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Poetry that Moves

Guest post by University of Calgary student teacher, Lisa Nguyen

I cultivated a love for poetry at a young age, but for many people it is an inaccessible genre that is tedious to read, nonetheless teach. Although it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I’m convinced poetry appreciation and creation relies on effective communication. If a person clearly conveys something meaningful through a form as fluid and pithy as a poem, they have engaged in an artistic process that places them in the company of great writers.

When my partner teacher Rick and I conceptualized this poetry unit, our goals were to improve student communication skills, add an undeniably engaging element, and have the class authentically experience creative writing. It seemed fitting that today’s highly visual and technologically savvy generation would transform the concept of a concrete poem and digitally bring it to life.


Our Grade 6 Humanities classes completed a three step writing method that culminated in a kinetic poem. Each phase required students to delve deeply into their thoughts and wonders, broaden their knowledge of poetry and powerful writing, become familiar with different computer programs and websites, and tap into their creativity.

Students documented their work using the online notebook program Evernote which was synced and shared so we could monitor progress instantaneously. We placed emphasis on the process rather than the product and assessed students by giving them formative feedback on their written reflections completed after each phase. The student’s ability to communicate their understanding and experiences was our evidence that meaningful learning took place.

To bring their poems to life, students used Keynote to create text animation. I was amazed how quickly they mastered the program and how they naturally collaborated to share their knowledge. Watching the finished products proves that richer language was used to communicate deeper messages and this makes these poems worth producing.


Here are three student examples of 'Poetry That Moves":






Student Comments about our School


Like many schools in the province, we participate in the "Tell Them From Me" survey designed to get a sense of student engagement.

As part of the survey our grade 7-9 students are asked to answer a few open-ended questions about their school. This is a sampling of the types of comments that we received - which were overall very positive and confirming:
  • I love my school! It has enhanced my personality and my understanding of topics. They do an amazing program that is fun and educational. I don't think I would change anything in my school.
  • I think that our school really challenges us to do our best our strive to be the greatest that we can.
  • I like that you get an opportunity to learn by yourself through inquiry and experiments and hands on activities.
  • They let us learn for ourselves instead of just giving us the answer. We have group discussions so we can learn from each others ideas. And there are lots of fun projects that we do.
  • My teachers make the most unique projects that I have never heard before!
  • All my teachers motivate me to become a better person.
  • They usually make us excited to learn, and provide us with projects that allow us much freedom and ability to use our strengths. They are encouraging and assist you when you need help. They make you excited, and know your personality very well.
  • Our school gives us a chance to have second chances, the inquiry based learning is very effective.
  • They act excited themselves, which is nice.
  • They demonstrate ideas through use of models and allowing the students to try things themselves instead of constantly telling us everything.
  • They create fun projects and ones that challenge us. They also make a positive environment for us to learn.
  • They interest me with different projects and activities
  • Let us work it out on our own.
  • Keep pushing us to try and go beyond what were capable of.
  • I really like our inquiry based learning within the Calgary Science School which really makes us think deeper within various concepts applied within various applications in the real world.
  • My teachers are engaged in our learning. When we have discussions, they take all our opinions in and never say that you are wrong. It really makes you want to participate knowing everyone will respect your thoughts and opinions.
  • They give us assignments that we probably would like more than doing other things such as taking notes. Instead we can research by ourselves or in groups and do our own project. It makes is more independent than relying on the teacher for information.
  • They are funny and engaged in the topic. We have to work and find the answer for ourselves, we don't sit there any they tell us what is right and what is wrong.

Books are so ...."static".

By Donna Alden, Teacher Librarian

"Books are so ...static" noted on
e of my colleagues, with a general tone of dismissal. Indeed, books are "static". Books have no hyperlinks to take you further into a topic, interactive options, cross references, or for that matter, advertisements, or any other attractions and distractions. Other than the attractions and distractions, online sources of information are often the best choice because they present various layerings of information-, i.e. true pictures of knowledge and information- complex and fluid, and often, revised for currency, not finite, not static.

Augmented Reality in the Wood Shop

by Dan McWilliam

This year I am trying a new elective where students use their creativity and engineering skills to create anything they want from two 2x4 pieces of wood. While the final product is up to the students, the goal of the elective is to have students go through the process of planning, drafting, revising and creating a final product.

One of the first steps of the elective was for students to create a model of their woodworking piece using Google Sketchup. They did this back in September when the elective started.

First Attempts In Learning

by Deirdre Bailey

I used to think exclusively in black and white.

I have a sincere appreciation for the clear-cut, precise and absolute and have argued that those who are not 100% sure of their accuracy should not be entitled to an opinion. I have spent most of my life infuriated by indecisiveness and I cringe to acknowledge that I have stormed off in irritation at people who would answer questions with questions instead of concrete opinions. I have been an equally harsh critic of my own confusion and have been guilty of rushing a process in order to arrive at a conclusion I could stand behind.

