OJCS Celebrates #GlobalMakerDay

Sure, we were a bit delayed in joining in with the rest of the school world due to the Jewish Holidays, but we more than made up for it with an incredible day of learning, making, innovating, and joy as the Ottawa Jewish Community School celebrated #GlobalMakerDay on Thursday, October 20th!  We might as well have called it #OJCSNorthStarsDay since a day like this reaches so close to so many of them…

…”We learn better together”?  We sure did today as collaboration was the key to innovation.

…”We own our own learning”?  Students got to choose which challenges inspired their creativity.

…”A floor, but no ceiling”?  The sky (literally in a few cases) was the limit as to how high they chose to aspire.

…”Ruach”?  Did they have fun?  Check out the smiles below and tell me.

I want to be super clear and name that not only did I have virtually nothing to do with the planning and facilitation of this day, I also had virtually nothing to do with the documentation of this day as well.  It is my pleasure to use my blog to showcase the work of those who did.

The primary drivers of #GlobalMakerDay at OJCS were our #MakerspaceThree.  As I shared a while back in a post about the (re)launch of our OJCS Makerspace (generously supported by a gift from the Congregation Beth Sholom Legacy Fund), we have three teachers who spent much of last year in a consultation with Future Design School (generously supported by a grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building) – Josh Ray, who serves as our “Makerspace Lead”, Faye Mellenthin and Michael Washerstein.  [With a huge assist from our Global Learning Lead Julie Bennett!]  Everything that you are going to see below is the fruit of their labors – with photo collages captured by Staci Zemlak-Kenter, who dabbles in social while serving as our Development Director.  This, along with the beginning of regularly scheduled lessons in the Makerspace, is just the beginning of how this space will serve as an incubator of innovation at OJCS.

So.  What was this day all about?

In a nutshell…this:

Do you want to see what all 15 challenges were?  If so, keep scrolling!  [NOTE: You will not be able to click through to the videos and printables.]  If not, feel free to jump to the end!

Did our students have an amazing day putting all our skills, materials, creativity to good use?

I’d say “yes” – this was great day of learning at OJCS!  What new dream will we dream in the OJCS Makerspace?  Stay tuned!

This Year’s First Trip Around the OJCS Blogosphere

I thought I’d take break from Jewish Holidays despite today’s amazing Sukkah Hop (follow us on social!) and next week’s climactic chagim, to take us on our first tour this year of The OJCS Blogosphere.  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, it is my pleasure to serve as your occasional tour guide.  I do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]  This week I will focus on classroom blogs and, in the future, I’ll curate from school leadership blogs as well as student blogfolios.

From the Middle School Jewish Studies Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grades 6-8: Yad B’Yad Mitzvah Initiative Update – Posted on October 12

Our Mitzvah Trips are off and running! The Yad B’Yad (hand in hand) Mitzvah Initiative provides students with incredible opportunities to give back to our community and put their Jewish values into action. The theme of our Mitzvah Trips for this month is Kehillah Kedoshah. The phrase translates to a sacred or holy community. Students are learning about the importance of community. We are focusing on donating our time and giving back to others in our community. Our goal is to interact with and support various communities in Ottawa. Our first three Mitzvah Trips have focused on engaging with valued members of our Ottawa Jewish Community.

Together, they helped OTT at KBI Supplementary School step into the new year on the right foot by working to beautify the space. Students painted the walls, set up classrooms, and organized learning spaces.

The second week of our Yad B’Yad mitzvah initiative allowed our middle school students to make mini apple pies and challah buns to donate to the Ottawa Kosher Food Bank. Thank you to A Dashing Pinch – Village Café for overseeing our efforts and baking these delicious treats!

Our third week provided students with the opportunity to get creative! Students spent time creating decorations for our sukkah. In addition, a group of students went to the JCC to help make decorations for their sukkah. Check back soon to see what other amazing Mitzvah Trips that students are participating in.

From the Kindergarten – Gan Blog (click here for the full blog)

On International Dot Day, SK Made Their Mark – Posted on September 16

On September 15, 2022, the kids in SK celebrated International Dot Day!!!  If you’re not sure what International Dot Day is all about, here’s a little explanation:

September 15th marks the anniversary of the publication of best-selling author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot, a “story book for all ages.”

