Friday, 18 May 2012

International Award Assessed Expedition to Dalat

We all arrived at the airport by 5.45am on Saturday 21st April, the weekend after all the year 10s had completed their exams ready to fly to Dalat for the assessed expedition for our International Award. We were soon boarding the small propeller plane for the surprisingly smooth, fifty minute flight to Lien Khuong airport, Dalat. 

Once we had claimed our rucksacks, containing our tents and camping gear, from the luggage carousel, we were met by our guides for the weekend from Phat Tire Ventures. We reorganised our bags so that we had all we needed for trekking in our smaller bags and our camping and cooking equipment in our bigger bags which were going to be taken straight to the campsite by the Phat Tire guys. The bus then took us to the trail head at Sam Son hill where we were to start our 10K trek to Tuyen Lam Lake.

We started off climbing slowly up a dirt road and from there began a steep 200m ascent through ferns to our high point for the day. It was worth the steep climb for the great views looking back over Dalat and to Langbian Mountain in the distance, with the lake below. From the ridgeline the trail undulated through broadleaf evergreen forest until eventually we emerged at the lake, fringed by pine forest. We had our lunch here and then we were set the challenge of transporting all our party across the lake by kayak. There were three two-man kayaks and one three-man, meaning nine people could be ferried across at once. There were twenty three in our party including the teachers and so some of us had to take it in turns to act as ferrymen (and women!) and make several trips. It was hard work but good fun.

We finally arrived at the campsite at Nam Qua, tired after a really full day, and put up our tents next to the lake. We spent our free time until dinner swimming in the lake, which was brilliant fun, playing cards and taking photographs. It started to cloud over around six o’ clock so we decided to cook our dinner under the shelters at the campsite.  As on the practice expedition in Cao Minh, this was a real bonding experience and the food tasted great having made it ourselves. After we’d washed up our dinner things the Phat Tire crew lit a bonfire and we toasted marshmallows and told ghost stories. We went to bed tired and looking forward to a good rest to prepare for the next day’s hike.

On Sunday we got up early to find the lake shrouded in mist which was a beautiful site. As the sun came up and the colours came to life we took down our tents and had breakfast. We were ready to go by 8.30am and, after taking a group photograph, set off on our 13 kilometre trek. This time the climb was more gradual at first and the scenery changed dramatically from pine to dense jungle. One of our guides sprayed our boots to deter leeches as we entered the jungle, but later on several of us had multiple leech bites! We didn’t mind as it doesn’t hurt and the leeches just drop off when full – but it does look rather gruesome as it bleeds profusely due to the leech’s anticoagulant! The climb through the jungle got steeper and in the clearer sections the breeze was very welcome.

Eventually we reached the top where we had lunch, admiring the views. When we finally left the jungle, we emerged near Elephant Mountain and made out way down to the valley floor. On the way we saw a huge giant centipede on the path and enjoyed seeing the small farms that dotted the valley floor, with workers in the fields and children playing. There were ominous rumbles from the sky and we made it to the end point of our trek, ‘Chicken Village’ just in time as the heavens opened!

We left Chicken Village in the bus which transferred us to the airport where we washed, had some food and waited for our flight back to HCMC. We were all dirty and tired but elated after a brilliant expedition.

The Year 9 Extended Essay Project

Year 9 students have recently begun an exciting research project based around issues of global importance. The students can chose from a range of research questions relating to topics such as population growth, globalisation and the value of aid.

Students are expected to produce an extended essay on their chosen question which follows a standard academic format, including referencing and a bibliography. The geography department has worked with the head librarian to provide a range of support activities for students to help develop their skills of independent research and to help students understand the importance of referencing their sources.
Initially, students brainstormed ideas in groups, creating large mind maps and are now expected to use the ideas generated to research the question of their choice.
Students are expected to evaluate their own progress towards the completion of the project. Parents of Year 9 students can learn more about what is expected of the students by reading the Year 9 Extended Essay Project booklet.