Recently, my thinking has changed.

The Curricular Potential of Integrated Digital Inquiry Resources


by Dave Scott, Grade 8 Humanities

Recently I have been working on developing a series of integrated digital inquiry resources to support and enhance my grade 8 social studies and language arts programs.

Here is my first attempt at a resource like this:



My vision for this resources was to bring together several innovations that digital publishing now makes possible. I think that developing digital inquiry resources would make use of three powerful ideas that have a significant impact on how students learn a topic such as the Italian Renaissance.

1. Links to documentaries and other video clips can bring to life the often boring facts and ideas presented in a textbook.

"Youth need images for their imaginations and for the formation of their memories." (Jardine, 2006)

For example, in our study of the Renaissance, hyperlinks now allow us to move beyond the limits of a text based book and imbed into the resource exceptionally well done documentaries such as Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance.

This PBS documentary can do what a purely text based resource has difficulty achieving, namely bringing students into the lived reality of Florence, Italy circa the mid 1400's. Often student's relationship with a social studies textbook involves confronting a wall of deadened facts that reduce the learning of history to memorizing a series of events and developments that occurred during a particular historical period.

Documentaries such as these can bring to life what is meant, for example, when we say the Renaissance involved a rebirth of ancient Roman thought and styles. In the video this is achieved by showing Brunelleschi wandering the ruins of Rome with his patron Cosomo Medici in an attempt to divine the secrets of the Pantheon so they could complete the Florentine Cathedral and as a result build the first free standing dome that Europe had seen for a thousand years.

Throughout the resource, accompanying text based explanations of events and developments occurring at this time, I have included links from the History Channel and other sources to show the lived world of such concepts as The Crusades or the Black Death.


2. Digital resources provide an opportunity to move beyond the often trivial information recall questions asked in textbooks.

I believe that teachers can craft tasks that develop deeper and more meaningful understandings than textbooks seem to accomplish. For example, after learning about the idea that Humanism rejected the Medieval obsession with the afterlife at the expense of this life and placed man and his potential at the centre of things, using two superb video clips to bring students deeper tinto this notion, I asked my students the following question:

Drawing on this History Channel video Humanism Triggers the Renaissance, after watching this Clamation version of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, how do you think Humanist thinkers would have interpreted the symbols in this story?

Although some teachers may resist the idea that grade 8 students are capable of having such a 'high level' conversation, I believe, as evidenced by this video of a class discussion I facilitated last year, that they certainly are able to engage in deep and meaningful conversations that sources like these make possible.


3. Khan Academy type mini-lectures imbedded in the resource make it possible to show students how to provide quality responses to the inquiry tasks.

Since Bill Gates dedicated a multi-million dollar injection of funding to help the Khan Academy broaden the number of tutorials they offer, the idea of the flipped classroom has gained significant traction within discussions concerning how digital technologies could significantly support and enhance traditional approaches to instruction.

Taken from this blog, the Flipped Classroom as described by Jonathan Martin is:

Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved.


Some educators have criticized the Khan Academy and flipped classroom approach that video tutorials allow, arguing that it leaves intact the factory model of education where skills and processes are treated as isolated and discrete entities. The critique here is that unless these skills and processes live somewhere, like within a meaningful project or task that ideally has real world implications, then we are still left with an approach to learning that has no greater purpose beyond mastery of isolated skills and processes for their own sake. This approach assumes that later on down the road these skills will be transferable to real world problems and tasks.

Although I agree with this critique of the Khan Academy, I do believe this approach offers significant potential to offer support and aid to students when they need it, who may struggle in, for example, providing a sophisticated, developed, and well supported response to the inquiry question on Plato's Allegory of the Cave.

What I am trying to accomplish with this digital resource is to make use of the positive possibilities of the flipped classroom by giving students multiple entry points into the content - while embedding the resources into a larger, more meaningful set of inquiry questions and problems.

I welcome feedback and suggestion about these ideas and my first inquiry resource...

Jardine, D. (2006). "Youth need images for their imaginations and for the formation of their memories." Journal of Curriculum Theorizing. 22(4), 3-12.


Edmodo: Social Networking Reinvented!

By Ivy Waite

Social networking has revolutionized the way that we interact with those around us, and educational networking is here to revolutionize our classrooms. Rather than networking focused on sharing personal photos and the latest scoop, educational networks provides teachers with a new way to facilitate collaboration among their students, and share in their learning experiences.

Enter: Edmodo - Facebook created by teachers for twenty first century classrooms.

I first used Edmodo as a student teacher, and researched it's potential as a classroom tool. The results of reading can be found at this website: Educational Networking - Towards The 21st Century Classroom.