Starting in 2009, a group of educators began celebrating this date as International Dot Day — a day for classes to explore the story’s powerful themes: bravery, creativity, and self-expression.

The Dot tells the story of a caring teacher who reaches a reluctant student in a remarkably creative way. In Peter’s book, the teacher dares a very resistant Vashti to “make her mark.” Vashti’s breakthrough begins with a simple dot on a piece of paper. Encouraged by her teacher she sets off on a journey of self-discovery, letting her creativity bloom and, ultimately, inspire others.

from The Educator’s Handbook for International Dot Day

To mark this special day yesterday, after reading the book, the kids got to explore their own creativity by making their own unique dot.  They experimented with colour mixing by using markers on coffee filters and then spraying them with water at the Saturation Station.  They also drew their own special masterpieces to make their mark.  We listened to and watched a video of the “The Dot Song” written by Emily Arrow and Peter H. Reynolds…. you can watch the video and do the actions at home here.

The school year may have just begun, but the kids in Senior Kindergarten have already made their mark in a big way!!  Check out the pictures below and then keep scrolling for some important upcoming dates!!!

From The OJCS Library Blog (click here for the full blog)

Life Cycles and Migration Storytime – Posted on September 28

Today we read the beautiful book Bird, Butterfly, Eel by James Prosek.  This will give us a great introduction to the subject of both life cycles and migration.

For a follow-up activity, download the amazing activity guide booklet available at the National Environmental Education Foundation website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly 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.

OJCS Faculty Pre-Planning 2022: Getting Our Mojo Back!

We’re back!  I am writing near the end of an amazing Faculty Pre-Planning Week that has us poised for our biggest and best year yet!  We have a large group of amazing returning teachers and a small group of talented new teachers and the combination is almost too wonderful to name.  A school is only as good as its teachers, so…OJCS is in good hands, with all arrows pointing up.  Enrollment is still coming in, but it is safe to say that we will be over 190 for the first time in a long time.  But the best part of the week?  It was about SCHOOL and TEACHING and STUDENTS, and not about COVID and COVID and COVID.

Do you ever wonder how we spend this week of preparations while y’all are busy getting your last cottage days or summer trips or rays of sun in?  

I think there is value in our parents (and community) having a sense for the kinds of issues and ideas we explore and work on during our planning week because it foreshadows the year to come.  So as you enjoy those last days on the lake or on the couch, let me paint a little picture of how we are preparing to make 2022-2023 the best year yet.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The “Getting Our Mojo Back”  Cafe

Each year (15 years, 6 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Cafe”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  This year’s big idea?  Getting Our Mojo Back!

After the last two and a third  years, we are eager to get back on the exciting trajectory we were on BC (Before COVID) – back to being the school that did big things and tried new ideas, back to being the school where students dreamed big dreams and teachers unleashed their passion, back to being the school where parents were present and engaged and involved.  Etc.  Here’s one (of many) example of our brainstorm:

Implementing OJCS Homework Philosophy

One conversation that we are excited to be picking back up is a more fulsome implementation of the OJCS Homework Philosophy we created and shared pre-COVID.  This conversation includes questions teachers should answer before deciding whether or not to give it as homework,  like…

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it inspiring, creative and authentic?
  • Have I personalized it?
  • Have I explained it well?  Can students complete it independently?
  • How much homework is being assigned across the team?  Will it cause unnecessary stress?

Parents can look forward to more information on that and more to be shared during Back To School Night on Tuesday, September 21st.

Book Tasting: The OJCS 2022 Summer Book Club

I think you can tell a lot by the books a school chooses to read together.  Here were the selections for this summer, which culminated in a “Book Tasting” session where lessons and wisdom were gleaned and shared:

If you want to know more about the big ideas that shape our work, feel free to read one or more of these books and tell us what you think!

