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25 March 2017 | Professionally Speaking The OCT featured in this department has been recognized with a national teaching award and exemplifies the high standards of practice to which the College holds the teaching profession . Looking to start a club but not sure where to begin? Teacher-librarian and Girls Crack the Code founder, Helen Wolfe, OCT, shares her six indispensible secrets to launching a successful school club that your students won't want to quit: Choose the right topic. Launch a club that will expand student opportunities. Wolfe started her club to help elevate female representation within technology. Involve professionals within your community. Invite industry influencers to become enthusiastic club mentors; this will help to reinforce student learning and enjoyment. Apply for grants to acquire resources that fall beyond the budget. Wolfe has won access to computers, robots, a 3D printer and wearable technology, to name a few. Be flexible about club attendance, especially when other school events are scheduled. However, make the most of weekend and summertime meetups, to keep interest high. Create a safe and collaborative environment that encourages growth and risk-taking. Eating snacks or lunch together, as a group, will help forge this sense of community. Advocate for club-related scholarships and rich experiences that will push student learning beyond the school walls. It opens their minds to new possibilities. "I've always felt that in a marginalized community, you must, must, must take children on field trips," she says. "To develop language and new vocabulary, you have to do new things." Wolfe has accompanied students far and wide, from the Mohawk Institute Residential School on the Six Nations reserve in Brantford to North Buxton, a southwestern Ontario terminus of the Underground Railroad. Other favourite destinations are mu- seums, including the Gardiner and the Royal Ontario Museum. "It opens their imaginations to new possibilities and connects language instruction to con- crete experiences. In other words," Wolfe says, "it helps to level the playing field." Closer to home, she conducts neigh- bourhood walks and regularly invites community leaders into the classroom. "It's about making sure they know that their cultures, communities and their ideas are valued," she says. "Individuals who feel valued are more motivated to learn." Kathy Skandalakis, OCT, counts Wolfe as a mentor. She is often struck by how willing the teacher-librarian is to "take risks" in the classroom, in an effort to find methods that work. "Helen really gets how to support her learners and honours the learning process," Skandalakis says, adding that Wolfe encourages her to integrate ele- ments of media and technology — from Flip cameras to moviemaking applica- tions — into her lessons. "The creativity piece is huge for her. It's about popping the bubbles and letting sparks fly." Wolfe is not one to dust off and reuse lesson plans year in and year out; instead, she teases out what grabs her students and runs with it. One year, a playful lesson with plastic snakes proved so captivating for her Grade 2s that they studied the reptiles for the entire year, transforming an empty classroom into a Snake Exploratorium filled with student-created museum exhibits, artwork, reports and more. "You have to start with a little of your own enthusiasm," Wolfe says. "And once they catch hold, you just go with their questions." To buttress her lessons, Wolfe draws on a team of volunteers and former students (everyone from doctors to engineers to artists), that she has been assembling for decades, to speak to her classes and mentor individual students. It's an added layer of enrichment. Mary McGee is a volunteer math tutor who first met Wolfe 12 years ago. "She never seems to burn out," McGee says, adding that the award-winning teacher is careful to lend extra support to those who are both struggling and gifted. "Through commitment and dedication," McGee says, "Helen is able to provide rich learning experiences without the additional resources that tuition can buy." Where extra resources are necessary, Wolfe goes hunting — applying for dozens of grants over the years. She re- cently won her school an Indigo Love of Reading (loveofreading.org) grant worth nearly $100,000 (distributed over three years), that will go toward creating classroom libraries and im- prove interest in reading. Each class got to go book-buying at the nearby Toronto Eaton Centre mall. "Many of our students had never been to a bookstore," Wolfe says. "I've always felt that if you have the opportunity to pick your own books, you'll be more likely to read them." Thenuka Thanabalasingam, a University of Toronto biology student who met Wolfe a decade ago at one of the lunchtime clubs, explains that her former teacher's ongoing support has been a great influence. "Not only does Helen encourage you, she helps you achieve your goals," says Thanabalasingam. "She has always been on my side. That's very powerful — especially at a young age — when you're unsure of what you want to do, not to mention a little scared." For Wolfe, seeing students succeed and becoming the best they can be in all areas, including science and math, is the payoff. "I don't consider myself excellent or outstanding," says Wolfe. "But I've always worked at being the best I can be — and that's what it's all about." PS THE JOIN CLUB

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