SMUS in the News: Jason Scully and Graeme Hyde-Lay ’15

University of Victoria Vikes
April 16, 2015

Graeme Hyde-Lay ’15, Jason Scully ’15
Top Island recruits to bolster Vikes men’s basketball for 2015-16

Times Colonist
April 19, 2015

Jason Scully ’15
Island teens fill all-star hoops ranks in Langley

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SMUS in the News: A Conversation With Stewart Butterfield

The New York Times
April 16, 2015

Stewart Butterfield ’91
Is Slack really worth $2.8 billion? A conversation with Stewart Butterfield

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Brain Awareness Week: Junior School Inquiries


Junior School students spent Brain Awareness Week learning about the brain during daily assemblies and through in-class inquiries. Our youngest students are full of great brain-related questions, which were written out and put on the “Our Wonderful Brains” board. Each class ultimately chose one question to research and answer, and students shared their findings at the final Brain Awareness Week assembly on Friday.

Here’s just a bit of what our students learned this week, as it relates to the brain:

Kindergarten M: Is the brain a muscle?
We found out from a story that the brain is not a muscle, it is an organ made of tissues like neurons. Even though it’s not a muscle, the brain still needs to be exercised.

Kindergarten N: How does your brain think of dreams when you are sleeping?
Scientists don’t really know why we dream but they know our dreams happen in the rapid eye movement stage of sleep.

Grade 1A: We counted how many hours we slept. We noticed if we didn’t sleep enough we felt cranky. So we wanted to know why the brain needs sleep.
If we don’t get enough sleep we won’t have enough energy during the day. There also won’t be enough blood going to our brain and we could get a headache. If we are too tired our hippocampus might not know where to put the right file and we might forget some memories.

Grade 1L: Our class came up with several questions, but the question we discussed the most was “Can video games damage your brain?”
Thirteen students said that video games can damage your brain, one student said no. We thought video games probably could damage your brain because when you play a lot of video games your brain hurts because too much screen time is bad for your eyes and your eyes are controlled by your brain. When there’s too many bad guys or violence in video games and you focus on that for a long time it could be damaging. Video games could also be damaging because if you play too many video games and you love them so much that all you want to do is play them, this is being obsessed or addicted. Addiction to video games is damaging.

Grade 2N: How many classified parts of the brain are there?
The answer is almost unlimited. There are four main parts that are the cerebellum, the cerebrum, the limbic system and the brain stem. But the cerebrum can be divided into the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the sensory cortex, the motor cortex, the temporal lobe, Wernicke’s area, the occipital lobe and Broca’s area. The cerebellum is also known as the little brain. The limbic system contains the amygdala, the hippocampus, the hypothalamus and the thalamus. The brain stem contains the midbrain, pons and the medulla. It can be divided into 75 parts, and then it can be divided again, and again, and again – so really there are thousands of parts.

Grade 2P: We wondered if animals’ brains were the same as a human’s brain.
Most animals have a brain, but some do not. A human brain weighs about three pounds. An elephant’s brain weighs 13 pounds; it is the largest brain of any animal on land. A whale has a bigger brain than any other animal. We found lots of interesting facts about animals’ brains. Animals such as jellyfish, sponge, starfish and tapeworm do not have brains. Did you know that ducks sleep with one eye open? Half of its brain is sleeping, while the other half is awake. An octopus has a brain and it is one of the smartest creatures in the sea.

Grade 3: How does the brain think?
Your brain thinks by neurons that fire signals to your brain.

Grade 4H: If I hurt my toe, how fast does the pain travel through my spinal cord and into my brain?
It travels 100 metres per second, or 268 miles per hour. The brain receives and sends messages from the spinal cord. The spinal cord runs through your back and into your thalamus.Your spinal cord is what keeps you upright. For instance, if you get hurt, a message will be sent through your spinal cord and into your brain. The brain can send messages to anywhere in your body.

Grade 4J: We wondered how brains send and receive messages so fast. Our class would like to share our research in the form of a song (to the tune of “Found a Peanut”).

