Hsinchu International School

One of the goals of the Shift Our Schools: SOS podcast is to highlight and celebrate those “shifted” teachers using learning 2.0 thinking to adapt their instruction and assessments to meet the learning needs of their students. I will be sharing a great many of these stories about the secondary teachers of Hsinchu International School (HIS) in the coming weeks and will offer a few tidbits of creative teaching in this post. My previous school, the Upper Primary of Hong Kong International School (HKIS), also has some shifted types coming up with very creative ways to use technology and information literacy skills in their classrooms.

Sheryl Gruber and Patrick Truchon of HIS use the Geometry Sketchpad software as the mechanism for students to ask questions and use problem-solving skills as they journey to discover math concepts through their self-guided work. The students in Sheryl and Patrick’s classes received differentiated instruction by the groups they work in. They move through the discovery process at a comfortable speed that fits their skill level and understanding. The teams work together to use Geometry Sketchpad to design and create products which demonstrate their understanding of the concepts shared by the teacher. The teachers work on the sidelines to step in and ask guiding questions and to help students in their problem-solving efforts. As the students progress through their math courses, they add their completed projects to their electronic portfolios for assessment.

For more information on this discovery approach to mathematics education, check out the information on Brent Loken’s Web site. Brent and Sheryl shared their instructional methods at the recent NCTM national conference. To see examples of student exhibition work, visit the HIS media Web site.

Thomas Perkins like all of the HIS teachers follows the school’s instructional strategy of working with students to design “learning expeditions”. These student-design efforts are drawn from the essential questions of the curriculum units. Students in Thomas’ class recently completed a poetry unit where the used visual literacy and research skills to find images on the Web that connected to the poetry they were writing. Thomas’ students then presented their images with music and their reading of their work in short videos presented in “Exhibition” time during the twice weekly all school morning gatherings. As a school focused on project-based learning, it is routine at HIS for portions of these sharing times to be used for students presenting their learning to the community.  Grant Ruskovich, the school principal, leads the school’s learning 2.0 efforts through his classroom teaching and directing efforts of whole school activities like the school musical. A foundation belief for the school is to build and support community. To support this outcome, Wednesday afternoons are designated as an activity period for all students and faculty to pursue interests outside of classroom academics.

The teachers of the Upper Primary school of HKIS follow a more traditional approach to student learning with several teachers working within their classrooms to expand upon the technology and information literacy skills that are integrated into the social studies, science and language arts curriculum units. Using Audacity to create podcasts for end-of-unit assessments led Ben Hart, a grade 3-4 teacher, to have his students start recording their writing conferences. Ben now prompts his students to record their thoughts on how they are improving their use of the writing process, what they are working on as writers and what next steps they plan to take. Ben shares “it is quicker than their responding through writing” while providing him instant feedback as he listens to the sound files from the writing conferences.

Many of Hart’s students use PhotoStory for common assessments using images and voiceovers to share their learning. Viewers are wowed by the students’ videos but teachers appreciate the underlying language arts and information literacy skills that go into the research and writing of the scripts for the voiceovers. Ben is now creating a PhotoStory video to introduce the upcoming “Human Body” unit. He is drawing his own digital images and diagrams as well as using images from the Web to grab his students’ interest and introduce key themes for the unit.

David Navis, a 5th grade teacher, has expanded upon how Inspiration mind maps are integrated into the social studies and science units. Students are provided a mind map template with the essential questions for the various units. They start the units with a pre-assessment, responding to the essential questions by adding new symbols with their ideas to their diagrams.  As the school emphasizes “inquiry” (Jamie McKenzie has visited HKIS), the students also add any questions that come to mind in the “parking lot” section of the mind maps. As the units progress, students continue their reflection to further develop their responses to the questions. Navis intentionalizes the use of this process for deeper student reflection and learning by having them use set colors for their new symbols at each stage of reflection (e.g., blue symbols for start of the unit, grey for the middle, green for end of the unit). David reports “Once the diagram is complete, I switch to outline form on the class projector using an example from one of my students with his/her permission. It becomes very evident how their thinking and knowledge has expanded. The next stop is to have them write an essay from the outline.”

With all of the students doing research for a Civil War Unit common assessment project, Gene Cheh, a 5th grade teacher, did his own exploration and multimedia creation expanding upon the initial information literacy research skills integrated into the unit. Gene used Flash to construct a slideshow of primary source posters for the students to interpret using visual and information literacy skills.  Gene used clickable “hot spots” on the poster images that provided probing questions for his students’reflection.

Many other shifted instructional strategies can be found at the best practices section of the HKIS Teacher Toolkit.