A Survey of Student Learning

The maxim, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,”* holds much truth when it comes to “report cards,” but what teachers are mandated to report and also choose to report suggests to parents what many of the priorities are for student learning at each grade. Similar to the way a school’s blog reveals what is important to the school, so does the report card reveal key areas for student learning.

What follows then, is both of those things: a blog post surveying some of the learning outcomes found in reports ranging from kindergarten to Grade 7.

Prior to the conclusion of each term, I review each report, something I have done enough times now to be impressed by the extraordinary diversity and depth of learning at BICS but not surprised by it. The reports capture just a little of the remarkable experiences students have in their classrooms and beyond learning about interesting and often complex things and using what they’ve learned to, among other things, learn more.

In reviewing reports this term, I’ve pulled one learning outcome from each grade as well as an outcome from our wonderful music and learning assistance programs. My hope is that it offers the reader a very brief look at the breadth of what is learned at BICS.

 

Kindergarten – Speaking and Listening

  • use speaking an listening when engaging in imaginative play; such as problem solving and working co-operatively

 

Grade 1 – Attitudes, Effort, Work Habits, Social Responsibility

  • consistently models respectful behaviour and acceptance of others’ differences

 

Grade 2 – Fine Arts

  • began to use simplification effectively, to create artwork in the styles of Lawren Harris & Ted Harrison

 

Grade 3 – HACE/Physical and Health Education

  • describes practices contributing to healthy living (e.g. exercise, healthy eating, friendships, sleep)

 

Grade 4 – Thinking Competency

  • reasons and uses logic to explore, make connections, predict, analyze, generalize and make conclusions

 

Grade 5 – Language Arts

  • recognizes oral traditions in First Peoples’ culture and identifies how story connects people to land

 

Grade 6 – Socials Studies

  • evaluates how geographic challenges and opportunities affect the development of societies

 

Grade 7 – Math

  • competently uses mathematical operations to determine a monthly budget

 

Performing Arts – Music

  • can create, notate, and perform rhythmic solos while following a musical form

 

Learning Support reports

  • Segmenting, manipulating, and blending vowel and consonant sounds in words

 

In selecting the learning outcomes above, I tried to pull diverse outcomes – math, language arts, performing arts, etc. In reviewing the reports, however, I looked for some patterns that might reveal how our school is doing with some key priorities identified in our School Growth Plan and Aboriginal Education Plan: inquiry-based learning, self-regulation, critical thinking and aboriginal education. There are far more effective ways of determining how the school is doing in these areas – visiting classrooms and speaking with students being one of them – but what did the general scan of K-7 reports reveal to me about these priorities?

Learning outcomes about timeless and transferable concepts and references to “Fascination Time,” “Genius Hour,” and “Passion Projects” made it clear that students were pursuing inquiry, whether it be teacher-led or open inquiry, often. In opening comments and in various sections, it was obvious that not only is self-regulation a key feature of each classroom at BICS, it is also being reported on frequently. Whether it be found in socials studies or explicit references to the “Thinking Competencies,” it was obvious that developing students’ skills as critical thinkers and asking them to uses these skills is a key area of learning. Lastly, students are learning about Indigenous Peoples frequently. Whether it is in Language Arts learning about oral stories teaching about the land, or learning about cultural characteristics and traditional ways of life in Socials Studies, the many references to Aboriginal Education found in BC’s new curriculum were also obvious in the K-7 reports.

I am proud of our School’s progress. And in reading reports, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing that each of the many bullets on a report card, simple words on a page, had some powerful learning experience behind it – perhaps a beautiful work of art, a field experience to a National Historic Site, a memorable visitor, help from a dedicated staff member, or simply a student’s persistent effort – and that each of these experiences provided a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of learning.

 

*This quote is attributed to both Albert Einstein and the sociologist, William Bruce Cameron.

How many times can a problem be solved?

How many times can a problem be solved?

