Random Acts of Kindness at Nottawasaga & Creemore PS

By: Fisher Monahan, Abby Hamerton, Alex Rawn and Alison Golding

Did you know that November 4th was Random Act of Kindness Day? We certainly didn’t until I received a call from a  community member, looking to spread kindness in our community. RAK Day is an opportunity to do something kind for someone else, to appreciate others and to build community. An anonymous donor asked that we pass $300 along to three students ($100 each). She asked that they use the money to perform acts of kindness. In return, the only thing she asked was that they share their experience with their fellow students.  

Fisher’s RAK

When I was first chosen I was thinking about how I would spend the money. The first thing I thought about was the Georgian Triangle Humane Society (GTHS). Last year, I organized a fundraiser at school for International Cupcake Day benefiting the GTHS. My principal and the students working on the fundraiser got to take a tour to see the services they provide for homeless and abandoned animals in our community. This is a charity that I really like to support so I decided to donate $30 to them. On the same day that we received the RAK money, a flyer for Plan International came in the mail. Plan International is an organization that works to end child poverty around the world. I looked at the items available to purchase and decided to spend $20 to buy medications for moms and their babies and $50 on two birth certificates (which can help protect against child labour, child marriage and child trafficking). The organization then matched the amount donated for the medications by 5x and the birth certificates by 4x. My favourite was going to visit the GTHS. The lady at the desk took a picture on her own device because she was so impressed with what we were doing and we got to play with the cats which is always fun! This was a great experience and motivated me to continue to do good things for other people!

Abby’s RAK

When I was first chosen I felt amazing because this stuff doesn’t usually happen to me and I wondered why I was chosen to have the privilege to do this amazing act. I talked with my family and it took us about an hour to brainstorm, then come up with the perfect plan. The first thing that we did was go to the bank and get $30 worth of toonies. Then we went on the city bus and paid for people’s bus fare as they entered the bus. It amazing to see the people’s faces light up as they got on the bus and we told them what we were doing. Then we went to the Salvation Army Thrift Store and gave someone $20 toward their purchase. She was so happy and couldn’t stop saying “thank you”. The last thing we did was went up to a young couple with a little baby and gave them $50 and told them to buy something they really needed. They were amazed and almost completely speechless! It was an amazing feeling. My favourite part was seeing people’s faces and hearing them thank me, it made me feel great inside!

Alex’s RAK

When I was first chosen for this activity I was really excited. I talked with my family about ideas and decided that first we would go to the Stayner Tim Hortons and donate $50 worth of coffee and food for the next customers. It was pretty cool because a family friend reported later that they were given a free coffee at Tim Hortons earlier that day! After that we talked to the Stayner Food Bank and asked what they needed. We went shopping and got $40 worth of spaghetti and macaroni because they were running low on those items. We got to tour the food bank. The coolest part was how all of the food was sorted into sections, kind of like a small grocery store. With $10 left to spend, we decided to support a local business by donating $10 to “Video Visions” where I often go to get pop and movies. They have awesome deals like “free popcorn Friday” so I thought it would be a nice thing to do to repay their kindness. Lastly, I decided to add an extra $5 of my own money that I donated to the library building fund. It felt really good to spread kindness in my community. A lot of people said “thank you”. I even got a thank you card from the Food Bank and there was a thank you post on social media from the manager at Tim Hortons. It was a great day and I learned that if you do good things in life, you get good things back in return.

Kindness Everyday  

The message behind RAK Day is simple; do something nice for someone and ask nothing in return other than they pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. The initiative doesn’t need to cost money and it also doesn’t have to be limited to one day a year.  

Here are suggestions for some random acts of kindness that don’t cost a cent, that you can do any time:

  • Hold a door open
  • Say something kind to someone
  • Help someone out in need  
  • Donate time to a worthwhile cause (i.e. raking leaves for a neighbour, visiting a seniors centre)

Through this experience we learned that it feels just as good to give as it does to receive…maybe better.  We encourage you to RAK up an act of kindness today!   

Students in the Nottawasaga Creemore school garden

School gardens: can you dig it?

By Alison Golding (principal), Juliette Reynolds (parent volunteer), and Emily Worts (parent volunteer)

There is a phenomenon spreading across our country bringing gardens to our schools, inviting our children outside to learn about their connection with their food. No matter where a school is located, one thing every school has is outdoor space. It doesn’t matter if this space is green or asphalt, horizontal or vertical. Any outdoor space is a space where plants can grow and in the process teach students important lessons from the curriculum and beyond. The lessons from a school garden are multiple, from where our food comes from and how it’s grown, to stewardship for our planet and the concerns around mass food production. Students learn that the soil is alive and how to care for it. Gardens are also living laboratories from which interdisciplinary lessons can be drawn. A school garden is a dynamic classroom where children engage in a whole new way, they encourage children to be active participants!

