All the School’s a Stage – Abelard’s One-Act Festival

Now that we’re a few weeks into 2018, we wanted to reflect on Abelard’s first one-act play festival that took place in the middle of December. Students in our Drama class have been working hard on smaller dramatic projects all year, but in our classroom we’re always short one pivotal element of the theatrical event: an audience!

To practice working in front of a crowd, and to get the feel of staging a complete play, the class curated a selection of very short plays. Each play was only ten minutes long and featured a small cast of only two or three performers. Like short stories, ten-minute-plays tend to pack a real dramatic punch because they condense so much narrative into such a small package. Thanks to the short run-times and small cast sizes, we were able to perform each play six times.

The turnout was great, particularly given that it was a cold night. Audiences got to choose their own path and see as few or as many shows as they liked, in whichever order suited them best. Our evening included an intimate domestic drama, absurdist takes on the theatre business, a vision of the afterlife, a comedy about when life doesn’t work out how you’d like, and even a new take on Romeo and Juliet. The night was such a success that we’ll almost certainly repeat the experiment next year – hope to see you there!


Waterloo’s Math Contests

Most people who know about the University of Waterloo also know that it is recognized internationally as a centre that excels in teaching math, engineering, and computer science. Its programs are hard to get into and extremely competitive.

As a broad celebration of knowledge, and equally as a low-key recruitment tool, the University also runs annual math and computer science competitions for high school students. The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC), an educational outreach organization housed at UWaterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics, has become very well-regarded because of these competitions.

Recently, our wrote the Senior and Intermediate Mathematics Contests. The contest asks nine questions; three of these need full answers that show the student’s work, and the other six only require the answer. In preparation, our students took a short break from regular math lessons to discuss some contest-style problems. As you will see below, contest problems have their own style to them. They read almost like a joke, having a lengthy set up to a short punchline.

A strong result earns the student a certificate of accomplishment and a very strong result could earn the student a scholarship at UWaterloo. If a student is less successful, they will at least have had an opportunity to stretch their mathematical muscles without affecting their grades. The CEMC’s stated purpose is to “increase interest, enjoyment, confidence, and ability in mathematics and computer science” which is, we think, is exactly what they accomplish.

We won’t have our own students’ results for a little while yet, but if you think you’ve got math chops of your own and want to get a sense of the challenge that our students undertook, try one of last year’s questions.(And don’t forget to show your work!)

For each positive integer n, the Murray number of n is the smallest positive integer M, with M > n, for which there exist one or more distinct integers greater than n and less than or equal to M whose product times n is a perfect square. For example, the Murray number of 3 is 8 since 3 × 6 × 8 = 144 and it can be shown that it is not possible to multiply 3 by one or more distinct integers that are greater than 3 and less than 8 to obtain a perfect square.

  1. The Murray number of 6 is 12. Show why this is true.
  2. Determine the Murray number of 8. (No justification is required.)
  3. Prove that there are infinitely many positive integers n for which n is not a perfect square and the Murray number of n is less than 2n.
  4. Prove that, for all positive integers n, the Murray number of n exists and is greater than or equal to n + 3.

SciHigh Visit with Glow-in-the-Dark Mice

On Monday, the school lunch hour was taken over by a visit from SciHigh, a program run out of the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital. The volunteers were two graduate students in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at U of T. They came to our school to share their enthusiasm and love of science.
The SciHigh program was developed in the late 90s to promote science in schools across Toronto. The experiments that they demonstrate are intended to make science fun, and to expose young scholars to things that go beyond what is possible in most high school classrooms. For us, they brought several kinds of model organisms including, fruit flies, nematode worms and glow-in-the-dark mice!
SciHigh Mice

A glowing mouse tail viewed through special glasses.


The mice had been transgenically modified to include either RFP or GFP, meaning that their tails and ears glowed in red or green when viewed through special glasses. Many of our grade 11 and 12 biology students have been learning about genetics and biotechnology in the past month, so this was a really unique opportunity. The facilitators talked about being a graduate student, their own research and why model organisms are so important. This discussion also touched on the ethics and responsibilities related to using model organisms in research.