Use your dendrites, Use your dendrites
To connect through your brain.
Take in info, analyze it,
Grow some new ones unrestrained.JS-BrainAwareness-15

Axons send out neurotransmitters
To the dendrites all around.
Across the synapse jumps the impulse
New ideas can now abound.

Stimulation is what the brain needs
To make dendrites stretch and grow.
New connections make us smarter
In what we think and what we know.

Use your dendrites, Use your dendrites
To connect through your brain.
Take in info, analyze it,
Grow some new ones unrestrained.

Grade 5M: Our class wondered why the brain has wrinkles.
We learned that as the brain grows it folds itself. The folds allow us to fit more brain matter inside our skull.

Grade 5R: We wondered why our brains are in our heads?
Your brain is in your head because the first animal organism had mass, and to do well in life it needed eyes to see what it was eating so the eyes evolved. More and more nerves were needed in the head, and all the nerves formed into a clump. This mass of cells became the brain. So over time, 4 out of 5 senses have evolved in the head, so it is the logical place for the brain.

(Photos by Gordon Chan and Kyle Slavin)

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Brain Awareness Week: Middle School Learns About Brain Injuries


A visit from UVic’s Let’s Talk Science outreach team was one of the big highlights of Brain Awareness Week at the Middle School. Not only was the presentation informative, it was very interactive.

Using eggs as a stand-in for the human head, science students learned about the importance of protecting the skull from injuries.

“Our brains are pretty much the consistency of Jello. Think of our Jello brains sitting inside our skulls and say you get hit in a rugby game or in a car accident or you fall off your bike and you’re not wearing a helmet, your brain is going to be pretty damaged,” Anna, from Let’s Talk Science, told students. “That’s due to a couple of reasons. One: your skull might crack and damage the underlying structure of the brain, but also if you get hit really, really hard, all the cerebral spinal fluid is going to move around with high velocity, and that can also cause damage.”

Helmets – bike helmets, football helmets, hockey helmets – all help reduce the risk of brain injuries by acting as a cushion to absorb a lot of an impact.

With some Styrofoam packing peanuts, paper, some plastic and a handful of tissues, students were challenged to build their own helmet for their egg.

Many students tried to build protective layers around their eggs to cushion the fall, while others built makeshift parachutes from garbage bags and tape. Some even built “helmets” that were disproportionately weighted so the heavy side (furthest away from the egg) would be certain to hit the ground first.MS-BrainAwareness-Egg-09

Students took turns dropping their eggs from the second floor of the Middle School onto the basketball court below.

Surprisingly, a lot of the eggs remained uncracked after their descent, thanks to the students’ creatively designed helmets. There was no clear winner, as far as which design was the most effective helmet, but all students took away a very important lesson on reducing your risk of brain injury.

“We are born with only a certain amount of cells in our brains, and once they get killed they don’t grow back. They’re not like skin or stomach cells that grow back and regenerate,” said Anna. “We want to do as little permanent damage as possible to our brains. That’s why we wear helmets.”

(Photos by Kyle Slavin)

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Brain Awareness Week: Staying Stress-Free at the Senior School


Brain Awareness Week at the Senior School is always fun and educational, with lots of activities to do and see. From terrific and insightful guest speakers like Lynn Lyons (watch her great talk on SMUSTube) to a student-versus-staff Brain Bowl trivia challenge, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your brain healthy at SMUS.

Throughout the jam-packed week also comes great opportunities for students to slow down and relax. A campus visit by friendly therapy dogs mid-week helped students de-stress, and take their minds off any worries they had. And Senior School chapel during Brain Awareness Week focused on health and wellness, courtesy of the school’s Mindfulness Crew.

Mindfulness Crew students say it’s important to have a health and wellness chapel that focuses on mindfulness: “Mindfulness is the gentle effort of a person to be continuously present with experience. It is the non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on emotions, thoughts and sensations that are occurring. Mindfulness complements Brain Awareness Week because it is used to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. It is a tool used to prevent relapses in depression, drug addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and many other illnesses.”