Thanks to parent volunteers, the enthusiasm of school staff and students, a generous start up donation from Jerrico Industrial Maintenance as well as other community donations, we have been able to offer the rich experience of a school garden to our children in Creemore!  

It all began a year ago, when the vision of a school garden began coming to life as students voted on naming the garden. The result of the naming process, “The Great Garden of Thunder” (the school’s logo is “Creemore Thunder”). The grade 8 class then class built our 9 raised beds and each class in the schools works with volunteers through the year to tend the vegetables, herbs and flowers!  

Curriculum Connections

School gardens are inherently cross-curricular and can facilitate engaging and meaningful learning opportunities for students. The ideas are truly endless, but below are but a few ideas related to how school gardens connect to different areas of the elementary curriculum.

  • Math: Students can solve real life math problems related to measurement, volume and fractions, both through measuring plant growth and through the creation of recipes with the food that they grow.
  • Science: Lessons can include topics of soil structure, photosynthesis, compost and waste management, plant and animal life cycles through integration of bat houses, butterfly gardens, “bee hotels”, insect explorations and bird feeders. The use of indoor vertical gardens are another opportunity that can create year long opportunities for learning in colder climates.
  • Health and Physical Education:  Gardens can contribute to daily physical activity through weeding, tilling, planting and harvesting which get children moving, bending, stretching and outside. Health lessons are a natural link to gardening related to healthy lifestyle choices, spending more time active in the outdoors and choosing healthy foods over junk food. Another timely trend in education is the idea of “mindfulness” and the garden creates an amazing backdrop for the practice of activities such as mindful breathing, an activity that helps students gain focus for subsequent learning.
  • Arts: This year, we have had some “Art in the garden days” where students paint the garden beds, decorate rocks, garden signs, bird feeders and picnic tables. On nice days, music classes can also take advantage of using the garden as a backdrop for playing Orff Instruments, recorders or ukuleles.  
  • Language: The garden is a great method to engage students in procedural writing, whether it is through the creation of a “how to” guide for planting and harvesting or through the development of a recipe. Students can also participate in journal writing and non-fiction research. Lastly, there are many amazing literacy links to children’s’ books, both fiction and non-fiction, that can be included garden lessons.  
  • Social studies, History and Geography:  Our spring planting for next year’s harvest included planning for a Grade 3 “Pioneer” garden box in keeping with the curriculum expectations from that grade. As part of the pioneer garden, students are growing plants that can be used for food, medicine and dye.  What an amazing way to make the curriculum come alive! There are also links to curriculum around the concepts of communities, community partners, the idea of local vs. imported, and land use.  

Additional Benefits of School Gardens

  • Lessons learned in the garden can span from Kindergarten all the way through high school.
  • School gardens provide authentic, engaging and immersive learning experiences that help students make real world connections to curriculum expectations.
  • School gardens beautify the school yard and also help students to develop a sense of pride, respect and ownership for their school.
  • Researchers Graham, Beall, Lussier, McLaughlin & Zidenberg-Cherr (2005), found the following when studying school gardens, “These programs use a multidisciplinary approach to educating students and have been shown to increase test performance, attention and enthusiasm for learning and to decrease discipline issues in the classroom.” (p. 150)
  • The school garden supports positive mental health promotion through the encouragement of a healthy lifestyle and access to spending time outdoors. At our school, there have also been more than a handful of instances where a student has been upset or sad and after a walk in the garden to pick some veggies and talk with a caring adult, the student is able to return to class focused and ready to learn. Students also gain self-confidence and a develop the sense of competence that comes along with the acquisition of new skills.
  • School gardens not only strengthen the school environment, by providing a collective space where students work side by side, but they can strengthen community bonds as they require support and knowledge from the broader community. Taking advantage of some of these opportunities can be particularly useful during winter months when there isn’t much actual “gardening” going on. In our community, there are partners eager to teach about topics such as  biodynamic gardening, stewardship, food related to healing and nutrition, pollination, soil, worm composting, organic farming and making local food widely accessible. We also have a number of parent volunteers who are amazingly engaged in working with students on garden related activities. In terms of cross grade partnerships, we are fortunate to be able to partner with our local high school, Stayner Collegiate, which has an amazing greenhouse and has kindly started our seeds for us the past two years. Some of the students at our school have had opportunities to visit the high school and there are certainly a wealth of opportunities for cross-grade partnering both within our own school and for special activities in partnership with the high school. Lastly, we are extremely proud of our “Community Resource” shelf at the school where parents can sign out resources related to subjects including gardening so that activities that can be carried over from school to their home gardens.  
  • Garden-based learning activities naturally embed the development of character, learning skills, work habits and 21st century skills, helping students to develop traits such as focus, patience, collaborative skills, creativity, responsibility, teamwork, communication skills, citizenship and perseverance through solving problems. School gardens can even nurture traits such as compassion and empathy through growing and donating produce to local food banks or charitable causes.
  • School gardens not only cover multiple curriculum areas, but they also appeal to multiple learning styles.  Looking at design and layout may appeal to students with strong visual spatial skills. Verbal-linguistic learners may be interested in documenting learning in the garden or promoting it within the community. Mathematical thinkers may enjoy the costing component. Planting, maintenance and harvest would appeal to the kinesthetic learners. Like the curriculum connections that can be made through school gardens,  connections to multiple intelligences are also endless.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn

Student-led tech teams: using our best resources

Student technology teams are a powerful co-curricular activity that I’m excited to see happening in more and more SCDSB schools. These teams support the goals of enhancing student leadership as well as supporting the development of deep learning skills around technology for the entire school community. Through student technology teams,  students assist their peers and teachers with technology (hardware, software, online tools and apps).   

Depending on the needs and resources of each particular school, these teams can play a variety of different roles including:

  • Assisting in classrooms in specific areas of technology (as simple as logging in or as complex as learning to use a new device)
  • Creating technology-related ‘how to’ videos, tutorials or blogs
  • Hosting ‘lunch and learns’ on specific topics for staff or students
  • Hosting parent information nights
  • Creating engaging video announcements for the school community (instead of traditional announcements over the PA)
  • Community outreach such as partnering with seniors, the library or a community living group
  • Providing ‘helpdesk’ support for staff
  • Participating in ‘tech buddies’ (think reading buddies with younger students but with tech instead of books)

The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the students…meaning they are endless!

Student tech leadership teams stand out from more traditional school activities because they are of equal benefit to both staff and students. When it comes to technology, the students who often know more than the adults really are our best resources!

For student participants, as well as providing the opportunity to develop specific skills related to technology, tech team activities also develop all of the crucial life skills that we call the 6 C’s (character education, citizenship, communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity). I have seen tech teams engage students who were previously not connected to leadership opportunities within the school, helping them find their voice, become involved and connected to the school in a meaningful and intrinsically rewarding way.

The benefits are also great for other students in the school. Tech teams can create a learning culture in schools where students  see that learning happens all through the day, not just during class. It also involves all stakeholders. Learning isn’t just something that is bestowed upon students, it is active and involves staff as co-learners. When students see their teachers learning alongside them, they feel safe trying new things as well. Most of all, student love to learn from their peers and what better way to engage students than by encouraging these opportunities!

Lastly, we can’t  forget about the benefits to staff. Through student leaders, teachers who are not as tech savvy can also have a non-threatening entry point to learning in this area. Additionally, when a student invites a staff member to attend professional learning about something important to them that they have planned and facilitated, staff are motivated to attend and acknowledge their student’s work, all while learning themselves.  

Let me leave  you with a quote that I feel summarizes the power of student technology leadership teams in schools. “It is not about the technology; it’s about sharing knowledge and information, communicating efficiently, building learning communities and creating a culture of professionalism in schools.” – Marion Ginapolis

Student tech teams in action:

Full steam ahead with STEAM-based learning

STEAM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.  Before there was STEAM, there was “STEM”. The “A” was added later based on the idea that, through the integration of arts with other disciplines, students who have not been traditionally as engaged in math and science are able to build confidence and be exposed to new opportunities in these areas that support their learning across the curriculum. I would also propose the opposite idea is true, that “STEAM” activities facilitate opportunities for students who are interested in maths and sciences to have an accessible entry point to the arts.

Striving for deep learning means creating an infrastructure during activities that requires students to think, question, create and take ownership of their learning. STEAM also helps highlight the real life application of skills. For example, “design challenge” STEAM activities require students to work together to create a product that meets certain criteria, giving them a practical purpose. In fulfilling this requirement, they also have the opportunity to communicate with peers, ask questions, imagine possibilities, plan collaboratively and improve their design in a cycle of learning. They also learn that failure and improvement are a part of learning…a valuable life lesson!    

At the end of the day, we all want our students to be happy, well-rounded, engaged learners that have the skills required to support them in their journey through life.  STEAM activities are one of many paths that can be used to facilitate this goal.

Happy STEAM-ing!

Click on the photos below for a description of each STEAM project.

COPE Dogs “Canines in the Classroom”

This year, a group of students at Alliston Union had the privilege of participating in the COPE Dogs Canines in the Classroom. The program has been running for several years within the Simcoe County District School Board as a credit in the high school setting at Nantyr and Bear Creek secondary schools.

