow your passion and seek that which makes you happy. Join clubs and teams at high school and make new friends, while holding onto the friendships you have developed at West Bay. Get involved in school life. Continue to develop communication skills, collaboration skills and that ever so important emotional resiliency.

Bowen Island Community School Principal Scott Slater reflected on his own grade 7 farewell experience at Caulfeild Elementary School and also about the important roles that both skill set and mindset play:

Your education is partly about skill set – writing skills, reading skills, being able to make use of numbers to solve problems. Your education is also about mindset – how you approach change, how you think about new situations, meeting new people and how you greet opportunity.

At Hollyburn, Principal Tara Zielinski also picked up on the importance of mindset:

You are Thinkers.  You are metacognitive and can explore various ways of knowing and understanding.  You have a ‘growth mind-set’ and acknowledge that making mistakes is sometimes the way we learn and grow.  You make connections between various subject areas and appreciate that our world is forever changing – for the better.  You have ideas to continue to support these positive changes.

The message from Chantal Trudeau Principal at Pauline Johnson, her final address at the school, as she transitions to principal at Chartwell, was focused on integrity:

At the core of a successful educational experience is the virtue of integrity. Make the right choices for yourselves. Knowing your needs as a learner is key to your success in high school and university. Surrounding yourselves with supportive friends is also crucial since it’s much easier to face new challenges when you have a strong network of support, which include your parents and close friends. If you make integrity your core value, you will be able to stay focused on your goals.

Cathie Ratz at Westcot Elementary passed along some advice to parents of soon-to-be high schoolers she once received:

Some of the best advice I ever received as a mother of three beautiful and socially motivated daughters was from a colleague and mother of four.  She told me to never miss an opportunity to tell my girls how much I loved them and also never feel the need to be quick with an answer to their social requests.  “ Let me think about it”  has saved us many a battle and given my girls time to make up their own mind as social plans developed and more often than not changed.

Jeannette Laursoo, Principal of Rockridge Secondary bridged the elementary and secondary school worlds, sharing with the grads comments she found on their grade 7 report cards and how five years later the same attributes hold.

You “continue to be an active participant during group discussions by listening to the opinions of others and contributing your own thoughtful ideas.”

 

You “enjoy challenges and are eager to learn”

 

You have “taken responsibility for yourself as a learner.”

 

You “treat all members of your classroom in a kind, caring, and respectful manner.  You have a strong sense of what is fair and deal with issues in a way that meets the needs of all involved.”

 

You “continued to tap into your creativity both technologically and imaginatively.”

 

You have “demonstrated a willingness to try new things and are comfortable taking risks in your learning.”

 

You have “continued to be a confident leader in the classroom and in the school.”

At West Vancouver Secondary, Steve Rauh focused with the graduating class on their solid relationships:

One of the things that I commonly share about West Vancouver Secondary School is that the students have an incredible amount of pride and respect for themselves, their school, their community, and their world. I expect that you will carry these attributes with you wherever you go.

I trust that you leave here with a series of strong and powerful relationships with both the students in your classes and the adults in the building. Hopefully you have known and felt how we have cared for you and that we have always had your best interests at heart above all else.

Our Secretary-Treasurer Julia Leiterman had the opportunity to address the graduates of Rockridge representing the district, and also as a parent of a graduate:

So if I asked any parent in this room what their greatest hope for you is, I wouldn’t come back with a laundry list of careers.  I can guarantee that the #1 hope we all share is that you are happy.  That’s it – we just want you to have a happy life.  This is not an end goal, it’s how we hope you will live every day.  My sister shared a pretty simple recipe for happiness that works for me, and it only needs 3 ingredients:

  1. Someone to Love
  2. Something to Do
  3. Something to Hope For

So someone to love – don’t be afraid to open your heart.  Honest, loving relationships lived with integrity will bring you great joy.

Something to do – get busy, get working.  Work is not a dirty word; it is the key to finding purpose in your life.  It doesn’t matter what work you do, just throw your heart into it.

Something to hope for – never stop learning, and exploring.  Never stop dreaming.

 

For me, in addressing graduates at our high schools I stressed the important role that graduates play as advocates for public education:

And we, me and everyone else in this room will count on you – to be unwaveringly committed to a strong public education system – the system that has served us well in this room and is the answer to the question about how we build a better world.  At a time when so many in our world are looking inward and dividing people, you need to remind people that it is education that brings us together in a world of fewer walls and stronger citizenship.

