Monday, November 6, 2017

Join #nesachat tomorrow with our ISG students!

Please join student moderators from ISG and AISR for this week's #nesachat!! Tuesday Nov 7, 10:00 AM AST  on 'Compassionate Action: from Empathy to Action'. Questions here: #nesachat Compassionate Action
Moderators: @tarawaudby @msmileywhite and Special Student Guests from the Compassion Summit:  JOIN US!!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Parents, Students, Staff - You are Invited!

Please join us for a Vision & Values into Practice community event on Saturday, October 28 from 10-2 in the Dhahran Campus Auditorium.  Through storytelling, we will be creating our vision together as a community of students, parents and staff.  We welcome our entire ISG community from any of our campuses to this fun and engaging experience.  

Please see the below flyer for more information and RSVP here by October 19.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Collaboration Success Story - DEMS Grade 2

DEMS Grade 2 Team - Wes Sanders, Tiffany Flanders, and Ghinwa El Masri

Last year, if you were to walk in to one of DEMS 2nd grade classrooms during a summative assessment, you would see students independently using their knowledge and skills on an authentic performance tasks. Students are modeling, problem solving, and communicating their reasoning of rich tasks in multiple ways using their knowledge of the mathematical concepts. Students might be scattered around the room or at their tables with their heads down carefully reading and crafting answers to each question.  Some students would get up to read the rubric making sure they were meeting the criteria set forth by the teachers.

While this may not be unique in many classrooms, the real collaboration success story comes with what happens before and after the students are assessed.  These rich task have been collaboratively created by the grade 2 teaching team.  Using various resources, these teachers will create an assessment that provides students the opportunities to use the mathematical practices in an authentic performance task.  Knowing their targets and standards carefully allow them to modify their instruction to meet the needs of their students. As Tiffany Flanders clearly stated if she wants her students to model, reason, and problem solve, then she has “to change my instruction to allow them to practice those.”  

Classrooms have been set up in stations that allow for students to conceptually understand the mathematical concepts using manipulatives and models prior to being introduced to the standard algorithms.  It is not uncommon to see more than 6 different ways students have solved the same problem. The criteria of the rubrics are clear and have become standard procedure for the students use in the class during practice and during assessments.  

After assessments, teachers can sometimes be seen gathering around a stacks of student work.  This collective ownership of student learning is one of the cornerstones of collaboration success.  Instead of 3 teachers teaching 20 students each, it becomes more like 3 teachers teaching 60 students. By going through student work together, teachers can better adapt their future assessments and instructional practices for the next unit.  

Dozens of articles are written to discuss the importance of collaboration and how schools can embed collaboration in their school culture. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (2011) suggests that a school’s professional learning culture is collaborative when: 
  • teachers engage in frequent, ongoing formal and informal conversations about pedagogy and teaching practice (Australian Professional Standards for Teachers) 
  • teachers work together to research, plan and design effective teaching strategies and programs 
  • teachers engage in professional dialogue to evaluate and modify teaching strategies and programs 
  • teachers engage in regular classroom observation and feedback and can articulate how changes in their practice impact on student outcomes 
  • there is collective ownership of learning goals and outcomes, for both the individual and whole-school 
  • teachers undertake leadership roles that include initiating and leading professional discussions with colleagues to evaluate practice (Australian Professional Standards for Teachers) 
  • collaboration is prioritized and sufficient time is given to investing in the practice
While the grade 2 team at DEMS continues to strive to meet all of the criteria to the best of their ability, a huge congratulations should be given to them with what they have been able to do in their mathematics classes last school year. With a new team member coming on board, the collaboration practices already established will help this team be successful for the upcoming year.  

Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. (2011, February). Retrieved June 14, 2017, from

Monday, June 12, 2017

Keeping it Real...

The final week is upon us, and quite often the last few days can drag by slowly, if we ‘down tools’ too soon. 

So... how to continue to getting the students to produce meaningful work? 
How to keep them engaged? 
The answer is simple…steal a great idea from Tara Waudby! 

Some of you may have seen Tara’s blog post last week, where she opened herself up, to the world, as a parent - in a bid to have her children take ownership for their learning and become more independent over the summer break. 

I shared Tara's post with the parents in my class and they loved it! 

Some told me they would love to try it, but would have no clue about how to create an infographic; others suggested, that if it came from home, their child might not take it as seriously. So I invited them into school. Today. Three days before we finish. 

We had a fantastic morning. The children had all gone home last night and discussed their ideas, as part of a talk homework task, so by this morning, we had plenty of ideas being shared and the room was buzzing. 

It was just wonderful to see the children working with their parents, in school, on something that was REAL. 

Everyone in the room was so engaged and one parent joked that they ‘were more into it than the kids!’ The quality of work, the collaboration and fun we all had was certainly not typical of the final days of school. And if even just one child from my class uses their creation, owns their learning and becomes more independent, then it will have been worth it! 


So, if you are looking for a fun project for your students over the next two days or possibly as a starter for the next school year, then this could be it!

Tara Waudby - thank you! You have been an inspiration and I will miss picking your brains…

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Building Our Curriculum House: Determining Program Values

At a MENA Teachers Conference in Dubai in November 2016, there was a school improvement session by Bryan Goodwin where he stated that you needed to "get your curriculum house in order" before many changes could take place at a school.   Our school is trying to implement new standards and framework changes in every single discipline, so this statement is particularly relevant.  The task is quite overwhelming, and it is though we are building our "curriculum house" from the ground up.