COPE’s mission is to provide a remarkable education program that engages communities and empowers students and others in the training of service dogs that will transform the lives of people with disabilities.Through Canines in the Classroom students achieve curriculum objectives by training a COPE dog to become a service dog that will eventually be placed as a helping partner for a person with a physical disability, or doing community visits to locations such as hospitals and nursing homes.

As part of the program students follow a set curriculum to assist with training the dogs to work with people with disabilities. Students in the program create a unique bond with the dog they are paired with, creating trust and loyalty as well as building self-confidence. Throughout the process students learn skills to communicate effectively verbally, non-verbally and in writing. COPE promotes sense of volunteerism, ties to community and promotion of resilience. It also serves to raise awareness, inclusiveness and foster empathy in the school population.   

Students at Alliston Union recently gathered to celebrate their successes in the program this year with their dogs, friends, family members and community partners. As a part of this celebration, they shared this video documenting some of the student learning and excitement that COPE brought  to our school. Thanks to Michelle Orchard, one of the fabulous teachers that supports the COPE program, for her work on the video which clearly shows what a valuable opportunity this has been!

Making a Difference in our Community

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As part of our ongoing work at Alliston Union on the global ‘New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’ project, Mrs. MacRae’s Grade 4 class set out to capture the 6 C’s of deep learning through ongoing activities where they partnered with different community groups. What better way to develop character, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking than through experiential learning with others in their community! Some of the students in Grade 4 have prepared a description that they wanted to share about the exciting events that they have experienced as part of their learning this year.

Making A Difference

This year our grade 4 class wanted to participate in some community building activities for our social studies inquiry. We wondered, “What can we do to make a difference to the lives of the people in our community?” We set into action! Through the year, we have connected with respectful residents from Riverwood Senior Living, courageous individuals from CLASS (Community Living of South Simcoe), fierce firefighters, fabulous farmers (who raise lambs and mini horses), caring kindergartens and personable police officers to help us with our community building activities. One of our most amazing community projects was our “Smile Campaign” where we encouraged everyone to smile by handing out (recycled) paper smile flyers and greeting people in downtown Alliston on May 7th. It was funny because some people thought that we were there for money but it wasn’t for the money, it was for the smiles! Our goal for this project was to encourage positivity and inclusiveness plus motivate people to get involved. And it worked!  So, how can you get involved? GREAT QUESTION! Help to make our community a better place! Join in or create your own community building events! Help your parents, your friends, your neighbours or just people walking by! You can help people (and the environment) everyday!  It doesn’t matter how old or young you are.  You can help.  So do it!  And have fun! And REMEMBER…SMILE!

~ by Lydia, Jaskirit, Maggie, Madalyn, Natalie, Rylee, Hailey, Trinity, Candace, Michael and Braydon (on behalf of Mrs. MacRae’s Grade 4 Class)

You can read more about some of our Grade 4 community building activities here.

From ‘newbie’ to connected—how I learned to navigate the world of technology

I have a confession.

I have never used a SMARTboard. I didn’t use email, or even a computer until university. I’m still a bit taken aback when people refer to me as being “good with technology” because it doesn’t fit the image I had of myself for most of my life.

As a school administrator with a strong belief in not asking staff to do things that you aren’t comfortable doing yourself, I began to explore different digital tools that I hoped would support student learning, as well as my own professional growth. During the beginning of this phase I definitely lived the motto, “fake it till you make it”.  However, the more I dabbled, the more I discovered that with technology, there is something newer and “better” around every corner. The fact that it’s impossible to keep up with the rate of change is a deterrent for so many educators who are beginning this journey.

After struggling with this for a while, I decided that I needed to be more specific in choosing a focus, and then go deeper into exploring how I could use it to improve my practice. That leads me to about a year ago when joined Twitter.

I had no idea how to use it at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be purposeful about using it to connect with and learn from other educators. It was at this point that I think I really began my journey into using technology as an accelerator to transform my own learning. It has challenged my thinking, caused me to become more reflective about my practice and it has connected me with people and opportunities that I never would have otherwise experienced.

agtwitterFast forward to today. I recently returned from Bring IT Together, my first “Ed Tech” conference, hosted by The Educational Computing Organization of Ontario.  Had you asked me five years ago, this is certainly not an event that I would have either been interested in or pictured myself attending. I am pleased to say that I’m leaving the conference with a renewed sense of possibility, passion and pride in my chosen field of education.

My next step is to challenge myself by leading an online book study via Twitter. I have led a number of successful book studies with school staff, but leading one online is new territory for me.

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