Saturday, December 7, 2013

Dear all,

As you know Nelson Mandela died on Friday. A great statesmen of our time, who achieved so much in his life time, and hence as an admin we have decided that at homeroom on Monday we would like you to spend 10-15 minutes recognizing the importance of his life, and discussing his achievements with your homeroom class. I have provided this link to a simple 5 minute video that covers his life and some of his achievements as an international statesman. I would advise downloading to your computer before homeroom so you don’t have any streaming issues. Of course, there are other videos that you can use and may be better for different age groups.


Here are a few inspirational quotes from Nelson Mandela that you might want to use to frame discussions:

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”

”Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising when we fail."

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Food for Thought.

This week I have returned to focusing on a welcoming and positive environment in our classrooms. I do feel that around the classrooms and corridors there is a very positive buzz from our students and do not see this as an area of weakness. However, as Dylan William pointed out that as teachers we always want to do better. So as we reach the end of Semester One it is an ideal opportunity to reflect on ourselves and the environment that we create as teachers. Hence this short checklist style article provides a framework for you to read each point and think about how you approach it whilst creating that welcoming and positive environment in which students can flourish and feel safe in their learning.

 Wavy1 via Compfight cc

How to Create A Non-Threatening, Welcome Classroom Environment

Non-Threatening Welcoming Classroom Environment Checklist.
  1. Do you greet your students each day with enthusiasm and find something positive to say as much as possible or as much as time will allow for?
  2. Do you provide students with time to share happenings, events or items with you? Even if you set a certain time frame aside each day for 3-5 students to share, it will help to create a friendly warm, and welcome environment. It shows them you care and it provides you with opportunities to learn about what is important about each of your students.
  3. Do you take the time on occasion to share something that is important to you? Even if it's the fact that your own child took their first steps or if you saw a wonderful play that you would like to share with your students. Your students will see you as a real and caring person. This type of sharing shouldn't be done every day but from time to time.
  4. Do you take time to talk about differences within the classroom? Diversity is everywhere and children can benefit from learning about diversity at a very early age. Talk about varying cultural backgrounds, body image and types, talents, strengths and weaknesses. Provide opportunities for your learners to share their strengths and weaknesses. The child who may not be able to run fast may be able to draw very well. These conversations always need to be held in a positive light. Understanding diversity is a lifelong skill children will always benefit from. It builds trust and acceptance in the classroom.
  5. Do you say no to all forms of bullying? There is no such thing as a welcoming, nurturing environment when there is tolerance for bullying. Stop it early and make sure all students know that they should report bullying. Remind them that telling on a bully is not tattling, it is reporting. Have a set of routines and rules that prevent bullying.
  6. Do you build activities into your day that support students working together and building rapport with one another? Small group work and team work with well-established routines and rules will help in developing a very cohesive environment.
  7. Do you focus on the strengths when calling upon a student? Never put down a child for not being able to do something, take someone to one time to support the child. When asking a child to demonstrate or respond to something, be sure that the child is in the comfort zone, always capitalize on the strengths. Showing sensitivity to each of your students is extremely important in protecting their confidence and self-esteem.
  8. Do you promote two way respect? I can't say enough about two way respect. Adhere to the golden rule, always show respect and you will get it back in return.
  9. Do you take time to educate the class about specific disorders and disabilities? Role play helps to develop empathy and support among classmates and peers.
  10. Do you make a conscientious effort to promote confidence and self-esteem among every student in the classroom? Give praise and positive reinforcement that is real and deserved often. The more that students feel good about themselves, the better they will be toward themselves and others.
Many of the strategies listed above come from seasoned educators who have shared what they believe it takes to create a warm and welcome environment that is conducive to learning and maximizing student social and academic growth. If you have answered yes to the items listed here, you already know you have a great environment for your students.


Leah Tihia™ via Compfight cc "> 

Transforming our Classrooms #4


Project Examples:

Thank you for all your patience and hard work this first semester. I know a lot of you smiled inwardly at the start of the year when I announced our goal, as part of a Culture of Achievement, is to be the “Best in the Universe,” and whispered, he has to be joking. Having worked with you all, and watched you work with each other for nearly 5 months and witnessed the growth of a learning buzz around the school, I am more convinced than ever that we can achieve this goal and be the best.

