Curriculum FAQs

Why was the Alberta Curriculum chosen?

Four years ago, it was determined that in order to provide our students with the skills, knowledge and ultimately, the strongest opportunity for success moving into their chosen path for the future, we required a curriculum with a scope and sequence within which outcomes could be properly measured, preferably on an international level.  We also heeded the call of employers who were extremely challenged in finding new recruits who were strong in critical thinking, problem-solving and collaborative working skills.  A review of several programs throughout the United States, Canada and the UK was completed by a committee comprised of members from the Board of Governors, administration and teachers. It was determined that the program offered in Alberta gives students the necessary skill set for life-long learning.  In addition, the support provided by Alberta Education could not be matched by any other jurisdiction, province or state. The standardization of outcomes and assessments provides our school with the measures necessary to assist students in their post-secondary admissions. This curriculum is recognized worldwide as being rigorous, measurable, worthy of recognition and on par with the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) programs.

How does the Alberta Curriculum compare to International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) standards?

The Alberta High School Diploma is internationally recognized to be similar to IB and AP certificates. When registering for universities in the UK or anywhere in North America, the Alberta High School Diploma is highly recognized for admission purposes. It is viewed as equally rigorous as the IB and AP certificates and the measures of the Alberta Diploma Exams are recognized as fair and equal standards.

What is different about how students are learning with the Alberta Program?

Students at all levels are being challenged in a variety of ways. In the elementary programs our students are introduced to the inquiry process where they approach learning through higher levels of questions and the communication of their understanding. The emphasis is placed first and foremost on understanding the concept in-depth and then applying this knowledge to several applications. Students are encouraged to explore a variety of strategies and then determine which one is best suited to the situation at hand.  The inquiry process is embedded in all courses and teachers and students work to answer key questions that encompass the learner outcomes. It is through this process that students may be challenged to dig deeper and apply their knowledge to more sophisticated situations, rather than employ historical ‘process driven’ techniques such as the memorization of facts.

What is different about how my child is learning compared to the other private schools?

It is very difficult to measure the pace of learning when learner outcomes, curriculum and methodology are not the same.   In fact, you cannot compare pace unless students are being measured on the same outcomes at the same grade levels.  Rest assured, MSA students are NOT 2 years behind.  In fact, the methodology (or pedagogy) we employ is widely recognized as ‘cutting edge’ on an international level.  This methodology is a complete shift from the traditional method of teachers standing in front of the class and talking AT students and uses a much more facilitative approach.  We teach from a space of UNDERSTANDING first and then procedure.  For example, the previous method of having students memorize the multiplication table may result in them being able to vocalize 5 x 6 equals 30.  The Alberta Curriculum methodology has the student understand the manipulation of numbers so that they are actually able to multiply even if the terminology is not in play.  It should be noted that the Alberta Curriculum is recognized as being similar to the IB (International Baccalaureate) and AP (Advanced Placement) standards, which improves the opportunities of MSA students who attain the Alberta High School Diploma.

What is the difference between the current MSA Diploma and the Alberta Diploma?

The difference between the MSA Diploma and the Alberta Diploma is that an Alberta Diploma is internationally recognized to be on par with IB (International Baccalaureate) and AP (Advanced Placement) certificates.  
To attain an MSA Diploma, students must successfully complete a set of required courses. Final grades are determined using a combination of the student’s classroom marks and a teacher-generated final exam (based on the Alberta standardized exams) and NOT the results of the final diploma exam.  Over the past few years we have transitioned the MSA Diploma requirements to be on par with the Alberta High School Diploma.  This was driven by many universities requiring the submission of lesson plans to ensure the quality of education an MSA student received was on par with what would be accepted to their institution, as they did not understand the quality and/or standard of MSA’s previous curriculum.  For the most part, this is no longer the case.
To achieve the Alberta High School Diploma, IN ADDITION TO successfully completing their required set of courses and the teacher-generated final exams, students must also successfully sit the Alberta Diploma Exams.  This standardized exam is the same exam used throughout all Alberta curriculum based schools, both internationally and in Alberta. The results of the standardized diploma exams are blended with the school-awarded mark.  Each mark contributes 50% to the final blended score.  This is used to determine the final grades that are entered on the official Alberta High School transcripts.  It is important to note that final blended scores of between 47.5% - 49.5% are rounded up to 50%.