We have amazing academic achievements in our community.  It is interesting to see what our leaders are most proud of – it is not the marks they have earned but the people they have become.  I am blessed to continue to serve as Superintendent in West Vancouver. We have something pretty good going here.

summer_break-2

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Students at West Bay Elementary School

Students at West Bay Elementary School

I walk into almost all of our schools in West Vancouver and very often the first thing people want to show me or talk to me about is the changes happening around the library.  Or more specifically, schools are taking great pride in their learning commons spaces that are developing.  While the physical spaces are exciting, the changes to our mindsets are far more powerful.  We are not destined for new schools in West Vancouver anytime soon but the rethink of the library has been both a symbolic and concrete shift in how we think about space and how we think about learning.  The school library – a centre piece in schools – is now the modern hub for learning.

I like the library metaphor from Joan Frye Williams (shared in this blog from Joyce Valenza):

Our libraries should transition to places to do stuff, not simply places to get stuff. The library will become a laboratory in which community members tinker, build, learn, and communicate. We need to stop being the grocery store or candy store and become the kitchen.  We should emphasize hospitality, comfort, convenience and create work environments that invite exploration and creativity both virtually and physically.

The library as a kitchen – I love it.

And just what does this look like?

A couple weeks ago I was at West Bay Elementary for the opening of their new space.  Recently, I have been to other formal and less formal tours at unveilings at a variety of schools including Eagle Harbour Montessori, Bowen Island Community School, Cypress Primary, Irwin Park Elementary and West Vancouver Secondary.  There are many elements all of these spaces have in common.  One immediately gets the sense that the primary goal was to draw more students in to do individual and collective work. There are spaces for silent study, but also other areas that often look more like a coffee shop than a traditional library.  In listening to West Bay Principal Judy Duncan, describe their vision for their space, she said, “We believe the library is a hub of our school, a space where learners of all ages gather to learn through conversation, collaboration, independent study and purposeful play.”

Our work in West Vancouver, both with spaces and mindsets is not happening in isolation.  We have been influenced by the work at universities, like this work at the University of British Columbia, the work at other schools in BC, like this work at John Oliver Secondary in Vancouver and the work at public libraries, including the efforts of our own local library – the West Vancouver Memorial Library.  For my thinking, a particularly useful document is Facing the Future – A Vision Document for British Columbia’s Public Libraries.  It’s author, Ken Roberts, the former Chief Librarian of the Hamilton Public Library, argues that “there is a growing realization that physical libraries are becoming  even more important community spaces, places where people gather, share and learn from each other.”  In short, the shift that public libraries are facing is the same ones that schools are facing and we have a lot to learn from and with each other.  The BC Teacher Librarians’ Association, an amazingly thoughtful and forward-looking organization have also produced a document to help schools in the midst of the transition.

The photos below give a sense of some of the uses of the new space at West Bay, and what we are seeing across our district as we make these shifts.

Individual and group work.  Technology is present but not the focus.

Individual and group work. Technology is present but not the focus.

LC3

Students working before school

LC4

Students working at lunchtime.

 

LC5

Activity during instructional time

For more on the specifics of this particular transformation, Principal Judy Duncan has blogged about Transforming Learning Spaces to Meet Today’s Learners.

At the recently held Ontario Library Conference, I made the argument that we can get hung-up on the money when it comes to learning commons spaces. But it is first about mindsets – we need to embrace new ways of learning and find ways for our space to reflect these changes and be the gathering places for our all our learners.  The thinking around the learning commons is symbolizing the shifts we are seeing with learning throughout our schools.

 

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story-4

As regular readers know, I blog in West Vancouver as part of a rich community of teachers and administrators who are regularly sharing insights into their school, their profession and their work.  The blogs, from teachers and administrators, give a wonderful window into school life.  They are as diverse and varied as the topics which we spend our time on each day in schools.  Here is a recent sampling of what those around me have been writing.

Steve Rauh, the Principal of West Van Secondary blogged about our district-wide keynote presentation from Paralympic Champion Josh Dueck:

From his opening slide with the formula Passion + Perseverance = Possibility, Josh shared with us his personal pendulum story of hope, loss, love, despair, love, and hope again. I cannot remember hearing or seeing a more inspirational story or person who brought themes of recklessness, intuition, passion, ego, regret, humiliation, persistence, determination, and possibility.

