Innovative Learning Grants at UNIS Hanoi

Resurrection by Untitled blue. CC BY

We’ve never suffered from a lack of resources as long as I’ve been here at UNIS Hanoi. We’ve been running a 1:1 TabletPC program for the past 6 years. All students in grades 4 – 12 have their own machines. And in the Middle and High School we’ve been running a (virtually) paperless environment with varying degrees of success.

But. as I’ve said previously, as a school we are becoming cranky teenagers. Instead of accepting what we are given with a “Thank you!” and a smile, we’re beginning to ask “Why?”

Why are we using this machine and not that one?

Why do we have to do that?

Why can’t we do this?


Now, from my perspective, this is a great problem to have. Teachers and students asking “why?” means that they are thinking about the best ways to transform teaching and learning. I’m actually more concerned about the teachers and students who never question what we’re doing! It means they are passively accepting what is being given to them and not showing any critical analysis of our program or of their own learning.

To help spur the question of “Why?”, we’ve introduced Innovative Learning Grants. The central questions that we started with was “What is it that you want to do at but currently can’t?” and “How will this improve student learning and/or teacher pedagogy?”

The idea is that teachers submit a proposal documenting their interest and also noting some of the research that they have done on the topic. Once proposals have been selected to go forward, the teachers are responsible for documenting their work and submitting a written report at the end of their trial period. This report includes feedback on the outcome of the project as well as suggestions for scaling the project up to go beyond their individual trial. From this, decisions can be made about going forward. It is my hope that all of this – all grant proposals and the final reports/recommendations of the ‘winning’ projects – will be published to the entire community as examples of how UNIS is looking at staying on the cutting edge when it comes to learning.

In the first iteration, we received a quite a few grant proposals. I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the proposals that we received. In the end, we selected three to go forward. One is looking at the use of standing desks in the classroom. Another is looking how to adopt mobile technology into PE classes. And the third is looking increasing collaboration and lay through the use of a SMART Table in our Early Childhood classes. All trials will end before June and I’m looking forward to reading and sharing their final reports. [I will ask to see if any of the authors mind if I share their proposals.]

A quick note about the name: it was a very deliberate decision to use the term “Innovative Learning” and not mention “Technology” even though the funds are being put up by the Technology Office. As a school, our focus must continue to be on learning. Our focus on technology is not for the sake of having the shiniest bell or the newest whistle but to improve student learning. 99 times out of 100 Innovative Learning will involve the authentic use of technology, and by using the title “Innovative Learning Grant” we are keeping the emphasis where it belongs.

What is your school doing to encourage innovation in both teaching and learning? Do you think you could apply a similar process at your school?

Thinking About Thinking

UNIS Hanoi has had the good fortune of spending two day with Mark Church, one of the researchers and authors behind Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Project. We are actually just starting day two and I find myself with a few minutes to reflect back on the first day.

The focus of the first day was less about Visible Thinking Routines and the Teacher for Understanding framework and more about discussing the need for making thinking visible and teaching for understanding. While they may seem obvious to any group of teachers (and who in their right minds would ever disagree with the need for teaching for understanding?), these concepts are sometimes not given the thought that they deserve. It was very refreshing to have an “outside expert” come in and say that we need to be a community of learners and that it is vital for teachers to provide opportunities, model and document the thinking that goes into the learning.

Like I said, nothing revolutionary in theory but great to hear…

I love the Visible Thinking Routines. I try to use them whenver I can as a reflection tool at the end of workshop sessions. As more schools are going 1:1 and beyond, I wonder if there is a way to update or revamp them to reflect the tech-rich environment that so many schools now find themselves in. Besides taking a picture of the work at the end, how can we visualize, capture and display thinking in our digital environments? Or, does that defeat the power and the purpose of these thinking routines?

What do you do to visualize thinking with technology? Which of the VTRs have you successfully updated to your digital/online learning environment?

Image: Master Learners by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA

The Perfect Storm: Reel Youth and UN Day

UNIS Hanoi celebrated UN Day back on October 7th. (Has it already been a month? How did THAT happen?) As one of only two United Nations schools in the world, it’s pretty easy to figure out that UN Day is a pretty big deal in these parts.