What is the advantage of MSA having two diplomas (MSA Diploma and Alberta Diploma?)

When the Board of Governors was considering the international opportunities that come for our students upon achieving their Alberta Diploma, they also recognized the historical and local significance of achieving an MSA Diploma.  The Board ultimately did not wish to lose MSA’s own identity and legacy of graduating countless successful leaders. The practice of having diploma recognition at the High School level AND at a Provincial level is also standard practice throughout Alberta.

What accountability is in place to ensure that teachers are completing all of the required topics in each course so that my child will be successful on the diploma exams?

Teachers are required to provide weekly and long-range plans.  The Curriculum Coordinator is constantly and thoroughly reviewing the plans and ensures that the curriculum is being delivered AND understood to the highest level possible.

What happens if my child does NOT attain the Alberta Diploma and only attains the MSA Diploma?

All students who are granted the MSA Diploma have the opportunity to achieve the Albert High School Diploma.  As it has for over 120 years, achieving the MSA Diploma will continue to enable students’ acceptance into a broad spectrum of local and international education institutions including colleges, universities and technical education institutions. The benefit of achieving the Albert High School Diploma is that it affords our students the opportunity to be compared to students from other schools who have graduated from IB (International Baccalaureate) and AP (Advanced Placement) programs.  It provides a higher level of entry/access to universities, colleges and technical education institutions and programs as it is an internationally recognized standard.  In addition, the prospect of a student getting into their University of choice is increased immensely.

How are Diploma Exams assessed?

The exams are sent from Alberta Education to MSA via courier and are kept secure until the exam date. Upon completion, exams are then couriered back to Alberta Education where they will be marked by a team of certified teachers. These teachers must have a minimum of 5 years of teaching and 3 years of teaching the specific course. All exams are read at least twice and if there is a significant discrepancy, a third read is completed. Final grades are mailed to students in late July or August and the official diploma and a transcipt will be mailed in September.  Upon request, official transcripts will be mailed to specified post-secondary institutions.  
For more information on Alberta Diploma Exams, go to:   http://www.education.alberta.ca/parents/resources/exams.aspx
 

Will receiving final grades from the Alberta standardized final exam in July negatively impact or delay my child’s ability to be accepted into the university/college of their choice?

NO!  Universities and colleges accept students conditionally based on their Grade 11 final marks and Grade 12 January marks.   Academic performance throughout high school plays a critical role as it is generally assumed that a student’s prior grades will be consistent with their final grades.  Upon completing the Grade 12 Diploma exams, the requested transcripts will be forwarded to the post-secondary institute of choice.

After my child graduates from MSA, will he/she have to take preparatory classes before entering College or University?

If your child successfully completes their core courses, there should be no requirement for preparatory classes.  Students using the Alberta curriculum continue to rank among the best in Canada and the World, according to the results of the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Alberta students placed second in the World in reading and scientific literacy, and eighth in mathematical literacy. Internationally, Alberta’s reading literacy results were among the very highest-scoring nations, second only to Shanghai-China and tied with South Korea, Finland, and Hong Kong-China.
PISA is administered every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The tests assess the international achievement of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy. In Alberta approximately 2,900 students from public, separate, francophone, charter, and private schools, together with other sampled students from 65 countries participated in the test in the spring of 2009.

What is the relevance of the 4-year High School plan?

The 4-year plan is a critical component to each student’s High School journey.  After identifying the career path(s) they are interested in pursuing, students will have the support of the Guidance and Career Counselor to ensure their course selection is appropriate for post-secondary institution acceptance.  It will also allow them to identify, where appropriate, suitable ‘work study’ opportunities where they can get additional exposure and hands on experience within their chosen career path.  The 4-year plan is reviewed and modified annually with the student, the parent and the Guidance and Career Counselor.  This allows the student to refine their academic plans as they develop their future academic and career plans.  This also provides our students with a feeling that they are involved and in some way, in charge of their academic life.

