Early in the school year, the grade 10 science classes learned about quantitative and qualitative observations in the field. The groups headed out on a single-period walking excursion to Queen’s Park where they could conduct some observations in a dynamic environment. Students began by engaging their senses; feeling textures, smelling scents, observing colours, and listening to the sounds around them. Learning how terms like “lots,” “green,” “good,” and “cold,” represented judgements that could be considered qualitative was useful. Students also developed knowledge around how countable measurements of distance, weight, amount, temperature, volume, and area using standard units would be considered quantitative.
Students toured in small groups around the park, making both qualitative and quantitative observations. They were instructed to return to the whole group with three qualitative questions, and three quantitative questions that could be posed about features of the park. A group discussion was held about how that data could be gathered and verified.
A group of YMCA Academy High School students embarked on a three day journey into the wilderness of the Muskoka region at the YMCA’s Camp Pine Crest. The trip included a stay in cabins, songs and s’mores around the campfire, portaging canoes, and a night at a backwoods campsite on picturesque Gullwing Lake.
During the paddle back to the main camp, our Pine Crest trip guides asked the Academy teachers and students for their “Rose, Thorn, and Bud”; a clever way to ask for a positive reflection, a negative experience, and a wish for the future. Students shared their enjoyment of the games, the good sleep they had, and the mental health break that the wilderness brought them as their roses. They shared about the challenges posed by the bugs, the sun, and missing home as their thorns. Students also cited the return to their own beds, seeing family that they were missing, and a reunion with their phones as their buds. One teacher, who saved his Rose, Bud, and Thorn for this very blog post, reflected that he was impressed by how dedicated students were in hauling gear and canoes through a muddy and bug-infested 300 meter portage, how he wished the adventure could have been just one night longer, and how much he was looking forward to ice cream upon his return from the wilderness.
At the start of this year, the Academy embarked on a mission to incorporate cross-curricular learning experiences into students’ educational journeys. Many, if not all things in life can be seen and analysed through multiple lenses. Baking cookies can be explored through the lenses of food and nutrition, chemistry, business, entrepreneurship, English, maths, and multiple other subjects. Exploring problems, issues, or topics from multiple perspectives is exactly what cross-curricular learning is all about. Instead of learning one subject at a time, cross-curricular learning aims to solve real world problems, issues or topics from two or more different disciplines.
In order to incorporate cross-curricular learning opportunities into the curriculum, the Academy adopted a new schedule that had students focus on two instead of four subjects per day and added a half day cross-curricular block on Friday afternoons to afford students time to explore various themes (Black History, Peace, Mental Health, Women’s History) or other class projects decided upon by two or more different courses merging together. To help teachers plan these cross-curricular experiences, we had the luck and pleasure of enlisting the guidance and mentorship of Pam Moran and Ira Socal for three professional development sessions throughout the year.
Pam and Ira are authors of the book Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools. Pam, a retired superintendent, former principal and teacher, and Ira, a former Chief Technology and Innovation Officer in Virginia schools, have many decades of experience between them. They have led the development of some of the most contemporary learning spaces in the United States, and we were lucky to have them give their time to help us in better understanding how to incorporate cross-curricular learning into our school in a way that was engaging, relevant and fun for both students and teachers alike. One of the major outcomes of our professional development sessions was the idea to have a cross-curricular week where students worked on a single cross-curricular project for multiple days. Below is an account of what ended up transpiring.
From Wednesday June 1st to Friday June 3rd, 2022, students at the Academy embarked on four different cross-curricular projects they had previously signed up for weeks earlier. Three of the projects were on-site at the Academy while one was two hours away in the wilderness at Camp Pine Crest. The four projects students had options to pursue were as follows:
Project 1: Choose Your Own Adventure Coding
In this project students explored the ins and outs of the design process of a Choose your own adventure story/game. Groups explored aspects of game design as well as the writing process, including flowcharting, project management, and other planning practices. The end goal was to create a short choose your own adventure “game” or “story”. Using free and open source applications such as Piskel, Twine, and Diagrams.org students prototyped, created, and playtested their own unique ‘choose your own adventure’ games. Students worked on creating their own pixel art (and animations), stories, and embedded music into their games using HTML and CSS (The basic coding languages of the web).