Hope to see you this evening,



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Reading and writing

Dear all,

 I know that these Food for Thoughts are getting a bit longer but have so much to share and to make get you to think about. The winter break is coming and perhaps you can save and read then. This week I am focusing on reading and writing which is important for all of us no matter what  grade or subject we teach in the School. As IB teachers we are expected to all act as teachers of English regardless of our subjects, it is part of the standards and practices for all three IB programmes.

So here are two articles that raise valid points for us all to think about.


The Most Important Lesson Schools Can Teach Kids About Reading: It's Fun

“We’ve come away from our study thinking that teachers of reading and literature need to make pleasure more central to our practice.  We think that the implications of this resolution are enormous. For example, instructors should be mindful of the variety of pleasures that readers experience and not privilege intellectual pleasures, the characteristic province of school.  Our participants enjoyed making thematic generalizations, figuring out metaphors, and analyzing the aesthetic choices an author makes—intellectual pleasures all.  But more frequently, these young people experienced the deep pleasure of entering a story world, living through the character’s actions, considering the character’s perspectives, and pondering what it might mean for their own lives.

We’re not the only ones who think pleasure reading is essential. An extraordinary new analysis done as part of the British Cohort Study—which is following the lives of more than 17,000 people born in England, Scotland and Wales in a single week of 1970—makes a compelling case for why pleasure should be more central to policy discussions about reading.  This analysis establishes that reading for pleasure outside school had a significant impact on young people’s educational attainment and social mobility because it actually “increased cognitive progress over time.”  The impact of pleasure reading on live outcomes was more than three times greater than the level of parents’ educational attainment.”


World Bank Photo Collection via Compfight cc

The Writing Revolution

“And so the school’s principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing. By 2008, she and her faculty had come to a singular answer: bad writing. Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects. Consistently, one of the largest differences between failing and successful students was that only the latter could express their thoughts on the page. If nothing else, DeAngelis and her teachers decided, beginning in the fall of 2009, New Dorp students would learn to write well. “When they told me about the writing program,” Monica says, “well, I was skeptical.” With disarming candor, sharp-edged humor, and a shy smile, Monica occupies the middle ground between child and adult—she can be both naive and knowing. “On the other hand, it wasn’t like I had a choice. I go to high school. I figured I’d give it a try.”

New Dorp’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school. The program challenged long-held assumptions about the students and bitterly divided the staff. It also yielded extraordinary results. By the time they were sophomores, the students who had begun receiving the writing instruction as freshmen were already scoring higher on exams than any previous New Dorp class. Pass rates for the English Regents, for example, bounced from 67 percent in June 2009 to 89 percent in 2011; for the global-­history exam, pass rates rose from 64 to 75 percent. The school reduced its Regents-repeater classes—cram courses designed to help struggling students collect a graduation requirement—from five classes of 35 students to two classes of 20 students.”

Transforming our Classrooms #3
Game Based Learning

Project Examples:
Last week someone asked me about my blog that I use to share articles with parents so just in case anyone is interested here is the link So far this year I have posted 35 articles for parents to read about education or other matter that might affect their children.

Have a great weekend,



Saturday, November 23, 2013

Do you have the personality for inquiry? And Flipping the classroom.

Dear all,

Thank you for all your hard work yesterday. In Primary it was good to see you sharing practice and ideas an important aspect or our Professional Learning Community and something that we will build upon more in the next few years. Another aspect of functioning Professional Learning communities is collaboration and yesterday that was very apparent in the secondary school sessions as departments worked together building curriculum, unit questions, fundamental concepts, benchmark assessment tasks and embedding AERO standards. We are moving forward as a school and our students will benefit in their learning.

