Academy of Anacondas

Is there an everyday challenge that you experience and think to yourself “AGH, I wish someone would create a…to fix this”? For the last few months the middle schoolers have entered a Dragons Den competition (we’ve renamed it the Academy of Anaconda’s). Their task has been to think about these everyday problems and create a service or product that solves the problem. Eventually these students will be pitching their business to a panel of the Academy’s finest business Anacondas. The students have gone through many steps along the way. One of the first steps that the students went through was thinking about what makes a good business and what makes a good pitch. As a class we analyzed various pitches and businesses presented on Dragon’s Den and we had guest lecturers come to speak with the class about the challenges and triumphs of developing a business.

These guest lecturers included a founder of a Kombucha company and an Art Production company based out of Toronto. Once we had a better understanding of what makes a good business plan and pitch, the students were off to the races. They figured out what their business was going to be, who their niche audience was, and created models of their product or plans of their service. Throughout the process students have given and received a lot of feedback about their business. They have supported one anothers projects as well as received feedback from experts in their respective fields. You can see their mini-pitch along with some of the feedback they received here. We look forward to continuing to fine tune these business plans, developing websites for their businesses and ultimately preparing for the big day where students pitch their ideas to a panel of Anaconda’s.

– Dayna and MJ

Virtual ROM Tour

This February, students in the Adventures in World History class united the realities of distance learning with the excitement of a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum. Students were introduced to a series of objects and specimens from around the world and across vast periods of time. From the time of dinosaurs, to Ancient Egypt, to New France, to the 19th Century Northwest Coast, to species at risk today, Academy students experienced the stories of some of the most popular objects in the Royal Ontario Museum’s collection of over 13,000,000 objects.

Our guide explained the significance of several objects from the collection, the history of their journey to the ROM’s collections, and the stories behind them. The object most closely connected to the lessons of the course was the Mummy of Djedmaatesankh. This wealthy, land owning woman lived during the New Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt. CAT scans of her remains show that she likely died of an infection in her jaw. The art that encases her includes inscriptions about her career as a chanter in the temple of Amun Ra. The clues that this object offers us about the role of women, the types of work, and the burial practices of Ancient Egypt are priceless.

Creating a Student Book Review Website

A good book puts us in conversation with a compelling character, offers a new perspective, takes us places. It can teach us new things about our world and ourselves, make a lasting impression on our lives, or help us get through a global pandemic and accompanying lockdowns. But when presented in school, reading can sometimes be treated like an onerous chore, a burdensome task that one needs to get through—and get past. Obviously, this is not usually how we want young people to view reading.

One of the ways to address this is to offer more choice — albeit curated — to student readers, and to help them learn to make informed choices about their reading, now and in the future. The “book club model,” as opposed to an exclusive focus on common class texts, is increasingly incorporated into high school English classrooms for this very reason.

In this year’s Grade English 9 English class, most students read two novels during the octomester, and they had opportunities to share and receive recommendations from their classmates. In journals, student-teacher conferences, and even with their families, students practiced important comprehension and thinking skills as they discussed and made connections to their reading. Then as a final assignment, they each contributed a multimedia book review to create a book review website for a peer audience. Writing and publishing their reviews, however, was not just about summarizing or sharing opinions on a book; it was about helping to create a community of readers, in which teenagers are empowered to read.

Choosing the right book may be a start, but students also learned to use a range of strategies, from using an audiobook to summarizing and asking questions, as they read. Reading can be hard, and there might even be parts of a favourite book that are hard—or boring, confusing, or otherwise unenjoyable. In our English course, readers were encouraged to prepare for this, and to acknowledge it in their reviews as needed. Reviewers have also included some advice, where relevant, about what those who are interested in a particular book might want to learn more about first. It is our hope that the reviews will be helpful to other students as they make their own choices.

The site is a work in progress, and will continue to be updated and expanded with more student reviews, created in different courses as well as purely out of interest. In the future it will hopefully also see the addition of various features like grade-level and interest filtering and feedback, request, and submission forms. But for now, the Grade 9 English book reviews have the spotlight.

YMCA Academy Student Book Review Website

Media Literacy in the Age of Misinformation

“Fake news” is a phrase that has been thrown around over the last few years, but what role does it play in the lives of today’s students? And what are they learning about questionable “news,” from misleading headlines to hoaxes to blatant disinformation, and everything in between?

Students in Grade 9 English have been asked to consider these questions, and more, as they learn about news from a few different angles — how news writing is structured and presented, how to differentiate between fact and opinion in what we read and write, and how to evaluate the reliability and credibility of information coming from different sources. As teachers, we are often asking ourselves how we can best teach about media and information literacy so that students develop as not just readers and writers, but also responsible media consumers, media creators, and citizens. But the proliferation of misinformation over recent years continues to present challenges.

All students agreed that misleading news is a problem that can have terrible consequences in the real world, but not all shared the same opinion on whether or not enough was being taught in schools about “fake news” and other kinds of misleading information in the media. Most, however, took the position that the Ontario curriculum should include more on the subject. Now with the pace of an octomester, opportunities to link different skills and concepts together must be seized. And so, this issue provided the topic for a persuasive writing task the class is currently engaged in — writing to the Ministry of Education to let their views be known in a letter, one in which they must express a supported opinion on the matter, but also one that we hope may have other, more positive, consequences of its own.

Do you think that young people are learning enough about false and misleading news? What can we all do to support them in developing the skills they will need to responsibly and capably navigate an ever-changing landscape of messages and information?

When Life Throws you Lemons, Sell Them

The Marketing class has been exploring and learning about ten important components of marketing. This week, students took on the challenge of running a lemonade stand in an online game. Through the game, they were able to learn about the importance of research, product development, pricing, sales and inventory management. They had complete control over pricing, quality, inventory and supplies, and their goal was to make as much money as possible over a 14 day period. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, as students needed to account for the weather, customer satisfaction and feedback, popularity, money, and inventory.

Although some students were more successful than others, everyone had fun trying to find the perfect balance between all the different factors at play. In addition, the game did well to demonstrate that marketing is more than just about sales and advertising. Soon enough, students will take these newly learned skills to put together a marketing plan of their own.