Beginning of the School Year Dreams: Teaching Leaders of the Future

Image Credit: Creative Commons from Pixabay

As teachers, we always look out on those first promising days thinking “we are teaching the leaders of the world”.
For some of us, it’s a promise, it’s a responsibility, it’s hope, or inspiration that gets us excited to start a new year, and sometimes it just gets us through a tough day, class or year. But it’s true. We are lucky. We can have that impact. We do influence future leaders, followers and everything in between.
Frequently, our students will inherit a family business or walk into leadership roles with little to no work experience.  They already have money, power, and influence regardless of their education.
But do they have the skills and experience to be a positive influence in their business, community and to their co-workers? How can we help guide our students to be more responsible, kind, strong leaders of businesses, industries, and even countries?
Most international teachers I’ve worked with have come from a middle-class upbringing which is very different from what our students and even our own children are experiencing.  Some of us started earning our own money and had to be independent and made our own decisions at a young age.  Most of us learned so much at our first or tenth job, and most of our students never will have these experiences and environments to learn, fail and grow. Often times, standard curriculums don’t provide this knowledge or skills sets to collaborate, lead, learn and be responsible citizens of the future.
So what are we doing to provide these students with leadership skills and opportunities to fail and grow? How are we fostering responsible consumers and producers?
While we don’t have all the answers, I think ISB is moving in the right direction to help our students be more prepared for being compassionate, responsible citizens or leaders in any field.  We are putting a stronger focus on social and emotional learning while providing more interdisciplinary experiences to engage in deep, relevant learning.  We are fostering cross-curricular skills by giving our students authentic tasks to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.  We are reviewing our experiential learning programs and we provide dynamic robust professional learning for our community. It is definitely work that has started, it’s not happening everywhere, we are growing as educators and these hopefully more deep, relevant hands-on learning experiences at school will become more prevalent over the next few years.

Image Credit: Creative Commons via PixaBay

We are very lucky to have bright, engaged students who do well in school, but what traditional schools have done for the past hundred years aren’t preparing our students for their future jobs or to be responsible, compassionate transformational leaders.

What I wonder is what happens when the qualified teachers, coaches & tutors are gone.  How do our students continue to learn and grow? I think then we will truly know how prepared our students are for their futures.

The power of integration

The power of integration

We often hear about the changing demands of work and life in the 21st century due to rapid technological, economic and social changes, placing pressure on education to better prepare students for an uncertain future. One well-documented example of this is the impact of automation on employment, with workers in many different industries around the world being displaced by technology. While new opportunities are being created – often in congruence with those same emerging technologies –  we must prepare our students for the uncertainty and opportunity of a rapidly changing world.

In short, we must ensure our students’ skills remain relevant.

In response to the shifting demands on education, ISB developed the L21 Skills of; Communication & Collaboration, Creativity & Innovation, Leadership & Responsibility, Global Thinking, and; Inquiry, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. Our school is expanding the way we integrate discrete disciplines and skills into our teaching and learning, from Kindergarten through Grade 12. Integrated Learning is an approach that models real-world working conditions by connecting different disciplines within learning engagements, occurring within a lesson, a unit, or an entire course. Integrated learning is most effective when aligned with project or inquiry learning models as students experience the collaborative and interdisciplinary environments they will likely encounter in their future careers.



“Rather than a nice add-on to our current formal education system, (STEAM) should be the concept around which the entire system is understood and organized” – Hans Vestberg, World Economic Forum, Sept 2018.

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Maths) has become a popular system for addressing the educational needs of the future. At ISB, STEAM is gaining traction as a means for ensuring hands-on design and engineering projects effectively address our Science Standards while facilitating creative, authentic problem solving and personalisation in the Arts and Humanities. STEAM learning is often characterised by technology-rich activities such as robotics or coding, but in essence it needn’t be about specific technical skills. Yes, technology should be ubiquitous in STEAM lessons, but, as long as there is a conscious integration of the STEAM disciplines, technology needn’t be the main emphasis. STEAM can be a vehicle for building engagement in a single activity or entire unit, it should be intentional and offer students opportunities to consolidate and synthesise their learning.


“(what’s needed is) …a personalised learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions, make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities, and design their own learning projects and processes in collaboration with others” OECD Learning Framework 2020

Metacognitive skills such as collaboration, communication, organization and reflective practice are each integral for effective problem solving in integrated curricula. In fact, these skills can actually be the focus of integrated curricula, particularly at times when more domain-specific topics aren’t relevant to an entire unit. Further, integrated learning requires teachers to apply a similar set of meta skills toward planning, delivery, assessment and reflection, presenting opportunities for modeling of effective metacognitive skills.

