OJCS Announces $50,000 Investment in French Education

File this under “promises made; promises kept”.

We are thrilled to share that our school will be making a $50,000 investment to ensure an increasingly excellent French education, to grow the number of students who successfully transition into French immersion programs in Grade 9, and to increase the odds of their success once placed.  This comes directly from the hard work of our French Language Faculty, the changes we began this year as a result of beginning this conversation last year, the leadership of our Board and the generosity of our donors.  This is a great day for those who already know a Jewish day school education does not preclude an excellent French education; it is an even better day for those who want to believe it, but needed a little more than anecdotal evidence to go on.

If you are new to this conversation, I encourage you to read my blog post from last February which lays out a detailed history of French education in Ontario, how it impacts OJCS and what the state of affairs was like when we began this work last school year.

Here are a few reminders and updates:

We continue to acknowledge that small sample sizes make statistical analysis complicated.  We remain committed to annual surveys of our alumni and frequent check-ins with the high schools in our community.  We do know, for example, that 50% of the students who graduated OJCS last year from French Extended are currently in Grade 9 French Immersion in high school (the other 50% opted out).  They report being successful and having been adequately prepared.  It may not be statistically significant (this was not a large class), but it lines up with last year’s data and the ample anecdotal evidence we do have that OJCS students can and do successfully transition from “Extended” to “Immersion” in Grade 9.

Here is what we committed to for this school year:

  • Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time will begin during the admissions process.  Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
  • The selection process in Grade 3 will be more rigorous, begin earlier, come with more parental engagement, etc., so that students who do continue into “Extended” for Grades 4 and higher are even better prepared for Grade 9.
  • We will increase the rigor and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available.  We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible.  This includes a philosophical shift in K-3 that raises the bar – rather than aim towards the middle and wait to see who rises up, we will aim towards immersion and stream those who struggle.
  • We adjusted our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Students in OJCS have more contact time with French in each grade (except K which was already frontloaded).

Here is how our French Language Faculty put it when we met with parents twice yesterday at our “French Q & A Sessions”:

Vivre en français à OJCS

  • At OJCS, the FSL (French as a second language) faculty has made a commitment to speak French with their students everywhere in the school, so if you walked through our hallways, you would hear us speaking French to our students, increasing the interaction and contact time with our students.
  • Our enhanced FSL program with its consolidated class time (blocks of periods), all within a trilingual school where the francophone culture is alive and regularly celebrated, produces students capable of successfully communicating and learning in French.
  • Students practice their language skills in various environments, such as on the playground, and during coaching on our various OJCS sports teams.
  • Our FSL faculty is committed to offering authentic OJCS learning experiences.

While we believe we are on a gradual path towards clarity around French outcomes and increased excellence in French education, we are also aware of how serious an issue this is for a meaningful percentage of our families.  We have also seen how the use of consultancy has jumpstarted innovation and growth at our school.  What we are announcing here is going to do for French what our other consultancies have done for OJCS – dramatically speed up the process of moving from good to great.

We have identified a few different consultancies that would provide OJCS with the following features:

  • One to two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the Immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observation and direct training.
  • Shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.
  • New and updated French curriculum.
  • Individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full Immersion programs at their next schools of choice.

The tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

We are in the process of finalizing our consultancy and will share out additional information when confirmed.  Additionally (not part of the $50K), we are also committed to adding French Resource.  We feel this will bring much needed support not only for students who have IEPs, but for any student who struggles.  [Yes, we are committed to adding Hebrew Resource as well.]

We enjoyed the opportunity to share our progress and our plans with parents.  We appreciated the candor and the tough questions we were asked.  We are pleased to share it more widely here.  Interestingly, we heard similar feedback that we heard last year about three areas.  One we tried to do something about and couldn’t get it off the ground; two we need to pay even closer attention to…

  • There was a very positive response to the idea of OJCS offering French enrichment as part of an after school program and/or as part of a summer day camp experience.  We surveyed parents last year about it for this year and did not get a critical mass.  We will try again.
  • There was a strong feeling that using Grade 4 as our arbitrary split into “Core” and “Extended” is unnecessary and that we are missing an opportunity to increase the immersive exposure in Grades K-3 when it could potentially have even more value.  We addressed this issue this year with a philosophical shift (aiming higher), but we could also choose to address it structurally (actually streaming earlier).  This will be worth exploring through consultancy.
  • There remains a meaningful percentage of our families (particularly ones who are from and/or are familiar with the model in Montreal) who would like to see us offer a full immersion track, if not embrace a full immersion model.  Although our cultural context is different, we do have a responsibility to pay attention to these families.  We will continue to survey and assess this need; we will also try to better calculate the opportunity cost of not having it – who is not coming to OJCS (and, thus, not getting a Jewish day school education) because we can’t offer it.