Reintroducing the OJCS Makerspace

Of all the BC (Before COVID) programs to be shut down before having a chance to truly take to life, the short-lived soft launch of the OJCS Makerspace (built with a gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund) was one of the most truly disappointing.  I have blogged may times already (most recently here last spring) about all that the Makerspace was and is intended to be, but now – finally! – we are taking steps to ensure that it begins to live up to its promise.  I often say that the best measure of a school’s (or any organization’s) priorities can be found in their budget and their schedule.  How you choose to spend your money and your time means more than any marketing collateral (or blog post!), and this year we have put our money and our time behind making the OJCS Makerspace the true “hub for innovation” it was designed to be.  We have created a Makerspace Team of faculty, led by Makerspace Lead Josh Ray, who have dedicated time for teaching, coaching and facilitating Makerspace experiences; and we are dedicating specific time for each grade (as part of their Science blocks) to explicitly work in the Makerspace.

To get us off on the right foot, the OJCS Makerspace Team facilitated our first OJCS Faculty experience in the Makerspace!  (This work is a direct result of an Innovation Capacity Grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa!)  We got to play with Tinkercad and compete with each other to design “classrooms of the future”!   Oh to finally be in the space to tinker, make, play and learn!  I am so excited to no longer having to be writing about the Makerspace because your children will be coming home sharing their experiences and hopefully the fruits of their labors.

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of the “Biblical Paradigms & Imposter Syndrome”?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Thompson, Morah Lianna and I do great differentiated sessions on use of classroom blogs and student blogfolios?  Yup!

Did Morah Lianna & Ms. Gordon help us understand how we can get our mojo back  through Student Life at OJCS?  Yessiree!

Did Ms. Beswick lead a session on “Setting Up Your Class for Behaviour Success”?  You bet!

Did Ms. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all safe?  No doubt!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Tuesday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  We are prepared to provide a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one of our precious students who we cannot wait to greet in person on the first day of school!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend and a successful launch to the 2022-2023 school year…

Les Fichiers de Transparence

Yes, you read that correctly…even if I needed help to write it!

🙂

This will be a short (if and only if, you skip the entire middle section which is all background information!), but sweet announcement that we imagine will put smiles on the faces of all those who have advocated for greater contact time with French language at OJCS.

First – thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out an Annual Parent Survey this year!  My sharing and analysis will, hopefully, be the subject of next week’s “Transparency Files” blog post.

Second – let me walk you oh so “briefly” through the conversation and work we have put into amplifying, expanding and improving French language outcomes at OJCS over these last few years.

In November of 2017, we laid out the big questions we had about French outcomes at OJCS and what our plans were for beginning to answer them.

In February of 2018, we shared back (in person by way of a “Town Hall” and through a blog post) the first set of answers to those big questions and made our first set of commitments in response.  That included:

  1. Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time need to begin during the admissions process.  Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
  2. 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.
  3. We will increase the rigour and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available.  We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible.
  4. We will provide additional extracurricular contact time with French through clubs, lunch, etc.
  5. We believe we will be able to adjust our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Stay tuned!

In April of 2019, we announced a $50,000 donation to strengthen French language learning at OJCS, and shared the following set of updates to our families and community:

  • 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).
  • 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 were to walk 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.

In May of 2019, we announced that the Ottawa Jewish Community School would be the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program.  (Please know that our work with TACLEF was generously supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.)

Over a two-year period (give or take due to many COVID “pivots”) CFORP introduced TACLEF, La Trousse D’acquisition de Compétences Langagières en Français (loosely translated as a “French language acquisition ‘kit'”) to the French teaching staff at the Ottawa Jewish Community School and offered individual mentoring in its use.  This approach strengthened team building and permitted a better understanding of a skills-based teaching/learning approach as it develops language proficiency in French language learners.

In January of 2020, I provided the community with an update on the consultancy, including…

…the greatest impact is ensuring that all three strands (reading, writing and oral communication) are built into almost every activity and evaluation.  It has also given us new resources and strategies for delivery of instruction, classwork, and homework (in addition to evaluation).

…by providing us with a detailed roadmap, we can prepare all our students – particularly the ones who land in Extended French – as if they were going into French immersion.  It is too soon to be more specific, but over the remaining months of the consultancy we will have greater clarity about how to adapt our program (with what supporting curricular materials we will need) to prioritize that outcome.

