Taking ‘Appropriate Risks’ to Make for a Great School Year

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When Mr. Andy Rodford (Director of the Senior School) addressed students this week at the opening day assembly, he encouraged students to take “appropriate risks” over the course of the year.

He uses the literal jumping off a cliff scenario to differentiate between “crazy risks” and “appropriate risks.”

“Jumping off a cliff into the water when you don’t know how deep it is, that’s a risk that can be phenomenal because it’s a great experience, or it can be life changing. It’s a crazy risk because you really don’t have any sense of what the conclusion’s going to be,” he says. “Appropriate risks are the ones that kind of make you feel a little sick to your stomach because it’s risky, but you’ve thought about it, you’ve done your homework, and everything is tipped in its favour for the experience. You might be afraid of heights, but you’ve been down and know the water’s clear to jump, it’s 20 feet deep, you’ve seen people do it before, and now the appropriate risk is stepping off that ledge and taking the jump.”

What an appropriate risk looks like in a school setting differs from student to student, and from teacher to teacher. But he says it’s crucial that the school lead by example. That’s why the Senior School has introduced some new and exciting curriculum changes this year, including an overhaul of the entire Grade 10 program and the creation of a new Innovations Lab.

“We’d become the crappiest role models for our students if we, as staff and as a school, didn’t take appropriate risks. The school has had a leading-edge mentality for decades, so why would we stop?” Andy says. “The changes we’ve made, those are appropriate risks. We have no real sense of what they’re going to look like in practice. We’ve heard about what Innovation Labs can be, we know academically what it can do, we’ve done the research, but we don’t know what it’s going to do here at SMUS. We’ve got data that shows the Grade 10 program is a phenomenal experience and we’ve spent a year and a half prepping for Day 1, but we don’t know what it’s going to look like delivering it to an entire grade of students. What we do know is that there’s going to be things that tip in our favour.”

Here are four changes to the Senior School offerings that you can take advantage of:

1) Grade 10 Experiential Program
After almost a decade of delivering an experiential component to less than a third of Grade 10 students, we’ve redesigned the Experiential Education program and have integrated it across the entire grade. Every Grade 10 student will get out of the classroom on more than 16 afternoon expeditions this year to discover their interests, learn new skills, and apply what they’ve learned in a classroom setting to real-life work (and vice-versa!).

“It’s about exposure to interest areas and making real-world connections with the academic foundation that students have been given,” says Ms. Becky Anderson, Director of Leadership.

What that means is students will get lots of opportunities to choose to pursue experiences based on what interests them or what they’re curious about. These experiences – from learning how to build an electric guitar to learning how to become a fitness trainer – are specifically designed to not only be fun, but they’ll provide students with a better understanding of how in-class lessons (English, Science, History, Math, Geography and more) have real-world applications, and are all connected.

“This program enhances what is happening in the academic classroom for students by taking them out of the classroom situation,” Becky says. “A student might choose a woodworking experience, which brings in geometry they’ve been studying in math, and brings in physics to look at the strength of the wood. Now all of sudden going back to math class and physics class creates an additional level of meaning for them because of that experience.

“This is one step towards doing something different so we can give them deeper learning experiences, more personal exploration, connecting it to something they’re interested in, igniting some curiosity and inquiry, and seeing how academia is connected to what is going on in the world.”

2) Innovation Lab and Computer Sciences
Over the summer we transformed one of our computer labs into an Innovation Lab, a design-focused space where students and staff can work on anything from film editing to using the 3D printer for project work. The Innovation Lab will be staffed at all times during the school day, meaning its use as a drop-in space will allow students to use it whenever they need it.

“We had the vision of a space that was multi-purpose around design, creativity and innovative learning. Gone are the days where students are sitting on a computer receiving instruction on a program; now it’s about students driving their learning and thinking about what they want to do and experiment with from their own curiosity, and how we can support that,” says Ms. Denise Lamarche, Director of Academics.

We’ve also introduced AP Computer Science to the timetable, completely revamped our Computer Science 11 course, and hired a new computer science teacher, Mr. Peter Steed, to help support the school’s education technology offerings. Students will also be exposed to more opportunities to learn about coding and robotics, in the form of technology and robotics clubs, as well as in some of their other classes.

“When we asked our graduates, ‘What is it you wish you could’ve taken that we didn’t offer?,’ computer science was the No. 1 answer,” Denise says. “We know we have students who are highly interested in this, and we know it’s really important for students to learn this language. It’s going to be advantageous for them as they go into their post-secondary world.”

3) Communications 9
Our English Language Learners will be even further supported this year with the introduction of our Communications 9 program. It will allow students who arrive in Grade 9 a chance to deepen their English language skills, written skills and oral skills to better prepare them for their courses.

“We are providing maximum support for our students to develop their English Language Learning skills. In addition to Communications 9, we also have Communications 12, we have our Writing Centre, we have our Tutoring Centre, all providing support for our students to continue their English language skills because we believe that once students leave our school, they should have acquired the skills in order to succeed in post-secondary. All of these initiatives have been designed for that,” Denise says.

4) AP Seminar and AP Research
SMUS is one of just 16 schools in Canada delivering a unique, two-year AP program called AP Capstone. The pilot program is split into two courses – AP Seminar in the Grade 11 year, AP Research in the Grade 12 year – that takes university preparation to a whole new level. AP Seminar develops students’ analytic, inquiry and critical thinking skills by exploring topics from multiple perspectives; and then they’ll put those skills into practice by researching, writing and defending a thesis in AP Research. This is the first year we’ve offered AP Research, and we’re really excited to see what topics our students choose to pursue.

“Because it’s student-driven, and their passion and their curiosity is a big part of their research, we’re finding that their interest level in their work is heightened. It’s exciting for them and for us because it’s different. It’s a different way of learning,” Denise says.

And over the summer, the library classroom was redone to support the AP Capstone program and this unique way of learning. New movable furniture can be arranged to create different collaborative learning spaces, along with an ideas wall for group planning and sharing ideas.

From the reworked chapel space to our new program offerings, there are a lot of exciting changes going on at SMUS this year. We hope our students have a great year and take some appropriate risks in the coming months – perhaps by checking out some of these new programs!

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