In order to get our curriculum house in order, it was necessary to almost begin from scratch 
because of the new standards and frameworks.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) is a new science framework in the United States.  It is specifically a curriculum framework and provides schools and teachers with performance expectations and not set curriculum.  Schools must build their units, knowledge, skills, assessments, and resources over the years before a set curriculum can be refined.  This task seems daunting; but luckily, there are some resources that help with this process.  One such resource is a book entitled quite appropriately Introducing Teachers and Administrators to the NGSS: A Professional Development Facilitator's Guide.  It is a handy guide of activities that a facilitator or administrator can do to help train their staff of many aspects of the NGSS.  One initial activity involved developing the values of the science program.  

The facilitator would guide the team into completing two different tasks: writing a newspaper headline and creating an elevator speech highlighting the school's science program.  For the newspaper headline, the staff was to imagine a news reporter visiting the school for a story five years after adoption of the new NGSS framework.  Using Padlet, teachers wrote their newspaper headlines.  The purpose of this was for teachers to begin to think five years into the future and the possible successes of the program.  We found the creativity of the teachers truly encouraging, and the headlines initiated the discussion of what they most valued in a science program. One clever headline read:

The Number of Engineers from DHS has skyrocketed over the past 5 years

The first round of values began as teachers silently brainstormed on the white board key values that were inspired by the newspaper headlines.  Next, they were asked to imagine going up in an elevator with Bill Gates who in turn was hoping to send his grandson to a school with a top performing science program.  The teachers' job was to use the Padlet again to write up how they would respond to Bill Gates.  Since the elevator would soon stop, they could only highlight the successes of the program within a few sentences.  One of the elevators speeches read:

Our students are highly engaged, investigative, self-sustaining problem solvers. Last semester, they engineered an artificial leaf in order to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an effort to explore solutions to the climate crisis. We are presenting our prototype today at the National Presidential Science Fair, which is why we are in this hotel. Would you like to join the presentation today at 2?

What was most intriguing was that it was difficult to tell the difference between the speeches of the elementary from those of the middle and high school teachers.  This shows that the program as a whole shares similar values.

The next round of brainstorming values on the whiteboard was inspired by the reading of each elevator speech.  The teachers silently added additional values, drew lines to make connections, or edited as needed.  When all was finished, each teacher was able to place a star next to the 4 values that they deemed most important for a science education program.  For our school, the results were:

Problem Solving

Since this worked so well for our science teachers and we needed to build up our curriculum in every subject, we decided to complete a similar protocol of program values for every subject in the school. A notable exception was mathematics and English language arts, who had went through several rounds of surveys to narrow down the choices of their values.  In addition, since a vision statement had recently been written for Professional Learning and Technology that used a similar process, it was decided to just use the key words from those vision statements to include as values in those areas.

After completing the values for all of the subjects, a free online program called Tagul, currently WordArt, was used to create a customized word cloud for each subject and its values. The new word cloud graphics were then placed in a Google Slides presentation to show the values of our "curriculum house."  

What was left for each subject was to then write up a description of the highlights of their program and subject beliefs.  Various teachers in the school were called upon to write these descriptions.  Once completed, the word cloud graphic and brief description will become an easy way for students, parents, and stakeholders to easily see what each subject valued in their program as well as a glimpse into the curriculum. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Encouraging Students to Think: WGOITP?

I have had the distinct pleasure of working with an outstanding teacher at ISG Jubail. Mrs. Natalie Bahen teaches grade 6 and grade 8 English at ISG Jubail. She is an innovative teacher who is always looking to improve her craft. Every week she has her students participate in an activity entitled, “What's Going On In This Picture?” She first learned about this activity on the New York Times Learning Blog site. She has adopted this activity to encourage students to think outside the box. She starts the activity by showing her students a picture. Students are then instructed to list and explain everything they see. Then students are asked to use what they see to defend what they think is going on in the picture.
Next, students gather in groups to discuss their ideas and predictions. Mrs. Bahen uses multiple strategies to group her students. An example of how Mrs. Bahen uses various grouping techniques includes having students sort themselves by alphabetical order, based on a unique category, such as favorite food or last location they have traveled to. Mrs. Bahen was able to see that students were engaged in the activity, but they lacked the high-level discussions needed to make it an authentic learning experience. She developed a list of sentence starters which helped the students engage in more productive and emotionally charged discussions. After using the sentence starters, Mrs. Bahen saw that students were able to access higher levels of academic language in both their speaking and writing. As a follow up to the lesson, the "big reveal" takes place and students get to find out what was actually happening in the picture. “What's Going On In This Picture?” pushes students to be risk takers. It allows students to use analytical and evaluative skills to draw conclusions and form an opinion. Students are given the opportunity to make their thinking visible. “What's Going On In This Picture?” teaches Mrs. Bahen’s students that the process of thinking is more important than always getting the answer correct.

Thank you, Mrs. Bahen for challenging our kids to think for themselves!

New York Times Learning Network Blog (2017, May 22). What’s Going On In This Picture? Retrieved from