If the answer is available to everyone, can it be solved more than once?

Is there any point in asking students to solve problems where not only has the answer been found but it is available to anyone with digital access and the skills to find it?

Should efforts in education be directed more towards students developing their skills to locate previously found answers than to solving problems for which solutions already exist?

Surely students should be problem solvers too so should students spend their time solving problems that already have available solutions or apply these solutions to the next step of the problem or to some unique situation?

 

These are the questions I was left with after listening to Daniel Pink’s keynote address and Alan November’s session at the FISA BC 2016 Convention.

Pink suggested that problem solving is a useful skill but that problem finding is a more useful skill.

November suggested that internet tools exist to share not just information but knowledge and more of students’ time should be spent using this knowledge to solve new and unique problems rather than simply rehearsing the solutions and steps identified by previous learners.

November spent much of his presentation discussing the power of the knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha which doesn’t just access information as stored (as a search engine does) it re-sorts it, remixes it. Essentially, November suggests, it turns information into knowledge.

WA

So with such tools as Wolfram Aplpha, the question arises: What aspects of the knowledge base are suited toward archiving and accessing when appropriate and what aspects are essential for students to know and understand so that they can understand themselves and the world?

In other words, what learning should be repeated, generation after generation, and when is it appropriate to simply start with what is already known and go from there? Is it necessary for students to always start at “square one”, or is it possible to enter the subject at a later point and find the knowledge that has been created before and take it further.

The question is directed more towards content than foundational skills. Each generation needs to learn to read and write; there is no mechanism to pass that on through the internet. But when there is a mechanism, the question of whether what is being learned is actually helpful must be asked.

For years, not just in the Big Ideas of BC’s new curriculum, a shift has been underway to develop understandings, not just acquire knowledge. But with the development of tools to access the learning of others, and more importantly the ability of students to, in Daniel Pink’s phrase, curate this information, the speed of the shift may accelerate.

So beyond inquiry-based learning and developing understanding, what does that look like?

November suggests that students should spend less time solving problems and more time learning about topics that involve a concept or idea. He notes this idea has been foundational to the teaching of the US Military Academy at West Point for decades. The difference is that instead of solving a problem related to volume, the student creates their own problem that involves volume. Doing so allows the student to take what is already known to both create and solve a unique problem, essentially building on the knowledge of others rather than simply repeating it. More time is spent applying knowledge; less time is spent recreating it.

Clearly a level of general knowledge is needed to understand the world. Nevertheless, as we become increasingly confident in the internet’s ability to store information and knowledge (think about Gmail and Outlook archiving emails instead of deleting them) and students develop greater abilities to access information and knowledge, educators may become increasingly comfortable with students using what is already known to solve new and unique problems rather than simply repeating the steps established by others to solve a problem.

In the age of the knowledge engine, the question, “Do students really need to learn this?” has become even more complicated and pertinent.

Who’s the Boss?

With the title, “The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up,” it is no surprise that this Maclean’s article is getting a lot of attention. In it, the author Cathy Gulli, often citing the works of psychologists Dr. Leonard Sax and Dr. Gordon Neufeld, argues that while guided by the best of intentions, many parenting styles are doing children no favors.

The article is worth reading but I will do my best to summarize it as follows:

(Common) Parenting beliefs and interests

Parents want…

  • the best for their children.
  • their children to feel listened to and respected.
  • their children to be independent and think freely.
  • to avoid conflict and be liked by their children.
  • their children to be assertive and able to stand up for themselves and others.

Parenting behaviour

Guided by the beliefs above, parents…

  • ask their children to make decisions over major and often seemingly minor things (to finish eating green beans) which become significant things (parent’s control, child’s nourishment).
  • negotiate with their children; e.g., “If you finish your green beans, you can have dessert.”

Response of children to parenting behaviour above

The result of this parenting behaviour is role confusion: children question whether the parent is going to make decisions and as a result take on this responsibility. Children begin to see themselves as the decision maker and take on the “alpha” role in the family hierarchy.