Come Learn About the Stars from Abelard Teacher Catherine Woodford!

If you follow science news, you will no doubt know that this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to the three scientists from the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration. Their accomplishment? They proved Einstein’s prediction by observing the universe’s gravitational waves for the very first time. The waves they saw had been created by the collision between two black holes, and took over a billion years to reach Earth.


On December 7, one of Abelard’s teachers will be giving a talk about these waves at an event that our grade 11 and 12 students will attend. Catherine Woodford, who teaches computer science for us, is a 3rd year PhD candidate in the Physics Department at the University of Toronto. She works in the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics (CITA) and is a member of the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) collaboration, working on binary black hole simulations and gravitational wave analysis.

Her talk will give you a chance to get an up-close and personal take on the several Gravitational Waves discoveries that have changed science for the better. With the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015 and the recent observation of a binary neutron star, the LIGO-VIRGO collaboration and partners have broken records in physics, astronomy, and interferometry – with still more to come. She will lead a talk about what went into the LIGO that discovered the first gravitational wave, GW150914, from theoretical, engineering, and computer simulation viewpoints, plus some of the major discoveries that have accompanied the detections since.
The very exciting news is that you, a member of the public, can join our Abelard students and attend the talk as well, not only to find out more about the cutting edge of research, but also to get a sense of what it’s like to be an Abelardian. For more information, visit the AstroTours website here. The talk will be followed by a chance to look through some telescopes, get a tour of the planetarium, and to check out some virtual reality demonstrations. We hope you’ll come along!

A Learning Community Beyond our Walls

Written by Ms. Michelle Lefolii, School Principal
In my grade 12 Writer’s Craft class last week, the students were working on an exercise in which they were asked to write a passage dense in poetic devices.
One of the intrepid students, Aurora, decided to do some research into less common devices, and encountered one known as the Janus parallelism. It’s a sophisticated device in which a pun is made by including a word in one line of poetry that has one meaning when read against the previous line and a second meaning when read against the line following.
Intriguing. The example given, however, was in Medieval Hebrew. Our class discussed this conundrum briefly and commented on how unhelpful an example it was to those of us unfamiliar with that language.
A second student in the class, Ariel, thought back to his days as a Hebrew student prior to his bar mitzvah, and paired his nine-year old’s vocabulary with his technical literacy, and after attacking his keyboard for a while came up with a reasonable assumption as to which word in the text was being punned upon. This however, unfortunately proved to be a dead end.
Aurora tried the Google translate function with no greater success.
The students had now identified the relevant biblical passage from which the text had been drawn, and resourcefully consulted the English language version. The janus parallelism, sadly, didn’t translate.
Jokes were made about how if only our medieval Hebrew weren’t so rusty we’d have solved the riddle by now, when suddenly we realized that we do, in fact, know someone who probably would stand a good chance of being able to read the Hebrew original.
Through our good friends at the internet, Ariel sent word out to Abelard alumnus Josiah Cohen, now in his first year at Columbia. Within minutes we had the answer, accompanied by a scholarly article Josiah had found relating to the topic.
This will remain one of my happiest moments as a teacher: proof that the Abelard intellectual community extends beyond our walls and after graduation.

Dramatic Radio

Last week, Abelard’s drama class marked Halloween by performing and recording a suspenseful radio play called Sorry, Wrong Number. First written and performed in the 1940s, the play is an excellent example of how writers worked around telling a story with no visuals. Although perhaps less chilling for audiences in 2017, it almost certainly will have spooked listeners back in the 40s. If you would like to listen to our class’s performance, you can download our recording by clicking here.

