Thursday 14 January 2021

Zoo School at The Calgary Zoo

Chevron Open Minds Zoo School has a long history in Calgary. Currently in it's 28th year, Zoo School provides opportunities for students and their teachers to learn about a variety of aspects of the natural world. 

It all began with an idea and a dream. Don Harvie, a well-known Calgary philanthropist, dreamt of having a permanent school at the zoo. When Don met Gillian Kydd, who was then a part of the Calgary Board of Education science team, she turned his dream into a reality. Her idea was to dedicate one classroom at the zoo to be used each week by a new group of students and their teacher, allowing for many more students and teachers to benefit from the program. She believed that one week at the zoo could be so rich with learning, that it could become the catalyst for a year-long study at the school. Thus, Zoo School was born. 

It slowly evolved into a program that was based around the study and observation of animals. It encouraged students to slow down, grow, learn and ask questions. A key element to the program was the need for it to be initiated and orchestrated by the teacher, with a site coordinator who helped to provide expertise, and be the liaison with the zoo to create impactful learning experiences. Students used journals to record their findings and document their learnings and community volunteers became an integral part of the program to assist the children with their development their real world classroom. Lastly, the week became a natural fit for interdisciplinary learning to take place. This idea was years ahead of its time. This program, from its inception, encapsulated what we know today to be 21st century best learning practices. This is inquiry learning, this is critical thinking, this is creating ethical and global citizens. Since the beginning, this idea has expanded to many other learning sites around our city, and also across the world. This is the type of learning that is no longer novel, but should be expected. 

Zoo School has created opportunities for generations of students, teachers and parents, to build connections with animals, by allowing them to come swimming, crawling, running and flying, out of their text books and story books and into real life. Each week is personalized to meet the needs of the students and teachers involved, whether that be building the science vocabulary for new immigrants to Canada and helping them to become familiar with our local flora and fauna or exploring life at the zoo for our penguin population and linking it to ocean health, our goal is to bring the curriculum to life and to improve the environmental literacy of our younger generations. Most importantly, by having students watch, learn and wonder about an animal for a week through regular observations and listening to experts, it provides them with a window into its life, prompting them to feel empathy and concern for other living things. As the natural world continues to shrink around us, there is no other time in the history of this program when it has been as relevant as it is today. Hopefully it will continue to have a profound and lasting impact on our students, building the conservationists of our future. 

Zoo School can be part of your year. Applications for the 2021-2022 school year are due April 14, 2021. See the CCOM website for more information.

Thursday 17 December 2020

“What powers our world? How is empathy a catalyst?” - a SEEDSchool Exploration

“This is the best thing I’ve ever done!” – Student 

Grade 5 students at Divine Mercy school in Mahogany spent a week of SEEDschool exploring the questions “What powers our world? How is empathy a catalyst?” Throughout the week, students explored the ideas of empathy, responsibility, kindness, and innovation through various stories, interviews, community walks, and projects.   

One of the highlights of the week was making an advent calendar of acts of kindness and prayers for those around us over the Christmas season. Students brainstormed a list of ideas including setting the table, complimenting a teacher, making a new friend, shoveling someone’s sidewalk, and praying for those who are sick. The class decorated a star with one act or prayer for each day leading up to Christmas and hung those stars up around the class. As students learned about how empathy is a powerful force in our world, they committed to practicing empathy through these acts of kindness during the advent season.

Another highlight was our design thinking challenge. Students explored the challenges experienced by those who sleep outside (called “rough sleeping” or “living rough”). They learned that people may have trouble staying warm, finding privacy, keeping their belongings safe, finding somewhere safe and welcoming to sleep, staying healthy, and transporting their belongings from one place to another. Students worked in small groups to brainstorm inventions to mitigate some of these challenges, and then were tasked with making prototypes of their designs. The class came up with some brilliant inventions.  

“Our group designed a coat, the TBJ (The Blanket Jacket). When you pull the sleeves it folds out into a blanket. So we tried to solve the warmth problem. This would be helpful for winter.” – Ellie, grade 5

After brainstorming some of the challenges faced by homeless people, the students were asked to design an object that could help the homeless population.  
Overall, students spent the week diving growing empathy not just for those experiencing homelessness, but also for all those who live, work, and play on the land we call Mohkinstsis. We are so grateful for another wonderful SEEDschool week and can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store!

“It’s a backpack that when you unzip it, it turns into a pop up house—tent. They can get their own house that they can take anywhere. The don’t have to pay for a house or electrical bills” – Beau, grade 5

~ Kelsey Brown, SEEDschool Coordinator

Wednesday 16 December 2020

SEEDschool students explore "How does empathy drive innovation?"