This year, Jaime and I decided to use Edmodo as a platform upon which to build our current events assignment for the first term. We wanted students to share one article and analysis each week, and to comment on other students work regularly as well. Edmodo provided us with the perfect, private, controlled space.

Our students were immediately hooked on Edmodo once they signed up. "This looks just like Facebook!" and "check out my cool avatar!" were only a couple of the positive comments that we received.


Throughout the course of the first term, I was blown away by the calibre of posts and conversations that resulted from them. Students were having in depth conversations about current events, outside of the classroom! Occasionally the site would crash and not allow anyone to login, but I find it easy to understand how 50+ students logging in at once can crash a server.

While we are not using Edmodo for current events in the second term, I feel that it's worth as an educational tool is enormous! Teachers can post assignments, share grades, message students individually or in groups, and more. Students are able to sign up to receive text message notifications when you post information, and have said that the service really helps them to stay on top of things going on in class.

If you have not yet visited Edmodo, do not wait! Your students are ready and waiting!

Making Learning Visible: Art





I was walking down our art hallway today and saw our art teacher, Lorrie Emin, putting up these great pieces of student work.

What struck me about these pieces of grade 7 student artwork (beyond the amazing quality) was how the focus was on the student learning - not just on the final product. Each piece demonstrated incredible growth and skill development - made public to the rest of the school.

Identity Comes Alive With Issuu

By Ivy Waite

When my teaching partner Jaime Groeller suggested that we culminate our study ofidentity with a poetry anthology I may have been a little skeptical. I had asked grade 9 students to create and analyze poetry in the past with mixed results, but loved the idea of trying to engage them in some creative writing. We forged ahead with the idea, inspired by Jaime's own poetry anthologies from high school.

We figured, if Jaime could create such amazing work with limited technology, what could our students do armed with their background knowledge and a healthy serving of creativity?

The Seeds of Collaboration...

By Ivy Waite

Walking around CSS today was much like the other days that I have been fortunate enough to spend at this school. As a teacher new to both the profession and the school, I seem to see things through a different lens... Teaching partners working together during their regular, scheduled planning periods; teachers team teaching in the library with 50 students; a lesson study involving teachers from multiple schools; this is incredible stuff! The real power in these events is the impact that they have on student learning. In all instances of collaboration at CSS it is evident that authentic student engagement and success are the main focus.

Through my different lens, an appreciation for and curiosity about the power of collaboration has begun. Working with my teaching partner, grade, and subject team members has been challenging me daily to reflect upon my own practice. What is the real difference that collaboration can make in transforming teaching and learning? What does it really mean to collaborate? What are the most effective ways to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that a spirit of collaboration can present? How do students and teachers collaborate among themselves, and among each other?

Great Literature Inspires Great Writing: The House on Mango Street & My Name

By Ivy Waite

As a student teacher one of my mentor teachers gave me the book The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I have since used this short, incredible piece innumerable times in my humanities classroom with students from grades seven to twelve. This book found it's way into grade nine humanities classrooms this year when I introduced it to my teaching partner Jaime...

We decided to begin our Identity unit with a lesson involving Mango Street that I have used multiple times, with great success. In the lesson My Name, students read Sandra Cisneros' exemplary vignette exploring her name from Mango Street to inspire them to consider the nature of their own names, and write their own vignettes. In the past I have simply read the story and then set students loose to "go research" their own names. This year, Jaime suggested that we use this assignment as an opportunity to review the inquiry process and have students write 10 strong inquiry questions to guide their explorations. I must admit that this step made a HUGE difference in terms of the depth that the students went to...


Listen to Sandra Cisneros tell the story behind her incredible piece, and pick up the 25th Anniversary edition with a new introduction from the author. (Hard to believe it is already nearing it's 28th anniversary!)

If you have not read "The House on Mango Street", run and read it today! The rich description, figurative language, attention to detail, and strong emotions make it an invaluable work in any humanities classroom...



Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning

At the Calgary Science School we focus on inquiry-based learning, technology-intergration and outdoor/environmental education. We believe these three pillars come together to provide students with opportunities for authentic, meaningful and relevant learning.

At the core of our program is inquiry - an approach to learning and teaching (including teacher learning) that is the foundation of all we do. Our thinking around inquiry is that it is more than just 'doing projects' but is rather nurturing a dispostion toward critical thinking, reflection and idea improvement in all learners in our building. In creating and sharing these projects, we are thankful to the Galileo Educational Network for their role in shaping much of our thinking about inquiry.

On this blog you'll find a growing collection of inquiry-based projects. You can use the tag list on the right side of the blog to find ideas on specific topics, grades or subjects.

Recently we have created an 'introduction to inquiry' guide structured around a modified version of the Inquiry Rubric developed by the Galileo Educational Network

This document is currently in a text-only format and our next goal is to embed illustrative video throughout the document.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on the document. What resonates with you? What stands out to you? How might the document and the Galileo rubric be useful for you?