Consequence of role confusion

  • Children will make decisions on important matters such as food choices and thus, despite often having limited experience or information, have control over their nutrition and physical development.
  • Children control access to technology and may, due to lack of understanding and/or discipline, not prioritize sleep over screen-time.
  • Same age peers will become more important and influential to children than their parents and other adults.

The crux of the argument is that the world is becoming less hierarchical but hierarchy is still needed in families, and classrooms too, where the relationships involve people with vast differences in knowledge and experience.

 

I feel quite lucky as a teacher and now principal that prior to becoming a parent myself I have seen a tremendous amount of remarkable parenting. I have also seen that sometimes small moments – a child throwing his backpack at his parent as he runs to the playground whilst barely acknowledging them – are really big things but could quite easily be overlooked by the parent who has just been at work all day and wants nothing more than to see his son play on the swings rather than telling his son to take care of his own backpack. In that instance, who is in control?

And issues of hierarchy are not exclusive to parenting. An example in schools: Self-regulation has been a major focus of BICS and many schools for several years. Self-regulation differs from regulation in that the goal in self-regulation is for the student to take control. Parents regulate a child with a scraped knee with a kiss on the cheek or a hand on the shoulder. Self-regulation involves the student identifying their emotions and self-regulating so that their behaviour matches their environment and/or activity. Dependence is therefore a key element of regulation while independence is the key for self-regulation. This is a worthy goal: parents and the school have an interest in students becoming independent and self-regulation is about self-control, not control of others.

But how about when self-regulation includes taking a break from the classroom and learning activity? Most schools have self-regulation spaces in classrooms or rooms where the student can take a break from the busyness of a classroom. The spaces are great: they are usually quiet, with subtle lighting and comfortable furniture. As classrooms are potentially the most stimulating learning or working environment most people will ever be in, it makes sense that students might need a change of environment at times other than scheduled (and often stimulating) recess and lunch times.

However, like a child avoiding their greens with the result of malnourishment, too many breaks from the classroom may come at the cost of learning. One might argue that the dysregulated student who feels they need a break won’t be learning anyway, but what happens when student decisions take precedent over reasonable expectations from the teacher. If the student feels the expectations of the teacher take precedence over their decisions to need a break, might that student be more likely to rise to the occasion? Balancing authority and control with honouring student/child voice and independence is not easy but is important.

The key element in who should have most control of decision making is whether the decision is best informed by personal preference or life experience. For example, if it is a matter of a child wearing a red or blue sweater to school on Thursday, it is a matter of personal preference. If, however, the question is about wearing a sweater at all, the parent’s life experience, knowing that the child has soccer after school at 4:00 PM and that the temperature outside will drop when the sun goes down, trumps. Clarity and comfort as to who is in charge and why is essential for parents, educators and of course children/students. A child’s trust that the parent or educator has their best interest in mind when applying their life experiences to a decision is essential.

This balancing act is not easy and the article concludes with the idea that it is OK to make mistakes; in fact, it has to be OK as mistakes will be made. Ideally, awareness of who is making decisions and why will be helpful in the relationships so that students/children feel heard and so that adults can look out for the long-term interests of students.

One Word Challenge

A year ago today I started in a new role as principal of Bowen Island Community School.

Time flies!

“Time flies” has almost become cliché. I use the phrase too often and while it usually seems true, when I think of all of the things that have happened in the past year I realize that time only flies when the in between of important events and milestones are not considered.

And there is a lot of time in between.

When I considered taking on the role of principal I thought that one of my greatest challenges would be time management. As a teacher and vice-principal, the hours in between the bells are spent with students and many hours outside of that time are spent assessing and planning. After ten years, I felt confident in my ability to prioritize time to ensure students were learning what they needed for their stage in development.

I wondered how as a principal, not in any one classroom for the day, I would spend my time and worried if I would  be so busy staying (or getting) “caught up” with pressing tasks that I would not spend enough time on the important but not urgent things.