Our cast was as follows:

Man in Black — Andrew Gilchrist
Mrs. Elbert Stephenson — Molly Franssen Keenan
Operator — Nicole Entin
Crime Boss & Western Union Rep — Marina Loginova
George — Francis Ellington Nardi
Sergeant Martin — Anna Avaliani
Chief Operator — Angelo Ilersich
Hospital Reception — Ewan H.T. Wilton
Information — Constantine Zhang
Announcer — Victoria Tininkin

Music Director — Will Poetker


Abelard Visits the Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto

On October 26, the Abelard School Computer Science class was privileged to attend the Third Annual Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence Conference hosted by the Creative Destruction Lab at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, one of the world’s premier conferences on this topic. Speakers included leading scientists (such as Carnegie Mellon professor and head of AI at Apple, Russ Salakhutdinov, and MIT professor Max Tegmark), leading investors from Silicon Valley (such as Steve Jurvetson who wrote one of the first cheques supporting Space X and Tesla, and Albert Wenger of the famous New York venture capital firm Union Square Ventures), and pioneering entrepreneurs (such as Elizabeth Caley, whose AI startup to enhance scientific discovery was recently acquired by Mark Zuckerberg). Also making a guest appearance was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Many thanks to Joshua Gans and Jennifer O’Hare for including our students in this conference.

Here are some student reports on this extraordinary event.

Aurora Bolianatz:

While at the Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence conference on the 26th of October, I got to listen firsthand to many presentations on the future of artificial intelligence, and what it means to be human at a time when we are becoming obsolete. The speakers delved into subjects such as embodiment, brain science, and artificial general intelligence; however, the presentations I personally found the most interesting were the ones regarding the future of humans in an AI world, and how we can approach the subject wisely.

The first presenter to really spark an interest in this subject for me was Max Tegmark, a professor at MIT. He spoke about the incredible leaps and bounds AI development has seen in recent years, but also reminded us of how things can go horribly wrong so quickly without proper management. There were four main points he made on how to correctly control the approaching future of AI: the first, to make sure lethal autonomous weapons are banned. Biologists and chemists have both worked hard to ensure that the specialists in their fields use their knowledge for cures and beneficial uses, not for weapons, and both fields have banned bioweapons and chemical weapons. Tegmark encouraged us to follow suit, and make sure AI will be used for good, not evil. This follows through into his second point, using AI wealth to benefit all people, not only a select few. His third point was to invest in safety research, drawing our attention to the Apollo 11 launch, stating that NASA calculated every possible thing that could go wrong, and put safeguards in to ensure that no catastrophes happened. Much like the space launch, AI is a field where it is much better to get everything right the first time instead of learning from mistakes. Finally, Tegmark asks us what sort of a future we wish to see, as that is the truly defining piece for the future of AI.

Another presenter who spoke on the importance of humans in AI was Joshua Gans, professor at the Rotman School of Management at U of T, who discussed the value of data. Though many people today consider data to be immensely valuable, Gans argues instead that the data will become meaningless once used, and the true asset in prediction machines and the like is human judgement. The knowledge and skills we have accumulated as humans are so valuable to the AI process, as we design the machines, give them their purposes, and can clean up after them in case of all hell breaking loose. The human mind is an astonishing thing, and though AI have been able to recreate themselves, they simply cannot ever replace us in every way.

Contrary to the previous two professors mentioned, in his presentation, Ben Goertzel emphasized the importance of leaving humans out of AI development. While I see his point that AI learns better without humans hindering it, I also think his suggestion of a sort of cloud space in which AI could communicate and share information without human guidance is pretty terrifying. The amount of power and knowledge they could potentially accumulate is enough to wipe out humans as a whole, and while I understand that we haven’t been the best for this planet (or each other), as a human, I really like the idea of Not Dying Due to the Robot Overlords. 

Ariel Gans:

The CDL conference was a lot of fun. The talks were all very interesting and I especially enjoyed the surprise visit from the prime minster. The topics I found most interesting were those discussed in the presentations by Richard Sutton of University of Alberta and Suzanne Gildert of Kindred AI. The base idea I liked from those two talks was that in order to prevent a Terminator Judgement Day situation, we need to keep our general intelligences’ goals and ideals in line with ours. This led to the idea that we should aim for cooperation with AIs, not control. If we create a truly sentient AI and we’ve given it our morals and creativity and all that, we’ve made something very human-like. Gildert talked about how these are likely the integrated AIs that we will end up creating. She talked about how there’s a huge market for robots that are essentially flawless humans. And if we create flawless humans, maybe we want to integrate them into society like humans. A strange feeling I got through the end of Gildert’s talk is that if we’ve created artificial beings with our morals and which identify with us and our history, maybe we don’t really need to worry about being wiped out as a race, since a future parallel to or perhaps even replaced by technology is likely going to be our legacy. Another theme of the conference was that a large upside to coming to conclusions like these is that we can prepare for these possible futures, legally and socially, before it’s too late. On the legal side, having a solid framework for technologies like self-driving cars and robotic doctors before they are everywhere greatly reduces the risk of something going horribly wrong. On a lighter note, I learnt that there are machine learning methods far better than deep learning at playing video games, which I found quite interesting. The winning method was the one that was able to strategize in a very human-like fashion, coming up with the “hit the blocks at the top” strategy for brick breaker all by itself.

