Interdisciplinary Units: At High Park Day School, the school year is divided into five interdisciplinary units. Each unit lasts approximately 6 weeks, but we keep our schedule flexible so that students can achieve their learning goals. Within each unit, students set individual learning goals based on the skills they need to develop.
Each of the five units is based around a central idea: a broad statement which highlights the key understanding that the students should achieve by the end of the unit.
An example, the central idea for our Communities Unit is: We can all be active, essential members of our local and global communities. Starting with the central idea, students are lead through an ‘unpacking’ of this statement, looking at vocabulary, sharing prior knowledge, and formulating questions. The teacher also collects prior knowledge from the students by asking teacher-developed guiding questions. The teacher then exposes the students to three or four weeks of lessons and activities that address these guiding questions.
Examples: What are different types of communities? How are communities designed? Who are influential people in my community? How can I be an active member of my community?
Once the students have a wide-spread base of knowledge connected to the central idea, they are given the opportunity to formulate their own questions. These student questions become the focus of the next three or four weeks of lessons. As well, each student chooses a specific topic (still connected to the original central idea) and completes an independent study project. This project is completed at school under the guidance of the teachers. Each student is given the support that he or she needs. When each student is finished researching and consolidating their learning, they share their new understanding with the rest of the students. This could be in the form of a presentation, a performance, an interactive display, a book or any combination of these. Students are given the opportunity to ‘stand in their strength’ and share their learning in whichever way is the most comfortable for them.
• Students are introduced to the central idea of the unit.
• Lessons and activities address the teacher’s guiding questions.
• Student questions are collected.
• Lessons and activities address the student questions.
• Students are guided through an independent study project, on a topic of their choice.
• Students share their learning with the rest of the students, and celebrate their learning.
Our Literacy Program is one of our proudest achievements at High Park Day School. Completely personalized, the program delivers appropriate challenges to students and changes as they meet learning goals. These goals are chosen by both students and teachers collaboratively.
The Literacy Program is divided into three different learning scenarios: Guided Reading, One-on-One Literacy Development, and Independent Language Centres. Every week, students engage with these three learning scenarios.
Guided Reading: At the beginning of each school year, and again before each Progress Report, students’ reading comprehension is assessed formally. This, and writing samples help us to develop our personalized program. In Guided Reading, students meet one-on-one (or in small groups within the same reading level) with a teacher to read a book. Focussing on vocabulary, intonation, context, themes and reading for understanding, the student and teacher read aloud to one another and take time to enjoy the story!
One-on-One Literacy Development: During this portion of the Literacy Program, students work with a teacher in a mini-lesson focussed around an individual learning goal. Students may use materials from their independent work to discuss sentence structure, spelling patterns, organization or any other appropriate skill that needs development. Having this time with the teacher allows the students to learn exactly what they need and to incorporate personal interests into the topics being read and written!
Independent Language Centres: Once or twice a week, students also have time to work independently on specific language skills. Cursive writing and typing skills are practiced, as well as reading comprehension and grammar. Students also choose topics to write about, and compose work that will later be discussed and worked on during the One-on-One Literacy Development portion of the program.
Math: At High Park Day School, we have adopted the Jump Math program. It is a program that was developed here in Toronto! To learn more, follow this link.
The Jump Math program is divided in to traditionally leveled books (grade 1, 2, 3 etc.) but we assign books based on ability. Since the books are incredibly user-friendly and guide the students through definitions and both written and visual examples, we are able to teach mini-lessons individually while students work independently.
We also supplement the Jump Math materials by ‘taking a break from the book’ every now and then to focus on specific skills that may need development, or to challenge students with additional problems or even projects!
Every Friday morning during our Math period, students participate in Real Life Math! This is a fun and exciting challenge where students use their ‘Math Brains’ to complete a group work task focused around mathematics. Building bridges, creating marble roller coasters, and working on brain teasing word problems with a partner are just a few examples.
Once a week, students also get to take a break from their independent work to play with our Mental Math materials. Tangrams, dominoes, puzzles and other math games get the kids manipulating objects and using their spacial awareness, predictive abilities, and logical mathematical skills.
The Arts: We believe in the importance of the arts! Students have a double period art class twice a week. We focus on creativity and ideas, as well as collaboration. We don’t think you have to draw to create! Using various techniques and materials, the students create pieces to display in our class art gallery. Usually our art projects are closely related to our current unit’s theme. Some of our units lend themselves to visual arts, whereas other units may connect more to music and drama. Since we believe in learning with meaning, we tend to dip into the other disciplines where they fit.
However, when students show a particular interest in one area of art or another, we follow their lead and provide opportunities for them to learn new techniques and share their strengths!
French: The HPDS French program is an individualized program that caters to the learning style of each student, and works to foster an appreciation of the French language. Students participate in a range of learning activities based on a common theme.
As with the rest of the program at High Park Day School, we give students a number of avenues through which they can explore the subject. Through art, music, film and literature, students explore and share their ideas using the French language. Individual tasks are then tailored to meet both the grade level and previous knowledge of French that each student has.
The aim of our program is to provide students with the skills they need to communicate in a second language. The instruction style is varied to adapt to the wide range of student needs; while the focus remains on reading and writing skills as well as oral communication for all students.
Active Living: At HPDS, our goal is to have children develop a lifelong enjoyment of physical activity and an understanding of what a healthy active lifestyle entails. These goals are accomplished through the gym environment, educational strategies, and assessment practices.
Environment - We believe in providing a safe and inclusive gym program for all students. This means all students should feel comfortable learning new skills. Teachers and other students are supportive of learning, and understand that it takes time and practice to develop new skills. Students feel welcome and part of the class, as every child has opportunities to choose warm up/cool down games. This fosters participation and a willingness to “buy in”, as the students have some control over the direction of activities. Classes are structured so that every child, regardless of ability level, will experience success with the sport. This furthers their enjoyment and builds the confidence needed to attempt new sports and games.
Strategies - Students are introduced to traditional North American sports (volleyball, basketball, etc.) along with a range of other activities and games they can choose to pursue outside of school, such as skating, rock climbing, etc. Sports are introduced non-competitively, with a focus on learning skills, and working collaboratively towards a goal. Once students feel comfortable with their skill set, the students play full games with a focus on teamwork and positivity, instead of points or winning.
Assessment - Students are assessed based on attitude and participation, instead of mastery of skills. This shifts the focus off of physical abilities and allows for every student to be successful. Students feel safe and take risks to try new games and activities to the best of their ability. Focusing on attitude as a skill which is explicitly assessed, allows students to learn about sportsmanship, cooperation, leadership and teamwork. Teaching these skills leads to a safer and more enjoyable environment for all students.