ES Strategy
This year, Each ES grade has embarked on a process of designing integrated units of inquiry, and, while this process is still in the early stages, we hope to create a model for successful integration of a wide range of units. While further refinement is always required, a number of ES teams have planned and completed a round of integrated units in 2018-19:

Grade 2: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This integration point for this unit was around the topic of sustainable use of the earth’s resources. Students worked on personalized design projects that focused on campaigning the school for improved sustainability.

Grade 3: Forces & Motion

How can we, as designers, use what we know about magnetism to address a problem within our environment? This unit allows students to apply what they know about magnetism to design everyday products that help people they know.

Grade 4: Engineering Design

How can we, as engineers, use what we know about design to address a real-world problem? This unit is integrated through the theme “making good better” – using feedback, refinement and reflection as a common theme through which a number of different subjects are linked.

Grade 5: Global Citizenship

Foundations of a global citizen – what we believe = what we do = who we are. This unit is integrated around the theme of identity – that our values as people, learners, mathematicians, writers, scientists, engineers and artists are defined by what we believe and what we do.


See you next year in the HS!

As I prepare to move to the High School next year, I look forward to further opportunities for integration at ISB. In the meantime, I’d like to offer my thanks to the ES teachers, admin, support staff, students and parents for your support and enthusiasm during these two excellent years in the elementary school!


Personalized Learning through the Passion Project

Image Credit: I can still be a kid sometimes  by Austin, a Fall 2017 Passion Project student

ISB has made a commitment to personalized learning as one of our Strategic Initiatives.

Personalized Learning is offering a variety of student opportunities and resources that fosters students’ learning, allowing them to design learning experiences based on their own interests, curiosities and competencies. In our high school, there are many different pathways and course selections for students to gain knowledge, skills and foster L21 skills.  The Passion Project course is an opportunity for students to design their own learning for a semester.
This course description is as follows:

The Passion Project is a dynamic approach to learning in which students explore passions, problems and opportunities and follow the ISB Design Process in a hands-on approach to create a product, event or system.
In this innovative course, students design and complete an individual project that is geared to their particular interests, aptitude, needs, and desired outcomes. This self-directed study could take many forms. The Passion Project aims to provide students with the opportunity to find, develop, and experience a passionate endeavor.

This is an amazing opportunity for students to follow their passions with the guidance and mentoring of a teacher.  This allows students time in their schedule to work on their Passion Project, reflect, and conference with the facilitator.
Students use a design thinking mindset, guided by the ISB Design Process to over the course of a semester to achieve their goal. Using the scaffolding of the ISB Design Process students inquire, develop their ideas, plan, create and seek feedback to improve their process and product.

At the end of the semester, students will choose their own way to share their products and learning.  This can be as simple as meeting with a few teachers or their parents to share their work.  This could also be much bigger where students could present at an assembly or for another audience in our community.
Students post their weekly progress on their blogs and are always seeking feedback, inspiration and ideas from our larger community.  Please be a part of our students’ learning journey as they document their Passion Project through process journals. We encourage you to comment on their blog posts through: questioning, advice, suggestions, and any other constructive feedback.
Here are our semester 1 Passion Project students this year:
Austin’s Passion Project process journal   – His goal is to publish a book of his comics
Maggie’s Passion Project process journal   – Her goal is to create a portfolio of her illustrations for stage design
Tiger’s Passion Project process journal   – His goal is to raise and potential breed bearded dragons
Sarah’s Passion Project process journal   – Her goal is to design and publish a graphic novel based on mental health for teens
Jane’s Passion Project process journal  – Her goal is to write and publish a novel