 This week’s Food for Thought applies to all IB teachers, as inquiry is an aspect of teaching pedagogy that we all need to be applying in our classrooms. The article below asks important questions about who teachers need to be to successfully implement inquiry techniques in their classrooms. This again links well to the achievement culture we are hoping to embed at ISHCMC, with a positive approach to our students. Following our visioning exercise in October and the number of presentations that were linked to the concept of well being, we are investigating Positive Psychology as something that in the future PD and embedding as an essential aspect for the ISHCMC community. One of the leaders in creating Positive communities that flourish is Martin Seligman. Here is a short introduction to the ideas involved in Positive Psychology


Do You have the Personality To Be an Inquiry-Based Teacher?

The takeaway is humbling, but inescapable: If an inquiry-based system is to succeed, we’ll need human beings in the classroom who know their field, but who also radiate the kind of positive, non-judgmental love that helps students open their minds and hearts. That’s a tall order for most of us, and where it originates, we don’t know. But the foundation of sincere care will be essential, and it will manifest through the deep personality attributes of the teacher in a variety of ways in the classroom. Every teacher, for example, might reflect on the following:

Are you optimistic? Viewing the world as damaged or the future as bleak shuts down the brain by transmitting fear. Maintaining an optimistic attitude is an expression of love, inspiring curiosity and hope, and fostering emotional and physical health. Optimism is essential to teaching: Without hope, the reason to learn disappears.

Are you open? The world is being refreshed and powered by divergent thinking. Outcomes are unclear, even dangerous. But faith in the flexible thinking of the human mind can support young people as they sort out their new world and have the freedom to discover solutions not yet visible. An open attitude activates the frontal lobes, the place of flow and creativity.

Are you appreciative? Deep appreciation gives permission for failure, rather than penalizing for the “wrong” answer. It honors the stops and starts of human development. It conveys the ultimate message of a communal world: We are in this together.

Are you flexible? In inquiry, the journey matters as much as the destination. Constant reflection is a necessity to improving thinking and doing. Metacognition encourages wisdom, the ultimate goal of any worthy education system. Flexibility tells the brain and heart to keep working, keep going—you’re getting there.

Are you purposeful? Purpose binds teacher and student into the high-minded pursuit of solutions that matter. It is the reason that “authentic” education works and inauthentic education struggles. It tightens the connection between the learner and the teacher in ways that spur the natural creative impulse to change and improve the world.

As promised each week I will continue to share information that can be used in  Transforming our Classrooms
# 2 Flipped Classroom
Project Examples:
Have a good weekend,

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Transforming student learning

Dear all,

Hope you have had a good week. This week’s food for thought will be a bit longer than usual because I would like to share a little bit of the learning from last week’s Kim Cofino workshop whilst also sharing with you a good article that includes two ideas for developing inquiry on the iPad for Math and Science.  Also as I will miss Monday briefing this week because I am doing a combined IB/ CIS and NEASC visit in Singapore I have added a couple of PD opportunities for after winter break.

Sharing the Kim Cofino workshop:  What I have decided to do is share each week for the next 12 weeks somewhere in my Food for Thought email/ blog post, one of 12 areas we looked at during the weekend on transforming learning in our classrooms. What this will entail will be a few articles about the main focus and examples of how it has been applied for you to look at and possibly try out in your classrooms.

 1: Globally Collaborative Projects

Project Examples:

In addition during a “speed geeking” session ( this is where a person shares a tech application/ piece of software etc that they have used in their classroom and liked, with the rest of the group) we learned 6 really interesting ideas that you might find useful. I know that some of you who attended have already shared some of these but just wanted to let you know about one I tried this week that worked wonderfully. I used something called “Todaysmeet” which is a back room chat. It is very simple to use and engaged the class. I used it in a situation where students were doing a jigsaw reading exercise and I asked them to share any thoughts that they had about what they had read as they were reading. I was very surprised by the level of thinking by several students who are usually quiet and do not contribute much to class because of their level of English. It also created a few humourous moments as well which showed another side of my class that furthered added to our relationship. All in all it was a good thing to introduce to my class and one that we will be using again in the future.

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Inquiry Learning Ideas for Math and Science With iPads

”Granting students the freedom to inquire and explore makes them the investigators of life’s mysteries. In the process, they are sharpening their all-important critical and creative thinking skills. Technology offers fantastic opportunities for the application of critical thinking skills toward an understanding of real-world questions and answers. It can be used to gather information about the world around us so that we can investigate real-world questions and test their answers. That’s the focus of this chapter. You find numerous apps that deliver content about botany or algebra, but I want to focus on how you can use technology to have students experience that knowledge from the inside out.”

