…be aware and don’t overlook the obvious because there is a message you send out

This week the LI team had the pleasure of speaking to Alice Cheung, a grade 2 teacher at Parkside.

She recently revamped the workspaces in her room to give her students more agency and enhance their learning.

Alice had been thinking about this change for a while, but finally took the plunge (being a risk taker) and decided to make the change.

Let’s get into her responses.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

I wanted my students to be aware of what type of learner they are choosing to be.

This starts with them understanding their needs as a learner and making a decision which bests supports that.

For example, if you learn better in a quiet space, then maybe a communal space is not the best place to complete your work.

Now in order for this to happen, I needed to open up my classroom and allow for different seating arrangements and spaces.

Although the change was meant to enhance the students’ learning, it also gave me a deeper insight into how each student learns best and allowed me to address any needs they might have.

I would never have known this if my classroom set-up stayed the same with just tables.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

There were three main skills I wanted them to gain through this process.

Frist, cooperation. Students would have to choose a learning space and if it was taken, they would have to use their cooperation skills to work it out.

Second, communication. This incorporates both audio and non-audio forms.

For example, if they were sitting in a group, they need to be aware of their body positions and identify which position would allow them to listen and talk to their peers.

Additionally, different forms of communication for different scenarios. Sitting at a desk by yourself or sitting in a group will require different forms of communication.

Lastly, self-management. This is crucial when students have to make a decision when sharing spaces. From materials to where to work, each student has to be aware and manage how to work in the new spaces.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

My old room was very teacher-centric.

It sent a message where the teacher would write on the board. Material would be taught with a projector, and document camera.

Additionally, the front of the room is where the teacher put things for students to read and find.

The crazy thing is I never said any of this, but this is the message I was sending.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

Well, I always admired teachers who let kids choose their own seats or workplaces, typically in older years.

So I thought how could I incorporate this same idea into grade 2.

I actually tried this gradually in previous years where groups could choose, but it never worked out.

Then I attended a workshop at EARCOS named Positive Learning Environments and it was the tipping point for me.

Instead of staying in my comfort zone I pushed through and decided to go all in and say YES!

The workshop provided pictures and the inspiration necessary for me to have the courage to implement these changes in my class.

It was the like the first domino in a line which finally fell, thus causing the others to fall as well.

Now that I think about it, this is similar to how I decided to change my approach to teaching math.

I had heard a lot on blogs and social media, but I did not make “The Decision” to change until a consultant (math) came in and showed the staff how we could do it!

The key I am seeing is both the workshop and consultant helped me overcome my uncertainties and take a chance.

Both started out mainly as curiosity, but the process in each made me reflect and analyze WHY I was teaching the way I was.

The presenter (EARCOS) started out with a simple question, which actually helps me decided to take the chance.

What message does your classroom send?

For me I realized my room was telling my students the teacher has a spot, students have a spot, and we all learn in one space (front of the room).

This made me think how I could step out of the “Ms. Cheung” role and see it from the students perspective.

(The dominoes start to fall…)

This lead me to think about the equity between the teacher and student, which led me to the conclusion

I don’t think there should be a front of the room

(Next one…)

Then, I started to think how we could leverage every space in the room, not just the front of the room.

I was so excited and sent a message to some colleagues on a Saturday and asked them if we could meet once we got back from the conference. I was so excited to start!

It took a couple of conversation, but I decided to start small.

First, I decided to open up the middle of my room (dominated by two large tables) and make it more a communal and interactive space.

This made me re-think the use of traditional furniture and how they are used. For example, I took the legs off the periodic tables and placed them on the ground so four students could easily fit around the table (this also saved a lot of room).

What was the result?

Well, there were two benefits right away.

One, everything became communal, thus allowing learning to happen in all areas of the room.

Two, children were given agency and able to choose the learning space which best suited their learning.

(The dominoes keep falling…)

Next, I invited students to come up to the front of the room (previously all filled with my work) and engage with a “Wonderwall.”

The key was I made it at their level, which made it easy to ask questions and show their thinking visible.

Overall the whole experience of changing my room has been great and the biggest impact has been on the students!

They love the new space and it has opened up a lot of different learning possibilities.


(BONUS Advice)

Like I said, I did not intend to send out a message to my students that everything was centered around the teacher.

Thus, be aware and don’t overlook the obvious because there is a message you send out, even without you intending to be.


