TEDxYMCAAcademy: “The City as Laboratory” Event

A class project that investigates and integrates the in-progress revitalization of the West Don Lands.

Pivotal municipal decision-makers joining a high school class — not just as guest speakers, but in a mentorship and collaborative role.

Leveraging the power of grassroots advocacy initiatives to inform students’ senses of justice.

A field trip examining the impact of typefaces in advertising that simultaneously mitigates attention issues through the “beautiful cacophony” of the urban landscape.

These are just a few of the innovative ideas and exciting new approaches that were shared at “The City as Laboratory” — the 2015 edition of the annual TEDxYMCAAcademy speakers series.

Hosted by YMCA Academy Head of School Dr. Don Adams, this event featured talks by seven people who are on the vanguard of bringing urbanism to life for learners of all ages in Toronto:

  • Andrew Davies — Executive Director @ No. 9 Contemporary Art & the Environment
  • Zahra Ebrahim — Principal/Founder @ Architext and professor @ U of T
  • Josh Fullan — Teacher @ University of Toronto Schools and Founder & Facilitator @ Maximum City
  • Todd Harrison — Teacher @ YMCA Academy / Senior editor @ Spacing
  • Leslie McBeth — Teacher @ Greenwood College / Facilitator @ Cohort21
  • Shawn Micallef — Author, Toronto Star columnist, professor @ U of T & OCADU, and Senior editor @ Spacing
  • Pamela Robinson — School of Urban and Regional Planning Graduate Program Director @ Ryerson

This year’s speakers brought a wealth of knowledge, passion, and energy to a sold-out crowd in the Toronto Central Grosvenor Street YMCA Centre auditorium — along with and inspired and inspiring vision for the future of education, in this city and beyond.

Toronto, like many cities around the world, is in the midst of a rapid transformation. An urbanizing world is an exciting educational opportunity in many respects, one that fosters new ideas, collaboration, and immersive engagement. It also presents myriad challenges, however; residents’ relationships with their cities are often complex, and sometimes fraught with experiences of injustice and hardship. For both of these reasons, though, it’s imperative to develop urban literacy skills; the opportunities are what make it exciting, while the challenges are what make it absolutely vital.

Upcoming TEDx Event: “The City as Laboratory”


WHAT: The City as Laboratory (TEDxYMCAAcademy 2015)
WHEN: Saturday, April 11, 12pm-2pm
WHERE: Toronto-Central Grosvenor Street YMCA Centre Auditorium
COST: Free!
TICKETS: Click here to reserve
MORE INFO: www.tedxymcaacademy.com


How can engaging with the people and places in your local neighbourhood foster new a new understanding of a city’s vitality?

Why is it so important to teach young people about urbanism — and what’s the best way to go about it?

What can the gloriously messy, electrifyingly experimental nature of a modern city offer educators seeking experiential learning opportunities?

These questions, and many more, will be explored at “The City as Laboratory,” the 2015 edition of the annual TEDxYMCAAcademy speaker series.

This event features talks by:

These seven change agents will share projects and ideas purpose-built to spark innovation and foster engagement in Canada’s urban landscape.

We live in a rapidly urbanizing world. Understanding how cities work, and how you can change them for the better, is a key skill for learners of all ages — and, as talks at this TEDx event will demonstrate, there’s no better or more authentic source for this knowledge than our urban environments themselves.

“The City as Laboratory” is hosted by The YMCA Academy, an independent high school in central Toronto serving students with learning differences. Spacing is the media partner for this event.

June 11th, 2014 – TEDxYMCAAcademy Videos

Each year, The YMCA Academy hosts its own TEDx event – TEDxYMCAAcademy. This year, our event focused on “Edumakers” – on the relationships to be found amongst educators, entrepreneurs and technologies. We brought together an amazing list of speakers, each of whom spoke on an issue surrounding education generally, and often specifically geared towards the education of students who learn differently.

Each of these presentations is captured on video, as well as being live-streamed on the web. After the event, Academy students are involved in the editing and final production of the videos for uploading to the TEDx YouTube site. I’m happy to say that all videos are now uploaded to the site. Have a look! Video and audio quality is excellent, as are the talks themselves.

Youth in Technology: Ashley Lewis

Ashley Jane Lewis is a Maker and Youth Tech Educator. She spent a year and a half leading the ground-up development of Girls Learning Code, an attempt to encourage more females in the technology field. She designs content for the TIFF Bell Lightbox, creating an Arduino gadget-making workshop for the Bond Exhibit and coding workshops for their DigiPlaySpace.


Power in the classroom: Eric Rosenberg

What happens when power rests in the hands of teachers? What does it look like when students take the wheel of their own learning, and does it impact students’ capacity to navigate the world beyond the classroom? Eric Rosenberg addresses these and other questions, sharing his experience using student-directed, project-based approaches to address conventional curriculum.


The League of Regions: Douglas Vallance & Matthew Henderson

Doug and Matt will be focusing on The League of Regions, a year-long simulation, role-playing game, designed to promote cross-curricular thinking, real-world problem solving skills, group collaboration and independent decision making skills. The game is based around creating and maintaining a civilization that experiences real-world scenarios, with the final goal of progressing that civilization towards a developed status.

This game is intended to develop within students an understanding of the interconnected nature of each curriculum strand and apply it to a real world situation. As a result, when a student is taking part in this game, they will never ask the question, “When will I use this in the real world?” Through game play, students not only gain an understanding that content is connected, but also how the world around them functions without reading it from a book. In this game, they are the ones in control, as they set the course for their own civilization.