For West Bay Principal, Judy Duncan, her latest post is all about looking ahead to the remainder of the school year and key topics at her school including their new learning commons, fresh ideas around communicating student learning,  IB self-study, self-regulation and a focus on the communication competency:

Teachers work passionately to facilitate rich learning opportunities for students and we work together with determination and enthusiasm to affect positive change within the school.  I am optimistic 2015 is going to be another wonderful year, full of noisy learning, quiet contemplation, continued collaboration and an abundance of creative thinking. High five for our Top 5, but let’s keep moving!

At Irwin Park Elementary, the students have also been setting goals for the remainder of the year – that are posted around the school.  Principal Cathie Ratz reflects on what she sees:

  They tell a story of Irwin Park students wanting to be better listeners, better self regulators, better readers, writers, eaters, swimmers, skiers, brothers…  The goals are realistic.  In most cases students identified a plan to meet their goals and in some cases personal supports to help them stick to their plans.  I wonder about self esteem and self control as predictors of success. Need there be an esteem vs control debate?  Does feeling good lead to a complacency that may interfere with the discipline needed to achieve success? Worthy debate?

It is always a hard decision for parents to decide what to do when their child isn’t feeling 100%  Two of West Vancouver’s most experienced Kindergarten teachers Christy Campbell and Andrea Daudlin, the writers of The Self-Regulated Teacher share their words of experience:

Sometimes a sick child may still wish to come to school. But in the classroom we are very close to each other in proximity. The children are playing at Centre Time quite close together. They sit close together while eating at the tables. They still hold each others’ hands. Because our supplies are shared, including crayons, scissors, gluesticks and pencils, a sick child at school increases the risk of spreading infection to the rest of the children in the class.

Your child will enjoy their school experiences much more when they return to school rested and healthy!

At Hollyburn Elementary, Principal Tara Zielinski has tackled a topic that is always on the front burner with teachers and parents – testing!  Her latest post looks at the use of data in schools.  For her, the key is how the information will be used:

Should we test?  Absolutely.  However, we must be focused and intentional in what and why we are testing.  More importantly, we must be prepared to use the outcomes to enhance our students’ skills and be flexible and reflective as we navigate the strategies employed to respond to our students’ specific and individual needs.

Bowen Island Community School Head Teacher Laura Magrath used her blog to share her reflections on the challenge of learning to reflect.  Reflection is a key piece of the new curriculum proposed in BC, and Laura points out it should be included in all classes:

Reflection needs to happen multiple times throughout the learning process. Reflection while we are actively learning provides us with feedback that can alter our learning journey. For example, when shooting a basketball, I get immediate feedback that can be utilized. Not enough arc, I hit the rim. Next shot I think of the arc and overcompensate. I get immediate feedback again as I hit too high on the backboard. I try again and get the feedback of: Swish! Nothing but net. This kind of reflection-feedback loop should occur in our all of our classes.

Laura’s Bowen Island colleague, Scott Slater, who in his first month as Principal of the school, sees his school as a moving school, differentiating from the school as potentially a wandering school:

It is best, however, for schools not to wander.  Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement.  A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.

Ridgeview Principal, Val Brady, tackles the issue of evaluation, assessment and reporting with her latest post.  There are shifts taking place with how teachers and schools communicate with parents on student learning at the same time we there is a shift happening with curriculum.  So, in some ways report cards are still the report cards we all remember from school ourselves, but increasingly there is a a focus on areas of competency:

Report Cards are intended to provide clear, meaningful comments from your child’s teacher and highlight strengths and areas for improvement.  Beyond commenting on basic skills, progress reports will highlight student progress and development in key competencies areas, Inquiry Learning and student self-awareness as represented in the Ridgeview Learner Profiles

Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kim Grimwood, has taken on a more personal topic with her latest post – a topic many parents spend a lot of time considering – video games.  For her video games are not simply either good or bad:

I think we need to take a more balanced approach.  One day, when I think my children are ready, I will probably purchase some sort of video game system for our family.  I will do this for many reasons. Firstly, I’m sure my children will have fun and enjoy passing time by playing video games. Secondly, I believe that many games can build important cognitive skills and develop my children’s understanding of technology.  Thirdly, I’m not above wanting my children to not feel ostracized for not having what their peers have (within reason of course).

Of course, this is just a small sample. You can check out all of our bloggers  by visiting our school sites here.

There are so many wonderful ideas being shared.  Hopefully this sampling will give you one or more “must reads” to add to your regular list of those you follow and learn with.

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homework1

If you read other edu-bloggers, you will have likely seen these posts that are spreading. I had shied away from doing one myself, but it was only a couple of posts ago I committed myself to becoming more involved in the education blogging community. How it works is colleagues in your network “tag you” with a homework assignment to share 11 random facts about yourself, and then answer the 11 questions provided, and then invite 11 others to answer 11 questions asked of them.