We share the first version of the document here with you:



Engaging Math: The Candy Problem


I mentioned the Candy Problem in a previous post in which I alluded to having provided the kids with a challenging math problem that even teachers had been taking a significant chunk of time to solve. The Candy Problem was brought to us by the Galileo Educational Network as part of a longitudinal "lesson study" approach to math PD our math teachers are participating in.

We presented the problem as part of an end-of-semester formative assessment. We had had many conversations previous to presenting them with this problem about multiples, factors, common factors, number patterns and multiplicative relationships.

Our goal was not to evaluate the kids based on whether or not they could complete the problem but to provide them with a means of generating conjectures and demonstrating their thinking process.


Community of Practice

by Amy Park

As the school year began, I was excited not only to be teaching at CSS again and teaching a new grade, but to wear the moniker "mentor." I thought, albeit naively, that I had a great deal to offer my new teaching partner, who with just one year under her belt was considered a newcomer to the profession. After nine years in the classroom, I assumed I would share all that I know about teaching and in return, she would learn. I have never made a worse assumption in all of my career. My belief about "mentoring" and what my role would be was completely outdated. From various academic journals and through countless discussions, I quickly realized how wrong I was.

This Is How Its Supposed To Feel...

by Deirdre Bailey

The start to my day today was hectic at best.

Snowy roads, a forgotten laptop and a first class full of glue and tissue paper. I asked the kids if they could do their best to be purposeful and respectful as they shredded piles of paper and painted white glue onto massive provincial cardboard cut outs. I handed a few of them some cameras and asked them to interview each other on the artistic process as I rushed around gathering materials. They generated their own questions, found their own space, and got to work. Twenty minutes before the end of class it was a disaster area. Ten minutes later it was spotless. Eight of them stayed back at recess to help wash glue cups. I hadn't asked.

Focusing on Outdoor and Environmental Education

On Nov 7-10, the Calgary Science School sent a team to the ACEE Environmental Leadership Clinic, funded by Cenovus Energy and Environment Canada's Eco-Action Community Fund. This Clinic provided our team with an opportunity to network with other Environmental Educators and stakeholders in Alberta.

As a CSS team, we focused on developing a plan to enhance and enrich the third pillar of our Charter - outdoor and environmental education. We've noticed that this blog is full of innovative and meaningful work that provides evidence of two of the three pillars of our Charter (technology and inquiry based practice) but we recognize that a greater emphasis must be placed on embedding outdoor and environmental education resources in our learning to further our Charter goals.

Engaging Math: Ice Melt Problem


As part of the math lesson study we are currently hosting, one of our grade 9 math teachers (Jon Hoyt-Hallet) recently shared his classroom with 10 teachers while students were working on the 'ice melt' problem.

Both this math problem, as well as the framework of Lesson Study we are using come to use from our PD with the Galileo Educational Network.

Hands on with Grade 6 Flight!



The last time I taught grade 6, my colleague Lisa Nelson and I decided to try something different with the flight unit. After a collaborative planning session with another colleague with expertise in this area, we developed a project in which students would design and test ‘objects that fly’ in a wind tunnel.

The wind tunnel was quite easy to build – it simply involves a fan and plastic tunnel sitting upon a scale. This tunnel allows student to calculate the change in weight of their designs during the testing process.

The ultimate goal for the students was to create the greatest amount of lift they could with the knowledge and engineering skills they had. While we experienced success with that project (high student engagement, creative building projects), we were unsatisfied with the way in which students communicated their progress and ‘ah ha’ moments. The original project had them keeping a daily logbook. This became an unwieldy document that was difficult to assess.

Forging Connections between Science and Art

On October 5th and 6th, 2011, the Calgary Science School hosted the Forging Connections Conference.

This conference was a collaboration between teachers, art and science experts and parents with the goal of integrating art and science more authentically into the students’ learning.

This exciting two day event consisted of six, 105 minute sessions. Each was structured around a “show/tell/do” format where an artist (visual, drama/dance and music) showed a finished product; a scientist will explained the magic (science) behind it and then the students were able to make meaning of the knowledge through hands-on creation and exploration.

Create, Explore, Discover.

Sustained and Reflective PD

Last Saturday we kicked off an exciting professional development experience that's being hosted here at the Calgary Science School.

Over the last few years our math team has participated in a type of PD known as lesson study. Basically lesson study is a way to approach PD where teachers slowly examine and improve students' understanding by designing and working through rich problems together, collecting evidence of student thinking and then designing next steps together. The lesson study approach was most famously discussed in The Teaching Gap, an examination of math teaching practices in different countries.

This lesson study is facilitated by the Galileo Educational Network who have created the framework for the discussions as well as the various math problems we are using.