The article contains extracts from a book that I have seen referenced in a couple of articles recently that might be worth investing in for your own professional teaching library

iPad in Education For Dummies by Sam Gliksman, Wiley, Copyright © 2013. So here is a link to a short but useful “Cheat Sheet” by the author about the book,

2 PD Opportunities that are coming in January and February.

This is the PD opportunity that I mentioned in last Mondays morning briefing. I believe it will be a great opportunity to learn more about technological for your classroom from practitioners.


Learning, Community, Responsibility
Please consider presenting a workshop and/or leading a Speed Geeking session!  


VTC is an initiative sponsored by Saigon South International School and the United Nations International School in Hanoi. It is an annual educational technology conference targeting international schools in Vietnam. This conference is designed for teachers, administrators and support staff to network, share effective practices and continue to move the use of technology forward. VTC 2014 builds on the successful initial conference held at SSIS in 2013.

Vietnam Tech Conference will:


·         Provide a venue for educators to inquire and explore how they can effectively integrate technology within the classroom

·         Create a community of educators pushing the boundaries of educational technology

·         Promote Digital citizenship and awareness throughout our learning community


Saturday: Learning and Technology workshops, including Speed Geeking sessions

   Cocktail Social and Dinner hosted by UNIS Hanoi

Sunday: “Unconference” sessions based on participants’ interests, Job Alike and workshops

If you are keen to present a workshop and/or lead a Speed Geeking session, click on this link to enter your session proposals.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 (8:30 – 3:30)

Sunday, February 16, 2014 (8:30 – 1:30)

United Nations International School Hanoi

Ciputra, Lac Long Quan Road, Tay Ho District

·         EARCOS SPONSORED WEEKEND WORKSHOP at Saigon South on Common Assessments January 11th and 12th

As a result of this workshop, participants will deepen understanding of how to:

• use Common Assessments to integrate unit planning, balanced assessment approaches, quality rubrics, using data results to inform instructional decisions, and professional learning communities;

• develop quality assessment tasks and associated rubrics/scoring guides (or refine ones that already exist);

• explore protocols for calibrating scoring of common assessments;

• become familiar with a data-driven decision-making protocol that can be used to inform instructional decisions; and

• support common assessments through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Here are more details: 

Have a good weekend,

See you on Friday.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Steve Jobs, Lesson for Life

Dear All,

This week’s Food for Thought adds to last weeks and is from a young Steve Jobs, 1996, and is a lesson for life. There is something in these words for all of us and they can easily be shared with all our students in homeroom.

“When you grow up you, tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it.

I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

Most people never pick up the phone, most people never ask. And that’s what separates, sometimes, the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail… if you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.”

Steve Jobs.

Have a good Sunday.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Degrees based on what you know!

"CERTIFYING learning, rather than time, is not an entirely new concept. For decades there have been other ways to earn college credits besides sitting in the classroom. You can “test out” of certain courses through A.P., CLEP or D.S.S.T. exams. At many colleges, you can do an independent study and submit a research paper for course credit. Since the 1970s, Excelsior, Thomas Edison and Empire State have allowed students to earn credits through performance-based assessment, like a simulation with patients in a clinical setting, or by submitting a portfolio with evidence of previous learning, whether through workplace experience, military training or even a hobby.
But not until Western Governors University was founded by a consortium of 19 states in 1997 was an entire degree program structured around assessments of learning. The online institution introduced many ideas that have been copied by new competency programs. They charge fees per term, not per credit, with an “all you can eat” policy — take and retake as many assessments as you can fit into a six-month term."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dear all,

Thought that I would start this week’s Food for Thought with something to think about when we are giving instructions. This idea arose from a moment I observed at the 3 v 3 Basketball on Saturday when the organizer lined up 9 players for a sudden death shoot out for 8 prizes…he said the first to miss is out. The first boy in the queue shot and missed the other 8 got the prizes, was this fair and what did it teach the others?