Fiona Zinn – EARCOS Workshop Leader

Article: Putting Structure within the Space

John Burns -Satisfying a Need in your classroom

Ms. Cheung

We were able to learn far more about our students and create stronger bonds…

This week we had the pleasure of speaking to the Grade 4 team about the School Without Walls project (SWW).

What is SWW?

SWW = traversing the Shenzhen metro, visiting the wet market, buying lunch on a budget, a spaghetti design challenge, movies, late night dodge…all infused with the ESLRs.

Or in more simple terms, it is when kids get to have fun without their parents…and learn how to build trust, teamwork, collaboration, and build community through a non-traditional classroom experience.

Lastly, it is a prep to help students prepare for the Grade 5 overnight trip.

Without further ado, here are their answers.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

We wanted them to understand two main things.

First, you are able to work with other people in new ways. It is possible and we actually created activities where they did not work with their friends.

This allowed students to get to know each other in different ways – field trip to wet market, design challenges, athletic games – in activities where you don’t  have the time or opportunity to hit in the academic classroom.

Second, to push past their comfort zone. Again, we put students in positions to make new connections. For some of them, it was their first overnight experience.

A bonus we did not see, was that all of us (Ts) were able to learn far more about our students and create stronger bonds with them.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?


Collaboration – Learn to collaborate with new people to solve various challenges, whether academic, athletic, or social.

Communication – Communicate effectively to learn more about others and facilitate the problem-solving process.

Critical thinking – Analyze and synthesize information to make a plan and carry it out. For example, how to eat on a budget or how to get from point A to point B using the metro (first time for many of them).

Confidence – Ability to be put into new situations and use their knowledge to adapt and figure it out. Like we said, some of them had never been on an overnight experience.

Independent Learner – Learn to do things on their own. Pack their own bag, roll out own sleeping bag, track belongings.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

Usually, we relied heavily on a company to do most of the work. We were very Hands off.


It would be mainly focused on having fun. For example, we would have a “Lock-in, Movie night.”

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

The best things are homegrown, so that is what we did, we catered to our students’ needs and created an experience we knew they would one, enjoy, but two, gain the opportunity to learn and grow.

We wanted the focus to be more on team building and the academics (while still be fun!).

In terms of planning, we did it incrementally. We already planned on a weekly basis, so we built in time a few weeks out to chunk it out.

Luckily, we work well as a team and are able to adjust on the fly – trust each other. This actually made the activities more meaningful, as we could pivot on the fly.

Now, let us tell you it was not all rainbows and roses. There were challenges (a lot).

Someone, once said you don’t know what you do not know until you do it.

That was spot on for us, as we got a little stressed as we did not know who does what.

Do we ask parents to purchase things, what about catering…and so much more.

The biggest thing was the logistics and the scope of responsibilities widened as we got closer to the event.

Yet, it all was completed and the success was abundantly evident.

Every student left with a smile on their face, and this was after minimal sleep the night before.

In addition, we were able to see some of the students blossom due to be given an opportunity to show their strengths in a new setting.

Lastly, all the students were “indoctrinated on how overnight school trips are AWESOME.”

This will help then next year and build anticipation for their overnight Grade 5 trip!

(Everyone sighs…)

BUT…We are already thinking of improvements for next year.

First, building in concentrated time to plan. Again, the logistics of SWW took a lot more than we expected.

Second, taking student suggestions into account, giving them agency to help plan.

Third, how we can utilize Shenzhen better. Although we went to the wet market and other locations, we would like to leverage our local community.


Nom, nom catering – kids liked it

Grade 4 Team – contact them if you are planning an overnight experience.

I wanted to plant this seed with them at this early stage

This week we had the pleasure of talking to Patrick Magnus, an ELL instructor for the French Bilingual Program.

He created an amazing authentic learning project which combined literacy, mathematics, gamification, and entrepreneurism and solved a huge need for tired teachers in the morning.

Without further ado here are his responses.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

The main idea I wanted the students to understand was that money is a finite resource and it must be managed properly.

The process of learning how to accept, track, and buy supplies is powerful for them to have when they become young adults and I wanted to at least plant this seed with them at this early stage.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

There were two main goals.

For literacy, it was the acquisition and authentic use of vocabulary involved in the basic business and finance.

Additionally, I wanted them to be able to use dialogue in text and use proper punctuation within it.

For mathematics, I wanted them to be able to read, analyze, and use graphs to measure growth and then communicate their findings.

A basic skill, but very powerful for their future.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

To be honest, this is the first time I have taught it (overachiever) …

Yet there are already things I would like to change for the future. For example, we waited until the scripts for the commercials were perfect, but this took a lot of time.