I am somewhat skeptical — it sounds like a pyramid scheme.  I know when I was seven I was supposed to send five postcards to people I knew and within three weeks I was going to get 400 postcards from people around the world — my mom said I wasn’t allowed to do it.

I have been “tagged” twice, so below my facts are answers to both sets of questions.

11 Facts About Me:

1)  I love routines.  I know that is not considered to be a good thing by many, but even on vacation I love a schedule with a sense of tasks being accomplished.

2)  I have a geographic tongue — this feels like over sharing, but only about 1% of the population have one.

3)  I would prefer to speak in front of 500 people than make small talk in a room of 10.

4)  I was 39 years old before I travelled outside of North America.

5)  My wife and I went to the same high school but didn’t know each other (she was one year older); she may have been a little bit “cooler”. We started dating  when we on the staff together at that same high school and I was assigned to be her “mentor”.  After we were married we taught on the same staff for one year before I took a job in Coquitlam.  I also spent one year – my first year – teaching on the same staff as my mom.

6)  Last spring break our family filmed an episode of the Property Brothers – Buying and Selling.  It starting airing on HGTV in the United States on January 1st and starts airing in Canada on January 7th on the W Network.  We learned a lot about how “real” or “not real” reality TV really is.

7)  I am in my 26th year of being involved with coaching basketball / basketball administration — my first coaching assignment was in 1988, coaching the Grade 7 boys at Woodward Elementary School in Richmond.

8)  I loved playing the saxophone in high school, but now I regret that I never really learned to play the piano.

9)  I feel a connection to West Vancouver because my grandfather taught at West Van Secondary in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

10)  My peak weight was 248 pounds but I have spent the last 20 years weighing about 195 pounds.

11)  I know that this trait is really not that popular these days in schools, but I am very competitive and I really like to win.

Questions from Johnny Bevacqua

1.  What keeps you up at night?  My four-year-old daughter — she is still not keen on sleeping through the night in her own bed

2.  What would you consider comfort food?  All-you-can-eat sushi

3.  What is one thing you would change about your job?  My house and my job are too far apart – I would make them closer together

4.  What is one thing you would change about schools today?  Stop valuing some courses (e.g. sciences) more than others (e.g. arts and  trades)

5.  What is one piece of advice you would give to someone?  Go for it — there is always another job

6.  The biggest inspiration in my life is___________________?  My wife — she is awesome!

7.  What was the first music concert you attended?  Probably Fred Penner.  Without my parents, I think it was Harry Connick Jr.  

8.  What is the first movie you attended?  Swiss Family Robinson

9.  Other than work, I have a passion for_____________________? My family

10.  If you wrote a book, what would the title be?  Either “Go Where the Kids Are” or “Just Win Baby!”

11.  When I grow up I ______________________  will just be a big kid.

Questions from Tia Henriksen

1. What are your favourite and least favourite colours?  Favourite — blue; least favourite — brown

2. What was your favourite subject / least favourite subject in school?  I loved History 12 and never liked (or was very good at) Art

3. Where were you born? In a hospital

4. What was your lowest grade in your post-secondary classes? In what class?  C in Urban Geography of Thailand (poor course choice)

5. What is the best characteristic you received from your mom? Appreciation for traditions

6. What is your favourite childhood memory?  Spending time in Naramata, and later in Penticton, with my grandmother every summer

7. How old were you when you learned to swim?  Probably about five – we did lessons every summer at South Arm Pool in Richmond

8. Is Disneyland really the Happiest Place on Earth?  YES — I love theme parks and I like to have the entire day planned out

9. What’s your favourite video you’ve watched recently on social media?  Dean Shareski’s TEDx Talk from last spring

10. If you could plan it, what would your last meal consist of?  Sushi and lemonade

11. What makes you happiest?  Watching my kids play sports

11 Random Questions for You:

1.  If you could only watch one television station what would it be?
2.  Looking back at your schooling, what was the silliest rule your school had?
3.  Who is the greatest ever Canuck?
4.  What is the greatest rock group of the 1980s?
5.  What is something education related you have changed your opinion on over your career?
6.  What is the warmest place you have ever been — and how warm was it?
7.  Poorest fashion trend you have seen in schools in the last 10 years?
8.  What was more frustrating to deal with in your school — Pokemon cards or silly bands?
9.  Describe your favourite high school teacher in four words
10.  What is the best reason to go on Facebook at least once a day?
11.  If blogging was outlawed tomorrow — what would be your reaction?