There is no doubt that COVID has impacted our ability to fully implement all of the above, but progress continues to be made each year.  This year’s highlights include a significant investment in French curriculum with a focus on leveled readers in support of reading comprehension.

And now you are fully caught up!

Third – here is a little context to better understand the announcement.

When trying to make comparisons between our French program and that of the public board, let’s look at an “apples to apples” comparison.  It is our understanding that students in French immersion at Sir Robert Borden High School (public) in Grades 7 and up have 740 weekly minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 200 min
  • Physical Education / Dance 200
  • Health 40
  • Science 150
  • History / Geography 150

In comparison, currently students in “Extended French” at OJCS in Grades 7 and up have 400 minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 240 min
  • History / Geography 160

Clearly, 740 is more than 400, and no one is making an educational argument that when it comes to language acquisition that more isn’t better.   And we have stated in the past that adding more contact time in Science is complicated (both because we appear to offer more contact time in Science education than SRB in general and because it would require additional staffing/tracking), but knowing that it is essentially science vocabulary that our students are lacking to bridge the gap opens up solutions that don’t automatically require us to reinvent the school.

But there is something we can do – and are announcing that we will do – as soon as the 2022-2023 school year.  We are thrilled to share with you that beginning next year the OJCS will begin the process of transitioning our PE program to a French-language PE program!

We are not yet prepared to tell you the “who” – other than it will be legitimate French teachers (not simply PE teachers who may speak French) with background and experience (not simply French teachers who may know how to shoot a basketball) – and we are not yet prepared to tell you the full “what”.  There is a curriculum that needs to be adapted and/or created; a curriculum that adds value, not just time, to the current French program.  But we do believe that adding an additional 120-200 minutes per week in French language exposure/education/contact time in another subject found in French immersion is a really big deal that is going to make a really big difference in French outcomes at OJCS.  (And, yes, we will be fully prepared to support those students for whom French is a challenge to ensure their legitimate PE needs continue to be met.)

We have come a long way towards closing the gaps between “Extended French” and “French Immersion” over the last five years – we see it in our outcomes and in our graduates.  But whereas those gaps have begun to close in terms of content and quality, this gap really does start to close the gap in terms of time.

This is a big deal and a big step forward for French at OJCS.

And we aren’t done yet…not even close.

La fête de la Francophonie

For those of you whose historical memory of OJCS goes back 5 years or more, you may recall that for a number of years we invested lots of time, love and resources in all of our grades putting on French plays – or vignettes – each Spring as a way of both celebrating French and making clear how important French and French language are at OJCS.  I had one opportunity, during my first year, to watch those delightful plays and since they were retired – as happens in schools, programs cycle in and out – we have been patiently waiting to replace those plays with an updated program that serves the same purpose.

Well…that time has come!

We are so pleased to let you know that this Monday-Wednesday (March 21-23) will be our inaugural “La fête de la Francophonie” at OJCS!  The goals are simple – to spend three days marinating in French, celebrating the work of our students and teachers, highlighting the strides our French program has taken in the last few years, and elevating French beyond the boundaries of French class, into the broader OJCS culture.  Like any firsts, we expect things will go well, with some minor hiccups, but are eager to see this program develop into a significant milestone in our school’s annual journey.

So…what to expect at “la fête”?

To set the ambience, we will have a customized French music playlist to greet our students each day upon entry…

Different grades/cohorts will be assigned a different French-speaking region/country to learn more about including…

  • Franco-Ontario
  • La France
  • Acadie
  • Madagascar
  • Québec
  • La Suisse
  • Les Seychelles
  •  L’Égypte
  • La Belgique

…students will learn about their region/country, not just during French, but across their day, and will take what they learn to compete in a door-decorating contest.  The winners will receive a ‘dégustation de crêpes’.

Each French class will work on a presentation that will be presented in the grand finale of “La fête de la Francophonie” at an all-school assembly Wednesday afternoon.

And many more surprises…

So there you go…voilà!

Parents at OJCS will hopefully look forward to lots of opportunities to peek in and/or to see pictures and videos during this year’s celebration.  We’ll look forward to building on this in future years as we continue to emphasize French in our trilingual school.  Stay tuned for more updates about the future of French at OJCS in the weeks and months ahead!