This is where you come in.  We desperately want to know what you think…

…what questions did this answer for you?

…what questions did this raise for you?

…what do you want to know more about?

…what else do you want us to know?

We cannot encourage you more to email, comment or come in for a conversation.  We need all voices heard as we work towards clarifying and enhancing our French mission and vision – next year and in the years ahead.

OJCS Building First School-Based Makerspace in Ottawa! (Wait…what’s a “makerspace”?)

It just got real.  Real exciting.

As we announced last year, thanks to the generosity of the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program.  Or rather, we are now able to think about designing spaces that will best allow the unique vision OJCS has for teaching and learning to best come to life.  [With a building as “seasoned” as ours, we don’t lack for options!]  We intend to completely redo our “computer lab” and transform it into a tech-friendly collaborative workspace.  We intend to completely redo our “library” and transform it into a 22nd century media literacy center. Etc.  But we have decided to lead with a makerspace.  Why?  Glad you asked!

Although more and more schools have invested in makerspaces, it is still rare enough that it is okay if you are asking yourself an obvious question: What is a makerspace?

Makerspaces are popping up in schools across the country. Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.

A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.

When you think about many of the exciting prototypes in play this year at OJCS – Genius Hour, VR, 21st Century Judaica, Robotics, Blogs, Recreating Biblical Artifacts and QR Codes for Art Projects, just to name a very few – they share one feature in common.  They all require our students (and teachers) to make something.  These are all learning prototypes that include or result in a tangible (including digital or virtual) product. They are also projects that are both cross-curricular and collaborative.  A classroom is not always designed to house learning of this kind.  Our school needs a place where students can come as a class or in teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a place where teachers can come with students or in their own teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a learning commons designed as a hub of creativity.  Our school needs an incubator of innovation.  Our school needs a makerspace.

And so the work has begun!  Our first step was to identify a partner to bring our dreams to life.  We interviewed a few architecture firms, but found in our new friends Ryan and Wendy, from Project1 Studio, a partner who brings enthusiasm, creativity and expertise to the work. Our next step, which was this week, was to convene a group of teachers, students and administrators for a “Visioning Session” to allow them to begin to identify the kinds of activities we believe should take place in our new OJCS Makerspace.  What will be the right blend of…

  • movie-making equipment (green screens, sound mixing, movie editing equipment, etc.)
  • robotics,
  • coding,
  • 3D printing,
  • VR,
  • state of the art presentation space (TED Talk-style),
  • woodworking,
  • crafts,
  • science/STEM/STEAM,
  • brainstorming/mental-mapping/collaborating spaces,
  • inspiring/relaxing/creativity-inducing spaces,

…activities, tools and zones to maximize our space and enhance energy and enthusiasm for learning at OJCS.

[Where is this space going to be located, you might be wondering (if you are an OJCS parent)?

We are working with the footprint of our current Science Lab and adjoining offices.  That gives us about a 1,300 square foot space to play with, but it does require that we factor in our current Science needs within the design.]

Once we settle on our priorities, we will move to design.  From design we move to furniture and fixtures and from there we move to construction itself.  Our current schedule has us breaking ground in July and on target for a grand opening on the very first day of the 2019-2020 school year!

It will be our pleasure to share out designs as they come in and it would be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing.  Although we know the building isn’t the most important factor in a quality education, we also know that the right kinds of spaces can have a meaningful impact on the educational experience.  We are proud at OJCS to be creating innovative spaces to match our innovative program.  It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.

And we are still just beginning…

A Trip Around The “Cohort 2018” OJCS Blogosphere

Wait, didn’t we just do this two weeks ago?

Nope!  We teased it two weeks ago when we said that,

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on.  Stay tuned!

Well, as we head into our February Break with a Friday PD Day facilitated by our friends from NoTosh, this seems like a good opportunity to share out the amazing work our DocuMentors are doing.  Which teachers are part of this cohort again?