By completing the project it is expected that students will be better prepared to conduct research and learning independently, as well as helping students to develop critical thinking skills – attributes that will stand the students in good stead for their future academic careers. The project will last around six weeks.
Richard Arch
IB Coordinator

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Head Student Assembly - Technology

Nicholas – Red  Rhianne – Green  Annette – Blue Vasco – Brown (All converted to standard colour for readability on the blog)

Change Slide – White  Other Actions - Black

Good morning everyone,

Technology has had huge advancements in recent years and it has improved the way we lived in one way or another. The use of technology in school has also made advancements, from the integration of the Mac Suite a few years back and the laptops that have been provided to the year 9s.

However, the devices that we possess aren’t being used to efficiently. Technology when used to its full potential can be a bigger asset than it already is. It can make our learning easier, more convenient and more effective. Today’s assembly is to inform you on a few ways technology can improve your learning. To begin, we shall show you a video of what you guys think about technology in our school currently.

Open shutter of projector
Play video titled “Video Interviews” (make sure it’s full screen)
When video ends, close shutter of projector
Close video
Start PowerPoint presentation
Open shutter of projector

After hearing what some of you thought technology could be used to our advantage for, the team put together a collection of 5 resources that will aid and enhance your academic life, increasing the efficiency, and productivity of learning.

You’ve all heard of Google I’m sure, but today I’m going to talk about a different kind of search engine – one that is, in some ways, a lot more powerful. Wolfram Alpha, a personally favorite of mine, is extremely handy when it comes to finding specific answers on a certain topic. Take, for example, your average math textbook. Most will contain the answers to the exercises in the back pages but none will actually ever show you how those answers were figured out. Step in Wolfram Alpha.

If you have an answer that conflicts with the textbook or you simply want to understand how the answer was found, all you have to do is type in your question into the search bar and hit enter. What follows is a page filled with information regarding your question.

The brilliant thing is that Wolfram Alpha isn’t just for math…it can specifically answer questions on any subject of your choice and can even work as a dictionary or thesaurus! Whenever possible, Wolfram Alpha will even show you a step-by-step process on how to get from the question to the answer. This is really useful because then you can compare your methods to the correct one and see where you went wrong. Even better, like I mentioned before, Wolfram Alpha is a lot more specific than other search engines and every time you search for something, it won’t come up with thousands of other links to pages, most of which aren’t related or reliable.

Instead it will show a single page containing all the relevant information. You can search from things as simple as ‘words ending in the letters I-C’ or ‘who is Henry VIII’ up to things as complex as solving 2nd differential equations. This is some pretty powerful stuff and it may take some time to get used to how Wolfram Alpha works, but once you get the hang of it, this website becomes incredibly useful for when you are stuck on homework or when you simply want to know an answer to a question without having to sift through hundreds of Google search results. Thank you.

EBSCO is a search service that gives you access to a number of different databases. A database is a collection of data arranged for easy retrieval and contains information from a wide spectrum of subjects,

From politics, science, literature, you name it. EBSCO contains periodical articles, which are magazine, newspaper, and journal articles yielding from 15 different databases creating a massive range of reliable sources to choose your research from.

What you might be thinking is, why should we use academic databases when information is already overabundant on Google? Well, the surplus of information is exactly why students should opt for EBSCO when researching for essays, case studies and detailed reports.

Databases provide information over a broad range of topics but also helps to keep researchers focused, giving them only scholarly articles that are reliable and more credible than information on Google or bing that are more vulnerable to bias, subjectivity and manipulation. For this reason, EBSCO is the recommended search engine for university students and professors. Access to EBSCO is very pricey so be sure to take advantage of this fantastic resource the school has generously paid for.

Close shutter of projector
Minimize PowerPoint

Linking in to the next two topics that we will talk about is a short sketch that we made starring Tara and Elaine as typical IB students. However, only one of them is using technology to its full potential. Enjoy!