 This then reminded me of this homework and its instructions. This was how an autistic 2nd Grader answered this worksheet. Are the answers right or wrong?


Now that I have you thinking we can move on to this week’s Food for Thought, which has been approximately a month in the writing. It is an aspect of student development that has recently received  a large amount of attention and research and is one that I believe we need to be cognizant of and think about in our relationships with students. To some extent it is reflected in the basketball prize example I referred to at the start of this post. The question is why were 8 runners up being rewarded anyway, and what does this do for those individuals who are always being told or rewarded for being smart or good? Does this help them achieve more or better next time? This concept is very important for our Culture of Achievement that we are working towards. Developing the right “Mindset” the phrase used by Carol Dweck to encourage resilience and the ability to learn from our mistakes.

In a recent blog post be Selena Gallagher entitled Learning to Fail, I that, “The self-esteem movement, which began in the 1980s, was based on the premise that raising children’s self-esteem would benefit society, and a culture of praise and reward was established that continues today. In the United States and Canada, the trophy industry is now worth an estimated $3 billion a year. Much of that comes from junior sports leagues where it is now common practice for all participants to receive a trophy. In fact, the American Youth Soccer Organization spends 12% of its yearly budget on trophies.”

In this post she also included these two illustrations which sum up this situation beautifully. The first by Michael Jordon one of the greatest basketball players ever.



What the research is saying and what we have to be careful about is how we use positive praise to enhance achievement, “grit” and resilience. Hence I would like to share the following links/ articles with you that talk about this work and will help us adopt the right balanced approach in our classrooms. So here are 4 readings that you can take a look at that discuss this topic

·        Wisdom from a MacArthur Genius: Psychologist Angela Duckworth on Why Grit, Not IQ, Predicts Success

"Character is at least as important as intellect."

Creative history brims with embodied examples of why the secret of genius is doggedness rather than "god"-given talent, from the case of young Mozart's upbringing to E. B. White's wisdom on writing to Chuck Close's assertion about art to Tchaikovsky's conviction about composition to Neil Gaiman's advice to aspiring writers. But it takes a brilliant scholar of the psychology of achievement to empirically prove these creative intuitions: Math-teacher-turned-psychologist Angela Duckworth, who began her graduate studies under positive psychology godfather Martin Seligman at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, has done more than anyone for advancing our understanding of how self-control and grit – the relentless work ethic of sustaining your commitments toward a long-term goal – impact success. So how heartening to hear that Duckworth is the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur "genius" grant for her extraordinary endeavors, the implications of which span from education to employment to human happiness.

In this short video from the MacArthur Foundation, Duckworth traces her journey and explores the essence of her work:

"We need more than the intuitions of educators to work on this problem. For sure we need the educators, but in partnership I think we need scientists to study this from different vantage points, and that actually inspired me to move out of the classroom as a teacher and into the lab as a research psychologist."

·        Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results

”I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.”

·        Presence not Praise: How to Cultivate a Healthy Relationship with Achievement

“In The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves (public library), psychoanalyst and University College London professor Stephen Grosz builds on more than 50,000 hours of conversation from his quarter-century experience as a practicing psychoanalyst to explore the machinery of our inner life, with insights that are invariably profound and often provocative — for instance, a section titled “How praise can cause a loss of confidence,” in which Grosz writes:

Nowadays, we lavish praise on our children. Praise, self-confidence and academic performance, it is commonly believed, rise and fall together. But current research suggests otherwise — over the past decade, a number of studies on self-esteem have come to the conclusion that praising a child as ‘clever’ may not help her at school. In fact, it might cause her to under-perform. Often a child will react to praise by quitting — why make a new drawing if you have already made ‘the best’? Or a child may simply repeat the same work — why draw something new, or in a new way, if the old way always gets applause?”

·        Carol Dweck

Last, but certainly not least, one of the leaders in this movement for adjusting the way and manner in which we praise students and hence encourage them to be successful and achieve, Carol Dweck the author of Mindset. This is a short video of Carol Dweck explaining Mindset.

Carol Dweck has a website that focuses on the growth mindset, Brainology®

I hope you enjoy the reading and thinking,

Have a good Sunday,