Like most schools, the day at École Barrie Wilson begins with announcements. But the ones you’ll find here have more in common with television news stations than elementary schools. That’s thanks to teacher Amy Nye who runs the school’s news studio made up of a volunteer crew of Grade 5 students. “We have a green screen room in our school with all of the equipment required to put together a professional news cast,” explains Nye, adding it takes about a half hour to produce the announcements each day.
Back in Nye’s French immersion classroom, she strives to make the schoolwork equally interesting. “Although we do have a schedule, we like to try to be flexible. We do a lot of projects and focus on integrating social studies and language arts as much as we can to have the kids doing authentic research and learning about things in a way perhaps more engaging than reading text books and doing work sheets.”
In her most recent class—a Grade 3-4 split—one project for the Grade 4 group was based around the Amazing Race. “All of the kids were broken up into different groups and they had to learn as much as they could about a certain area of Canada,” she explains, adding each group had to then build a website about that region. “We linked all the websites to a map of Canada so that you could go onto the site and click and see the work that all of the individual kids had done.” The project culminated with a game or activity that represented that area, says Nye who says parents were invited to come in and play them.
The project is fitting in a school where, from Kindergarten to Grade 5, kids have digital e-portfolios built in Google Sites. “They maintain their portfolios so it’s a seamless transition for them to make a website on something else because they have the basic skills to edit their portfolios already.”
Though there is emphasis on developing the skills they need for the future, Nye also places great value on helping kids in the here and now. “I’m very interested in the benefits of mindfulness and teaching kids how to breathe and how to slow down—especially when they’re upset about something.” The technique allows kids to feel their feelings so they can move on in a positive way, explains Nye, who says she looks forward to incorporating more of it in her classroom. “It only takes five minutes and it can make the world of difference.”