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!


Sustainable Design in Schools

When I first started working as a Design teacher, I was so excited by all the projects and opportunities I was going to have making with my students. I started to thinking about SUSTAINABILITY without even really thinking about the term in two ways:

  1. How will we manage materials and waste responsibly?
  2. How can I give students’ opportunities for open-ended client based projects when I only saw them for a year or a semester, but manage the sustainability of good projects?

And even after ten years, still don’t have answers, but it still something I continue to think about and work on as an educator and facilitator. No matter what school you are at, this is usually an issue, but it’s not something that is frequently discussed or solved easily.

First, let’s think about the question with the clearest answer:
How can we manage materials and waste responsibly?
Originally, I thought maybe I could use primarily recycled or upcycled materials.  I think this can be done with balance.  It is hard to create high quality products with old cardboard boxes and old food containers. School communities are great at collecting materials, but then Design/Maker labs quickly turned into a trash heap on one side. We also created more trash with the trash in some instances.  Some of the products would definitely not be used.
As international teachers, we move around frequently, and often do not have the language acquisition for procuring materials.  Or the budgets nor time to be really picky.  I would love to know the source of all my materials and be able to use high quality, sustainable, ethically and realistic for my budget.
As many of us have realized… there is no answer.  It is a balance of upcycling/recycling, and ordering ethical and sustainable materials.  We have started recycling our own plastics at ISB, using the Precious Plastic model, which has been a great asset to our design program. I do wonder how I can find out more about the origins of my products and educate our community more on local sustainable products.
Now, on to the second part of sustainability in school projects:
How can we give students’ opportunities for open-ended, authentic, client based projects and manage the sustainability of those projects and products?
This is more difficult to answer.  I am constantly trying to figure out this one.  Frequently, students come up with great ideas for projects that could truly solve an authentic problem in our community, but once that student leaves the class or the school, that project is often dropped.  Sometimes I’ll try to suggest to the student that he/she should create a “sustainability plan” for example: create a club to continue the work that’s needed…
Sometimes a younger student will pick up the project…
And sometimes, I’ve just got to let it go, no matter how great it is.
In Design, a high quality product is desirable and we want kids to achieve that, but the reality is the process and the learning that goes into design thinking is most important.  Maybe those students continue the work at a new school, new community, or even at university.  I will never know, but there’s hope.  If nothing else, I hope that our students continue to use design thinking to address issues, identify problems and seek opportunities in all areas of their lives.
In many design thinking frameworks and processes, there is a part of the reflection piece where students need to consider the impact of the project/product on themselves, others, the environment and be reflective on their social, emotional and economic impact of their project, especially for them to imagine their product going to mass market.  This is essential in our teaching and our Design classrooms, no matter the project.
As international teachers, our students are the future leaders, businessmen/businesswomen, and parents of the next generation.  I hope they always consider their impact as they design and create new businesses, products and solutions to problems that may not even exist yet.
So is this something we need to put more at the forefront of our teaching as Design Teachers?  If we are not teaching it, who is, especially in such a hands-on way?
Should we always be looking at the sustainability and impact of the project, even as young as elementary school?
I think, yes.

OneDay 2017

At ISB, OneDay is a day in which middle school students can design their learning.  OneDay gives students the time to follow their passions and individually personalize their learning for the day.  Teachers facilitated the process throughout the month of January during homeroom Mentoring time to help students follow the ISB Design Process to create a goal, investigate, design their day and plan.

It is amazing to walk around the middle school on OneDay as students take learning into their own hands.  They were engaged on the sports fields and gyms,

in the kitchen,

in the band rooms,

art rooms,


hovered around laptops collaborating

and were nestled in cubbies as they typed fan fiction.

We want to continue to improve OneDay and will work on a feedback session with middle school teachers in an upcoming faculty meeting.  Please feel free to add any suggestions in the comments.
I’d also love the idea of a OneDay as a PD model.  It would be difficult for me to decide what I would do that day, but I think it’d be a good exercise for teachers to take ownership of their own learning and also experience what the students did as they prepare for OneDay.
For more OneDay projects, check out the ISB OneDay Blog.


 Why is design an essential part of a school’s curriculum?

The most important benefits of Design classes and/or units in the curriculum are: complex thinking, development of technical skills, analysis of media and products around them and hands-on creating.
Design courses or projects have two specific purposes:

  1. To learn skills to become highly proficient in different technical skills
  2. To learn to use the process of designing for problem solving and to create authentic products for a specific client or audience.

What does this all mean?
First, students need to develop a variety of skill sets.  In order for students to create high quality products, they need to develop their skills.  In Design courses or projects, students can learn how to use tools and learn techniques in different areas such as:
Creating with resistant materials: Wood, Plastics, Metals and Composites
Graphic Design
2D & 3D Drawing for Laser Cutting and 3D Printing
Food Preparation Techniques

The second important component of Design in education is design thinking.
Students follow a process to create a product – this could be a materials-based product, a digital product or even a system.

Prototype of ISB Design Cycle


Student analyzing children’s Chinese storybooks to identify components to create their own.

First, students are given a guiding question or a problem to solve. Then they begin to inquire and do research. They define their goal and find an audience, empathize with their potential clients to gather a better understanding of what is needed. They then analyze existing products and do further inquiry and research.
In this stage of the design cycle, students create success criteria (design specifications) so they know what their product must have in order to be successful.  They develop a few design ideas and then justify the design they will try to develop.  Students then create annotated sketches to show their ideas on paper.  Finally, before creating, they  make a plan to organize their time, materials, tools and locations where they will work.
In this stage of the Design cycle, students first start by making a prototype of their design.  They reflect, gather feedback and test their product to see if it meets the success criteria.  They continually create and iterate to improve their product.

Students testing their polymers in a chemical engineering design project

Students, like all designers, reflect throughout the design process.  Students are expected to self reflect and have confidence to give and receive feedback from their peers to help guide them through their design process.
We also want students to share their process and final products with an extended community to make an impact and to have a larger audience to further their learning.
There are a lot of great design projects and design thinking happening at ISB and our design program is growing through the engineering strand of the Science curriculum, through middle school Design class, enrichments and other design integrated projects.  Later on in the year, we’ll be sharing more student design projects throughout the school.


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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