Open shutter of projector
Play video titled “Video Sketch” (make sure it’s full screen)
When video ends, close shutter of projector
Close video
Maximize PowerPoint presentation and go directly to [Slide 10]
Start PowerPoint presentation
Open shutter of projector

Who do you think was more stressed in that video? Tara or Elaine? Using Khan Academy, Elaine was well informed, even about topics that she may not have learnt yet whereas Tara will now have to make that long trek to the 4th floor if she wants any reliable answers.

Khan Academy is a website that posts educational and academic videos explaining a huge variety of different scholastic topics. It includes lessons on biology, chemistry, physics, math, history and economics to name but a few. They also have a very popular YouTube channel, containing all of their videos.
Once you get onto the homepage you can either click on a topic of your choice such as “humanities” or you can scroll down the list of 3100 educational videos categorized alphabetically. The videos can range from 10-30 minutes depending on the difficulty of the topic and obviously the more complex idea the longer it will take to explain.
Khan Academy can be used to further enhance your knowledge on a topic you are interested in. Or if you’re unsure of a particular area you have learned in school and your teacher is too busy to help, the lessons can give you visual demonstrations that should hopefully clarify any uncertainties you may have. The use of color, drawings, voice over and subtitles are a new and innovative way to enrich your academic understanding of certain topics

Have you ever been in the situation where by you have just got to school, and then you realize your homework that you have done on your laptop had been left at home and your USB is nowhere to be found? I am pretty sure many of us have. It is especially frustrating when you have put so much effort into that homework but your teacher still gives you a detention because in the end you still don’t have anything to hand in. If this is happening to you Dropbox will be your savior.

This neat little tool, that is available to all of us, will soon outdate the easily misplaced USB. Dropbox is an application that allows you to put documents, videos or pictures onto an online folder so that you can access anywhere in the world as long as you have Internet. After you have placed all your files onto the online folder, you can access it by logging into your Dropbox account on their website and you can download or view your files from there.

Placing the files onto Dropbox is a piece of a cake. Dropbox appears on your desktop like any other folder, and all you have to do is drag and drop your files into that folder and your files will now be available online. Dropbox also has a new feature that allows you to create a shared folder so that your friends can view the files you put inside of it. In the preparation of this assembly the 4 of us shared files using this feature so that we could see what we have done so far without having to email files to one another. Dropbox is an asset to us and it will help improve our learning experience, so I strongly recommend that you all give a try.

The Evernote web clipper is a free note taking software that acts as a digital notebook.

You can clip any article, photograph or web page you find online with a click of the Evernote icon and save it into an online notebook. This way, you can tap into the resources you’ve collected at any time, on any computer or android device by signing in to your Evernote account.

Like a real notebook you can add notes to your clippings, and yet the web clipper is better because you can tag clippings and allocate them to a specified folder thus organizing your information to ease future access. Also, you can always return to the original page to look for citations. Nowadays there is so much information around us that we cannot remember everything we read, and saving it on an online notebook is the most efficient solution. Evernote will help get our information (and ourselves) organized, making it an excellent resource to use for schoolwork or to pursue our own individual interests.

Hopefully, now, you guys understand the importance of using technology efficiently in order to aid our learning. Not only that, but all these useful tools can help with personal matters as well such as getting yourself organized or storing and moving files over the internet. Therefore, I strongly suggest that all of you go either to the Z-Drive or StudyWiz sometime this week to get a more detailed copy of this PowerPoint presentation (which also includes several other helpful websites and tips for the average student).

Before we leave we’d like to thank Mr. Turner for giving us this opportunity to speak to the school and also Tara and Elaine who gave up their spare time on short notice to help make the video sketch. Tara isn’t here today but I still think they both still deserve a round of applause. Thank you!

Head Student Assembly - preamble

I was treated to our Head Students running an assembly this week.  They spoke to the whole school about how technology can make learning more effective and more efficient for students.  I was planning to include a summary of the assembly here.  However, I'll post all the "behind the scenes" details of their presentation - the organisation is as impressive as the message.