(Re)Launching the OJCS Makerspace

As our school and community begin to gently ease itself slowly back to that elusive thing we once knew as “normal”, I am very pleased to share that we have completed the “Makerspace Consultancy” that I had announced earlier in the year, and that we are gearing up to finally establish the Makerspace (built with a gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund) as the hub of innovation for OJCS that it was designed to be.

To refresh…

Thanks to a generous grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa‘s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, OJCS worked with Future Design School over the balance of this school year on a strategic makerspace consultancy.  The OJCS Makerspace Design Team included Josh Ray, our Middle School Science Teacher, Faye Mellenthin, our Grade 4 General Studies Teacher, Mike Washerstein, a Middle School Jewish Studies and Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher, and was headed up by Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator (and Grades 7 & 8 LA Teacher).  This was to ensure that the principles, the units, the standalone lessons, etc., cut across grades and languages and will allow us to not only build content that we can use right away, but to build capacity that we can use to develop curriculum and programming into the future.

We had our final meeting last week and received one of our deliverables – a slide deck that I am going to cherry-pick from below.  In a truly post-COVID world, we would have scheduled one of our World Famous OJCS Town Halls and presented there.  And we still may in the future, but for now, let my blog be the platform for sharing out the amazing work our team of teachers did in collaboration with our wonderful partners at Future Design School.

What were the goals?

What wound up being our “guiding principles”?

How do we get there?

How will we try to do this?

How about our students?

How will we do this?

When will all of this begin?

SOON!

The Makerspace Design Team – who I cannot thank enough for their time, commitment and passion – and I will be meeting during the Spring so that we bring all this excitement, creativity and innovation to life next school year, if not sooner.

As enrollment continues to come in – and thank you to the many, many parents who re-enrolled on time, and welcome to the many new families joining our OJCS Family for 2022-2023 – the relaunch of the OJCS Makerspace will help move our school that much closer to our North Stars and make learning that much more motivating and engaging for our students.  We can’t wait to see what our students invent and create!  And, yes, say it with me, this too is very much #TheOJCSDifference.

Do you want your child to benefit from all that an OJCS education provides?  It isn’t too late!  Please contact our Admissions Director, Jennifer Greenberg (j.greenberg@theojcs.ca) to set up a tour today!

A quick thought about teachers as we head into February Break…

One of my favorite books is Teaching & Religious Imagination by Maria Harris.  It is a wonderful book and I am grateful to my doctoral comps all those years ago for allowing me to become familiar with it.  What I love about it, is how it describes secular teaching in religious language. The very act of teaching – regardless of subject or location – is a religious act.  This is not just beautiful imagery, which it is, but an important truth to acknowledge as we head into another transition – this time from hyflex, back to in-person learning.

Those of us who have been charged with the sacred task of providing a child with an education recognize and are humbled by that holy responsibility.  It matters not in a school whether we are the teacher of prayer or the teacher of math or the teacher of French or the teacher of badminton.  Education is interactional and God can be found in the quality of our relationships.  How we treat our students and each other matters.

Teachers, like families, are looking forward to a much-needed break from the challenges and burdens of having pivoted from in-person learning to Winter Break to distance learning to hyflex learning to February Break; with a final two-week phasing out of hyflex as the circle rounds back to in-person.  Please know that just as it is vitally important that we find the opportunity to share the good with parents about their children, I cannot tell you how impactful it is when a parent shares something nice about or directly to a teacher.  These acts of lovingkindness are what sustains even the most dedicated of teachers during inevitable times of stress.  Thank you to all who do take the time…your kindness matters.

We are long past the point of predictions when the truest thing is our inability to know what is to come.  We know that when we return from break that the sun will rise on each new day.  We are hopeful for better/easier days, but prepared for all possibilities.  I am as anxious and excited as anyone to see what is to come.  If the saying, “Man plans; God laughs,” is true, I guess we’ll see who is laughing in the weeks to come.

In the meanwhile, we wish all our OJCS Families a safe, restful, joyous and meaningful February Break.