This year’s theme is Rapprochement of Cultures with the goal of

[demonstrating] the benefits of cultural diversity by acknowledging the importance of the constant transfers and exchanges between cultures and the ties forged between them since the dawn of humanity. As cultures encompass not only the arts and humanities, but also lifestyles, different ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs, the protection and promotion of their rich diversity invites us to rise to new challenges at the local, national, regional and international levels.

To help us work with students on the concept of cultural rapprochement, we invited Erica and Mark from Reel Youth to spend 5 weeks with our students in grades 4 – 8. The mission of Reel Youth is to empower student voices to make media about issues that they care about. Our goal was to give students a chance to voice and share their own personal cultural identities and to give others a chance to explore and connect with that identity.

Erica and students filming

In those 5 weeks, Erica and Mark met with each MS homeroom 3 times (about 85 minutes per meeting). In those 4 hours, students wrote and recorded a poem called “Where I’m From” (meeting 1); learned about lighting and angles for filming, shot multiple examples of each, and imported the footage onto their computer (meeting 2); and edited their footage to fit the poem recording, usually with enough time left over to get some great feedback from our creative experts on how to improve the edit (meeting 3), export and submit a finished film. I wasn’t sure if we could get all the students to finish on time (and some still wanted to make more edits at home to improve their work), but by the end of the that last meeting, ALL students had a finished product!

On UN Day, each grade level did different activities centered around the content of their student films. We also arranged for an exhibition in the foyer our new Performing Arts Theatre, showing all 500+ student films that were created on 15 different screens. Students from across the school as well teachers, parents and invited dignitaries had a chance to sample the work that our students spent so much time and effort on.

Mark helping a student edit

Reel Youth also played another huge role at UNIS with some high school students. A group of about 16 students were selected to work with them outside of class time to film and create documentaries centered around two of the major Community Service projects that we do here at UNIS. They spent their weekends going out to the Thuy An orphanage and up to Sin Chai Elementary School in a H’mong village in Sapa to tell the stories of some of these individuals. I’m still working on getting copies of some of those documentaries, but the films were amazing. In the gala premiere that was held to showcase these films, the students talked about this experience as some of the most meaningful learning experiences they had ever taken part in. I’m hoping to convince some of these students to submit their work to one or some of the many student film festivals that will be taking place in early 2012.

For those of you interested in exploring that confluence of film, technology and student empowerment, I cannot recommend Reel Youth enough. Film-making is such an amazing way of leveraging the technology that we put in the hands of our students so that they can create something that is truly personal, creative and meaningful. Erica and Mark showed such great respect for each student and their voice that it was easy for them to connect with them and gain their trust. That, in turn, led to some truly magnificent work by the students!

Below is a the ‘meta-film’ that was made by two visiting filmmakers from the UK about collaboration between Reel Youth and the UNIS Community and Service program. It gives a great glimpse of the work that was done with the two community service projects, the voices and thoughts of the students involved, and the philosophy of Reel Youth.

Image Credits
Erica and Students Hard at Work by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA
Mark and the Orange Headphones by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA


Discussing Our Responsible Use Agreement

This year we are rolling out a new Responsible Use Agreement 1 to all members of the school community. In my mind this has needed to be done for quite some time and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster getting here, but I would like to thank Andrew Churches for his excellent resources licensed under Creative Commons.

To introduce th RUA to the teachers, I was given 1 hour last Friday. My goals were to familiarize all teachers with the new RUA and to empower them to feel comfortable discussing the idea of responsible use with students since they are truly the front line on this. I worked along with the counselors to come up with some “grey area” scenarios in Responsible Use. We then modified the Visible Thinking Routine Circle of Viewpoints to get groups of four to discuss the scenario from one of four viewpoints: student, teacher, administrator or parent. At the start of each of the four scenarios, participants took on a new role. The idea, in my mind, was to highlight the “grey” nature of these scenarios and, by looking at them from various perspectives, encourage discussion and the teaching of responsibility rather than judgement and assuming students know right from wrong.

The four scenarios we chose were:

  • A legitimate search for images in class returns an inappropriate image. The student then shares that image with others.
  • After completing their work, a student starts playing a flash-based game unrelated to school.
  • While working independently, the student is constantly “multi-tasking.” As the teacher walks around, the student minimizes programs and hides the task bar.
  • At break time, a group of students is playing online games together.

I was 2 blown away by the amount of discussion this activity created, both during the activity and for the rest of the day. It has brought the idea of responsible use 3 to the forefront of our discussions about community.

The next step is to run a very similar session with all students in the Middle and High Schools as well as sessions for parents in the first couple of weeks of school. I want this to be on everybody’s minds as we begin this school year and it will tie in perfectly with our visit from Robin Treyvaud in October!

What scenarios would you choose to include that would generate discussion in your community? How do you share and discuss your RUA with parents and students?


  1. It’s an agreement and not a policy since it isn’t issued by our School Board
  2. And continue to be! The comments I am still getting are evident that people are still talking about it and that’s a huge win in my book!
  3. As I said in a tweet, the use of the word ‘responsible’ is very deliberate as we are hoping to build a sense of responsibility rather than a sense of “what can I get away with”?

Where Did That File Go?

The launch of the 1:1 tablet program at UNIS has coincided with a move towards a paperless school. I don’t know if this move was part of the grand vision 5 or 6 years ago but it is certainly a reality on campus. Students in the Middle School/High School do not have access to any printers on campus. They aren’t even given notebooks or binders, for the most part, so teachers don’t give out physical worksheets. All handouts are printed from Word or PDF files into OneNote and then edited/manipulated with the keyboard or with digital ink. For many students, the only work that they do on paper are end-of-unit summative tests. There is also still the odd notice that get printed and sent to parents and, of course, our reports are still laboriously printed for parents to keep in their ‘permanent records’.

Because of this, we expect students, over the course of their stay at UNIS, to collect and create hundreds – possibly thousands! – of documents. How can we help them keep track of them all?

From the beginning, we’ve instituted a naming convention that should be used on every instructional file. The goal is for you to be able to recognize immediately the general contents of that file before it is even opened! The generic convention looks like this:

Subj – Unit – Assignment Name

As a teacher, I might create the following documents:

  • Math08 – Linear Equations – Graphing Slope-Intercept Form
  • Eng07 – Folktales – Writing My Own Folktalk
  • Physics – Nuclear Physics – Fission Experiment

There should be no doubt what you will find when you open any of those documents. As the student has downloads the document to the correct location, she only needs to add her first and last name to end of the file name.

By doing this, it is easy to see when a file is out of place or misnamed. For the students who choose not use some sort of folder structure, this ensures that files from each subject are automatically grouped together when sorted by name. It also makes it easy to search for a file since we know what it should be called.

What do you do to help your students stay organized?

A Letter to SMH Regarding Copyright

Like most people, I was enthralled and relieved by the story of Qantas Flight 32, which took off from Changi Airport in Singapore bound for Sydney. There were numerous (false) reports of the flight crashing over Bantam Island south of Singapore. There were also some amazing tweets sent by a passenger on the plane of the damage to the wing caused by an exploding engine!

Unfortunately, I was also extremely disappointed in the coverage of the incident by the Sydney Morning Herald. I was so disappointed, in fact, that I sent them the following email. I have yet to hear back from them.

Dear SMH,
I really enjoy your newspaper, both the physical edition and the online version.

I’m also very interested in the coverage of QF 32 and watching the drama as it unfolds. This certainly is a newsworthy event!

I do have a question about copyright and attribution, however. On your Contact page, you state specific steps that others should follow if the wish to reproduce images from you site: “If you would like to reproduce text, graphics or tables, you will need to obtain permission from The Sydney Morning Herald copyright department.” Yet, it does not seem that you follow those rules yourself when it comes to using the images of others.

In your article on the A380 (at 16:08 on Thursday, Sydney time) however, you have at least three images taken from social media sites (Facebook and Twitter/yfrog) that have no attribution or copyright notices.  Have you contacted the people who posted those photos and asked for their permission to use their images without attribution? In the same article, you make sure to credit Craig Abraham for his stock photo of a jet engine. Why the double standard? Were they sent in to your address by them? If so, shouldn’t that be stated in the article and/or caption? If these images are released under a Creative Commons license, the minimum requirement is attribution of the creator. Because they were found on Facebook and Twitter, it would be easy to find out who that person is!

As a teacher who is focused on digital citizenship and on teaching ethical behavior in a digital society to my students, particularly with respect to copyright and images found on the internet (seemingly for free and without repercussion), I find it hard to fathom how you have presented the information of others on your website – a commercial website at that! I don’t think you would be so cavalier about using an image from Getty Images or other ‘reputable’ sources without proper attribution. Why so with images found using social media? The concept of copyright pertains to those images too and affords the owners of those images rights of how their works are used by others, including large media outlets.

I look forward to hearing your response. If you have obtained permission from the image owners, I apologize in advance.

Kind Regards,
Clint Hamada

What Does a Magical Classroom Look Like?

I appreciate the cool stop-motion animation. I mean, it’s really cool, right? But…

Does SMART Technologies really think a Magical Classroom looks like this?

Straight rows, hands up, wait to be called on, one person talking at a time. That’s not magic; that’s a step backwards! Where is the collaboration? Where is the group dynamic? Where is the problem solving? Where are the messy bits? We don’t have any IWBs at our school so I want to know: Is this how you use them in your school?

(To be fair, sometimes I feel like we’re using our tablets in a similar way, at times: new tools, same pedagogy. Where’s the magic in that?)

Open Your Door!

As a classroom teacher, I hated to be observed. Heck, I hated to teach in a room where another teacher was working, even if they weren’t even paying attention to me? I never could figure out why I felt that way…

Now that I have begun to live my life online — open and transparent, as much as possible — I realize how debilitating that prior mindset was to my teaching. Of course I learn a lot fromthe other great souls who are teaching and living out in the open. But my openness is forcing me to be more introspective and reflective: Why am I doing what I’m doing, and what can I do to make it better? Opening the door to my online persona has caused me to be more introspective and reflective. It has helped me to grow professionally and personally, even if nobody ever reads a word that I write.

I firmly believe that the average teacher’s, well, openness to openness is directly proportional to that of the school’s in which she works. It is a learned behavior that is nurtured by the institution. If a school were to implement a healthy open-door and/or walkthrough policy — with the goal of observation and not appraisal — it would be an easy step for those teachers to begin to share their professional practice to a wider audience.

So why are schools in general and teachers in particular so reticent to openning their doors, either to their parents or their colleagues or to the world? What are they afraid that others will see? Maybe more accurately, what are they afraid they themselves will see?

Image: ‘open door‘ licensed under CC BY NC

If We Build It, Who Will Come? – An Online Algebra 1 “Textbook”

I just finished Karl Fisch’s post about approaching homework differently. It is a much more detailed and cogent explanation to what I was saying here.

My plan is to deliver the traditional lecture portion of an Algebra class as the homework, thus freeing up class time to explore the mathematics and pursue some interesting problems, as well as provide time for guided practice and collaborative work.

Since Algebra is very much skill based, my hope is to provide short (less than 10 minutes), targeted instructional videos that students can watch (and rewatch if necessary) that focus solely on the skills, one skill at a time. Now I want to be clear that these videos typically will come after inquiry and exploration in class.

As I said in the comment of Karl’s post, I think this is a brilliant idea. I can’t think of one downside to this plan, other than it will challenge people’s existing beliefs of what education looks like. (That by itself is not a bad thing; the fallout of that challenge might cause some headaches though.)

Watching Karl’s ‘Proof of Concept‘ video, it’s pretty obvious that this is going to be a time-consuming effort. As is mentioned, there are tons of online resources already but they tend to have been created by individuals for their own use. I could use them in my classroom but they aren’t always at the right level or don’t always have enough practice or aren’t the right length.

So here’s my question: Is it possible for us, as  a community, to create an online open-source Algebra 1 skills-based video textbook? What would we need to do so? Here are some initial thoughts:

  • We would need to come up with an agreed-upon structure for each video. (I like Karl’s Five Part Plan: Learning Goal, Explanation/Examples, Guided Practice, Self-Check, and Closing.)
  • We would need to come up with a generic list of skills that are applicable to all, regardless of state or national standards.
  • We would need people to volunteer to create a video for each skill on our list. If two or three people create a video for the same skill, that’s not a bad thing: more choice for our students.
  • We would need to come up with a structure for displaying or publishing our textbook. I’m thinking create a YouTube channel and use a wiki as some sort of Table of Contents.

Can we work together to share the time-consuming aspects of this idea so that we all spend more time focused on the ‘heavy lifting’ aspect: supporting our students effectively with our time?

Anybody interested in trying?

Image: ‘soccer practice