Babies on a Wild & Crazy Adventure Day!

When my sister comes to visit me where ever I am in the world, we try and make a video. We have made some fun and interesting videos. Finding the time to make a video this year was going to be tough, because my wife and I welcomed twins to the family! After initially scrapping the idea for a video this visit, we came up with the idea to incorporate the babies. I thought about brushing up on my green screen sills, which I like to use in the classroom with my students. We cam up with the idea of the babies on a big adventure and we just needed them on a green screen! It was a lot of fun to make and I hope that my children will enjoy looking back at it when they get older. I hope you enjoy it:



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When I was in primary school, collaboration meant making a poster with others. We have come a long way and it always amazes me how much things have changed!

Yesterday, my students were developing reader’s theatre scripts from stories they created. They were working in groups and instead of working together on a sheet of paper, they all had their iPads out and used Google Pages. They were all working on the document at the same time! I know that this is how the world works now, as I do this same thing with other teachers, but watching grade 3 students do it amazed me. Sure, there were some that were not focused and the iPad tempted them to play games instead, but overall there was true collaboration. Some people were working through lines together while others were working out different sections at the same time. It was wonderful watching how well they worked together on the same document, adding, changing and improving the scrips!

Next step, they will perform it for others! Hopefully they will be able to collaborate on stage as well as they did in the cloud!

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Is there only one way to multiply numbers?

Of course you might know the standard method of multiplying numbers, but is that the only way to do it?

During our inquiry into multiplication, I asked my students this question. While some were able to connect multiplication to addition and division (Yay!) I pressed to see if they knew another way to actually multiply numbers. It is interesting that there are SO MANY different ways to multiply, but we only teach one “standard” method. I broke the students into expert groups and had them learn a different method to multiply numbers. I had found some youtube clips that explain the different ways and shared them with the groups. Here are some videos that explain some different ways that you can multiply:


1. Lattice Multiplication:

2. Grid Method

3. Russian Peasant Method

4. FOIL Method

5. Line Method


After they became experts, I had each group present to the class and teach this new method. The students were quite interested to learn the different ways to multiply. Finally, I asked them to reflect on their blogs about their favorite method. Do they still like the “standard” method? Is there a new method that they like even more? Many really liked the Russian Peasant method, as it is quite different from the others. How it works though… that will be the next inquiry for all of us! 

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Writing through play

During the 3E conference, there was a workshop that had us think differently about writing. It put us in the shoes of our students and made us realize that sometimes we ask them to write stories, but it can be difficult for them to do. It was called “Unleashing writing – turning writer’s workshop into a makerspace!” Jocelyn Blumgart, who ran the workshop, suggested to engage the students in play. When the students play, they inevitably create stories!

I thought this was an interesting idea, so I had a go in my class last week. Instead of focusing on writing, I laid out different materials for students to play with. There were watercolors, Lego, finger puppets, clay, and drawing material. All I did was ask the students to have fun, create something, and play. I did leave them with one last thought, when they play, record their ideas of stories (only notes of ideas) in their seed books.

The lesson went better than I anticipated. The kids were extremely engaged! I was worried that it might just be a waste of time, but to my surprise not only did they have fun playing, but they were truly creating stories! Some worked alone, painting or building Lego, but most worked in groups.

One girl, working alone on a painting told me the story behind what she was painting. A man who wandered in the mountains alone with no food. He met an old man and helped him out. Then two of them tried to find shelter in a cave. The cave had a bear in it, and luckily, the bear was really nice and helped them both out. Sounds like an interesting story, right?

There was a group of 3 children playing with puppets. They told me a big story about different animals who interacted with each other in a magical land. They asked me if they could work on the writing the story together, but I said I would rather them write separate stories. This made them a bit upset, but I explained that it could be quite interesting if they each wrote the same story from different animal’s perspectives. This made their eye’s light up and they already started talking about a series of stories based on the different animals! They loved this idea and others did too. There were two boys playing with Lego where there were a super villain and super hero. They jumped on this idea of writing two different stories from each of their character’s perspectives.

Of course, this was just the beginning, and we will continue doing this for weeks to come. I’m sure the students’ stories will alter and change, but I’m hopeful their excitement for writing will remain constant. Writing through play was a big success and I am truly looking forward to seeing the interesting stories that come out of it!


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PYP Exhibition 2016

Let’s be honest, presentations are often quite boring.

Whether it’s because a student is reading from a Power Point presentation, or taking you through the material they have stuck to their poster board, quite often the presentation portion of the Exhibition fails to convey the excitement and passion of the inquiry. The information can be extremely interesting, but without a well thought out method to engage the audience the presentation is likely to be a bit of a letdown.

This year I had the chance to lead my first Exhibition, and this dilemma was at the front of my mind. Teaching is my second career, my first being in advertising as an art director, so I have a passion for ideas and how to present them in an engaging way, and I wanted to share this passion with my students. I wanted to help my students learn how to create interesting presentations, and to present their learning to others in a fun, interesting and engaging manner.

The way we chose to approach this with the students was to challenge them to think about their presentation in a different fashion. We asked them to think of their presentation as an experience, an experience that the audience would get to be a part of. An experience that they would create, which would allow the viewer to interact with the Exhibitors, and receive information in unique and creative ways. The goal was to remake the presentation into something that would stick with the audience member, regardless of whether they were students or parents or teachers.