Glad you asked!

Ann-Lynn, Melissa, Shira, Bethany, Josh, Keren, Chelsea, Jon & Silvia.

We are so pleased to have a diverse (grade level, subject & experience) group of new teachers (folk who were not part of the NoTosh Design Team; excepting Melissa, Keren & me) who are learning new paradigms, NOW literacies and innovative skills and practices which are not only impacting their work, but the larger work of the school.

Don’t believe me?  Well…let the tour begin!

“Cohort 2018” has a home page  where you can see summaries and insights from Silvia herself.  “Cohort 2018” has a landing page where you can get links to each teacher’s professional blog.  That’s where the magic lies.

From Ann-Lynn’s Blog (click here for the full blog)

Who Own’s the Learning? Daily 5 Chronicles – Posted on January 27th

Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence, creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers, and learners, and provides teachers with the time and structure to meet diverse student needs. Because it holds no curricular content, it can be used to meet any school, district, state, or national standards. ~ The Daily Cafe

This week I asked myself, “Is the Daily 5 literacy framework allowing my students to achieve the ultimate goal?” Are they a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers and learners? Do they truly own their learning? As my Grade 2s completed their  literacy block this past Wednesday morning and headed off to their next class, I remained in the empty classroom long enough to browse through my phone and look at some photos I had recently added. Were they just photos of compliant students doing what was asked of them, or did I have a classroom of students who now own their learning? Let’s examine four components of the Daily 5 and the photos which I believe captured my students owning their learning.

Work on Writing 

I will confess, if I did not take a few minutes to quickly walk around the room and ask questions, I might have deleted these photos, not truly understanding the evidence I possessed in my photo album. In the photos below, both students were working on their writing, yet neither student was getting their inspiration from a class list of topics. One was very eager to complete a biography on a famous basketball player, Kawhi Leonard and another student was busy completing a narrative on a special family event. Yet a third student, who sadly will be leaving us in a few weeks, took this opportunity to write an account of her experience here in Canada for the past two years. Who owns the learning? They do!

Word Work

My students understand the importance of expanding their vocabulary. The photo below captures a student wanting to learn more and being self-motivated to do so. The student chose to spend our literacy block  reading chapter 2 of our novel study “My Father’s Dragon”, stopping to jot down words she is unfamiliar with. I know I am hoping to see these vocabulary words added to our live dictionary on Flipgrid. The group photo below is evidence of two things; an example of Win Win, and a group of students who chose to play the competitive level of Osmo words. Before the Osmo spelling game could begin, however, the students had to resolve a conflict, brainstorming a solution where everyone wins.

Who owns the learning? They do!

Read to Self/Read to Someone

Finally, as all these wonderful things were taking place in my classroom, I had the opportunity to do some one-on-one conferencing with some students. Where were the others you ask? They took this opportunity to make a quick trip to the library to add to their book bins. They were using the Star Reading program to help them choose a “Just Right” book. This last photo in my post needs no words to describe what is taking place. But three words come to mind, highly engaged readers.

From Chelsea’s Blog, “The Chrysalis Chronicles” (click here for the full blog)

Feeling Sketchy? – Posted on January 17th

What is Sketchnoting? This is today’s topic on my learning journey with my cohort the DocuMentors  with our in-house visit with Silvia Tolisano.

  • Is drawing and doodling a story with pictures?
  • Is it making my thoughts visible with symbols, pictures, arrows, ideas?
  • Could this be a way I have my students take notes to enhance their thoughts and learning about how math concepts are related?
  • Can I video/record the sketchnoting process (stop motion) to show my doodles and thoughts over time?
  • How will sketchnoting change my learning?
  • How will it change it and throw me to do something different?
  • How am I going to take my examples and practices of sketchnoting and use it to sketchnote for learning?

These questions are running through my head as we gear up to begin this new learning process.

Opening up and getting ready to begin my first Sketchnote using the Paper app.

       

Doodling has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing. ~ Suni Brown

And I’m off…

On my third sketchnote…getting the hang of this..as we learn and “live” sketch…it’s hard…very hard… listening and sketching at the same time…

challenging my multi-tasking skills….

Let’s keep going….

 

so…here I am…

…look at everyone else…
They are doing so well! We are learning so much!