What is the difference between the -1, -2 and -3 streams?

As our students enter High School, they will work with the Career Counselor to build a 4-year career plan that will provide the foundation of course choice. Contrary to the belief that streams represent a higher or lower level of academic capability, -1, -2 and -3 streams are parallel streams that directly correlate to the student’s overall academic/career aspiration and the future continuing education programs they intend to enroll into.  Depending on their desired career path, with the support of the Career Counselor they will choose the most appropriate courses and streams.  Also, the choice of stream is related to each individual course and NOT the entire year of High School they are currently enrolled. 

What impact, if any, does selecting between the various streams (-1, -2 and -3) have on attaining an Alberta Diploma?

NONE! Regardless of the academic stream that a student is working within (-1, -2 or -3), they have the opportunity to achieve an Alberta Diploma. As mentioned previously, streams are directly related to the future academic and career path choice for each student. In fact, it would not be uncommon for a student to take one stream of language arts and a different stream for their mathematical studies.  It should be noted that transcripts provide higher learning institutions with full details on all courses that have been taken, in addition to the final grades.  The information will assist them in determining which level, if at all, a student will be accepted and into what course.  This also reflects the importance of MSA’s 4-year career planning process, which supports our students in identifying potential career paths and further, making the best choice in course/stream selection to achieve their academic and/or career goals.

When my child is in a -1, -2 or -3 program, is it possible for them to move into a different stream?

Yes. It is possible for students to move from one program to another; however, it is critical to understand that outcomes for -1, -2 and -3 are assessed differently, based on the concepts delivered for that particular program.  In order to move into a different stream, students must show that they have mastered the concepts of the level in which they wish to enter.  This will require additional studying on the part of the student outside of scheduled class times.  To this end, Alberta offers distance learning support so that if students wish to take another stream of study, provided their schedule allows it, they can. We have several examples where a student has taken a course of one stream in one semester and then completed the desired new stream course in the second semester. Don’t forget, the Alberta Curriculum is designed to challenge your child and have them attain the highest academic standing based on their capabilities.  This will be impacted by the level of effort they employ.

What is the advantage of being on a semestered system for our high school courses and why are some courses non-semestered?

We have adopted a semester system that enables our students to take a full year course of study in one semester (Sept-Jan or Feb-June) and focus on fewer courses at one time.  Students sit 90 minute classes daily with total learning hours in a single semester equal to that of a course that is spread throughout an entire school year.  This allows students a greater opportunity to concentrate their learning on fewer courses at any given time.  After considering parent requests, Grade 9 & 10 Math were shifted to full year courses, which means that the students have math every other day, all year long. Grade 11 & 12 Math and other courses remain on the semester system. This provides the students with more opportunities to take a wider selection of courses. Also, our students are faced with a maximum of 4 final exams per semester rather than 8 for the year end. It should be noted that our students have voiced their strong approval and ease of stress that the semester system provides them.

What type of early intervention/learning support does MSA have for its students?

We recognize that all students learn differently and that we must provide support for students at all stages of their education who may be struggling academically.  At MSA, we provide an opportunity for students to be assessed to determine their learning needs.  If we feel their learning needs are greater than what we can determine, we will recommend students receive a more detailed Pyschoeducational assessment through the Reading Clinic or Psychologist.  Once it is determine what the learning needs of the student are, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is prepared and communicated with parents and teachers.  The IEP is a tool that makes suggestions on what parents and teachers can be doing to assist the students in being aware of how they learn and what they should be doing to achieve success.  Where necessary, students are referred to the Learning Support Teacher to receive additional support and tutoring.  As students with IEPs move from Elementary into Middle School, a Learning Support teacher will work with the teachers to monitor and support the students as needed.  Once in High School, the course choices are designed to meet the needs of all ability levels and are very much geared toward future goals and employment.  In addition, work experience is sometimes available and often beneficial.

How are the courses at MSA assessed?