Dominik Bednarczyk:

The conference hosted by the Creative Destruction lab were incredibly interesting. I enjoyed how they brought in many experts from different fields with different points of view to discuss a variety of ethical and logical issues surrounding the implementation of AI into our society. Being able to see these experts discuss the topics and to learn which ideas conflicted and what they all unanimously agreed on was extremely interesting. My personal favourites were the AI embodiment session and the Vicarious session because the speakers had the most energy and I liked how personal one of the speakers got. I enjoyed the Embodiment lecture in particular because it showed what we still need to work on and what we have already achieved, which allowed me to think about which fields I might want to invest time and effort in to have the least difficulty finding work and helping to speed up progress in the field I particularly enjoy. The Vicarious speaker gave an amazing presentation about the future and compared AI to different levels of consciousness throughout Earth’s history. There were also many interesting startups present,  some of which I already use and others which have huge potential for our society. But obviously the most interesting part was the special guest; Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Not only was I excited to see that our prime minister supported the idea of implementing AI into Canadian society and his plans to make Canada the AI hub of the world but being able to ask him questions about the future of AI in Canada was especially amazing. Mr. Trudeau discussed the moral implications of self driving cars, which I am personally very passionate about, and the revelation that he studied and enjoyed poetry in University was particularly funny and interesting. All in all the speakers were amazing to listen to, gave great insight into humanity’s future with technology and were presented in such a way that was easy to understand and grasp.

Konstantin Uvarov:

My favourite thing that I encountered in the Creative Destruction Lab – Artificial Intelligence Conference was a start-up company which helps people immigrate from other countries to Canada. I think that this kind of usage of Artificial Intelligence will be very useful because it will allow people to spend less time filling in documents. All that people will have to do is just to type their information and scan their documents for the program and the program will do the rest of the work for them. It will be very beneficial for both sides: people will spend less time doing their immigration paperwork and the government will not need to worry about hiring lots of people to do the same job as the AI program can do. In conclusion, I also think that this start-up company will become, in the near future, a necessity for a Government of Canada because it will not make any mistakes in laws and will be 100% accurate in making decisions.


Certamen – Abelard Loves Latin

Last week, a group of six students were driven up to Alliston, Ontario by our own Mr. Young for Certamen, a quiz competition that pits teams of students against one another to test their knowledge of Roman history, daily life, mythology, and language. The competition took place at Banting Memorial HS, and Abelard fielded a team in each of the intermediate and senior divisions: Francis, Angelo, and Nicole were our intermediates and Molly, Carmina, and Tas competed in the senior division.

Before the contest, our students spent 80 hours per week preparing for big event. They each had to read and prepare an assigned text, and Mr. Young filled them in on details about what life was like back in ancient Rome. The competition requires a great deal of memorization. On the hour-long drive to Alliston, our teams used the time to quiz one another. There were around 150 other students from really diverse backgrounds at Banting Memorial representing schools across the GTA, and as far away as Waterloo. Some school teams even wore matched Latin club t-shirts.

The competition itself was high pressure. Our students were nervous, but really excited too. Four teams competed at a time, using buzzers to respond to a moderator’s questions. There was considerable strategy in how students approached answering questions, with lots of teams buzzing in early to make an educated guess about what the moderator wanted. After all, the first correct answer got the point, so it was often worth the risk to get ahead of the other teams. However, if they guessed wrong, the team could not submit another answer for that question.