…but…how am I feeling…this is going on too long…I’m feeling very uninterested…not by my lack of artistic skills (Tip #1 You don’t need to be an artist)…but I’m starting to tune out and not enjoy this process..but I’m hanging in there.

What does this tell or say about me?

First, that drawing may not be for me…but I’m open to try new things and work through it…

Second, that as much as I am a visual learner…I’d much rather express my own thoughts through words to communicate my output. This makes me think to a colleague sharing their learning DNA. I can have more than one learning competency, and this means; so can our students!

Back to more questions…now with some answers!

  • would some of my students really enjoy this…YES!
  • is it a skill that may be helpful and beneficial for some students to grow…YES!
  • is this another avenue, tool, and skill to learn, and create from and with… YES!

So…back at it…and let’s try some more sketching…

I’m in this to learn…not just for me, but for my students…

Tip 8! WHY!?

Sketchnoting For…. This is it! This is why I’m continuing to do this…through my personal frustration and disengagement: for the students!

…to contribute, to give skills, to make meaning, to enhance memory, to tell a story, make connections, to reflect, to display content….to CREATE!

Here is my final sketchnote from…the big reveal…

10 Tips for Sketchnoting from a Sketch”novice”

       

I’ll continue to try sketching more…and provide an update of my progress.

If you want to try to sketchnote yourself, I encourage you to try it out! If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas.. check out the following places and links.

You may surprise yourself, learn something about yourself, and perhaps a new skill to surprise and encourage others!

Sketchnothing

Teach Thought

@sketchnotesclub

#sketchnotes

From Shira’s Blog, “Finding the Light” (click here for the full blog)

Capturing Resilience – Posted on January 16th

Today the Documentors were invited into a Grade 3 math class with the goal of making learning visible. The students were assigned open-ended multiplication problems, and demonstrated their knowledge of 1 or 2 digit multiplication, using pictures, words, and numbers to demonstrate their thinking.

During the pre-documentation phase, I decided to focus on capturing the students resilience. How do they continue when they hit a barrier? What tools do they use? Do they persevere or do they give up? Resilience has been proven to be a strong measure of students success.

This trait is also attached to one of our school’s North Stars…We Own Our Own Learning. 

The students were amazing! They were eager to get to work and tackled their problems with enthusiasm. Even with 9 extra adults in the room snapping photos, taking videos, and writing notes, they weren’t deterred. Even the first demonstration began with a student detailing how she began again as her first trial wasn’t working.

Then they broke into groups of two and the work began. It was beautiful to see the students working together, listening to each others ideas, and using trial and error multiple times to figure things out.

When some groups got stuck, they raised their hand for help or patiently waited for their teacher to come and support them. She reminded them to break the question down and use trial and error. They immediately got back to work.

I observed students continuing to work to figure out what was missing. They kept trying even though it was hard, and when one group felt down, with a little encouragement they continued to work with enthusiasm.

During the gallery walk we had a chance to ask the student leading questions. The resilience shone through in each and every group I spoke to.

When explaining her work, one student told me that there were lots of possibilities for the answers. I asked if she was finished and she said:

“There are still more possibilities. I am working on the math.”

Another pair explained that they tackled the problem by just starting to experiment different ways to solve the problem. When they got stuck their strategy was:

“We kept experimenting stuff.”

When there were problems one group said:

“We each did half.” When they got stuck, “We talked to each other, we erased it and did it another way.”

Was resilience evident?

ABSOLUTELY!

I want to share examples of Bethany, Josh, Melissa & Keren’s blogs as well – which I will do on our next tour – but you can view all their blogs by starting at the landing page and diving in.

Do you see how excited our teachers are about learning?  Can you imagine how exciting it is for our students to have teachers like this?

We can!  Because that is what life is (now) like at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

A Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

You know what?  Enough about me!

How about this week, we take a trip through The OJCS Blogosphere and kvell about some of the excellent projects our students and teachers are engaged in. Perhaps it is too much to expect folk to check all the blogs all the time – especially if they are not parents in a particular class. So allow me to serve as your tour guide this week and visit some highlights…

From the Grade Three – Kitah Gimmel Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grade 3 Introduces Blogging to Grade 1 – Posted on January 23rd

After all their hard work and preparation, Grade 3 presented their blog posts to Grade 1 and taught them about how to comment in an effective and meaningful way. The grade 3 blogging group prepared a ‘stations’ layout and the grade 1 students were split into groups and visited each station. Upon arrival at each station, the grade 3 blogging group had prepared a speech, introducing their blog and how one may go about commenting. They shared rules and a model example, alongside comment sentence starters and comment boxes.