Students’ success is now being measured by authentic assessments, which are reflected in the weekly and unit assignments. Students no longer receive points for daily homework, which is the students’ opportunity to practice and work to fully understand the concept. Daily practice of classroom work is assigned with the answers provided.  This gives students the resources to check their work as they complete it. Grades are achieved in the assignments, quizzes and unit tests.

If my child is not a strong ‘academic’ student, what, if any, ‘hands on’ learning does MSA offer?

The methodology of the Alberta curriculum emphasizes a “hands on” approach.  After a particular concept is delivered by the teacher, students then have the opportunity to apply their knowledge.  Our methodology is suited for young people who best learn in a variety of different ways and supports each student to successfully achieve their highest academic standard possible.
In addition, Grade 12 students are eligible for work experience opportunities. It is important to note the importance of MSA’s 4-year career planning process for high school students.  In developing their 4-year plan with the support of the career counselor, students can identify/secure relevant work experience opportunities that will provide them with hands on experience within their chosen career paths.
 

Are foreign language courses offered in a manner that meets the requirements of overseas universities?

Students have the opportunity to study foreign language courses (French and Spanish) throughout all four years of high school, provided that enough students sign up for the course each year.  In the event that we do not have enough enrolment for a class, we will endeavor to work with the students to ensure they have the opportunity to complete the courses necessary for college/university entrance.  
The importance of MSA’s 4-year career planning process for high school students cannot be overstated.  By thoughtfully creating their 4-year plan with the support of the career counselor, students can identify what courses are critical to achieve over the course of the four years in order to have the required areas of study for college/university entrance and areas of study, including foreign languages.   
 

What electives are offered and how is the decision made as to what electives are offered?

The range of electives offered at MSA is determined by available facilities, having sufficient student enrolment, teacher expertise and limitations placed by Immigration policy.  At this time, high school electives offered are: Art, Financial Management, second languages (French and Spanish), Music, Enterprise and Innovation, Multi-media, and work experience.  Middle School electives include: Art, Drama, second languages (French and Spanish) and Music.

What is the aim of the Physical Education program at MSA?

The aim of the Kindergarten to Grade 12 Physical Education program is to enable our students to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to lead an active, healthy lifestyle. We focus on children and their ability to achieve their individual potential, creating a positive future for themselves, as well as enhancing their quality of life. The Kindergarten to Grade 12 Physical Education program contributes to the development of life skills: the personal management of health, the use of physical activity as a strategy for managing life challenges and a setting within which to work with others. The program provides an equitable opportunity for all students to realize the benefits of physical activity.

What sports programs are offered through MSA’s extracurricular program?

The range of sports programs offered at MSA is determined by available facilities, student interest, teacher expertise and finances.  This year, we have been able to offer:
  • HIGH SCHOOL ~  basketball, volleyball, football, badminton, track & field, cross-country, swimming, rugby
  • MIDDLE SCHOOL ~ basketball, volleyball, football, badminton, track & field, cross-country, swimming, and tennis 
  • ELEMENTARY ~ track & field, cross-country, swimming, tag rugby and football
At the end of this school year, our Grade 4 & 5 girls had the opportunity to participate in after-school netball.  We hope to expand this program next year.
 

What homework expectations should I have for my child(ren)?

Elementary: K-2 Children always have the opportunity to practice their reading, spelling and math strategies but most importantly is the conversation parents have with their children about their learning. Parents should take time every day to read with or to their child and discuss the events and characters they are meeting in the story.
Grades 3-5 Students are encouraged to read on a daily basis and will often have assignments and projects to complete at home. A fair expectation would be ½ to 1 hour a day depending on the tasks and the deadlines. 
Middle & High School - Students will have daily homework to complete unless they have been very efficient with their classroom time. They will also have on-going projects and assignments as well as studying for quizzes and tests. Students should get into the habit of reviewing their daily work rather than waiting for the night before a test to start studying. An average of 1-2 hours per day would be acceptable.

Where can we find more information on the Alberta Curriculum?

Information can be found at:   http://www.education.alberta.ca/parents/resources.aspx 
We are currently in the process of developing on-island resources for our website and anticipate having that available in the near future.