The project encompassed traditional storytelling as well as HTML and CSS styles to further immerse readers into the story. Over three days, students created short choose your adventure stories that were colourful and engaging (to the point where students from the other projects asked to have access to them for their personal entertainment).
These basic games ranged from the surreal, to a zombie apocalypse game. Students not only worked on concrete skills such as coding, writing, and workflow management but also cooperation, teamwork, time management, and creative expression/problem solving. By the end of the three days, teams were very proud of their work, as were we as well.
Project 2: Hyperbolic Crochet
Have you ever paused to admire and wonder about the patterns in nature that surround us? Did you know corals grow in hyperbolic planes? Even if you’ve never heard about hyperbolic planes, you can learn to crochet them! Over the course of three days, students in this group made connections to science, maths, art, and various topics while learning to crochet wild and beautiful creations that mimicked the shapes and patterns found in the ocean’s own art: the glorious but endangered coral reefs. This creative and collaborative project was a fascinating sensory journey that soothed the minds of both students and teachers all while stimulating their imagination.
Project 3: Pinecrest Canoe Trip
This alternative project was an outdoor orientation event run by the YMCA Academy and Camp Pinecrest in beautiful Muskoka where students went on a canoe trip. Over three days, students experienced sleeping in tents and cooking outdoors. They learned the basics of canoeing and wilderness camping skills. This was also the perfect setting for storytelling, campfires, environmental awareness, swimming and games.
Project 4: Rocketry
Groups of students in this project built stomp rockets and measured how high they flew. Each group reflected on their launch and evaluated and explored how to change various aspects of their rocket to make it fly higher and built further prototypes which they proceeded to launch. Aside from building and testing rockets, students also explored the challenges associated with space exploration, the technologies developed for space exploration via space shuttles, Canadian contributions to space exploration, and the environmental and societal impacts of rocketry.
At the end of the last day, students presented their projects to other groups, discussing what they did, and what they learned throughout their experiences. For a first attempt, the experience was memorable for everyone who took part. We are hopeful that we can build on this experience in order to offer students more cross-curricular experiences in the future with the desire to make future experiences ones that are constructed and designed with student input. Life is multifaceted and collaborative, and so too should education.
The weather is warming up and pollinators have begun buzzing around our neighbourhoods. The YMCA Academy had a first hand lesson in a particular pollinating species. Though solitary bees, flies, beetles, birds, and native bees make up the most significant populations of pollinators, no insect has quite the same history with human activity as the Western Honey Bee.
This spring the Academy High School students got a glimpse into the life of a beekeeper. Academy teacher and hobby beekeeper, Brandon, brought in an empty hive and beekeeping equipment to demonstrate some of the jobs of a beekeeper. No bees were brought in for the demonstration, but the hive and equipment was enough to show the basics, and excite the curiosity of student participants. The workshop began with bee behaviours and biology, the life cycle of honey bees, the different types of bees, and the roles that bees take in the colony, and about the importance of pollinators in our ecosystems.
Lighting the hive smoker, and donning a beekeeper’s veil, Brandon demonstrated a hive inspection. He explained the parts of a Langstroth Hive, and how the bees use the space within. Making connections to Biology, Green Industries, and Careers courses, the students discussed the hazards and benefits of keeping bees.
Student questions focused on the role of the queen in the colony, what swarming behaviour is for, what a bee sting feels like, and how beekeepers get their start. At the end of the workshop, Brandon invited students to taste honey directly from the comb.
Alex’s Exploring Technology has been learning about the design process and how it can be applied to urban planning. We began with research and brainstorming to explore what makes a neighbourhood a good place to live. Students generated lists of “look-fors,” and we furthered our research by heading out on a walk.
During the walk students worked in survey teams to notice aspects of the neighbourhood that make it a good place to live, and aspects that need improvement. Teams took photos as evidence, and marked important findings on a map. Back at school, they worked to record their findings on google earth.
One new insight gained during the walk was the importance of art and cultural spaces (murals, theatres etc.) in a neighbourhood.
Based on their explorations, students worked on designing their own prototype neighbourhoods. Some students used Minecraft to create neighbourhood layouts. Others worked on creating a physical model of an ideal neighbourhood.