Grade 3 even took the time to reflect and reply to the comments, responding to questions and developing answers.

They were mini teachers in action, with their lesson plans, resources and differentiation. Well done Grade 3! And thank you Grade 1 for being such good commentators, we really appreciate your kind and encouraging words!

 

From the Grade Five – Kitah Hay Blog (click here for the full blog)

Une tempête de neige! – Posted on January 17th

Il fait tellement froid dehors qu’il a commencé à neiger à l’intérieur! Aujourd’hui en 5T, nous avons eu une bataille de “boules de neige» pour mettre en pratique notre nouveau vocabulaire!

 

From the Grade Seven – Kitah Zayin Science Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grade 7 Virtual Reality Presentations – Posted on January 14th

Grade 7 students building their communication, collaboration, digital media, researching, and coding skills as part of their CoSpaces Ecosystems presentations for judges.

 

From the Grade Four – Kitah Dalet Blog (click here for the full blog)

Guest Blogger of the Week – Shylee – Posted on January 18th

I hope you have fun looking at what Grade 4 did this week. Our class is doing the school reading challenge, and so far we have read 396 books. Our goal is to read 600 books. We might even have to make our goal higher.

In English class we have been practicing our interviewing skills. This week we interviewed our reading buddies from Ganon on what they liked to do, their hobbies, etc….  We are going to be interviewing the residents of Hillel Lodge for an upcoming project.

We also took part in a Research Workshop about using key words instead of typing long questions into Google. We have also been practicing our research skills in class too.

In French, we have been working on a new unit. The new unit that we are working on is sports. We have been doing a little project at home about an athlete.

In Art, we have been doing a project about a fox. We will be putting the artwork in the hall of the school.

In Hebrew we have been practicing for the Tu B’Shevat Seder that we will be having at Hillel Lodge. We have been practicing a play to perform for the residents. Liam and Inbar have been helping us get ready. We will be performing a song as well. This is a video of  some of my classmates singing (notice Dr. Mitzmacher  listening in the background)

Today we did a special activity with Morah Ada. For ‘Ivrit Be’Kef (fun in Hebrew) Devorah (Joey) and Ma’ayan (Mia) translated a recipe to Hebrew and gave us the instructions of how to make the cookies.

This is Mrs. Bertrand who helps us organize with all the Knesset meetings. I am the class rep for Grade Four, and I love going to all the meetings and helping organize activities at the school.

Being a blogger was an awesome experience. It was hard taking the pictures during the classes because people were moving a lot. Putting it together on the blog taught me how to embed pictures and videos and learn how to type better and edit my work. I am looking forward to being a blogger again.

 

Pretty amazing stuff, eh?

I encourage you not only to check out all the blogs on the OJCS Blogosphere, but I encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on.  Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: Why Do We Give Homework?

That’s not rhetorical.  It is an actual, live question that we are finally ready to begin answering here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, as promised.

It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about all of them.  For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context.  Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?

What is our current homework policy?

We have a simple 10 minutes that incrementally increases by grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.

Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the whys and whats of homework.  It only speaks to, “how much?”  We can do better.

 

The purpose of an OJCS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.  The OJCS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.

Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete.  The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that it should only be assigned if it is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.

Homework is more effective when:

…..the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.

…..it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless a flipped pedagogy is being employed).

…..it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.

…..it is explicitly related to the classwork.

…..it is engaging and creative.

…..it is authentic.

…..feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.

…..it is personalized.

 

This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice.  But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to ensure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.

As with every other initiative or project we undertake at OJCS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently.  We look forward to these conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.

Annual BlogCloud – A WordCloud to the Wise

It is that magical time of year!

That time where after having written many (many) long (long) blog posts on “very important topics” that with Winter Break approaching, even I am ready for a fun and simple post.  [Note: This will likely be my last blog post until we resume school in the new (secular) year.]

So.  If you missed last year’s post

I love to take an opportunity once a year to run my blog through a word cloud app or website.  If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) takes any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Another great feature is that, not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a word cloud representing the sum of all its written content.

