The two Civics classes in the Academy have joined together to work with Student Vote Canada to bring a realistic voting experience to the school.
Before the voting day, students first create informative videos about the municipal election, then create posters for candidates to investigate their stories and platforms. On the voting day, students take on different roles such as deputy returning officer, poll clerk and scrutineers to help guide other students through the voting process.
It has been an authentic and engaging learning experience for all of us!
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.
Have you wondered what is the quality of our water and soil in the city? The students in Environmental Science actively performed water testing at the waterfront and soil testing in the parkette beside the YMCA! The students enjoyed collecting the samples, especially the water sample from Lake Ontario. We were surprised at the results we received for the oxygen levels at the waterfront. The results were either invalid or Lake Ontario is heavily polluted since we received a reading of 0ppm. The students factored into their results that we were testing near the shoreline where human pollution collects including microplastics and boat oil. A low amount of oxygen suggests that the water ecosystem is unhealthy. The students have also been engaging in possible solutions by investigating local and global environments. The students observed that there is “too much construction” in our city.
At the lakefront, the students also investigated the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the soil collected from the parkette. The students can be seen in the photographs performing chemical analysis of the soil samples. “We got good results,” said an environmentalist in training! The students were fascinated by the unique opportunity to engage in a field study in their local community! One student expressed:
“We could not have picked a better day. It was not raining. It was sunny.”
As we continued our field study, we compared the disturbed location (heavy human traffic area) to an undisturbed location (limited human traffic area). What area did we choose? The Green Industries terrace! We wanted to determine how healthy the soil is where the Green Industries class is growing plants and vegetables. If nutrients are too high, nutrients can become contaminants! What were the results? The students are still actively comparing the data though, most intriguing, nitrogen was high in the disturbed environment. Nitrogen is a common ingredient in fertilizers. Another student shared:
“We learned a lot about our city and the biodiversity.”
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.