In Stephen R. Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he notes that effective people prioritize their time well. He notes four types or zones of tasks:

  1. urgent and important2016-01-04_1209
  2. not urgent and important
  3. urgent and not important
  4. not urgent and not important

It’s easy to stay out of zone 4. The other zones are the challenges. Effective people make time for Zone 2, that which is not urgent but important. As an educator and learner, I see Zone 2 as the area where the biggest gains are made in improving as a professional, my classroom, and my school.

Recently, West Vancouver Schools Superintendent Chris Kennedy challenged educators to participate in the one word challenge, to find one word that best defines their hopes and goals for the coming year.

My one word, as you may have guessed, is time.

Time is not a hope or a goal, but prioritizing time on things that matter, that which is important but not necessarily urgent, is one of the biggest and most important challenges in life. I shared this idea with our departing Grade 7s at their promotional assembly  last year and also in a blog post called, “The Challenge of Opportunity.” The post challenges students to make the most of their time in secondary school and beyond by ensuring they are thoughtful of how and where they spend their time and asking this question frequently: Why do you do what you do?

It is my goal and my challenge, in my work and personal life, to continually define what is important and prioritize my time accordingly. I owe that to my family, the students of my school, my colleagues, and myself.

I’ve been using this tool (Weekly Schedule – Simple), based on Covey’s work, to help prioritize time. Feel free to use and modify it.

Experience, Stories, Identity

My family chose the same summer vacation spot for 25 straight years. It was right on Okanagan Lake and for two weeks we would rent a tiny cabin along with fifteen other families. During this time, it would not be inaccurate to describe my twin brother and I as amphibious: We spent many hours of each day swimming, windsurfing, waterskiing, paddling and snorkelling. Okanagan Lake is known for many things but snorkelling is not one of them; there was little to see beyond a muddy bottom and the odd carp which would immediately dart away when approached. But each day, we spent hours snorkelling usually in search of the golf balls our friends would drive into the water. Sometimes, we were contracted to find a lost pair of sunglasses.

Despite a delusional fear of sharks, I developed an extraordinary comfort with water. It may be that my dad was an Olympic swimmer or it may be that my brothers and I grew up on Okanagen Lake and within reach of Howe Sound, my experiences as a child have had a profound influence on how I live my life: where I have chosen to live, who I choose to spend time with, and my understanding of my interests and abilities.

I share this because my experiences as a youth have shaped my identity. The stories of my childhood that I tell myself, and others, help me understand who I am and what I believe in. Our experiences become the stories we tell and our stories shape our identity.

For several years now, BICS, along with all other BC public schools, has created an Aboriginal Education School Plan. The plan’s purpose is to ensure our school, including each of our classrooms and the culture of our school generally, is a welcoming space for aboriginal students and also provides programming – both in content and approach to learning – that teaches students about the First Peoples of Canada. As West Vancouver Schools are on the traditional territory of the Skwxwú7mesh stelmexw (Squamish People), there is a particular emphasis on learning about the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation).

Our plans have often focused on storytelling and that is the case again this year. One of the First People’s Principles of Learning is that, “learning is embedded in memory, history and story,” so this seems like a natural focus. Another principle of learning is that “learning involves exploration of one’s identity,” and so, our focus for our 2015-2016 Aboriginal Education Plan is for students to create and share stories with others that relate to their identity.

It is our hope that through composing personal stories, in the form of writings, illustrations, dances, or some other medium, students will come to understand three key ideas.

First, that our experiences become the stories we tell ourselves. Second, that our stories, along with our sense of belonging and place, shape our identity. And finally, that some people have the courage to share their stories with others while other people have the courage to carry their stories alone.