What does my blog post look like in a word cloud this year?

Words that have increased their frequency that I love?  Transparency, prototype, blog, kindness, strategy, community and innovative.

What words would you have expected to see?  What words are you disappointed to see?

If you see something interesting in the OJCS word cloud, let us know in the comments!

Wishing all our students, families, teachers, volunteers, donors, supporters and the entire OJCS community a safe and joyful Winter Break!  We are looking forward to big things in 2019!

Liveblog of OJCS 2018 Winter PD Day

Sure for some folk it is “Black Friday” or a “day off” – but at OJCS it is our Winter Professional Day and we are excited to spend a day together learning!  We want you to be as excited about what we are learning and what it will mean for our school as we are, so I will once again liveblog the day.

[A liveblog is as it sounds – I am typing live as it is happening.  Which means it will come even more unedited than normal!]

9:00 AM “Speed-Geeking”

We began the day with “Speed-Geeking” – a quick rotation (about 20 minutes a station) where the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano this year (our “DocuMentors”) have each chosen a tool they have begun learning about and think other teachers would be excited to add to their growing repertoire of innovative pedagogies.

Explain Everything

In this session, they are learning about how to use the “Explain Everything” app to create tutorials, to have students better show their work, etc.  Lots of great conversation about how this might apply in Math classes – not just showing me the answer, but how they got there.  What a great example of documentation not just of learning, but as learning!  Jewish Studies Teachers are brainstorming ways they could use the app to demonstrate ability to retell the narrative of holidays.  I can tell already that a lot of teachers are going to be looking to use this in the class – across subjects and grades.  Twenty minutes goes fast!  On to the next one…

Flipgrid

In this session, teachers are being wowed by what they can do with Flipgrid.   This has become a very hot tool in the education world and we have already begun using it at OJCS (as teachers and with students).  It is a very good tool for shared reflection, a really import skill if one is going to “own their own learning” (north start alert!).  You can also develop virtual “pen pals” through FlipPals – exchanging videos with students from all over the globe.  We definitely do “learn better together” (north start alert!)!  It is always exciting to watch teachers be excited and get excited.  Right now the teachers are using a QR code to take them to two live OJCS Flipgrids being used in Grade 5 – one for our new “Genius Hour” prototype and one to share about books they love. It is another example of how 21st century learning changes the where, when and how of learning.  Students can add new videos anytime and anywhere…and they are!  It is also a great tool for teachers – so we created our own Flipgrid for our teachers to share their ideas with each other and with the world.  Time is flying…

iMovie

Do you know how amazing it is to watch a teacher who was nervous and reluctant to try a tool wind up teaching other teachers about that tool?  I do!  Because I am watching it happen in real time…iMovie isn’t so much the chiddush here, but for teachers to better understand how using video as a tool for documentation of/as/for learning is so critical for developing the artifacts we need to better understand their growth and to better explain that growth for parents.  One issue that has come up is how great video is for helping students for whom writing is a challenge be able to better express all that they are capable of.  [Side note: Watching the cohort begin to use similar language from the work they are doing with Silvia shows you that the learning is beginning to stick.  It was the same from our last PD day when the NoTosh Design Team presented in a similar fashion and began to speak the new language.]  [Side side note: Considering how many years across so many organizations I have worked with Silvia, it is extra special.  I have missed all that Silvia has brought to my last three jobs.  And to me.]  [Super inside side side note: I see you Andrea Hernandez.  We’re not done with you!]

Twitter

What’s the best way to do PD in 2018? Get on Twitter and join the conversation.  Connecting with other schools and communities?  Twitter. Expand our learning networks? Twitter.  Learn from leading international educators?  Twitter. Free, open and a sharing community?  Twitter.  Learning about Twitter from a teacher who just recently joined Twitter and is super-excited about it?  Well that’s OJCS. #TheOJCSDifference indeed!  We are being walked through a tweet, hashtags, replying, etc.  Teachers are seeing how easy it is to use and I have a feeling there will be a few more members of the Twitterverse by the time the morning comes to and end!  We’re almost done…one more to go!