As part of chapel, Ms. Tiffany Evans led students in a short mindfulness meditation. Read each word below carefully and be inspired to subsequently sit back, relax, close your eyes and spend a few minutes focusing on yourself to the benefit of your brain.

Think about yourself. Be mindful. There’s nowhere else you need to be right now. Try to relax. Let go of all your thoughts or what you have left to do today. Try to go to that place in your mind that wants you to relax, that needs to be quiet. Try and be in touch with that part of yourself that wants you to be the best you can be. Relax.

This exercise is great for sport preparation, overall mind strength, academic concentration and complete body health. Your mind is powerful – learning to exercise and look after it is vital.

Sit back with your spine and neck straight. Keep your shoulders low. Your hands can rest gently on your lap. Block out the people and sounds around you. Close your eyes.

Try not to think about anything. Erase the many stresses that are going on in your mind. When thoughts or sensations pop up into your awareness, let them go. Your mind loves to be busy and make things up, but let them go.

Focus on your breathing. Allow your breath to go into a deep and natural rhythm. Detach your mind. Be patient and tolerant.

Relax the muscles in your face; now scrunch up your face and make the muscles tense. Now relax your face again. Pull your shoulders up towards your ears; now relax them. Clench your fists tightly; now release and allow your hands to relax. Clench your toes and flex your calf muscles; now relax them. Clench every muscle in your body; hold that tightness. Now relax your body.

Continue to keep your mind clear. Have nothing in your mind. Relax.

(Photos by Kyle Slavin)

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Spring Break Service Trip: Mexico


by Christian Okiring, Grade 10

A service trip is an opportunity to discover something about the world and about yourself. My service trip to San Jose Del Cabo over Spring Break was undoubtedly educational. Furthermore, my experience was nothing short of life-changing; truly extraordinary. Over the course of 10 days we immersed ourselves in the vibrant culture of this small town, helped and taught at a rural boarding school, and created friendships that will last a lifetime. The easiest part about embarking on a great adventure like this is what happens before the actual trip; the exhilarating excitement as nerves begin to kick in without knowing what to expect upon arrival.

The moment we set foot outside the airport in Mexico was when we had our first cultural experience: a very welcoming atmosphere filled with people dancing and singing to loud music as the guests arrived. To our left was a bar and Spanish dancers, and to our right was a lounge with waiting families, but the most welcoming thing was right in front of us. The view of a warm beating sun in the distance over mountains covered with cacti and green pastures alongside; this was the best welcome gift.

The boarding school we visited was nothing like SMUS. They didn’t have a garden, the paint on the walls was peeling and the classrooms were small and could barely fit all of the students.

We spent the first few days exploring the beaches, restaurants and the many heritage sights of Cabo. We practiced our Spanish bargaining skills, as we negotiated prices with native speakers in the city central or “Zocalo”. Also, we ate authentic local dishes for every meal, and we got to try dishes such as fish tacos, fresh mangoes and everything spicy. We concluded our fun adventures of Los Cabos by going on a breathtaking boat ride around the famous Arc of Cabo San Lucas. After exploring the town and immersing ourselves in the culture we looked forward to the main purpose of the trip: connecting with the local children and dedicating our time to their school.

As we got onto the bus our minds were filled with many thoughts. What will they wear? What if we can’t communicate? What if they don’t like us? One of the most memorable things about the long, daily bus rides to the school were the changing sights. The rides would begin with the beautiful views of the bright blue ocean, followed by the colourful town, and moving towards the desert, the sights of an opulent landscape. Our journey continued and we began to notice the torn-down buildings and empty ranches. But the moment we set our sights on the school we noticed how different their lives were compared to ours.

The boarding school we visited was nothing like SMUS. They didn’t have a garden, the paint on the walls was peeling, and the classrooms were small and could barely fit all of the students.

