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.
To wrap up their placement at the YMCA Academy, Seneca College student Ambar Fadul Gonzalez recruited her peers Zach and Jenta to plan an epic “Raptor’s Day” for the Academy students! This day included fun activities such as designing a Toronto Raptors logo, slogan, or poster, and participating in “blindfolded basketball,” where the students used teamwork to help their classmates score a mini basket. Meanwhile, a small film crew was on site conducting interviews for their upcoming documentary about Toronto Raptors Fans!
These activities built anticipation for the beloved annual Students vs Staff basketball game which took place later that afternoon. It was an incredibly fun experience for the entire school, whether they were there to play, cheer, or watch! Students from both the middle school and high school participated, filling the court with spirit, effort, excitement, and teamwork! In addition to playing on the day, YMCA Academy student Nathan M. has provided an excellent account of how the game went:
TEACHERS BLOW STUDENTS OUT OF THE WATER IN ANNUAL BASKETBALL GAME – Nathan M.
Two weeks ago, the staff and students of the Y Academy took to the court to compete in the annual Students vs Staff basketball game. Midway through the afternoon, most of the school filed into the gym either to play or to cheer on the teams, assisted by college placement students.
The student team clearly came in without much of a game plan, as they quickly racked up turnover after turnover and missed shot after shot. Apart from inspiring defense by Nathan Moloney on Luka, and a few good moves by Zach and others, the students were hounded on both ends of the court. Indeed it was truly a struggle for the younger students. The game opened with a 12-2 run by the teachers before the students even got another basket.
Yet the student team was not to be held back, rallying amongst themselves to get a good run going. Taking pride in their attacks on the teachers, with a very lively bench getting the student team into the flow of things, they developed some momentum.
By the turn of the second half however, things had entered into “a match of D,” with both teams using defense more than the offensive end. Fighting tooth and nail, the students took a chance to launch a comeback.
Shots came aplenty yet baskets were hard to make. Ryan and Zach led the charge on that end, while the entire team fought hard on the other end. However it would not be quite so easy as Brandon and Katie began to take over the game, tearing up the D. Luka became a third titan of the court as the lineup went smaller on him, allowing him to grab the rebounds and nail easy layups on small ball defenders.
The students had to draft in outside help from a member of the Y, but it was too late in the game. The teachers’ three basketbrutes dealt a huge blow to the student team, leaving them buried around a mountain of dirt and basketballs.
The game did not even get a true ending, as the game had to be ended early due to time issues, leaving the teachers on top with just a little more left on the clock. Hopefully this leads to a better student attack next year for a rematch of the much anticipated annual basketball game.
Pronoun buttons. What are they? They are small pins with a person’s pronouns on them. Why is this important? We can make harmful assumptions about individuals and by normalizing the concept of asking for, rather than assuming, a person’s pronouns we can make the world a more inclusive place. Most people choose to use a pronoun for themselves, though some people would actually prefer not to be referred to with a pronoun and instead have their name used in that place. The world is becoming a place where people are more willing to be their “true authentic self” and we here at the YMCA Academy welcome this inclusion and self expression.
The LGBTQ2SIA+ Alliance club has started an initiative to make pronoun buttons available to all who desire them. Pictured are just a few of the collection of buttons that were made, in house, on our very own button press. For those that don’t know about the LGBTQ2SIA+ Alliance it is a space where people from all walks of life come together to discuss things such as pop culture, current affairs, and other issues ranging from the topical to the seemingly trivial, usually through a lens of LGBTQ2SIA+ experiences and perspective. Allies are, of course, always welcome in this space.
For more information on why pronouns matter, and why pronoun buttons are important see the following link.
The YMCA Academy has been hosting placement students from the Ryerson, Centennial, and George Brown Collaborative Nursing Degree Program. The placement students set an independent goal to develop and run a series of Positive Mental Health Promotion Workshops. High School students rotated through four workshops:
Affirmations and Positive Self Talk
Stress Ball Making
Mindfulness and Rest
High School students developed skills, strategies, and tools for taking better care of themselves and their mental well being. Each student left with a stress ball, a set of positive self affirmations, and a range of strategies to help prepare them for better self care.