Skype

Skype isn’t just for connecting with grandparents!  (Actually that’s kinda FaceTime these days, but still…) There is so much happening on Skype these days, especially for education. That’s why they call it “Skype in the Classroom“!  Between Mystery Skypes and Skype Virtual Tours and Skype Collaborations and Skype Guest Speakers there is really no end to the where in the world the learning can take you.  As has been true in other sessions, teachers of every age and every subject are beginning to dream what could be true for them.  Kitah Hay can take a virtual tour of a a kibbutz.  Grade One can have a book read to them by a famous author.  Middle School can have a Mystery Skype in Hong Kong.  And I have a feeling they will!

10:30 AM “Strong Connections Through Personalization”

This is probably the most traditional and formal of our sessions today.  Our new Director of Special Needs Sharon Reichstein is leading a session on how by beginning with relationships we can better meet the diverse needs of all our students.  As a school committed to being as inclusive as our resources allow for, and a school committed to moving towards a personalized learning approach for all its students, using one (personalization) to help achieve the other (inclusion) is both natural and super complicated.  Or rather, it might make sense philosophically or in the abstract, but the magic or the artistry is in what happens at 9:15 AM on a Tuesday in a French class with a specific group of children.

It is hard to capture a session like this appropriately and it might be the case that we share out the slides or do a version of this with our parents and community.  After watching a video of students describing what it feels like for them to live with various learning needs, our teachers are engaging in a simulation that shows them what a reading disability feels like.  And it is eye-opening to say the least…

And then a video of students struggling with organizational issues and a simulation…

And then a video of students struggling with attention issues and a simulation…

And then a video of students struggling with math issues and a simulation…

And then a video of students struggling with writing issues and a simulation…

What is important to name is that it isn’t that our teachers are being exposed to anything they don’t already know – at least intellectually. And it isn’t that our teachers don’t already make all kinds of accommodations for all kinds of students – they do.  But a radical dose of empathy is always healthy to swallow.  And I love how our teachers are responding to it…

And I love what it is going to mean for our students…

1:00 PM “The Prototype Protocol Fishbowl”

For our last session this afternoon, we went back to reconnect dots with the “Prototype Protocol” our NoTosh Design Team created to help our teachers understand how to translate the many innovative ideas they come up with into specific prototypes as part of the design-thinking culture we have created here at OJCS.  To help make it real, we created a “fishbowl” and had teachers volunteer to act out the first couple of steps in the protocol which deal with finding a peer to test assumptions.  It was great on two different levels.  It was great to hear more about some of the amazing prototypes that are in varying phases of work.  And it was great for the teachers to see real examples of how to move the work forward.  When you plant seeds, it takes time, water, sunlight and a little luck to bring forth flowers.  At OJCS, there are a lot seeds in the ground..imagine how beautiful it is going to be when they bloom.

 

So that’s it!  Another innovative PD Day has come and gone.  And we even have an hour or left to hit the “Black Friday” sales before Shabbat.  Days like today remind me how lucky I am to work in this field.  Schools like ours remind me how revolutions in education don’t happen in think-tanks or large membership organizations; they happen in schools – big and small, in large cities and small towns. They happen in Jewish day schools.  It is happening here.  And we are just getting started…

 

 

Let’s Talk About Blogs: The OJCS Blogosphere Town Hall

Early in the year, I blogged about coming attractions and shared that…

With the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, and due to significant and overwhelming feedback from parents, teachers, and students, the OJCS is transitioning away from Google Classroom and launching school-wide class blogs.   Our new blogging platform will make it a whole lot easier for parents and students to know what is happening in their classes and for teachers and students to share pictures, videos, examples and reflections of the incredible work they are doing.

We learn better together” is one our North Stars;  school blogs will help us expand the concentric circles of “we” to amplify and share the learning.

We held a “Town Hall” on October 3rd (delayed once due to the tornado) in which we laid out our big picture vision for moving towards a blogging platform and to take a tour of the “OJCS Blogosphere”.  So.  Now that we have made it through the Jewish holidays, essentially restarted school and have finished our first (!) five-day week, it seems like a good time to check in to see how this whole blogging prototype is going.

The first thing that is important is to know that the OJCS Blogosphere exists!  There are Lower School Blogs for each class K -5, a Middle School landing page with a calendar of major projects/tests, individual Middle School Teacher Blogs (Math, Language Arts, etc.), School Activities and Special Interest Blogs and Leadership Blogs. You will find increasing and increasingly exciting content on them all. You may also find navigating the blogosphere new, confusing, or frustrating, depending on what you are looking for, how easy it is to find (or not) or whether it is there (yet) at all.

