Student accountability


In setting up the new academic year, I have been involved in many discussions with teachers about how we can help our students increase their personal accountability for their own success. This is undoubtedly a key life skill but as we all know, simply telling is not an effective teaching and learning strategy. In order to give students the best opportunity to develop this skill, they will need to have both the “time” and “experience” in which to do so. This academic year we hope to implement strategies that provide for both.

Currently, students receive detailed task sheets explaining what is expected of them from all summative tasks. As teachers, we are now working to provide the time in class to help students further understand the levels of achievement. For example, “What is the difference between a level 1 or 2?” Or, “What do I need to do to achieve a level 8?” In grades 9 and 10, students will also have some MYP time (from 12:50 to 13:10 each Friday) available for their own independent learning. This is an experience that we feel will help them develop their own personal accountability.

In summative assessment tasks, the transparency of expectations means that students will be held accountable for every strand of a criterion. Teacher feedback will highlight areas where improvements can be made and our students need to be accountable for making those improvements; or be accountable for the levels achieved if this work is not done. Every student will have multiple opportunities throughout the year to improve on an assessed criterion so that the experience of not achieving the highest levels is also a crucial learning experience.

So at my school, in the Middle Years Programme, we are purposefully providing the time and experiences to help our students develop their own personal accountability. We are also promoting parents, to help at home by finding the time to talk with your child about each completed summative achievement task and asking them what they learnt from that particular experience.

Should success and failure in MYP always be the same?


success or failureIn each subject in the MYP students gain a final grade dependent on their final criterion levels total (which is the sum of the allocated level in each of the criteria).  This value is matched against a set of grade boundaries to identify a final grade from 1 to 7.   Each of these grades has a related descriptor such as:

  • Grade 1 – Minimal achievement in terms of the objectives
  • Grade 7 – A consistent and thorough understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them almost faultlessly in a wide variety of situations.  Consistent evidence of analysis, synthesis and evaluation is shown where appropriate.  The student consistently demonstrates originality and insight and always produces work of high quality.


At no point in the Holy Grail of the MYP – from principles into practice document, is failure mentioned.  Note that in the coordinators handbook schools can fail but seemingly students can.  Now, by the way, I am fine all with this.  I consider everyone on their own personal continuum of understanding, and appreciate that the MYP reflects this.


However, many schools’ (all the ones I have taught in at least) still feel that they still need to identify what it means to fail (although some schools may disguise this as a cause for concern).  In later years when these MYP grades are incorporated onto a university friendly transcript which certainly clearly identifies what it means to fail.   This is where the inconsistency comes in at my present school a grade 2 is considered a fail yet at my previous school failure was considered to be a level 3.


Something similar happens at the other end of the academic achievement spectrum as reflected by being placed on the honor roll.  Last school MYP success meant getting a 52 or higher and presently a 44 gets the same accolade.


If I just based my school evaluation on final student achievement grades my last school would be higher up the ladder.  Now I moved to this school partly because I was so excited by the growth potential and the ambition to move higher up the academic achievement ladder.   Yet this all does lead me to be asking some questions:

  • Should the standards a school set reflect the school or the aspirations of the school?
  • Would raising the standards help nudge the students in an upward achievement direction due to increased expectation or bring about an acceptance of failure?

Any thoughts on this topic would be greatly welcomed.

Reviewing a “New Culture of Learning”


A New Culture of Learning” by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown is a great book that will help any reader grasp present day thinking about how information technology provides a set of tools which will allow us to re-evaluate education.  The book does not produce a solution to what is the next step for general education.  What it does do is to bring together a range of thinking, aligning terminology, and thus providing all teachers who want to to discuss how technology can be used to cultivate the imagination of learners to help reach a deeper understanding of a changing world.

Unlike many school environments today, the book identifies locations where there is a genuine culture of learning within our digital age.  One of the first points acknowledged is that success should no longer be evaluated by an ability to retain information but an appreciation of accessing and evaluating the needed facts – the crucial “where” over “what”.

How your own personal learning network (PLN) represents your presence in a number of distinct learning collectives.  Furthermore the levels of involvement in these collectives can be described as follows;  knowing how and where to access reliable information; making,  which requires the remixing or synthesis to consider how information can be utilised and finally the opportunity to reach a learning epiphany through playing. The involvement in blogging models these phases.  A casual reader knows where to go to find a blog they deem as relevant.  A personal blogger is refining the thinking of others and making it relevant to themselves.   To take an active part in commenting and extending the dialogues within your own blog and beyond, surely represents play.

