Sunday, March 20, 2016

An ASB UNPLUGGED Experience

ASB Unplugged is held every two years at the American School of Bombay (ASB) in India. This years theme was titled Sustained Innovation for Relevant Learning. This conference attracts educators from all over the world. The head of school made a few announcements in his opening remarks around this years conference demographics. The United Nations International School in New York travelled the furthest, while our very own ISG had the largest group of participants from any one school. The main parts of the conference were split over three days. Thursday would be a day for classroom visits and student showcases. Friday and Saturday would be days for hands-on learning institutes and workshops. Thursday was the one day planned where school was completely in session. We were given the opportunity to see the wonderful practices in place by ASB around the use of technology in the school.

The school is physically located in two different buildings with the Elementary campus housing Preschool to Grade 5, while the Secondary campus houses Grades 6 to 12. The Elementary building structure was originally a purpose built office space. ASB then renovated it with the idea of keeping the classrooms open and easily accessible. Many of the classrooms were built near windows with the center floor space serving as areas for collaboration. They had small libraries, computer workstations, and even maker-spaces in these center areas. One could see just from the floor design that the area was built with collaboration at the forefront.

I visited both campuses during this working school day, where we were welcomed into classrooms to view instruction and student engagement. I observed students presenting various school projects on the elementary school campus. Kindergarten students were sharing their reading fluency by reading some of their written poems off their iPads. These same kindergarteners also had QR codes posters at their table if you wanted to travel directly to their electronic portfolio. I interacted with a 5th grade student who proceeded to tell me about how she organized her notes for writing a story using an app called Lino. I then walked into a 5th grade classroom where students were working on a collaborative writing piece. There were framing their position on why a zoo is good for animals, rather than bad. Some students showed me on their Macbooks how they researched their theory on why, and how they collected photos as evidence and placed it into Lino as well. One boy mentioned to me how it allowed them to work on different parts of the writing and once they put their information in the app, the other would review it shortly thereafter. Students continued to present different projects to visitors who were in and out of the five story building all day. 

Additionally impressive was the collaborative space between Music and Art on the Kindergarten/1st Grade floor. The lightning in this space was wonderful with a noticeable difference from other spaces in the building. I was able to speak to both teachers in the room about this combination of the Music and Art rooms together. They told me it was their first year trying this type of collaboration of subjects. The idea they want to transmit to students is Music and Art are all part of the Creative Arts. They did not want them to be viewed them as siloed subjects. The teachers themselves collaborated on their work and how they present together their Creative Arts curriculum. Even though this collaboration between Music and Art seemed natural, they both cautioned that it is only experimental and still a work in progress.
I then explored the Secondary campus as the layout of that school was different, but still made good use of collaborative spaces and flexible learning environments. As with the other school, all rooms had a TV screen within a cabinet on wheels. I saw many teachers using their screens to display their work or student work. I watched one high school English class conduct conversations around tweets/hashtagging and if that was an acceptable means of communicating a position. Students and teachers talked about character limitations, but yet it still remained a popular form of communication in modern society. As I ventured into the Art room students were engaged in a project from their presentation notebooks. They had display pieces, but also had written work describing their inspiration for the piece. Some students were also on their laptops researching an artist, helping guide their reflection on a position taken.

On Friday, the student were off because it was a professional development day for the ASB community. This allow their teachers to participate in the many hands-on learning institutes and workshops. These institutes and workshops would be on Friday and Saturday. A Hands-on Maker Experience, Mobile Language Learning for Early Learners, and Cognitive Coaching Workshops were just some of the titles we had to choose from at this conference. I choose Making: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Gary Stager as one of my Hands-On Learning Institutes. Gary did not disappoint. He talked about the Maker movement and gave a little background history. Even though he currently gives these hands-on training throughout the school year at different conferences, he also works at an independent school in Los Angeles, California when he is at home. He works with teachers on helping them think differently about their approach to technology in education. "Start with experience" is a line from his workshop. This is referring to how it is better to give them the experience first and then dive into the work. He shared a story about a recent time he worked with a group of kindergarten teachers. They were working on a unit about bees. In their unit towards the end, it called for the students to actually make a bee. The teachers were thinking of activities that would lead them up to that point with students. He suggested they flip the project and start with the students making a bee first. They would construct the bee based on their current knowledge. As time progressed and they learned more, then that knowledge would change and so would their understanding. This reminds me of a similar point made at an earlier conference I attended. The speaker talked about Austin's drawing of a butterfly and the wisdom in feedback. Sometimes it is better not to frontload the students with all the information, but allow them to build upon what they know. Overtime through the learning journey their perspectives and understandings will change. This will form the foundation for enduring learning. Gary talked about how “maker provides a context for understanding stuff.” He also talked about the importance of setting a good prompt for students. We conducted an exercise where we had to come up with a prompt and then a challenge for that prompt. My example prompt for students was “make a robot that will play the drums.” In this prompt, students would have to build a robot and then program it to play a drum machine. This type of inquiry prompt can embed many standards, hitting different targets too. The challenge could be added after the initial task was complete. You could then say to have the robot read sheet music and play it, or to hear a chorus played and it would have to repeat that.

This was a excellent conference to attend even though it seemed short. There were many topics I wanted to see, but just ran short on time. To me ASB represents a school that ISG is evolving into. There are somethings we are doing here already, but we continue to work at the district initiatives, which we know ultimately benefits our students and our families. I look forward to learning more and digesting all there is to offer at the 2018 ASB Unplugged conference.

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