Our main tasks while we were there were to paint a mural on a blank wall, create a beautiful garden on their arid landscape and get to know the children. The kids gathered in a group and welcomed us with open arms toSMUS-SS-ServiceTrip-Mexico-CO their home. Most of the students lived on ranches hours away from the school. They didn’t have much, and to them, this school was what they took pride in. We fell in love the moment we saw their smiling faces and the unconditional love they had towards each other.

The first two days were spent plowing the ground and planting the seeds in the new soil. The seeds we were sowing were more than just beans and lentils, they were seeds of lasting friendship. Some students painted a beautiful scene of the beach on the white wall. During a game of soccer I met another 15-year-old boy named Joshua. Joshua and I did not speak the same language but we found that laughter was the best form of communication.

In between painting and gardening we also taught classes. Most of our lessons began with songs we had previously learned, and continued with English games and activities like Pictionary. The kids enjoyed every moment as much as we did, and they continued to sing the songs we taught them while they were doing other activities.

After all the time and affection we had put into the school and children, none of us could believe our last day came so quickly. Instead of a mellow goodbye, we decided to end our time with a party. We got decorations, toys, cakes, pizzas and even a piñata! Every day was emotional, but the last day was the hardest to bear. When it came time to say our goodbyes there wasn’t a dry eye on the premise – teachers, students, parents, and even the bus driver were in tears.

Nothing could compare to all of time spent with the kids, all of the hard work everybody put into making improvements to the school, and all of the memories we made in Mexico.

Last week, the SMUS Review blog shared an insightful post from Grade 12 student Amy Bodine about her service trip to Kenya. And next week, we’ll hear from students who participated in the Spring Break Service Trip to China and Vietnam.

Photos by Timmy Qi and Lucy Zeng

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SMUS’s Club Hub: Reach for the Top


SMUS students have access to a wide variety of extracurricular opportunities that interest them. We offer more than 100 fun and rewarding clubs or councils that provide students of all ages with leadership experience, skill development and a chance to contribute to life on campus and in our greater community. The SMUS Review is currently highlighting these extracurricular activities and the passionate students who get involved.


Do you know who designed the Winnipeg Mint? Or the capital of Luxembourg? Or the chemical formula for stannic oxide? Or which famous jazz trumpeter had a cameo in the movie “Scrooged”?

All of our brains hold random bits of trivia. Reach for the Top harnesses all those memorized facts and information across a broad spectrum of subjects, and turns it into a friendly-yet-competitive quiz competition. (Reach for the Top was a popular CBC game show from the 1960s through to the 1980s. Teams of students competed against other schools, seeing which school could earn the most points by answering trivia questions. The competition still exists in Canada, it’s just no longer a game show.)

Last weekend, the SMUS team attended the provincial Reach tournament in Vancouver and won 6 out of 7 games, to finish in 5th place in B.C.

Today, the SMUS Review sits down with Grade 12 student Nathan High, who participates in SMUS’s Reach for the Top club.

Why did you join Reach for the Top?
Nathan– I just heard it was fun and got reeled into it one day and it ended up being really fun. It’s a skill you have to pick up over time because you have to buzz in first if you want to answer the question; a lot of it has to do with buzzer speed and trying to figure out the question before they’re finished asking it. I think I’ve gotten to be really good at buzzer speed.

What does being in the club entail?
We meet at lunch every Monday and Friday, and mostly it’s just a casual practice. We just go through questions from previous years and do fun competitions.

What was the provincial competition like?
It’s a semi-competitive tournament; some schools are more competitive. We take it more fun. Coming in 5th, we were pretty happy with that. My personal goal was to do better than some of the really competitive teams, and we did succeed at that. In the tournament, you get to put four people up per game, and we have a pretty big team so we have to rotate through people and try to get everyone up there.

Is there any strategy to that?
Because we practice, you get a sense of what areas certain people know, so you try to stack your team so that you have people who know as many categories as possible. But it’s very broad – there were questions about pop music and there were questions about 19th-century conflicts. You don’t know what the categories are going to be though, so you can never guarantee that you’re going to have someone who knows.