#ShortestBlogEver #You’reWelcome

Another Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can assure you that this regular reminder of our student blogfolios with its concomitant plea for your visitation is not a function of my from time-to-time challenge in finding a prompt for blogging.  (Although that is definitely a challenge some weeks!)  It is also not a function of believing that blogging is the primary or most important thing that we do at OJCS – it is not.  But because blogs and blogfolios do makeup the spine of which much else is built around; because the pandemic has required us to lean into them more regularly; and because they are outward facing – available for you and the general public to read, respond and engage with – I do want to make sure that I keep them top of mind.

For most of my professional life, I have had two children in (my) schools where they maintained blogfolios.  I subscribed to them, of course, but I am not going to pretend that I read each and every posting, and certainly not at the time of publication.  So this is not about shaming parents or relatives whose incredibly busy lives makes it difficult to read each and every post.  As the head of school where blogfolios are part of the currency, I frequently set aside time to browse through and make comments – knowing that each comment give each student a little dose of recognition and a little boost of motivation.  But I am certainly not capable of reading each and every post from each and every student and teacher!

When I am able to scroll through, what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.  This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.

It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.

This year, with the building still largely sealed off due to COVID protocols, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios remain important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  In addition to encouraging families, friends and relatives to check it out, I also work hard to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time to time to visit our school’s blogosphere so as to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

So please go visit our landing page for OJCS Student Blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles.]  On our last tour, I pre-selected a few examples, but we have WAY TOO many to do that now, so go…

Seriously go!  I’ll wait…

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball (no pun or passive-aggressive take on what is happening outside my window!) grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and OJCS is excited to celebrate – even if those celebrations (like everything else these days) has to continue to come filtered through COVID protocols and a hylex learning program.

“Inclusion” is not simply an issue to discuss once a year, of course, and as we began our formal discussions of how we would celebrate JDAIM this year at this week’s Faculty Meeting, we began where our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein, always encourages us to – with a shift in our mindset about what “special needs” really is and what it means:

For teachers, it’s important to always be thinking with a lens of inclusion in order to support and meet the needs of all learners (Shift the Spec Ed Mindset!!)  It’s important for our students to be open, understanding, and inclusive to ALL members of our community.

There is a bit of a delicate dance we do with issues like “inclusion”.  To the degree that we state that “everyone has special needs,” you run the risk of only focusing on who you presently serve and not look to see who you do not / cannot and then explore why.  To the degree that we state “every month is about inclusion,” you run the risk of missing a critical annual opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow and to change.  We want to acknowledge the daily, weekly, and yearly work that we do to incrementally become better able to meet the needs of current students and to increase the circle of inclusivity.  But we also want to use JDAIM as a measuring stick and an inspiration – to have our thinking challenged, our minds opened and our hearts stirred.  We are blessed to be part of an interconnected Jewish community with partners to lovingly push and support us on our journey.

Even as we navigate a complicated set of safety protocols, here are just a few examples of how we are gearing up to make JDAIM a special month at OJCS…

…Sharon Reichstein, along with our Grade 2 General Studies Teacher Lianna Krantzberg , rolled out a set of “choice boards” for both Lower & Middle Schools, as well as a Padlet to our entire faculty that includes all the links and ideas that have been collected, thus far.  As they put it, “While we spend time each day fostering kind and inclusive communities in our classrooms, it is our hope that you can add a spotlight to JDAIM in your classrooms throughout the month of February- pick and choose from the choice boards, the Padlet activities and/or create your own.”

…Brigitte Ruel, our Librarian, has a post on books that focus on “inclusivity”.

…we will again participate in Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN)’s “Youth Leadership Award Challenge” with an eye towards not only goosing individual participation but class participation as well.

…this year continues the exciting opportunity for our students to participate in the Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) Speaker Series for students in Grades 5-8.  Every Monday through Thursday this month there will be a different and free JDAIM guest speaker.  The lineup of speakers is incredible!

Classroom blogs and student blogfolios will be a great place to find examples of how OJCS lives JDAIM this year.

