Abby Sweeney - Calgary 2017 travel blog

May 18, 2017

We woke up early to start our second day at Robert Thirsk. I was excited about going back for a second time, because I felt like all of my questions were still unanswered. How do you deal with discipline? How do you grade assignments equally if you allow students to pick and choose the level of difficulty? Where is the line between student and teacher drawn during Connect, if your students are meant to be so open with you? How do you fund schools if there is no provincial sales tax? To me, it never seemed to make sense.

But some of those questions were answered the longer I sat and listen. For example, even though there is no sales tax, the provincial government gets money through the sales of oil. This money goes into the provincial fund which is this allocated to schools and students. In Mississippi, schools receive funding based on their attendance and test scores. But in Calgary, schools receive the same amount of funding per student regardless of school zone, attendance, or test scores. Students then receive additional funds if they are “coded” as an ELL or with special learning needs. This is not to say, however, that the schools do not run out of money. So while RTHS has an indoor greenhouse where they raise fish to release back in the wild, a yoga studio to practice mindfulness, and a carpentry room that makes Colby’s BCS studio look bad, the school still finds that they will always need more money or resources to suit all of the needs of staff and students.

From our group discussion, we were assigned a color community to attend, and we could attend any class that we wanted. I chose to go into the English classroom, where Ms. Connelly’s students were presenting presentations on their individual novel study. The students had to give a monologue from the perspective of a chosen character from their novels and present it so that the audience could see the characterization and growth throughout the novel. (See the attached assignment in the images).

A big part of the curriculum set-up is that the students have options. So, the students were able to choose from To Kill a Mockingbird (which seems to be a staple in MS culture), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, The Secret Life of Bees, The Chrysalids, The Alchemist, and Speak. After each student presented, Connelly immediately asked students for positive feedback. The student feedback emphasized that the presenter understood the material of the text and was able to understand and make meaning of the final assignment. After the class had a chance to respond, Ms. Connelly had even more positivity for the presenter and even an acknowledged positive for the ones who commented on the student’s presentation.

Another thing I noticed during presentations was that a student seemed particularly nervous to give the presentation in front of the entire class. However, the student’s nervousness was eased when another student volunteered to read the rest of the presentation while the nervous student stood nearby. Then, Connelly asked told the student to come present individually during FOCUS so that the student could perform to the best of his ability. This is just one way in which the Focus period can be utilized. About five to six students actually missed the final presentation. However, Connelly made it crystal clear that these students would need to do the monologue presentation during FOCUS and that her students who were present should relay the message to these absent students.

Something that Connelly said really stuck with me. She would tell her students who behaved in a positive way or to students who knew they were going to miss class later in the day (they were responsible and turned in their assignments ahead of time), “I appreciate your maturity.” To me, saying “I appreciate your maturity,” is something that all students want to hear because they all want to be grown up way too soon, so to acknowledge that is to positively influence them rather than being punitive with them.

Some more interesting facts about the school system that we visited in particular:

- There are 1,000 international students in Calgary. This means that they have come to Canada without a parent in order to attend school.

- Most times, when teachers want to try different or innovative ideas, their principals are very willing to give consent.

- They have field trips in high school!

- High school re-design principles correlate to middle school philosophies.

- Core teachers meet to discuss their own personal due dates so that students do not have multiple BIG assignments at the same time.

- Calgary demographics: middle to upper-class, educated parents

- RTHS: 85% completion rate with 0.3% dropout

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