How do you prepare for the competition?
I’m sure you could study, but I don’t. The practice questions we do help you learn tidbits as you go along. There’s almost always Lit 12-type questions, and you can always rely on history and geography-type questions being there. It’s more about who you have up there to cover the most areas of semi-expertise. But you can sometimes expect certain questions. If it’s an author question, almost always someone will guess Margaret Atwood; if it’s a Prime Minister question, there’s a bunch of safe guesses – the Prime Ministers people know; if it’s a question about anything to do with Red River, someone will instantly buzz “Louis Riel.”

Were there any memorable moments during the provincial competition?
One of my teammates, Harrison, spent a bunch of time memorizing the moons of the solar system – and that actually paid off. It came up in the tournament. One of the questions was, “What’s the biggest moon in the solar system?” He was pretty pleased with himself.

What do you enjoy most about Reach for the Top?
It’s just a really fun activity where you can use the information you’ve picked up and also learn new things passively. It’s a light, competitive game that I’m fairly good at, and it’s an enjoyable format. The questions go by quickly, there’s a lot of them, and if you get one wrong there’s not much of a penalty.

Would you recommend other students join Reach for the Top?
Definitely. We need new people to come out, with a bunch of Grade 12s leaving this year. It’s a super fun activity, where you’re not required to commit heavily. And unless you don’t enjoy trivia, there’s really no reason not to. It’s the best!

Photo by Kyle Slavin

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Brain Awareness Week: Moving Bodies, Active Brains

by Tanya de Hoog, Junior School program specialist

On Tuesday, Junior School teaching faculty welcomed guest speaker Colleen Politano, a highly respected and longtime Victoria educator, and co-author of “Brain-Based Learning with Class”. Ongoing professional development as a part of Brain Awareness Week is important for teaching faculty. Simply put, without the brain, learning can’t happen. Opportunities for teaching faculty to explore and revisit key understandings about how the brain functions and learns impacts learners on a daily basis.

Colleen challenged Junior School teaching faculty to get students moving. This turns on the RAS (reticular activating system) and improves attention and a learner’s ability to process information. Colleen shared brain research, along with many practical tools and strategies that can easily be incorporated into the learning day to get students moving.

When movement is built into learning, learners feel energized, stay alert and process information more readily. Movement fuels the brain with oxygen and glucose, which helps learners to think and make sense of concepts and information. A 2- or 3-minute movement break can yield 20-30 minutes of attentive and productive learning time. She also emphasized the importance of cross-lateral movement to stimulate both hemispheres of the brain.

“We can either have attention or make meaning. We can’t do both. Using movement helps kids shift from attention to making meaning,” Politano said.

Colleen’s session was “a good mix of the cerebral and practical.” “And, movement makes learning fun!” reflected grade 2 teachers, Nina Duffus and Pam Yorath.

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SMUS in the News: Ann Makosinski’s Latest Invention

Global BC
April 11, 2015

Ann Makosinski ’15
Saanich teen’s newest invention can use hot coffee to power devices

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Athletics Week in Review: April 15

The SMUS spring rowing season began April 11-12 at the Maple Bay Regatta, held this year on Lake Quamichan.

Several local clubs (Maple Bay, Nanaimo, Victoria City Rowing Club) and a number of schools (Queen of Angels, Claremont, Brentwood, Shawnigan and Gulf Islands) took part on a weekend that saw everything in terms of weather. Rain, then sun, then more rain, then sun, then strong winds, which resulted in the last five races having to be cancelled. Indeed, several boats needed to be beached by their crews, though all eventually made it back to base safely.

SMUS put together some solid results, with the Lightweight Girls A 2X winning its race, while the Girls Novice 8+, Lightweight Boys A 1X, and Boys Jr 8+ also reached the podium.​

Next on the calendar is the Brentwood College Regatta, set to be held April 25-27 in Mill Bay. Over 1700 athletes from all across the Pacific Northwest are scheduled to take part.

Follow the SMUS Crew on Twitter for the latest on SMUS Rowing.

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