It bears mentioning that our ability to meet existing needs with enhanced COVID safety protocols is only possible thanks both to generous supplemental grants from Federation and from its “Emergency Campaign” that provides flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds whether they are learning in-person or at-home.  As increased personalization is carried forward from all our COVID pivots, OJCS aspires to live a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and to fly as far as their God-given potential permits without a ceiling.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending. Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results (Yes, Even During COVID) Part II

Welcome to “Part II” of our analysis of this year’s CAT4 results!  In Tuesday’s post, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did this year.  Here in our second post, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data, however patchy.  It will take at least one more non-COVID year before we can accurately compare the same grade and the same cohort year after year.  But we can get a taste of it with Grades 5-8.  What you have below are snapshots of the same cohort (the same group of children) from 2019 to 2021 (with bonus data from 2018’s Grade 3):

What are the key takeaways from this comparison (remembering that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting an “8.9” for Grade 7)?

Now bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a cohort over time is whether or not we see at least one full year’s growth (on average) each year – here we are looking to see two full year’s growth since we last took the test in 2019.  This would be the place one might expect to see the full measure of COVID’s impact – these are the two years of COVID between the two tests.  However, for all four cohorts in all categories save two (2019 Grade 3 to 2021 Grade 5 “Computation & Estimation” and 2019 Grade 5 to 2021 Grade 7 “Spelling”) you see at least two full year’s growth (technically 2019 Grade 5 to 2021 Grade 7 “Computation & Estimation” was just shy) and in may cases you see more than two full year’s growth.

I’m going to say that again.

During the time of the pandemic, with all the pivots back and forth, all the many challenges of both hyflex and at-home learning, all the prolonged absences by many students (and teachers), with all the social and emotional stress and anxiety, with everything we know about what COVID has been doing to children and to families, in almost each category that we tested our students in Grades 5-8 – spending no time or energy preparing for the exams and with diverse and inclusive classes – in 22 of 24 domains we see at least the pre-COVID expected two-year gain, and in many cases we see more than two full year’s growth.

As was true with our overall scores, I was expecting to see a significant number of gaps for all the reasons I just described, but surprisingly and encouragingly, that is not what the data yields.

Let’s look at one more set data points.  We can also get a taste of how the same grade performs from one year to the next as well.  Again, we only have Grades 5-8 to look at with (with a bonus 2018 Grade 6):

Now, remember that these scores represent a completely different group of children, so it is not unusual or surprising to see variances. Teachers can only grow students from the place they received them and it is that annual growth that we are concerned with.  But over time you are looking for patterns.  Ideally each domain settles in at least a full grade above with slight fluctuations from year to year depending on that year’s particular constellation of students.  Even-better would be to see slight ticks up each year as a result of new ideas, new pedagogies, new programs, etc.  And that is actually where much of the story currently is.

In the places where we aren’t quite where we want to be, we still have work to do.  If with additional data we come to believe that Spelling or Computation & Estimation are institutional weaknesses, we will want to know whether they are weakness in every grade or do they dip in certain grades.  Between COVID and gaps in testing, we simply have no way to conclude much more than we have already laid out.  But in another year or so, we will be able to plot the trajectory of both cohorts (the same students) and grades over time to see what additional stories they tell.

To try sum up both posts, we have a lot to be proud of in our standardized test scores.  We have two areas (Spelling and Computation & Estimation) to prioritize in two grades (Five & Seven).  With regard to Spelling, it is interesting to note that when we flagged it in 2019 as a more global concern, we began providing professional growth opportunities for language arts teachers in our school on Structured Word Inquiry.  The sample sizes are too small to make grand conclusions, but it is possible that those interventions help explain why Spelling is no longer a global concern, although we do need to pay attention to where and why it is lagging where it is.  With regard to Computation & Estimation, we will – like with Spelling – have an internal conversation which may lead to PD for Math Teachers.

This fits in with the work we began on our November PD Day which focused on “Data-Driven Decision Making”.  The Math and Language Arts Teachers in Grades 5-8 will be meeting to go through CAT4 results in greater detail, with an eye towards what kinds of interventions are needed now – in this year – to fill any gaps (both for individual students and for grades); and how might we adapt about our long-term planning to ensure we are best meeting needs.

The bottom line is that our graduates – year after year – successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now again this year, despite all the qualifications and caveats, and in the face of the most challenging set of educational circumstances any generation of students and teachers have faced, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them.

Not a bad place to be as we prepare to open the 2022-2023 enrollment season…