In order to give our students a chance at making their presentation into these experiences I’ve described, we knew that we couldn’t wait until the last week to start planning and putting ideas together. Instead we tried to plant the seeds of creativity from the beginning. When the students got to school on Monday morning for the first week of Exhibition they found their classroom bare. All of the student work, the posters, and the decoration had been stripped from the walls. The students were told that they were to think of their classroom as a blank canvas on which they would be designing their Exhibition inquiry and eventually their Exhibition presentation experience. We wanted the challenge and opportunity for something exciting to happen in the students’ minds from the very start.

As the inquiries took their shape, and the students began their research process, each group carved out a section of the classroom to work in. This section was also to be the space where they would eventually build their presentation experiences. Here at ZIS we are lucky to have a large Year 6 classroom and a small number of students, which made it possible for all three of our groups to remake their classroom into their final presentation space. I feel that this helped the students to consider their presentation possibilities from early on in the Exhibition process. The results were even better than I’d hoped, as the concept of the presentation experience grew and formed at the same time as the rest of the inquiry.

Week by week we removed more and more things from the classroom to give our students the room to create. Desks, shelves, and computers were all relocated to the hallway, as our students reshaped their classroom. The students worked closely with their Mentors and Specialist Mentors to help them conceive and create their ambitious presentation spaces. It was frantic, as the last weeks of Exhibitions always tend to be, but frantic in a good way. Instead of worrying about how to fill up our poster boards, we were solving creative challenges such as how we could turn a corner of a room into a dinosaur cave, or change the other side into a movie theater. It was a wild and creative frenzy!

In the end the students blew me away with the presentations they created! There were three groups and here is how they engaged with the audience:

  1. Transportation/Tech Group: This group inquired into the causes and effects cars, boats and devices have on the environment. They created a pollution cruise, where they took passengers on an imaginary ride to the great pacific plastic garbage patch. Passengers, who were required to wear lifejackets, were shown dumps filled with toxic e-waste, shown dirty water and engaged in a discussion about car pollution after a huge car crash on land. Yes, the students had most of their information on boards, but used this as a follow-up after the cruise if passengers wanted more information.
  2. Movie Piracy: This group inquired into the movie piracy process, people’s responsibility in that process, and how China censors movies. They appropriately decided to make a movie to share their knowledge. Using PowToons (, they created a video to explain how the piracy process works and how people who watch downloaded movies are part of the problem. They then videoed and interviewed teachers and students asking them questions about their downloading habits. After showing the short film they made, they asked them if it changed their opinions. They took all this footage and edited it together into a powerful movie that they showed during Exhibition. In addition, they asked audience members to become part of the process by having them vote if the movie changes their mind. Of course, they created a mini theatre with black out curtains and had a popcorn machine for the full effect!
  3. Extinction: This group inquired into the causes and effects of extinction. They focused on the extinction of dinosaurs, the extinction of languages and the possible extinction of sharks and humans in the future. They came up with the idea of a time machine that takes visitors on an imaginary journey forward and back in time. There was a future ocean without sharks, a cave from a mass extinction in the past and a school 200 years in the future where only 5 languages still exist. The props and details were exquisite! A magnetic shark puzzle where the various parts of the shark could be taken off to show how it is used, such as in Chinese medicine, Shark’s fin soup, wallets, etc. A “possible” timeline of how languages went extinct based on real scientific predictions. A cave made of tarps and craft paper where all the information was inside and shared in the intimate setting, under small torches.

People who visited Exhibition were fully immersed in the experience! There were no yawning or bored students. The unique environment created an atmosphere where students enjoyed teaching and enjoyed learning! While I know that all the students did a significant amount of research and learned a lot during Exhibition, I’ll bet that they will forget that knowledge over time. What they won’t forget was their experience. I hope that when they go to Secondary, they will use their new skill to present different information in unique and creative ways.

Of course they did not do it alone, as many teachers in the school helped them along the way. I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically thank all those who took extra time to help the students on their journey. The Assistant PYP Coordinator (Jordan Rose), the Primary Art teacher (Ron Gresham), EAL/Tech teacher (Danny Glasner) and the Teacher Librarian (A-J Fairey) all helped immensely! In addition, each group had two mentors to help them: Chizuko Matsui and Hanny Luo, helping the Movie Piracy group, Sam Smith and Kimberley Shi, helping the Extinction group, and Lydia Giannakopoulou and Christine Chen, helping the Transport/Tech group.

Click here to view pictures directly on Flickr.

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Thailand 2016

We spent our winter holiday in the beautiful country of Thailand. Some of our time was spent in Bangkok and some on Ko Pha Ngan, where we visited our friend, Lea, in Haad Rin. This area is known for its different moon parties, but we just went to chill. The beaches are incredible, the shopping is great and the food is delicious – an incredible combination! We not only ate different cuisines (which is hard to find in China) but we also took a cooking class to learn some Thai basics. It was a really fun and relaxing trip! Here are some picts:

Click here to view pictures directly on Flickr.

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4th of July in China

Since there were some teachers and parents who stuck around Zhuhai for the beginning of the summer, Sam thought it would be a good opportunity to celebrate the 4th of July together! We asked the head of school if we could use the campus, since it was not being used, and he approved! We played games, ate delicious food from the bbq, and just had a fun time! We wanted to play disc Frisbee, have a water balloon fight, and get wet on slip and slides, but sadly we didn’t have the time… maybe next year!

Click here to view pictures directly on Flickr.

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