This is the third of three blog posts in my attempt to summarize and piece together some of the major takeaways from my professional development trip to Melbourne, Australia and Singapore. This trip was conceived and designed with the help of my personal learning network (PLN) from the #PhysEd and #PEgeeks community on Twitter. During this trip, I spent a school day with each teacher as they conducted physical education classes as well as any other additional duties throughout the course of the day.
At its core, this trip allowed me to experience the type of learning I hope my students strive to obtain. What better way to model experiential learning than to pack my bags, get on a plane, and fly half way around the world to visit people I’ve never met in places I’ve never been: all while thinking, I really hope I planned this right!
Day 8: Monday March 31, 2014
Teacher: Mike Gilmour (Twitter @Gilmour_Mike)
Overseas Family School (Singapore)
The streets of Singapore are lined with enormous shopping centers, multiplexes, and skyscrapers. New construction and renovations are ongoing in nearly every part of the city. Public transportation systems (trains, cabs, and buses and buses) are exceptionally affordable and easy to use. My first full day in Singapore begins with a 10-minute cab ride to Overseas Family School to visit Mike Gilmour. Having arrived a bit early, I take advantage of my free time to walk around the surrounding neighborhood as well as observe the morning traffic.
What I Saw:
The school buses arriving at OFS would be what Americans would call charter buses. Buses and cars entered the manned security gates while traffic was directed by a large number of yellow vested individuals to help coordinate the morning drop off.
Overseas Family School is a for-profit K-12 International Baccalaureate Curriculum (Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma programs: enrollment is approximately 3600 students from 73 countries).
Mike Gilmour (Primary Physical Education) and his wife (2nd grade) have been teachers at OFS for 4.5 years. Mike is originally from South Africa and absolutely loves the international school circuit. The facilities and logistics of all of Physical Education were fascinating to see in action. With only outdoor facilities, I was able to witness 6+ P.E. classes (of various grades and areas of campus) going on at the same time. I was astounded at the level of focus and maturity of the students, who were able to follow instructions and remain engaged in a myriad of activities while numerous potential distractions were so close (noise from other classes, construction equipment, etc.).
Mike’s personality and teaching style makes for a very exciting learning environment. During his grade 4 adventure education lessons, his instructions were clear and concise:
students transitioned quickly through 4-5 team challenges with very little down time. With the consistently hot and humid weather (95 F, 35 C), the students took frequent water breaks throughout the course of the hour-long P.E. class.
In addition to seeing many adventure challenge activities, I was also able to see how the P.E. teachers implemented their first Sport Education (SEPEP) unit through the Swiss sport of tchoukball. Teams were lead by student-player/coaches through a round robin regular season. The teams that won their respective class seasons competed in the “Exhibition” games during lunch/recess (where hundreds of students could watch as they ate lunch in and near the canteen).
What I Learned:
I had never had much exposure to International Schools and had many questions about how the various schools were funded, teacher contracts, student contracts, etc. Mike and his teaching colleagues were extremely helpful in explaining how the various types of international school systems operate (for profit, nonprofit, etc.). As far as what I’ve gained as a teacher, I could not have been more impressed with Mike Gilmour (as well as his teaching colleagues). The best way to truly get an appreciation for how tal
ented and passionate certain people are is to see them in their element. I was absolutely blown away by the efficiency with which Mike was able to deliver immensely dynamic lessons in a variety of settings. I have a new appreciation for what students can handle when the teachers plan units and lessons to maximize content and activity within all available spaces.
Day 9: Tuesday April 1, 2014
Teachers: Josh Symes (Twitter @JSymes77) & Anne Wenstrom (Twitter @AWenstrom)
Singapore American School (Singapore)
A 30-minute cab ride out to Woodlands (suburban setting) to Singapore American School to spend the day with Josh Symes (Australia) and Anne Wentrome (Minnesota, U.S.A.). The
transition from city to suburb was definitely a shift in the amount of space available. The campus of Singapore American School is progressive, beautiful, and vast. A student- centered design is extremely apparent with the amount of integrated outdoor social courtyards,
open-air walkways, and areas available for play. This nonprofit international school is built to support up to 3900 students with a college campus type feel with primary, intermediate, middle, and high schools.
What I Saw:
I spent the first part of the morning with middle school Physical Education teacher, Josh Symes (friend of Andy Hair who I had visited in Geelong, Australia the week prior). Josh’s inquiry-based teaching approach is the perfect fit for the P.E. department philosophy of exposure to sport. As part of the core curriculum, P.E. classes meet for either 70 or 90 minutes every other day! Throughout the course of the school year, 18 different sport units are covered within 3-day allotments. I witnessed a “day 2” volleyball lesson where students were recording and viewing video of setting and forearm passing through the use of iPads (Bam Video Delay and Coach’s Eye apps). Small groups worked productively to perform practice tasks and reflect upon improvements that they could make based on what they just observed. Josh was able to visit the groups and provide additional feedback to the students.