Students will likely have little difficulty pulling events from their past that they think are likely to affect the rest of their lives: witnessing a Sea Lion off the coast of Tunstall Bay is likely to encourage a student to look for something similar each time they look into the ocean. When a moment like that happens, a nature lover is “born” or transformed. A student may wish to create a story about their experience performing in our school’s upcoming Winter concert, and perhaps developing an identity as a performer.

And of course personal stories of experience often connect with something bigger. The opportunities we are privileged with often relate to the cultures we belong to.  This aligns with the new curriculum’s Personal and Social Competency. The Competency notes, “Students who have a positive personal and cultural identity value their personal and cultural narratives, and understand how these shape their identity.” A goal of this Competency is therefore that students understand how personal and cultural narratives shape their identity.

The last understanding I noted, “That some people have the courage to share their stories with others and other people have courage to hold their stories alone,” relates in particular to the residential school system. For decades, many survivors of residential schools carried their stories alone, or shared them with just a few people. Others tried to share but often found unwelcome audiences. In recent years, more and more people are willing to share their stories – with families, with friends, and even publicly. It is truly a remarkable act of courage to do so.

Our hope is that through developing sensitivity to the difficulties in telling personal stories, our students become a receptive audience to learning more, when developmentally ready, about the residential school system. As young children, they are ready to learn a little of the experiences that children of the same age experienced not so long ago. But learning about residential schools will be a long journey and our goal is for students to become reflective members in that journey.

And all of us, storytellers and story receivers, have been shaped through the years, subtly but profoundly, by what we have not experienced. I personally have never experienced hunger, or disconnection from my family or my culture. I will continue to reflect on how this has shaped who I am and how I think of myself in the world. Storytelling – writing my own stories and listening to others– will help.  We are grateful to work with members of the Squamish Nation and members of the community of Bowen Island in doing so.

 

The BICS Aboriginal Education Plan is here.

Significance

The following post was shared at BICS’ Remembrance Day Ceremony – November 10, 2015.

The brain is always trying to determine the significance of everything we sense.

Is what we see important enough to process, think about and respond to? Or is it unimportant and an unnecessary distraction?

In the mountains, we try to determine how big and far away the peaks are. Closer to home, people wonder, or immediately panic, when considering the significance of a spider lurking in the sink. Is it a threat? And if so, how big a threat?

In World War One, 1914-1918, many historians suggest that Canadians who were thinking of joining the war effort in Europe underestimated the significance of this war. They knew it was important but didn’t know how long the fighting would last, or how vicious the fighting would be: increasingly vicious on land in the form of trenches, tanks and machine guns; on sea in the form of well-armed ships; and for the first time in history, the sky with airplanes and poisonous gases.

After the experience of World War One, people had a greater understanding of the significance of the terrifying and vicious forms of fighting. But soldiers still volunteered to join the effort of World War II, fighting in many regions of the world, risking injury, death and the fear of being treated most cruelly if captured.

And today, more than 100 years since the start of World War One, all of us in this ceremony try to understand the significance of these events. All across our country, Canadians take time and make the effort to remember those from the World Wars, and wars and conflicts since, who have joined the Canadian Military and risked their lives to defend the rights and freedoms which Canada considers fundamental to all human beings: freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

I feel it is the duty of all Canadians to learn about and try to understand the sacrifices and efforts of Canadian soldiers. If they lived it, surely the least the rest of us can do is to learn about their efforts, to try to understand the significance of what people went through to defend freedom.

This is no easy task. It is challenging to comprehend the significance of the wars; the enormity of it all is truly hard to grasp.

Historians estimate that over sixty million people were killed in World War Two. Sixty million people. That was 3% of the world’s population at that time, meaning three out of every one hundred people died.

While our brains can do the math, I’m not sure our hearts have the capacity to truly understand that number. When you read of stories, and the Diary of Anne Frank is one many students will read in high school, and learn about an individual, their hopes and dreams, who they loved and who loved them, it is obvious the loss of one person is immense. It is truly staggering then to think of the 60 million people as individuals; individuals who had brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children who loved them.