Assessment is the start, not the finish

It is hard to believe that we are now 80% of the way through the school year, though the recent heat and rain confirms that we are definitely in the rainy season again.  With 20% to go, there is a lot to do before we start to think about the summer holidays.

Last week in BISblog, I outlined the assessment and reporting schedule for this term and provided a short piece reflecting on the place of assessment in education.  What should be clear is that in line with the reporting schedule improvements put in place this year, we regard school education as a continuous process, punctuated by breaks.  The summer break is distinguished by its length, and by it marking key transition points in the organisation of lessons.   Summer term, therefore, is not only a time of taking stock and testing, it is very much a time of continuing to learn.  This is the reason for assessments, as far as is practical, being timed so as to allow important follow up work to take place.  Assessment is a starting point for the next steps in learning, not a finishing point.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Musings on Assessment at BIS secondary

“The unexamined life is not worth living” - reflections at a time of examinations

When Plato quoted Socrates on the unexamined life, he was clearly not referring to IGCSEs, nor to exams in general.  However, with examinations high on the school’s list of priorities this term, I will spend  a few moments reflecting on what examinations and assessment mean to us here at BIS.

One of the biggest balancing acts facing all educators is the balance of time spent learning and time spent being assessed.  The two activities are undeniably linked, and both need to fit into the 15 0000 or so hours of compulsory schooling (Rutter et al., 1979).  A key consideration is always the purpose, value and audience of particular types of assessment.   Summative assessments such as IGCSE and the IB DP are designed to certify and select and are facts of life.  We need to know which students are qualified and able to move onto higher levels of education once they are beyond the age of compulsory schooling.  We also need to recognise and certify achievements.  Prior to that, the assessment balancing act is more debatable.
It has long been recognised that teachers spend around 40% of their time directly involved in assessment related activities (Stiggins, 1988).  That’s a lot of time and so the imperative to spend this time effectively is clear.  An assessment, if well designed, can provide useful information to the teacher and to the student on what the next steps in learning should be.  Assessment, however, takes many forms, and can be as simple as a well-judged, well-timed private question to a student during a lesson.  The response to that question may well determine the course of action the teacher and student take over the weeks to come.  It could also come in the form of an observed behaviour or discussion, which may be noted, but where the evidence for the judgement is not recorded.

More formally, standard summative assessments taken by a class or a year group serve as signposts which, over time, indicate progress.  Where progress exceeds planned expectations, there is reason to congratulate and encourage.  Where progress is problematic, action can be taken to remedy the situation and help a student get back on track.

One of the greatest values in any assessment lies in whether it promotes learning in the future for the individual.  Revision and preparation is valuable in itself in consolidating prior learning.  Timed, written, individual examinations remain the norm at ages 16 and 18 and so practice in performing under such conditions is useful.  There may be lessons learned relating to preparation and exam technique that are separate from the subject knowledge itself and there is no doubt that success in exams comes from being good at exams as well as having a sound grasp of the subject matter.  A consequence of this is that formal summative examinations do not provide the complete picture.  What a student knows, understands, can do and can apply is not always revealed when sat behind an exam desk in silence.  This has led to IB and IGCSE assessments including teacher moderated coursework, presentations and portfolios to supplement and complement written tests.  

Our day to day assessments of students reflects this, and schools no longer exclusively rely on such practices as end of year tests to make judgements about progress.  Our Term 3 assessment and reporting schedule  is in line with this, balancing the time and the necessity for formal timed tests with the need for authentic and valuable assessment of progress.  Parents are involved, and feedback is provided on students in all year groups.

Rutter, M., Maughan, B., Mortimore, P. & Ouston, J., 1979, Fifteen Thousand Hours: Secondary Schools and their Effects on Children, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Stiggins, R., 1988, Revitalizing Classroom Assessment: The Highest Instructional Priority, Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 69, No. 5, pp. 363-368.