As a teacher, Josh is extremely reflective and well read. His laid back demeanor (teacher/learner equality) could be misinterpreted by a “traditional” (direct instruction style) teacher as aloof. Through an afternoon and evening of conversation, it was apparent that his teaching approach is exceptionally calculated. Allowing students to experiment and discover the best way to approach sport skills and strategies provides a
richer, more meaningful transfer of knowledge. Josh explained how his entire middle school P.E. department (9 teachers) has or is transitioning to more student centered. The basic model is to have the student start each sport with a personal goal, then explore how to reach it. The traditional focus on skill (grip, positioning of feet, hands, etc.) is thrown out the window, students learn by doing.
I spent the late morning through the midafternoon with Apple Distinguished primary (K-2) P.E. teacher, Anne Wenstrome. The primary P.E. area(s) of the school was a technology dream come true. Cart-mounted flat screen TVs (equipped with AppleTVs and Microsoft Kinect consoles) and iPads were plentiful.
The gym for Anne’s classes was set up into floor hockey game and skill stations to maximize student activity. Two stations incorporated gameplay tasks, one station allowed for partner passing, and one station was dedicated to visual feedback. A tripod-mounted iPad on Bam Video Delay allowed students to practice, then view their own grip and shot execution. After a few attempts each student would then reflect on his/her skill development by filling out and submitting a Google Form (which included images of correct hand position/follow through to reference).
What I Learned:
Witnessing Josh’s inquiry-based teaching style and Anne’s organization and creativity was a delight to see in person. Seeing how both teachers were able to
purposefully integrate technology for student-directed feedback produced a stream of ideas for ways in which I could replicate these routines into my own classes.
Day 10: Wednesday April 2, 2014
Teacher: Nathan Horne (Twitter @PENathan)
ISS International School (Singapore)
My final school visit began with a 10-minute cab ride to ISS International School to visit Nathan Horne (Tasmania, Australia). Meeting Nathan Horne was one of the primary objectives of my trip to Singapore. Having followed his work on Twitter and the #PhysEd Podcast for over a year, I treasured the opportunity to see him teach and have professional conversations about best practices in Physical Education.
ISS is a for-profit International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP) that has students from over 50 nationalities. The aims of PYP schools are to connect the curriculum content to a series of desired attributes and attitudes that characterize successful students (Inquirers, Thinkers, Communicators, Risk-takers, Knowledgeable, Principled, Caring, Open-minded, Well-balanced, Reflective).
What I Saw:
Nathan’s P.E. classes were beginning of a 6-week swimming unit where each class was bussed to the public pool. Normal P.E. classes are scheduled twice per week for 45 minutes, however, during the swimming unit, scheduling is adjusted to allow for one 90
minute session per week (due to the 10-minute bus ride at the beginning and end of class). P.E. teachers and swim coaches work with groups of 5-7 students at a time to progress through various levels of swimming challenges and tasks. Younger students focus on introductory swim concepts (breathing, kicks, arm strokes), while the more experienced students (up to grade 5) worked on advanced techniques in the 50M lap pool. Nathan’s inquiry-based teaching style helps the students discover how to improve their level of comfort in the water. Throughout the course of the swim unit, student motivation to improve upon personal goals of lap-time in the various swim strokes was to culminate in the all-school swim carnival.
The technology integration at ISS is remarkable (Apple Macbooks, iPads, and Google Apps for Education). Nathan shared several examples of student projects, digital portfolios, and even K-2 students video explanations of their work (much more efficient that having the students type). Nathan and I spent a good portion of the afternoon discussing sharing the various types of workflow data collection systems that we use. I was especially impressed with his use of Google forms to track behavior and skill development (“Ages & Stages” motor development by age). We talked at length about successes and challenges we’ve had in Sport Education and Teaching Games for Understanding instructional models.
We continued our conversation throughout the course of the evening as we went out for dinner and were joined by Mike Gilmour. The three of us spoke about how powerful
collaborating with like-minded educators on Twitter can be. It was incredibly refreshing to discuss and welcome different perspectives in order to further enrich our own teaching practice.
What I Learned:
There are certain moments in life that feel profoundly different, and the day I spent with Nathan certainly one of them. Meeting and establishing a friendship with Nathan is the start of what I believe will be something special for years to come. Having the conversations (both personal and professional) throughout the day and evening with Nathan have me feeling truly inspired to do more and share more of all of the good we are doing as educators.
I had an extremely rare opportunity (provided by The Avery Coonley School’s Lucia Burton Morse Grant) to build real professional relationships with some of the most reflective and progressive teachers on the other side of the world. I feel an enormous obligation to take what I’ve learned from this experience, and figure out how I can pay it forward. I am eager to share my newly shaped perspectives to improve my own teaching as well as inspire other teachers to step outside of their comfort zone, think big, and never stop learning.