The day began with two rounds of questions that all teams had access to, with 28 questions asked in each round. At the end of this stage, each team’s score was tallied and the best teams moved forward to the semi-finals. We are so proud that both of our teams made it to this next phase. Each round in the semi-finals and finals challenged teams with 56 questions, doubling the scale of the effort. Although our teams did not compete in the finals, the experience was really positive for those who participated. We are already making plans to participate next year, and are considering another Classics competition for high school students that will take place in May this year. It likely won’t surprise anyone to know that Abelard loves Latin!

You Can Help the Sears Drama Festival!

For those who aren’t in the know, the Sears Drama Festival is an annual competition in which high school students perform their very best works and get really vital feedback from established theatre professionals. It’s the oldest theatre festival in Canada, and has launched the careers of stars like Rachel McAdams, David Cronenberg, and Margot Kidder. It’s also a lot of fun!

Because Sears, the company, has gone bankrupt, the Festival was set to be cancelled. Fortunately, a set of new sponsors has stepped in to take over. The Festival will now be run by the National Theatre School (Canada’s major theatre training centre, in Montreal) and IATSE (the union for theatre technicians, among others). They have really great plans, and connect the Festival with the very best that Canada has to offer in terms of theatre training and professional guidance.

However, given the very short turnaround to get the Festival on its feet, they’re running a fundraising campaign to make sure that everything proceeds as usual in 2018. If you know the value of arts education in high school, and are in the position to help them out, you can check out their campaign here. There are 15 Abelardians participating in the Sears Festival this year – they will undoubtedly be grateful for your support!

Abelard is Launching a Middle School!

We are thrilled to announce that The Abelard School will launch a middle school program for students in Grades 7 & 8 in the 2018-19 academic year.

Why Grade 7/8?

A growing number of parents have been enquiring about a middle school programme at Abelard. We are responding to this interest because we believe we are uniquely positioned to offer an enriched, exciting, and challenging curriculum and school experience for students in grades 7 and 8. First, the Grade 7 and 8 curriculum as set out by the Ministry of education contains much repetition: this leaves us space and time to accelerate required content and offer enrichment that goes beyond what you would usually expect in a middle school programme. Additionally, we have found over the years that many students applying to Abelard from Grade 8 don’t yet have the requisite knowledge and skills to make a smooth transition into an academically advanced high school curriculum. By welcoming middle school students at Abelard, we can tailor their education to ensure their ongoing success.

Elevating Students

In our middle school program, we cultivate a passion for learning. At Abelard, this means that we tackle big ideas and big problems in an age-appropriate manner so that students learn to approach the world around them with an open mind. In addition to the knowledge and skills developed by our enriched curriculum, we teach students to be reflective thinkers, caring and principled global citizens, and bold communicators. We elevate our students.

Our Curriculum

We’ve been preparing students to be successful in university for twenty years, now we wish to prepare them for success in high school!

At the high school level, we’ve developed a unique integrated curriculum which stresses the interconnection of academic disciplines. Our exciting middle school programme is designed to introduce young scholars to the symbiotic way that ideas overlap in the real world, preparing middle schoolers with the cultural and historical background necessary to flourish in high school.

Further, we’ve learned over the years that students learn best when they can contextualize the concepts they are being taught. All students, but particularly middle school students, benefit from some hands-on, activity-based learning to augment classroom instruction. Our middle school programme is augmented by interdisciplinary workshops led by our teachers or visiting specialists.

Our regular curriculum is anchored by three foundational components:

  1. The historical context of knowledge. We undertake a study of the sciences, mathematics, literature, history, philosophy, and political ideologies in the context of each of the following periods: the Ancient World, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Reformation, and the Age of Reason.
  2. The integrated core curriculum. A rigorous core curriculum challenges students in English, Math, Science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics), Social Sciences, French, Arts, Healthy and Active Living, and Technology.
  3. The practical application of academics to contemporary world. We apply the knowledge and skills gained through regular student to explore culture, technology, politics, and sociology.

Be in Touch!

We are very excited about this new programme, and invite you to be in touch with us to learn more about the specific ways in which an Abelard education will set up middle school students to flourish. Please call us at 416-944-0661, or write to us at, in order to set up a meeting.