The use of “prototype” to describe our launch of blogs is intentional. It is to remind us that we are trying something new, seeking feedback, and making changes as we go.  We are learning what works and what doesn’t.  We are also learning what works as a vehicle for education and what works as a vehicle for communication. Recognizing there is no one platform that does everything we want in terms of both education and communication, we are working to fill the gaps.  We have appreciated your comments and your suggestions and are meaningfully considering them as we go.  For now, however, I thought it might be easier to frame where we currently are as a hypothetical FAQ built on real email questions we have received thus far:

What are the minimum expectations of what is supposed to be where?  Is everything on the blogs or do I need monitor email, the website, The Hadashot, etc?  

We are in the beginning of a major shift, but the consistency is not yet there.  Each teacher/grade-level team was given a rubric for their blogs with the minimum “must-haves” and they include homework, class events, quizzes, and major projects.  There are some distinctions between Lower School and Middle School – the Middle School Calendar we created on the homepage for Middle School is intended for major tests/projects (only) for example, but where we are headed is a place where the blogs become the primary (only) source for information.

It is a major transition in two ways.

The first is for students.  As they get older and take on greater executive functioning, learning to manage their workloads, where to find homework, etc., transitions from teacher/parent to teacher/student(/parent).  There will likely become a point where providing physical agenda books becomes obsolete (with exceptions of course). We are learning as a faculty how to function this way and learning how to help students make the transition.

The second is for parents. With a new website (finally!) going live this week, we can finally reorient our entire communication system.  If we treat the website as a blog (for school-wide and/or community-wide communication), then we can start using our Hadashot and all school social media to direct people to the right blog to find the rest of the story.  A picture, a headline, and a link should suffice to get people where they need to be.

What do I do if I have children in multiple grades?  Do I have to go into each blog and find each relevant thing?

Depending on what you are interested in, you can subscribe (there is a box on each page) to as many blogs as you wish (at which point you will receive an email when each subscribed blog has a new post) or use the social media (email and Constant Contact included) of your choice as a cue to click on what you are interested in.  We would highly suggest that you subscribe (at a minimum) to your children’s primary blog(s).  [We would love if you subscribed to all the blogs, but that depends on how much email you would like to receive.]  It is kind of like the difference between subscribing to my blog or waiting for me to use Facebook/Twitter to share the headline of this week’s post and choosing whether you want to click or not.  Of course the school can’t use email or social media to prompt you for everything.  You will need to rely on your discretion and your children as well.  There is also a piece of this which is about where your children need to go to find what they want/need and where you need to go.  Depending on your child (and you) those could be different things.  Having lived through this in other schools, I can assure you that you will eventually (sooner than you think!) adapt and adjust.

Did this help answer some of your questions or concerns?  If you have additional ones, I encourage you to comment on this blog post or email/call/drop in.  I will happily answer your questions and happily share out in future posts additional FAQs.

 

How will we know if a move to the blogosphere is right for OJCS?  The same way we (now) measure any significant initiative – do they bring us closer to our North Stars?  Does utilizing blogs help us…

…own our learning?

…learn better together?

…inspire Jewish journeys?

…provide a floor, but not a ceiling?

…experience ruach?

…be more responsible each to the other?

I would argue emphatically that it does.  But don’t take my word for it. Go see it for yourself!   The future is here and it is open, collaborative, reflective, transparent, personalized, transformative and limitless. Students coming out of OJCS will not only be prepared to participate in this world, they will be prepared to thrive and to lead.

We Left As A School and Came Back As A Community

Wow.

That’s all I can say.  We got back exactly one week ago from our three-day inaugural Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa (CBB) and it was everything we could have hoped for in a Jewish informal educational experience.  We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, zip lines, and a campfire to boot!  It felt like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we are all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time, in between catching up with the rest of the school and planning through the rest of our holiday experiences, putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video to the talking. I will likely have more to say after the holidays when I’ve had a chance to properly process and reflect.

We didn’t necessarily know what we would come out with, so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone may have made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with photos and videos throughout the year.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat will become an important part of our middle school.  Our relationships are forever changed – for the good.  We will be able to do things within the walls of the classrooms that we never would have without having spent time together outside of them.

Here’s a taste: