June 20, 2013 was the last school day of the year for me. It wasn't meant to be. We were meant to finish a week later, on June 27, 2013, but that was the day that the Elbow and Bow Rivers burst their banks and flooded much of my city and the outlying towns of Bragg Creek, Springbank, Morley, nearby reserves Siksika, Morley (Stoney Nakoda) and Tsuu T'ina , after already doing damage to High River, Banff, Canmore and later, Medicine Hat.
It had been an amazing day in Grade 4, as it was my second annual Innovation Day, something that will be continue to be an annual event for me, as long as I teach, regardless of the grade or age level. It, along with Genius Hour, FedEx Day, 20% time, SOLE, etc, are a day in which we as teachers step back and let children take control of their own learning. Question/wonder/topic/scope, materials, presentation style, outcome, all left up to the kids. Of course we may ask questions, wonder on our own, provide assistance with technology, answer questions, but really, the entire project is under the auspices of the student. What do they want to know/do? How do they want to find out/do it? How will they show their learning? This year, I added a second layer to the project and asked kids to document the process of their learning as well, not just the product.
There were kids baking various kinds of cakes, just to learn how (scratch, box mix, gluten/egg/milk free). Kids making ice cream in various ways, to discover which method tasted the best (they conducted blind taste tests of their classmates. A group of girls who wanted to know why Bob, our class betta fish, goes to the top of his bowl to breathe when he has gills? Another pair reconstructed the classic baking soda-vinegar volcano, because they'd never done it before and wanted to know why and how it worked. On top of all of that, we also had a 20 metre long marble roller coaster running through half of the classroom. It's creator wanted to know how to build a course in which the marble would have enough velocity to successfully complete the entire course. He played with angles, moved things around carefully, tested and retested, until it was perfect. I've written another blog post on this topic with more detail on an Innovation Week blog.
After finishing the day in a rush, with a few groups needing some time to finish their presentations and conclusions the next day, we headed out for some games at our Parent Committee's annual Spring Fair. It was held indoors, as it had been raining off and on for a few days and the weather forecast wasn't promising. The kids had a great time, played a bunch of games in and around the school, finishing up in the gymnasium for a game of tug-of-war.
It was during this that we began to realize that the lower level of the school was leaking. Many families went home, other parents and teachers went down to help. After a few hours of moving things up four feet, moving things upstairs, sandbagging, and the arrival of the fire department, we had to leave. As we were leaving the school, we began to realize how widespread the flooding was in our neighbourhood. There were police everywhere, helicopters circling, broadcasting evacuation notices. It was a little bit frightening, and quite shocking, to realize the extent of the flooding in Calgary.
School was cancelled in the entire city the next day, and by Monday, it was cancelled for the rest of the year. Some of the schools in the public boards were able to go back on the original last day of school, June 27th, for clean up, pick up, a small class party. We weren't, but we are so incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing school community that a farewell party was booked on Monday, June 24th for us. I was able to say goodbye to most of my students, and see many of the students in other classes as well. My son was able to have a great day long play date with most of his preschool class and his teacher, which was helpful because he still doesn't quite understand the concept of summer vacation and keeps asking if it's a school day or a home day. Last week was full of staff and student wrap ups and that measure of closure was so wonderful to have. It was a really strange way to end the school year, but it's certainly one that the kids will never forget!
Our city is still affected, and our local State of Emergency is still ongoing. Most of the areas affected have bus service, train service, power and sewer back on. Our families affected have had the school community wrap around them and offer help. Our Mayor has been amazing during the crisis and it almost seems like things are back to normal. We as staff and families can't go into our school yet, but the reclamation crew and insurance company have been busy and things are going very well.
So, school is over, we've had our parties and our closure. People are rebuilding, with lots of community and volunteer help, and things are going to be amazing when they're finished. I'm taking this time to focus on making this September amazing for all of my new students coming in to Grade 4 in the fall. It's going to be fantastic.