A Full Continuum of Nothing but Our Best

A Full Continuum of Nothing but Our Best

By Dr. Michael Simmonds, Assistant Head of School: Academics

In the landscape of Canadian independent schools, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (STS) holds a special place partly because of its International Baccalaureate (IB) teaching and learning practice continuum. It is worth highlighting in a province where 47 schools offer at least one IB programme, STS is one of only two Albertan schools offering the full programmatic continuum: PYP (Kindergarten to Grade 6), MYP (Grades 7 to 10) and DP (Grades 11 and 12). 

Although each IB Programme has a developmentally specific focus, they share four common foundational elements: international mindedness, inquiry-based learning, the IB learner profile, and approaches to learning. As importantly, IB students develop the knowledge and skills required to be agents of their own learning journey at every grade. This was recently showcased in the inaugural IB Continuum Exhibition held at the School in May 2023. 

The capstone work of students in PYP (Grade 6), MYP (Grade 10) and DP (Grade 12) in the Exhibition was exceptional on many levels. It heralded the eclectic scholarly, design, mathematical, historical, artistic, sociological, entrepreneurial, and engineering interests of STS students in a way that can only be engaged through the pursuit of topics of personal interest.


Self-management, research, communication, critical and creative thinking, and collaboration are five approaches to learning (ATL) skills that are emphasized throughout all three IB programmes. The PYP Exhibition allowed Grade 6 students to showcase their ATL skills by sharing their in-depth understanding of a real-life issue or topic they explored. When students engage in a collaborative form of learning and inquiry that places their interests and passions at the centre, they understand that scholarship is a creative pursuit that is not connected to worksheets; it can involve interviewing experts, analyzing articles, building models, and – in some cases – improving people’s lives.

Consider some of the topics explored by our Grade 6s: Floods and Power Shortages in Pakistan; How Social Media Affects Mental Health in Teens; Bee Endangerment; Challenges to Immigration in Canada; Are Veterans Getting the Help They Need?; and Barriers to Sport Participation. These and other substantive real-life topics matter to Grade 6 students, and their pursuit was made possible through the PYP Exhibition.


MYP students explored an area of personal interest over an extended period in Grade 10. Called a Personal Project (PP), this independent study and research experience allows students to consolidate their learning and develop important skills they’ll need in further education and life beyond the classroom. It also helps STS students develop the confidence to become principled, lifelong learners.

The principal goal of the PP journey is for students to investigate, plan, take action and reflect on their learning by developing and applying specific approaches to learning (ATL) skills. While the MYP PP final report can be written or digitally recorded, it always includes a bibliography. In the end, every Grade 10 student is awarded a final achievement grade for their Personal Project submission –  the evidence of which takes the form of a paper or oral paper submission.

Consider some of the topics explored by this year’s Grade 10 class that span the fields of the arts, history, engineering, design, entrepreneurship, medicine, and banking: The Effect of 3-D Printing Bone Grafts; Solutions to Financial Crime; Writing a One-Act Play; Stages of Dementia – An Original Composition; Scoliosis Documentary; Scrolling Through Human History; The Sustainable Sneaker; and Delivery Drones for Remote Communities and Medical Outreach.


Although enrollment in IB courses is mandatory for STS students in Kindergarten to Grade 10, Grade 11 and 12 students can elect to pursue IB Diploma or IB Certificate pathways. 

IB Diploma students complete their programme of study over two years when they successfully complete core elements – one of which is called the ‘Extended Essay’ (EE). The EE is an independent, self-directed scholarly research culminating in a 4,000-word paper. Students are supported throughout the process of researching and writing the extended essay, with advice and guidance from an STS teacher supervisor.

Throughout the EE process, students develop skills in formulating an appropriate research question, engaging in a personal exploration of the topic, communicating ideas, and developing an argument. Participation in this process develops students' capacity to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge. Examiners appointed by the IB externally assess all extended essays. 

If this sounds like an intense and academically rigorous experience – it is. However, STS students are amply prepared to take on the challenge. With the guidance, help and encouragement of their teacher supervisors, IB Diploma students pursued the following topics of interest: Building Nations and Breaking Barriers: Assessing Women’s Contributions During WW II; Rectifying HIV Modelling Through the Stochastic Markov Chain and Vector Probabilities; The Effect of Particulate Accumulation on a Solar Panel’s Voltage Output; To What Extent Did Classical Music from the Romantic Era Influence Bossa Nova?; The Effects of pH on Calcifying Organisms; and Navigating Colonial Expectations of an Indigenous Identity.

 These are intellectually dense, student-derived, scholarly and artistic pursuits of interest made possible by an IB Continuum of teaching and learning practice that culminates in Grade 12 with the possibility of students earning an IB Diploma or IB Certificate – in addition to the Alberta High School Diploma! The IB Continuum Exhibition represents just one continuous improvement to realize the STS motto of Nil nisi optimum: nothing but our best. Thank you to the School’s IB Coordinators, Shannon Taggart (PYP), Gabe Kemp (MYP) and Chris Ruskay (DP), for their stewardship and commitment to a continuum of practice and for overseeing this year’s inaugural event.

The inaugural IB Continuum Exhibition also marked the inaugural presentation of the Apostoli Marinakos Personal Project Award. 

Established to honour the memory of STS Alumni “Lifer” and fourth-year mechanical engineering student Apostoli Marinakos ’18, the award recognizes Apostoli’s talent for innovation, problem-solving, and creativity. Specifically, the award acknowledges a student who demonstrates inspiration in executing their MYP Personal Project, thereby expanding the terms of reference noted by the IB for a student’s final submission.

This year’s deserving recipient is Josephine Grouette, whose project, ‘Expression of Mental Health Through Art,’ resulted in her creating nine original pieces that she auctioned on a website she also created – an achievement that was recognized at Prizegiving. The money and the awareness she raised for the Calgary Mental Health Association aligns directly with the IB MYP Personal Project goal of developing a sense of personal agency to make a difference in students.

The educational journey for STS students is a rich one made possible by a visionary Board of Governors committed to developing our students as leaders, thinkers and individuals capable of taking their places in the world. Our Head of School, Carol Grant-Watt, has also supported professional growth opportunities for faculty that promote teaching excellence. Her unwavering commitment to the IB continuum of pedagogical practice places learning at the centre – for students and teachers.

Published in the 2023 edition of Optimum Magazine