In my September blog, I talked about my one word for the upcoming school year: Opportunity. As part of the new IB enhancements starting to be unveiled in the Primary Years Programme (PYP), student agency is at the forefront. This has been something the teachers at Cypress Park have been actively working on this year. Simply put, student agency refers to a students ability to have choice, voice, and ownership in their learning.
As a teacher, I often find myself wondering how do I know if I am making a difference in the lives of my students. Am I providing them opportunities to have choice in what they do? Am I providing opportunities to hear their voice? Am I allowing them to take ownership of their learning?
Recently, I have seen a number of student-initiated actions at Cypress Park related to student learning, and a clear example that student agency is at play. Student-initiated action in the PYP can be best described as follows:
“Taking action is an integral conclusion to the learning that incorporates students making connections to what they have learned, applying a variety of real life skills, demonstrating an enduring understanding through concepts and reflecting on the attributes of the learner profile and attitudes.
Action is best grounded in the student’s own concrete experiences and it can be a small thing that arises from a genuine concern and commitment. It is also noteworthy to understand that as action happens, it may not be witnessed by the teacher, frequently after a unit of inquiry has been completed and often takes place beyond the classroom.”
Saving the planet… one crayon at a time.
At the Cypress Park Fall Fair, earlier this school year, I was handed an attractive cardboard box. It had a simple white label on the front that said Fire Cones: 12 hand-dipped pine cone fire starters, made from recycled crayons and Canadian pinecones.
James, a grade one student, was inspired last year when learning about plastics in his Sharing the Planet inquiry. “We learnt about recycling and plastics in the ocean in Kindergarten, and when we were in White Spot, they said they threw all the crayons away [after kids used them]. I didn’t like this so when I got home I did some research.” With the help of his parents, James found out that crayons can’t be recycled. They end up in a landfill and never break down. They turn into a waxy sludge but they never go away. It was then that Fire Cones were born.
According to James, it was a pretty simple process: “Find a tree that makes pine cones! Get crayons, make the Fire Cones, and box them up. We had to come up with a name too! We then went to stores to ask if they would sell them for us.” Did you know that there are already 5 retailers from North Vancouver to Whistler selling James’ Fire Cones? Check out the link here to see a complete list of retailers.
When asked why this was important to him, James said, “we are taking garbage and making it into something good. Crayons are made of petroleum and that’s not good if it gets into streams and fish get sick.”
There’s no looking back for James and his family after that fateful dinner at White Spot. They are looking for other kids and families to help them collect crayons. Wouldn’t it be great if we had “collection boxes for crayons in schools, offices, and homes,” James asked, “so that crayons don’t end up in the garbage.” And for this family, “we hope this idea will go country wide: the great Canadian crayon recycling program. We are on a mission to help save the planet – one crayon at a time!”
Wigs for Kids
Another grade one student, Emilia, approached me at the beginning of the year one morning at our morning meeting (announcements). She said, “Mrs. Evans, I would like to make an announcement. Do you know that some people don’t have hair? I am growing my hair and want to cut it off to donate for cancer.”
After arranging a meeting in my office to discuss this further, she let me know that she wanted to do this in front of the school, and that she wanted to get other students involved as well; “maybe they can grow their hair and cut it off too?” However, not wanting to stop there, Emilia has plans to take her action even further still. Later this month she has asked for a meeting with Superintendent of West Vancouver Schools, Chris Kennedy to discuss how she can spread her challenge across the district to other schools.
Go for it!
I asked James and Emilia what they would tell other kids who have an idea like theirs. Their number one message was to ask for help. James said, “Go for it! and ask an adult to help you make it happen for real. Everyone we have asked has been really happy to help.” Emilia’s advice was to, “share your idea. Tell other people about it, and ask for help if you need it.”
James’ idea doesn’t stop with crayons. When asked what’s next he said, “for kids like me to think and talk about the things they use and what they throw away.” A timely message for all as we head into the holidays!
I’m proud to say that we must be doing something right at Cypress Park! We are so fortunate to have incredible teachers who are able to foster this passion and motivate students to take their learning further. Thank you James, and Emilia, and all of our other students who take the opportunity to take action and make an impact for others and our planet. I can’t wait to see what other student initiated actions arise next!
If you are inspired by James and Emilia’s stories and would like to get more involved, please email Cypress Park Vice Principal Robyn Evans @ firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can contribute to these important student-initiated actions!