However, when we shot the commercials, the scripts didn’t match the message we wanted.

Thus, we had to start over.

Huge learning!

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

I actually started with the WIDA teacher resource.

It gave me the following:


Like I mentioned above, I wanted the students to gain a mastery over financial terms, so that is where I started.

This got me thinking about how I could actually bring this to life.

So I created a provocation in the form of a narrative (connection to the previous lesson) about the script of the “Two Cats’ Business” which mixed the vocab from the current unit in a story which described getting a loan from a “shadowy figure” as their business was not making money.

The goal was for the students to think of how they could help the Two Cats’ so they could make a profit and pay off the loan.

Of course, the end prize was the “The Glasses of Coolville” (who made anyone who wore them 100% cool).

I found they actually had a lot of difficulty with it in the beginning, so I reached out to the Grade 4 team to see how I might “gamify” the vocab.

This led me to Classcraft, where I made challenges based on vocab exercises.

The students really liked the “Boss battle” which assessed their knowledge of vocab, but they had the opportunity to collaborate and learn other ways to study the vocab. This helped them gain confidence.

Next, I did some gentle nudging and asked how they could use this vocab in the real world (Patrick raises his hand with a fake mug to his mouth)

Thus “The Activator” and “The Cool Coffee FBP” delivery businesses were born.

The students took on all the roles of both creating and running a coffee delivery business where they did everything – logo creation, writing commercial scripts, recording commercials, marketing, management, and customer fulfillment.

Business is booming, and the students are in the black (profit).

Patrick said he would have liked them already breaking down the charts and graphs, but this will come at the end of the delivery phase, as there are so many other things to be done to “run the business” right now.

Lacking some energy in the morning?

Reach out to the Grade 4-5 FBP classes if you need a “cup of joe” to add a pep in your step!



WIDA – Reading charts

Common Core Standards

We did not want it just to be about fundraising, we wanted the unit to “stick.”

What do you get when you combine student agency, math, literacy, social studies, art, design cycle, social-emotional curriculum, cross-divisional collaboration, and parent engagement?

The Quilt Makers Gift Project! An amazing interdisciplinary learning experience for grade 1 students.

This week I had the pleasure of learning more about this amazing, impactful, and intentional project from Ria, Lisa, Linda, Shannon, and Ritu.

The project has been ongoing for the past two years, but it all started from a lesson in Geometry connecting how to make quilts using shapes. However, it has transformed into a unit which encompasses all the elements listed above and continues to grow.

Without further ado here are their responses.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

Academically, we wanted them to see a real-life application of Geometry in the real world.

Additionally, for them to understand how they can use what they know in order to take action to feel empowered to impact the world they live in.

Lastly, we wanted them to understand three central themes from a socio-emotional curriculum which are empathy, connection, and gratitude.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain? 

We wanted students to improve their communication skills, more specifically how to find their voice and how to express their opinions to others.

Furthermore, the ability to use the design cycle to make a plan, iterate and carry it out.

Finally, the idea to be being open-minded through the process and to foster a “can do attitude” where they believed they can make big changes.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

In its simplest form, we taught students how to compose and decompose 2D figures, and we just started with just paper.

They would still make the quilts, but each kid contributed a square and this where it would end.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?


This spurred the question,

“How can we extend this unit?”

First, we extended the unit by connecting to a story about a woman who makes quilts for other people who really wants them. She makes one for a King, who earns a piece of the quilt each time he gives away a possession of his. By the end of the story he has no worldly possessions but is fulfilled and happy as he has a full quilt.

It was great, but then this lead to us asking more questions like,

“Who can we reach out to who might be able to make a quilt?”

Enter Ah Huang. She was a cleaner at the time we first started but also a seamstress who actually helped make the quilt.

More discussions and brainstorming sessions lead to connecting with Rosana Walsh in the Middle School. She facilitates the “Hats on Heads” project, where she went to Amman to give hats to refugee children, but also took the quilts the grade 1 students created. Rosana shared the story in Jordan, took pics with refugees, and came back and presented an age-appropriate keynote to the students on the impact of quilts they made.

It did not stop there, as an ex-SIS student who moved to HKIS, carried on the project and worked with his parents to take him to Amman to give another round of hats and quilts to the refugees.

He also took pictures and brought them back to share with grade 1 students. They actually watched the presentation of the trip about the refugees during pajama day with blankets. This was super relevant as the refugee children were in the cold, and the grade 1 students could see their quilts were being used.