I Challenge the Following People to do their Homework:

I know it is a bit of a cop-out, but I will challenge all of those bloggers in the West Vancouver School District community to consider giving this activity a try.  I will  not call you out by name, but hopefully some of our Trustees, Principals, Vice-Principals and Teacher bloggers will take this on — and then, maybe challenge some of our student bloggers to do the same.

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I write about the changing nature of learning and school quite often, but I would also like to credit district staff and the community, that when offered something different, they take the jump and sign-up.  In the West Vancouver School District, there is a lot of change occurring  within the traditional school day. To be sure, there is an emphasis on inquiry, social-emotional learning. digital access, but not as many examples challenging when learning takes place.  Generally, our schools operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m,  Monday to Friday, September to June. And, while some students take online (Distributive Learning) courses from other school districts, we don’t offer these in the district.

That said, there are three offerings for the upcoming school year I would like to highlight for their unique partnerships, flexible schedules, and for the amazing interest each have generated.  From Honours Choir, to Basketball and Entrepreneurship — the adage is “if you build it, they will come”, and it seems to apply nicely.  At the time of each offering, I wondered if anyone would sign-up; in the end, the happy problem was more sign-ups than supply.

Honours Choir

Music is a key component of each school’s program, and West Vancouver Schools proudly boast  music specialists in each of our elementary schools — a rarity in BC schools.  Until this year, we had not considered offering music beyond the school level because there are often opportunities for students within the community.  This year, the Board of Education approved an Honours Choir course offered on Wednesday evenings.  Many worried we wouldn’t have the 20-to-25 student enrollment required to run the course.  In the end, over 100 students signed up for auditions and the one choir opportunity became two. These students are required to be part of their own school choirs, and will now extend and challenge themselves every Wednesday night,  pursuing a passion and earning school credits while training with singers from all schools in the district.

Premier Basketball Academy

West Vancouver has been well invested in sports academy programs for a number of years, from soccer to hockey and tennis to baseball. However, basketball is unique in that it is predominantly a school sport.  So, the district has created a unique opportunity open to Grades 9 to 11 boys and girls from all three schools. This course allows students to earn credits while continuing to play for their “home” school, and to receive additional training in the mornings as well as other times outside of the school timetable. This will allow better access to the course for students from multiple schools.  Similar to the Honours Choir, students can pursue a passion in greater depth while not having to leave their school to attend the program.  One other key element of the program is we are  partnering with Basketball BC, who will be providing the curriculum and expertise to support the program.  Again, demand has exceeded capacity.

Entrepreneurship 12 / YELL

Entrepreneurship 12 is a Ministry of Education course offered in schools across the province.  A challenge we often face with these type of  specialty business courses (and other senior electives) is that about 10 to 15 students sign-up in each school,  but not enough to offer a course block in the timetable – leading to course cancellations.  Some creative thinking around format and scheduling has changed that.  The course has been rebranded YELL (Young Entrepreneurship and Leadership Launchpad) and partners business teachers with community resources which currently include Rattan Bagga, General Manager of Jiva Organics; Amit Sandhu, CEO of Ampri Group; and Punit Dhillon, co-founder, President and CEO of OncoSec Medical.  The course is offered after school, so students from all three schools can attend; students will connect with top entrepreneurial talent and participate in a business venture challenge — traditional business course meets Dragon’s Den.  Earlier this week, when I attended the information session in the West Vancouver Secondary Library, it was jam-packed with over 150 interested people.  Again, families are ready to embrace ‘different’.

So, what are some of my takeaways:

  • The idea of connecting with community resources is a partnership we are just beginning to figure out, and the community is willing and interested
  • There is a real interest  in depth and specialization to pursue passions
  • There are opportunities to go across-schools for collaboration outside of the timetable
  • We can find more options for students to stay at their home school for the majority of their program
  • Each of the three new offerings are guided by passionate teachers
  • The lines of school/non-school activities are becoming increasingly blurry

The creation of these courses has been an interesting journey, more so that my internal pessimist has been proven wrong with all three offerings. While I wondered if they would gain traction, all three are booming with interest, which makes me also wonder, “so, what is next?”

Finally, my thanks to the outstanding teacher leaders: Suzanne Fulton (choir), Greg Meldrum (basketball) ad Jo-Anne McKee and Shawn Anderson (Entrepreneurship) who are leading the way with these offerings. I am looking forward to seeing their progress and success in about 12 months from now as we slowly open up more opportunities outside the traditional school day.

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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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