Grade 5 students from R.T. Alderman spent their SEEDschool week exploring the question “How does empathy drive innovation?” The classes spent time exploring creative inventions created to help people in need and built their own prototypes to solve problems surrounding homelessness.  

A highlight of the week was meeting with Alice Lam who is co-owner of Tigerstedt Flea in Crescent Heights, and who collaborated with friends to start a community fridge initiative on their shop’s block. The fridge is an example of mutual aid – neighbours helping neighbours. Everyone is encouraged to donate food to the fridge and accompanying pantry, and anyone in need is welcome to take from it, no questions asked. Alice shared about how her empathy for the community inspired both the store and the fridge, and how she continues to give back through social enterprise. Alice provides local makers' space in her shop to sell their homemade products and encourages the artists to donate some of the proceeds to causes they care about. 

The Grade 5 students were so inspired by her example, they decided to make works of art to see at Alice’s store as a fundraiser for The Mustard Seed. The pieces of art are currently being sold by donation, and are on display at Tigerstedt Flea (918 Centre St N). 

~ Kelsey Brown, SEEDschool Coordinator

Tuesday 24 November 2020

We are Better Together! - Campus Calgary / Open Minds' Advisory Group

Campus Calgary / Open Minds has a dedicated group of Advisors who meet monthly to help advise and support the day-to-day work of the CCOM Operations Team. They also anticipate and plan for future needs of partners at community sites, schools and education districts, and with funding partners, and have been influential in supporting during pandemic times. 

Advisors collaborating (pre-Covid photo)
The Advisory is made up of representatives from CBE and CCSD, funders (Chevron and Cenovus), community sites, The Calgary Foundation, and community members (who have various previous association with CCOM). This Advisory group supports much of the ‘behind the scenes work’ and we are continually grateful for the leadership and guidance that the Advisory Group gives to us.

The Advisory group also works with the Campus Calgary / Open Minds Executive Sponsors – Superintendent of School Improvement (CBE) and Superintendent of Instructional Services (CCSD).

Campus Calgary / Open Minds truly exemplifies the phrase ‘doing together what we can’t do alone.’

Wednesday 29 April 2020

City Hall School Continues to Meet with Mayor Nenshi

With school closures, City Hall School is having to adapt. Mayor Nenshi took time out of his busy schedule to meet with classes that are not able to make it to City Hall School this year. Students asked many questions about Covid-19, being a mayor during the pandemic, as well as many questions about how a city is run before and after the pandemic.

In the history of Calgary, there has only been two states of emergency and both happened while Mayor Nenshi was the mayor. Mayor Nenshi can’t believe that he’s been responsible for both, but he loves that he can be helping the community at a time like this. The two states of emergency were the 2013 flood and the current pandemic. Mayor Nenshi told the students that, “We couldn’t control the flood, but we can control this pandemic.”

Mayor Nenshi believes that Calgary needs to be Build Back Better. The government and citizens need to think about how to rebuild Calgary to be a better and stronger community. A strong community needs to be strong socially, economically, and physically. The City of Calgary has created a motto that Mayor Nenshi shared with students: Clean Hands, Clear Heads, and Open Hearts. Clean Hands encourages citizens to work towards stopping the physical spread of Covid-19. Clear Heads supports citizens with dealing with the grief of the current situation. Open Hearts promotes not feeling isolated and building community during social distancing through online visits and phone calls. This motto will help citizens Build Back Better.

Mayor Nenshi reminded students about his campaign of 3 things for Canada where everyone should do 3 things a year for the community. Since the pandemic, he is suggesting doing 3 things of kindness for the community.

~ Erin Retallack, City Hall School Coordinator

Friday 20 March 2020

“I wish we could have class like this every day” – Copperfield School

“I wish we could have class like this every day” – Grade 3 Student
Colleen Reilly- Grade 3 Teacher-Copperfield School

When I reflect on our week at Zoo School through Campus Calgary Open Minds, my mind and heart becomes full from the excitement, discoveries, exploration, community building, and learning that has taken place. I have always believed in learning alongside my students, but felt that this week has made me fully embrace what it means to be a learner. No amount of planning could have prepared me for our mutual excitement at seeing a snow leopard gaze into my student’s eyes, or the rush at attending a gorilla’s fourth birthday party.

All of my students had memorable moments that I know they will carry with them. What stands out to me from the time at Zoo School was one student in particular, who is quiet, a very slow worker and does not often participate during group learning times. This week allowed me to see him in a new light. He was asking questions, making connections, using his time to explore and genuinely engaged in every opportunity. This reminded me of the importance of providing many learning opportunities for our students. 

Sometimes taking them out of our place opens them up in new and exciting ways. This week has changed me and reminded me to slow down and embrace opportunities. When we look for connections between ourselves and others, we are forever changed.