What I learned at Calgary Science School

I started our first day at #ConnectedCA with a hearty helping skepticism.  What is this new-fangled conference method where there’s no introduction?  What do you mean I’m supposed to just tour the school all day?  I’ll be out of here in an hour. I couldn’t be more wrong.

Elementary vs. secondary

I often forget about the obvious differences between elementary and secondary education.  CSS brought this immediately to the forefront because it is a grades 4 – 9 school. Besides being a lot more laminated items on the walls, they also post their learning expectations, their new unit vocabulary and they build their assessments with their students.  It is common place to see student work displayed in the classroom, in the halls and in the library.  Each one of these strategies would be so valuable to continue in the secondary classroom, yet they’re rarely used.

1:1 ratio

CSS has bought into a 1:1 model of devices to students using either iPads or Macbooks.  As someone who manages a lot of tech for our student population through the library, I had to see the library in a technology-rich school.  What I found was that there was only one charging cart in use in the library and that the librarian mainly spends her time collaborating, finding resources and helping students.  I envy this model for the simple reason that I should be best utilized in teaching, not just managing tech.

Inquiry-based learning

The biggest difference in the pedagogical approach at CSS is that they implement an inquiry-based model in every course and every assignment. While there is a standard curriculum, there is a lot of choice in how students will complete the unit expectations.  I can definitely see how a teacher-librarian would help staff and students to gather resources for each individualized project.  The results of each inquiry were phenomenal, but more importantly, the emphasis was on the process of the project.

Repurposing a 20th century building for 21st century learning

The building has undergone some very interesting renovations, and quirky spaces were repurposed.

I plan to steal and implement all these ideas in my aging school as well.

Issues I see

Sometime the conclusions the students arrived at did not meet curriculum expectations.  This is one of those common flaws in a model where learning is so individualized.  Also the librarian was only a .6 position at the school. As well the staff, parents and students start school half way through August (but have a week break in October) in order to add 16 additional days of PD for collaboration.

Overall, I was very impressed with the principal and the staff`s courage in their pedagogical risk-taking.  They have worked hard to convince their community that the inquiry model and 1:1 technology ratio is worth fighting for.


Leave a Comment

  1. Interesting observations, Alanna. Thanks for sharing your experiences at the conference. Do you know what qualifications the TL at CSS has? What kind of support does the TL get for collections and for collaboration? Is collaboration with the TL required for all teachers?


  2. Collaborative work spaces are something I observed at a recent visit to the Perimeter Institute in Kitchener Waterloo. I also learned there about the importance of authentic collaboration which an inquiry model could encourage (seeking out the skills and knowledge of others to reach a goal). Love the idea of a movement space. Thanks for sharing!


  3. “…the librarian mainly spends her time collaborating, finding resources and helping students. I envy this model for the simple reason that I should be best utilized in teaching, not just managing tech.”

    As the guy who does the thankless job of tech-managing at my school, I’m of two minds about this. I’m so desperately short of digitally skilled and/or curious teachers that I wouldn’t want to lose your tech-savvy in trying to keep the upside down world of technology in education (where everyone is supposed to be getting into it and virtually no one wants to spend a moment understanding how it works) working.

    On the other hand, curation of resources in a digital world overflowing with data is an art unto itself. I’m still of the feeling that digital literacy should be a fundamental skill taught to students and educators. Our ignoring it is just like agrarian societies clinging to romantic ideas of hand ploughing as other people pass them in tractors.

    If the level of digital fluency every rises I’d be able to let the less than 1 in 10 teachers I meet who are willing to play with the digital revolution in their profession loose to become specialists again, but in the meantime, they are the only thing linking an increasingly irrelevant education system run by dinosaurs with the world students spend the entire rest of their lives in.

    It’s nice to see a school trying variations on pedagogy that embrace the digital revolution we’re in the middle of. It’s terrifying seeing them import an American model of charter schools into Canada to do it.


  4. So great to read about your experience at CSS, Alanna. I enjoyed getting to know you and discussing with you the types of learning that take place at CSS. I would like to invite your followers to follow our Teacher-Librarian, Donna Alden as she blogs here regularly: http://calgaryscienceschool.blogspot.ca (under Library or Learning Commons)

    @Joanne – while it isn’t required that our Teacher Librarian collaborates with ALL teaching teams, she is always ready to assist with locating resources, both print and digital and is a wealth of information for both students and staff.

    Also, I would like to make a comment in regards to @tking’s comment above. The Charter school model in Alberta is actually very different that the American model. Charter schools here would be closer to aligned to ‘magnet’ schools in the states, similar to Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia who host Educon each year. Charter schools in Alberta undergo rigorous evaluations every 5 years in order for their charters to be renewed and there is a great deal of accountability that goes along with that. Charter schools were originally set up to provide increased choice within the Pubic realm and receive the same per student funding that any other school receives in the province. They were set up to be centres of innovation and to share practice to move the entire education system forward and to push the boundaries regarding exemplary learning and teaching. The Calgary Science School has inclusive admission policies (first come, first serve) and has a wide range or learners from a wide range of backgrounds. I invite you to read about how we share our practice on the Connect! Blog and to please let me know if I can provide you with any additional information around Charter Schools in Alberta.


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