arduino_unoFor quite a few years’ people have been talking about STEM. If you have not heard of it yet STEM stands for the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Then the A was added a few years ago to make it STEAM with the “A” being the Arts. There has been a lot of talk about how to make this work in the classroom as well as finding ways it can be integrated into the curriculum. For some teachers the hard part is finding a project, unit or material that has all those elements in a unit. You might do well to have two or three of the STEAM components touching on a project but not them all. The search to find that right project is daunting If you Google STEAM units you will will come up with many. Where to start you might ask? Well I am here to tell you that I have one solution. I have a little electronics board that might hold the key to a STEAM program that could be used not with one unit, project or PBL but one that might follow with a student from mid elementary school right up to high school.
What am I talking about is an electronics board called an Arduino. A silly name yes but an extremely powerful electronic device that can be used in an infinite number of projects. A basic Arduino board has 14 inputs and outputs that you can connect hundreds of things to it. Your choice of add-ons ranges from many different kinds of motors to move things like robots. you can also add sensors that can detect motion, lights, sound, or a button to name just a few of the many sensors you could choose from. As well you can connect your computer to an Arduino that will accept input from your computer to the Arduino and from the Arduino back to the computer. The simple Arduino can even connect to the internet, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Allowing your control your Arduino with many portable devices. I can even control my Arduino from my computer without having to be in the same room with it.
But wait how do you get it to understand all of this? Built into the Arduino is a programming language that would do us all good to learn. You write the program on your computer and then send it to the Arduino to run. I know I said that even elementary students could build things using the Arduino and they can. The folks at Scratch have created easy to use block type programming that makes programming the Arduino simple and quick. Others have picked up on the block type programing language and now there is about 4 easy to use programing environments for young students to use.
The best part about an Arduino is the cost. A basic board can cost as little as 50 RMB and a kit with ten or so parts including sensors electronics parts wires and more.  This kit will get you going and the price is about 250 RMB. That is cheep enough that every student in your class could have one of there very own. As well that basic kit could get any willing teacher or team a start at looking at ways to build a new STEAM unit or using it to integrate into an existing unit.
The Arduino is all about programming, building circuits, learning about electronics, building the things that go with or around the Arduino and its components, sensors, motors and much more. That looks like all a great STEAM program needs I would say. Wait what about that A in STEAM how does it fit into this? Well believe it or not the Arduino got it start by and for artists. As a mater of fact when you write a program for the Arduino it is called a sketch. The are now whole programs in University teaching art students how to use the Arduino. The courses are called Physical Computing and artists all over the world are using them in amazing art shows. Look up Physical Computing and you will be amazing what this little board can do in the hands of a talented artist.
The Arduino can be made to control many different things. I myself have used them in my robotics projects in Grade 4 unit on systems. Besides that, I have made many other personal projects using sensors, LEDs, making noise, and telling me when my plants needed watering. I have used them in projects that interfaced with my iPad and Android Phone as well. The possibilities are endless where you could use an Arduino. I myself have just scratched the surface of the many projects available.  Some of the first personal 3D printers used an Arduino to control it.
Ok by now your thinking you might try this thing out but wait what about the common core standards or the new Science Standard. I will admit there is not much out there as of yet but I know you are a teacher that likes to be on the cutting edge and this is just the place for you. I am happy to sit down with teachers and talk where this mighty device will fit in. I am happy to tell you all I know about the many different ways an Arduino can be used in the classroom.
If this has perked your interest in STEAM integration Let’s Talk!

mBot-13Randy Stadham

Main Arduino web site
Different ways to program using Block code:
Blocky Code
Scratch for Arduino
Tutorials on YouTube

Make Something!

I’ve always been interested to see how far students could take their imagination if they were given the resources to do so. As we move towards our L21 goals, I’ve been reading up on Maker Space and the different Maker environments to see what there is out in the world, here in China, and right here at ISB.
IMG_0004Michael Gorman talks about some of the reasons that our students should be “making” something in our classrooms. As we move towards a Project Based Environment in our schools, some of these “maker” skills can be applied to these projects as well as incorporate STEM skills.  Maker students can envision, plan, play, innovate, collaborate their projects in the most creative ways. Given the space and resources to do so, we can see students learning with their experiments in their original and creative ways to make their ideas into a reality.

Some points that Michael makes about positive outcomes of Maker students include:

  • Provide for student opportunities to enhance Project, Problem, Design, Inquiry, and Challenge Based Learning
  • Introduce students to the iterative process for problem solving
  • Promote service student learning by identify and inventing solutions to local and world problems
  • Introduce students to the iterative process for problem solving

For the past couple summers, there have been Maker Faires in Shenzhen, China’s “Silicon Valley”. This exposed many local and international groups especially in education to include some sort of Maker opportunities and emphasis in their schools.  Randy Stadham has gone to the last two Maker Faires and has been leading the Grade 4 in making robots for competition.
In Middle School, Randy Williams and Steve Sostak have their own “Baby Maker Space” up in rooms 3122 and 3123  and have been creating all sorts of projects in their lab . Students learn a skill and then create in Open Make.
I was also part of a group of students that presented some of their Maker projects as part of the Middle School Global Issues Network(GIN) Conference in Singapore this past May. Students were able to tie their ideas into a sustainable COMPASS education model.
Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 14.36.42
My curiosity has led to see  that we are part of a growing, great, creative, collaborative, and awesome Maker Movement here at ISB.
Further readings and ideas for activities:
Post by: Pim Arora

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