True inquiry based learning, not the polite acknowledgement seen in many schools, is celebrated and seen as analogous to the methods gamers learn through experimentation.  We are asked as teachers to consider what can be learnt from games to improve our student’s involvement of their own learning.  This is at the crux of the term  gamification in education, which should not be considered as a by-word for the dumbing down of education into Tetris like blocks but rather the search for new environments where people are motivated to learn, such as those found connected to a number of massively multiplayer on-line games.  This new culture of learning will take people through the stages, as identified by Mizuko Ito’s ethnographic studies, of involvement in new media. From hanging out, to messing around and finally to geeking out.

The book ends with a concluding message, which goes back to Johan Huizinga’s thoughts on play and its being a pre-requirement of culture.  For the writers recognize that where we find imaginative play, we observe active learning. I hope this brief synopsis encourages others to take the time to read this fascinating book.

Project Based Learning


Proposal: The integration of project based learning into the curriculum


The following proposal incorporates the key points made in the following sessions at ASB Unplugged 2012:


  • The “Power of the journey” session based on project based learning presented by Kevin Crouch and Scott Hoffman
  • The institute session on “Constructionism and project based learning” led by Gary Stager
  • Project-Based Learning led by Andrew Churches


What is Project Based Learning (PBL)?

Edutopia.org states that project learning, also known as project-based learning, is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups.


During the power of the journey session PBL was defined, using the review of project based learning by John Thomas as

  • Central, not peripheral to curriculum
  • Focused on questions or problems that drive students to encounter and struggle with central concepts and principles of a discipline.
  • Involve students in constructive investigation
  • Student-influenced
  • Realistic

Why should we use project based learning?


Gary Stager identified the 8 big ideas, which are embedded within PBL, as opportunities for:

  1. Learning by doing
  2. Using technology as a building material
  3. Hard fun
  4. Learning to learn
  5. Taking time
  6. Can’t get it right without getting it wrong
  7. Do unto ourselves what we do unto our students
  8. We are engineering a digital world where what we know is as important as reading and writing*


*I appreciate the sentiments of this last big idea but feel it should just say information technology is now an invaluable tool in PBL environments.


What are the requirements for a successful PBL experience?

Andrew Church makes it clear the planning is the key to the success of a PBL unit and he promotes the use of the 4Ds approach (Define, Design, Do and Debrief).  Due to the freedom of pathways the students have it is vital that clear objectives and a final outcome are in place as clear progression signposts.  Gary Stager stated that “a good prompt is worth a 1000 words” and from his experience it was most important that a successful PBL experience had:

  1. Good prompt
  2. Appropriate materials
  3. Sufficient time
  4. Supportive culture (including expertise)


All in all a clear grasping of the objectives and outcomes with sufficient allocated time, materials and effective support are the key to the success of a PBL unit.


So why do I want to adopt PBL?

I am excited by PBL as I think that it will provide a different learning experience to what students normally receive.  Such a method explicitly requires students to find their own pathways of discovery.  This freedom also better reflects the results driven real world unlike the carefully structured faux-enquiry based learning path often seen in school classes.  Furthermore the inbuilt collaborative element requires students to develop the skills required to work with others.  The outcomes I am looking for are a deeper understanding of key ideas and the opportunity to develop crucial life skills.

Where do I want in introduce a PBL unit (1)?

The year 11 MYP science unit on energy provides a great opportunity for PBL.  A project requiring the construction of a Rube-Goldberg machine and the measurement of energy transfers throughout provides a context for knowing how to make energy calculations and consider the factors which impact efficiency.  I also feel that such a project would provide an opportunity to evaluate the approaches to learning (ATL) skills developed throughout the MYP programme and produce a vital jolt of something different.

Where do I want in introduce a PBL units (2)?

It has become apparent that some students at my school will struggle with the requirements of IB Diploma Science.  My school is presently introducing year 12/13 non-IB alternative science course which I feel would benefit from a number of PBL units such as:

1)    Growing what is required for an organic salad and using this as a driving force to consider world food requirements and the benefits of both GM and chemical solutions.

2)    Building rockets as a driving force of fuel consumption, aerodynamics and mechanics

3)    Producing ginger beer to consider fermentation process and enzyme use

4)    Camera production to consider optics and photochemical reactions


In reality this course will not be trying to develop future scientists but work on enhancing the science literacy of these students so that they can be more informed in the future.  So a parallel science in the news presentation element will also be included requiring students to consider and explain opinions.

How does information technology enhance project based learning?

In both examples information technology tools will provide crucial opportunities to do more than ever before, with greater ease than ever before and share those findings with more people than ever before and so also enhancing their own technological skill set and crucial confidence.

Examples of such opportunities which will support:

  • Making measurements using probes and data loggers
  • Sharing information in a collaborative group using Google docs
  • Journaling the process using blogs
  • Considering various (and sometimes opposing) information sources using the internet
  • Bookmarking relevant information using tools such as Delicious and Diigo
  • Analysing data using spreadsheets
  • Connecting with other experts and interested parties using e-mail and Skype

Neil Commons

New International School of Thailand

One-to-one integration the continued journey


Following my attendance at the ASB Unplugged 2012 conference in Mumbai I have started to reflect on how my own school’s one-to-one program needs to continue to work towards true integration of technology.

So the secondary school section of my school began rolling out tablet computers to upper secondary year groups 5 years ago.  This gradual phasing in process continued until 18 months prior to now, when my school’s secondary became a fully one-to-one school.  With this statement it would apparently be strange to report on this school’s readiness for a one-to-one program.  Yet I would argue that the provision of hardware does not necessarily align with a full integration into all aspects of teaching and learning.  It is this, with this in mind that I want to consider how we, as a school, can continue to move forward developed from ideas and techniques developed at ASB Unplugged 2012.      ology beyond all of the students having a computer.

Dr. Damien Bebell in his hands-on learning institute session, which I attended on the morning of Friday 24th February considered the importance of educational measurement and evaluation in the development and sustainability of any educational technology initiative or school reform.  At my school it is still unclear to me as to what are underlying motivations for our one-to-one program.  I myself can eulogise over the impact of greater connectivity and the provision for a wide range of teaching and learning opportunities.  Yet I also know that this one-to-one program is so tantalising because it reflects an expected future for the students we have.  Yet that still does not clearly identify the core objectives, and in turn allow us to measure our success in the development of our students against these objectives.  So moving forward the identification of such objectives and the development of an annual school survey system which allows the school to measure progression is vital.  The techniques/ styles presented by Dr. Bebell reflected the need to really consider what your needs are from such surveys and to carefully consider the needs of the audience to guarantee a high percentage of involved responses.

Within the above mentioned measurement session a back channel conversation developed with two staff members from UWC in Singapore about effective ways to share best practice.  My school has two full-time staff members whose job is to support the teaching and learning in a one-to-one environment.   They provide additional support to teachers in the classroom and also run sessions sharing useful tools.  However, beyond these two members of staff there is not a true forum for sharing best (or unsuccessful) practice.  For that reason teachers are not learning from their peers and students are not exposed to being set up to transfer skills from subject to subject.  Now UWC have a digital literacy blog which empowers teachers to share their experiences.  The structure allows teachers to easily follow blog posts from all or just from a specific teaching section, for instance middle school.  In reviewing examples it is apparent that this has become not only a forum for best practice or an honest reflection on less than successful attempts.  The site also provides teachers with a starting point for considered dialogue on related issues – for example the post on the association between violence and video games.  So I believe that the construction of such a blog for teachers at my school would better integrate effective digital teaching and learning.

Although the above mentioned blog would produce an interesting conversation starting point it would not provide the opportunity for teachers to consider issues in a more in depth but collaborative manner.  For this reason process modeled by the ASB research and development teams in the “Power of the journey” sessions held throughout the morning of Thursday 23rd February would appear to be another element which I would like to introduce at my school.  Teams formed around a number of topics had the opportunity to complete in depth research with the goal of presenting an informed opinion on future use.  Without a required implementation outcome it appeared to provide an opportunity for honest discussion. Whilst the need to present findings provided a motivational timeline as did an influential audience that the teams felt would respond to the suggestions made.  Having seen a number of research and development team members presenting in more detail about how they are already using elements of their research in their classes it would also seem that the process also accelerates implementation if taken on.

So in conclusion, to improve the integration of the one-to-one program in my school I would like to see:

  • The identification of the key objectives of our one-to-one program
  • An annual questionnaire designed to measure how well the objectives are being achieved
  • A digital literacy blog to share best practice between teachers
  • The construction of research and development team which can look into selected aspects of educational development
  • The R&D process to have a clear influential audience that are required to act on the findings

I hope my own continued conversations at school will allow the implementation of these ideas.

How should I respond to bad things?


bullying-739607 by Chesi – Fotos CC
Attribution-ShareAlike License

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” —Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers.

Like pornography, what is cyber bullying is itself subjective and lacks clearly defined parameters.  The U.S.A. based site, stopcyberbullying.org states “Cyber bullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.”

My own school uses the simple statement in the secondary laptop use agreement of “Don’t do bad things”.  Now I recognise that this statement is vague enough to capture a range of actions but undoubtedly within that net is cyber bullying.  As a guideline to what a bad thing could it would seem sensible to cross reference our own disciplinary procedure.  Under Step 2, which is described as not behaving responsibly, cyber bullying has been clearly highlighted.  So the dots are joined between abstract policy statements.

Yet abstract policy statements do not equate to everyday practice, they certainly do not help a student who is being cyber bullied and as a teacher I am not aware of either a related procedure or the underlying issues which have driven it.    Now before people misinterpret what I am saying let me make it clear that I honestly believe that my school would respond to (and undoubtedly does) such issues in a fair and considered manner.  Yet what I am also stating is that at present the bigger picture has not been addressed.

The Scottish based anti-bullying site respectme.org.uk suggests some important elements of practice which need to be in place to combat bullying:

1)    Culture 

An organisation’s culture should make it clear that bullying is never acceptable and support all adults and children and young people in achieving this ethos.

My thoughts: The opportunities to address and highlight the issues of cyber bullying only appears as a session during the year 7 tech conference day which they attend upon receiving their laptops for the first time.  The need for the issue to be explicitly addressed and at different year levels to empahsize both consistency and more advance intricacies that will come as the students become older.  This should be aligned with the ideas of each student’s growth as a digital citizen and what responsibilities come with that role. This also provides a route to consider our students beyond the confines of the school grounds.

2)    Practice

Day to day practices should reflect the message that bullying is never acceptable and should be continuously reinforced in all the work that you do.

My thoughts: The effective implementation of a clearer procedure of practice to all staff should use role play scenarios.  This would provide staff with an exposure of a range of situations and encourage through discussion an informed alignment in response to these issues.  This implementation should also provide an opportunity for the issues discussed with students to be further disseminated with staff.  All of which opens up the opportunity for a continued conversation with students when those magical teachable moments occur.

3)    Response

Responses when dealing with children and young people who are involved in bullying incidents is vitally important. The response should be consistent, regardless of whom the child or young person approaches.

My thoughts: The details of the response should be more closely considered.  The abstract behaviour policy at present does not reflect an opportunity for meaningful peer mediation.  Also an anonymous forum or tip off location could be offered where students can highlight examples of cyber bullying for the school to deal with and to further empower those bullied students.

With these elements as a starting point I am going to add my own ideas and then will work with my own pastoral role (I am a house leader – go blue house) to move this issue forward.  I will let you know how this goes.


Connectivism is there a learning hurdle ahead


My experience of learning as stimulated by the COETAIL course highlights the essence of connectivism.  The idea has been introduced through George Siemens article – Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age.  So first I need to define connectivism, for this I found a link (connection) to the connectivism glossary which has been set up by students who where studying earlier iterations of this theory – the irony of this will become more clear in a moment.

Connectivism is a learning theory advocated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes, among others, which emphasises the importance and role of networks and connections between people (and things?) as preminent (central) to the learning process.

My own learning about the integration and education and technology has started with the creation of connections through blogging, RSS feeds and twitter.  As I start to develop confidence, and in turn allocate importance to these connections I feel my understanding is being wired into an extended out of body cloud of knowledge which I now have the power to access, evaluate and create my own further connections to/with.  I know I evaluate the power of a news story due to it’s location on Google News which in turn reflects each’s stories connectedness.

So I have bought into this new learning theory within the modern day as it closely reflects my own knowledge evaluation process.  I can appreciate how mastery of connections will help my students fit into and build upon all prior knowledge.  This will help them to be successful in many potential fields in the future.  This brings a smile to my face as I imagine these lit up and connected future human bulbs.  Then I consider the standard level Physics exams my students will have to face and the requirement where the final outcome is not assessed on connectivity but the ability to solve some problems whilst removed from your knowledge web.  I appreciate that connectivist theory can be used by me to help my student learn more effectively.  My concern is if the present world of final exams at age 18 will get in the way of this enlightening.

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