Remix Culture for Kids: Juan Gonzalez

The talk will be an account of the work that the FabSpaces team has done over the past year and half around designing a Digital Literacy curriculum to teach kids 8-16 a new way to use video for storytelling.


The ABCs of Resilience: Kathryn Meisner

What is this buzzword, “resilience?” And why should we care? Kathryn will explore the research and real-life applications behind this concept that underpins most of her work. Get ready to relearn your alphabet.


What video games have to teach us: Tom Seliotis

Tom Seliotis speaks about what video games have to teach us about identity and engagement and how we can incorporate these into assessments and evaluations in the classroom. This was the basis for his Master’s thesis involving how the history of science is portrayed to students in textbooks. He was a featured speaker at the 2013 annual conference of the Science Teachers of Ontario.


Teaching Musically: Ryan Burwell

Ryan will share the elements of music that have resonated most richly with him and his students, and will suggest ways of applying these elements to teaching practice. Focusing on the skills of improvisation and composition, he will try to convince you that curriculum design needs to be thought of like the pentatonic scale, and that you don’t need to be a music teacher to teach musically.


The Awkwardness of Collaboration: Jennifer Chan

We have all been there, at the crossroads of trying to approach the conversation of how we are going to work together, facilitate our mutual success and wanting to tie each other up with rubber bands. There is a delicate balance to strike in the zone of playing nice, giving time to build trusting relationships and navigating how much to push one another. If at the root of it all, collaboration is meant to be greater at its sum then how might we question, provoke and iterate through the process?


Video Games and Education: Zareh Demirdji

Whether we want to admit it or not, video games and the video game industry are here to stay, with no apparent signs of slowing down. Many youth (and adults) spend many hours and a lot of money playing video games, despite the frustrations from levels and/or missions that seem impossible to pass. The reason for this perseverance is the inherent reward system video games offer to keeps players engaged and coming back for more. Imagine being able to run a classroom where despite difficult challenges, students keep coming back and continuing their efforts in order master their understanding of the content. With the advances in video game design and content, the use of video games in the classroom can easily be made into a reality where students can not only learn curriculum expectation, but experience them in live time instead of simply being told about them.


The Future of Play: Rob Whent

Gameification is widely anticipated as the future of education. If this is so, what is the future of play? What does our digital world look like when our devices understand how we learn and configure themselves to maximize that potential?

For more information on TEDxYMCAAcademy: Edumakers, or upcoming TEDxYMCAAcademy events please visit the official website.

Jan 13th, 2014 – Upcoming TEDx Event


YMCA Academy TEDx event highlights innovation in education

Education must innovate to keep pace with a rapidly changing world and the evolving needs of today’s students. That’s why The YMCA Academy is bringing together some phenomenal speakers to explore groundbreaking ideas in educating students who learn differently at Edumakers, the 2014 edition of the school’s annual TEDx event. You can be a part of it — and best of all, admission is free.

Edumakers begins at 10:00am on Saturday, February 1st in the auditorium of the Toronto Central Grosvenor St. YMCA Centre in downtown Toronto, home of the YMCA Academy. Click here to register to attend.

Featured ideas and initiatives include:
• an all-girls technology camp;
• uniting schools with their surrounding communities;
• rethinking classrooms as coworking spaces, purpose-built for collaboration;
• helping students connect with career options that don’t require university or college;
• connecting investment to the non-financial assets of young people;
• high school courses in which computer games are an essential part of the learning process — and much more.

The themes to be explored at Edumakers continue the discussion started at The YMCA Academy’s last TEDx event, which introduced educators to the concept of wrap-around services for youth. Schools operate within a community, but often schools have trouble reaching out to collaborate with outside agencies. Model schools, like The YMCA Academy, have envisioned and implemented a pedagogical experience where social and emotional supports and referral services are intricately woven into the school’s fabric.

Scheduled speakers include Zareh Demirdji from The YMCA Academy, Youth in Technology’s Ashley Lewis, Eric Rosenberg of Rosenberg Development Studio, York Region teacher Tom Seliotis, Peel teachers Douglas Vallance and Matthew Henderson, Hive Mozilla Toronto’s Kathryn Meisner, Ryan Burwell from the Centre for Social Innovation, Jennifer Chan, Rob Whent of Thriver Inc, and Juan Gonzalez of Fabspaces.

For more information, or to register to attend Edumakers, visit the TEDx YMCA Academy website.

April 24th, 2013 – Wrap Around Services

I’d like to offer my thanks to the community for making our TEDxYMCAAcademy and our Open House such a rousing success this weekend.  The theme of the TEDx event — wrap around services for youth — neatly dovetails with what we provide here at The Academy.

Unlike many schools, especially independent schools, the Academy does not focus solely on the academic achievement of its students.  While we are unique within the YMCAs in Canada in providing a full range of academic supports for students who learn differently, we have very much in common with all YMCA programming for youth in our emphasis on social and personal support. In fact, we don’t even give out academic awards here.  Rather, we focus on values we think are much more important.  Those values are essentially the six core values of the YMCA of Greater Toronto: Respect, Responsibility, Inclusiveness, Caring, Honesty and Health.

I’m privileged to see these values in action everyday at the Central Y, where The YMCA Academy is located.  I see it in our Child Care, in our Youth Leadership Corps,  in the Newcomers programs, and throughout the Health and Fitness Centre.

Come for a tour of The Academy — see how we are truly an alternative school.

Don Adams, Head of School