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Seeking the Silver Lining

The saying “necessity is the mother of invention” has never been as true as it is in these strange times. From managing how we get our groceries to reformatting how we deliver education, things have changed significantly for the human race.

While many of these changes are challenging, such as the steep learning curve of all things online, and others are simply downright painful like walking by now empty kindergarten classes that once were a groundswell of discovery and excitement, the truth is that if you look closely enough there are some silver linings to be found. At Urban Academy a trend is developing amongst the teaching staff. Some were quick to discover it, while others are a little slower to adopt, but for every teacher, new forms of creativity in how they are educating their students are being born.

In the classroom, where the energy and feedback of students is immediate, it is easy to respond, to think on your feet, to be present and find moments of inspiration. Online, those interactions and opportunities need greater planning, thought and of course a healthy dose of creativity. UA teachers have been flexing their creative muscles to connect with their students, teach their subjects and even, gasp, offer children – and dare I say, their parents – a little bit of much needed edutainment!

Glorious creativity is budding for Ms. Scali, one of UA’s Grade 1 teachers, who through the Seesaw platform read a book to her students for her ‘Talent Tuesday’ segment that she both wrote and illustrated. Boris Was Bored is a beaver who had the flu so he couldn’t go play with his friends and had to figure out all the fun things he could do at home and in his neighbourhood on his own. He learned that there were many things he could still be fortunate for and using his own creativity, could discover. Scali encourages her students that “your imagination can take you so many places” and this is indeed true for Boris who is weathering a pandemic, but mindful of keeping his own physical and mental health in a good place.

Our two Grade 5 teachers, Ms. O’Halloran and Ms. Reston, have created their own version of a drama themed webisode to teach their students about parts of a story. Filmed with both teachers in their own homes as the protagonists and featuring a guest appearance from one of our Kindergarten teachers as the ‘villain’ there was crime, detective work, “CCTV footage”, a confrontation, confession and solution all wrapped up with a life lesson (not to mention an assignment). Not only are students learning their language arts lesson, but they are also witnessing the acting chops of their teachers that had previously gone undiscovered!

Elsewhere, Kindergarten teacher Ms. Drought has quickly landed exactly in her right place in this world. Armed with a greenscreen and enthusiasm to spare, she’s telling stories, teaching literacy skills and math challenges to rival the best of any viral YouTube teaching channels out there. Watching her create her morning and afternoon meeting videos, she hasn’t skipped a beat in sharing her energy with UA’s Kindergarteners and in fact has embraced this new format with all the fervour of her in-class inquiry lessons.

While 5 years olds are very easily engaged with videos of their teacher in various interesting settings around the world, creativity can and is also being used in teaching UA’s middle and senior students. Ms. Herman, a senior Math and Science teacher has been using every Gizmos, Desmos, Loom and Zoom, all virtual platforms that allow students to learn from one another and connect on the concepts they are being taught. Students continue to grow in their learning by building interactive simulation circuits (Ohms Law) a wonderful feature of Gizmos. Students break off into Zoom Breakout Rooms for collaborative problem-solving time with new math concepts, learn about the dilation of a triangle from their teacher on Loom and dilated pentagons using dynamic geometry software on Desmos. Turning new methods of instruction around in a matter of days and finding new ways to connect and teach students has been Ms. Herman’s quick-thinking and creative response to teaching in a pandemic. We hear from students that these connections and collaborative activities have been incredibly important in their continuity of education and do double duty in enabling those personal interactions and even a bit of socializing that students hold so dear.

And finally, at Urban Academy we have learned in recent weeks, that a Grade 4’s day of learning is not complete until their talking cat, Spanky James Mailley, has made an appearance. Mr. Mailley – whose human is Grade 4 teacher Ms. Mailley – is a highly anticipated member of the teaching team, appearing at 3pm to share his daily Spanky’s Riddle Announcement (SRA). Though the riddle is the ‘main event’, Spanky uses his airtime, dry sense of humour and, as he will tell anyone who will listen, “dashing good looks” to deliver social emotional learning and recap the Language Arts, Science and Math lessons that students had learned earlier in the day. Spanky’s fame has rippled through to the wider UA community, sharing with the world his feline insights on how humans are navigating this strange and unusual time on UA’s social media feeds.

There is creativity in all of us, some perhaps a little more than others. But in this time of a lot more seclusion, a little more time and a little less connection, creativity has found opportunity in stillness. It has found some small foot holds and a little more space to grow. It is being nourished and has a new platform from which to spring that is resulting in some wonderful opportunities in new learning methods for both students and teachers. In the words of a very wise primary teacher, it is indeed true for us all that ‘your imagination truly can take you so many places’. With cautious and quiet optimism, I ponder what this creative reinvention means for the future of education?