The two world wars are of course sinking deeper into history. There are fewer storytellers to keep the history alive, but there is an incredible amount of literature on the world wars that has been written and continues to be written as well as some very powerful films. So while there may be fewer storytellers, there need not be fewer readers, listeners and viewers.

So let our ceremony of remembrance, and day of remembrance tomorrow, be purposeful in remembering the sacrifices of those who have served in Canada’s military and also a celebration of our country. Canada, like all countries, is not without faults, but we are incredibly privileged to live in a country where our freedoms are recognized and protected. They are valued so dearly that many Canadians have the courage and commitment needed to risk and sacrifice all to defend these values for their fellow Canadians and others around the world.

Take some time to remember and think of the significance of what was fought for that we now as Canadians benefit from: Freedoms of conscience and of religion, and that all Canadians are equal before and under the law, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age or mental or physical disability. We must not underestimate the significance of these freedoms and rights and the immense sacrifices that have secured them.

Ideas of Happiness

“Open Happiness.” “Comfort in every bar.” “Every dinner should feel this good.”

Our highest priority at BICS is to inspire our students to be lifelong learners.

BICS helps students develop literacy, critical thinking and social skills to increase their capacity as learners and prepare them to make the most of a lifetime of learning opportunities. These skills, or competencies, have been articulated in the Core Competencies of BC’s New Curriculum. Beyond having a highly developed capacity to learn, however, to encourage lifelong learning, students need to love learning. It is therefore important that students are happy at school and so creating happy learning environments is something our school takes very seriously. Happy learning environments mean that students feel safe and connected with peers and adults in their classroom and school. Research shows that students learn more when they are happy and of course, happiness is an end in itself. By my calculation, students spend about 12% of their lives and 18 % of their waking hours during the time they are in school from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve.* School is a big part of life and therefore a big part of a happy life.

In addition to fostering conditions of happy learning environments, I am becoming increasingly convinced of the need to directly teach about happiness, specifically what it is and how to pursue it.

Happiness is not something that happens to us but in many ways something we choose. Convenience and consumerism are prominent features of our society and it is becoming increasingly easy for people to confuse the pursuit of happiness with the pursuit of convenience; or pursue happiness through consumerism. There is no shortage of messaging – the slogans of Coca-Cola, Mars Bar and Stouffers Foods being the examples noted at the beginning of this post– implying that happiness is found in consuming an item, be it food, fashion or other items. While eating food and buying items that allow for the pursuit of hobbies can be satisfying, it is worth being clear of other ways of fostering happiness that make the world better for ourselves and others.

The organization Action for Happiness recognizes that there are external and sometimes uncontrollable factors that affect happiness but assert that happiness can often be pursued through the choices we make. Most of these choices are small and occur almost constantly so a framework that will help recognize opportunities to make choices that lead to happiness is helpful.

So what are these daily choices we can make?

Action for Happiness has broken them down into ten keys to happier living:

  • Generosity – do things for othersGreat_Dream
  • Relating – connect with people
  • Exercising – take care of your body
  • Appreciating – notice the world around you
  • Trying Out – keep learning new things
  • Direction – have goals to pursue
  • Resilience – find ways to bounce back
  • Emotion – take a positive approach
  • Acceptance – be comfortable with who you are
  • Meaning – contribute to something bigger

These ten keys align extremely well with virtues noted in the Virtues Project that our school has focused on for many years.

Over the coming months of the school year, BICS will focus on these keys so that students have a shared understanding and language that allow them to become better at noticing opportunities to increase their happiness and the happiness of others. I will write about some of these keys in more detail in future blog posts but hope that parents will also learn more from the understandings students bring home and talk about as the year progresses. “Open Happiness,” associates happy with easy. As we strive to develop capable, hard-working and inspired lifelong learners, a greater understanding of happiness is needed.

*My figures are based on 6 hours at school 180 days per year. Waking hours = 16 hours per day.