This then prompted connections within Social Studies on how are we similar and different. Students learned more about Syria through games, foods, and sharing of cultures.

We wanted to highlight it was not just about giving but receiving as well. A main focus was on service, but we emphasized they could learn from the process as well. Also, tying in what it means to be a “global citizen.”

We did not want it just to be about charity or fundraising, we wanted the unit to “stick.”

This prompted us to make a change the following year where grade 1 students had to find ways to raise money for materials and sewing of the quilts.

Each student had to earn 25 RMB by completing five days of work. The money would pay for all labor and supplies. The crazy thing is many are surpassing the 25 RMB quota and actually earning much more. This showed the students were very invested in this project.

Worked ranged from playing musical instruments, bus games, making food and then selling, or selling clothes.

It has taken a lot of time and planning to make this project, but we wanted it to be intentional and give students agency through the process.

A huge part of this has been the home link, which only reinforces the importance of the project. The parents have been super supportive and are really pleased with how their children are taking part in such a meaningful project and are asking how they can do more.

Like we said, it has been a little different each year, some years a person goes to the refugee camps, while other years we look at how we can impact someone in the local community.

Additionally, we are looking at how we can incorporate art, understanding of materials and colors.

The possibilities are endless!


Any questions about service learning please visit or email anyone on the Grade 1 team.

The Quilt Maker – A book on service learning.

By losing the fear of failure we build a learning community where students can comfortably be themselves  

This week we had the pleasure of connecting with Charles Denson, a third-grade teacher at Parkside campus.

Charles was nominated for the academic and behavioral reflection process that he does with his students.

In the words of his peers Charles is:

“He does great reflection with his students and puts in time after class to make sure his students’ work is read and has feedback. Second, he does great work with his behavior management. He uses forms for the kids to reflect on behavior and he is consistent with keeping them on the right track. He’s a great teacher and should be recognized!”

So let’s jump right in and learn more about Charles.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

From a behavioral or class agreements perspective, I want my kids to know and understand the importance and benefits of being thoughtful.

Our students work hard at embracing the idea that we are either winning or learning and that mistakes help us learn.

By losing the fear of failure we build a learning community where students can comfortably be themselves while learning in an enjoyable environment.

To start the year I teach a series of games that encourage risk-taking and mistake making.  We revisit these games throughout the year as an icebreaker before our weekly class meetings.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

I wanted my students to build their independent learning skills by taking academic risks and self-monitoring their behavior & academic progress.

When class expectations are breached we go through a reflection process that includes four questions:

A) what are our expectations,

B) why do we have those expectations,

C) what will you do differently next time and

D) is there anything you would like me to know.

This process empowers the kids to take responsibility for both their actions and finding ways to keep growing as a member of our team.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

In the past, I struggled with keeping up with student learning data.  I would struggle to remember who turned in what, how well they did, which objectives they are meeting and which objectives they need practice with.

This confusion made it more difficult for me to follow up with my students’ self-selected goals and progress.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

In the past, I did not have a clearly defined system in place.

Through talking with collogues and combining the best ideas from numerous places, I’ve come up with an easy system to chart student progress.

I simply print a chart with my students’ names and a blank space for our learning objectives.  I mark their level of proficiency using three levels of student-friendly language:

wow, getting there, and not yet

This allows me to monitor progress, give quick feedback to students, co-teachers, and parents.

This learning objective chart also makes it easy to make partners or learning groups and to consistently follow up with student progress.

This organization helps keep the kids accountable and celebrate their victories.


Reach out to Charles at cdenson@sis.org.cn for his

Learning objective page and Student Reflection Templates.


The Best Teacher is Experience…

This week we have the pleasure of interviewing Michelle and Betty,  two teacher assis…no, TWO AMAZING CO-TEACHERS of the Nursery program.

I can attest to their amazing work, as my two and a half-year-old son started nursery crying and not able to articulate any thoughts on day one, and is now able to understand the routines and is able to express his emotions, all in a span of six short months.

This is no small feat, as my son is one of 14 other students in the class.

So my hat goes off to the amazing nursery program! You guys are rock star educators!

Now, onto the questions.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

Michelle: I wanted the children to understand they can enjoy the time without their family.

That school is a place where they can feel a sense of safety, thus allowing them to start learning about their uniqueness.

Betty: For me, I wanted them to understand the information about them and using that to form knowledge.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

Michelle: First, Self-confidence. The knowledge they don’t need their family to do a lot of things for them, they can do it by themselves. I have seen this help children make more connections and create more friendships.

Second, is to properly know and show their emotions. This allows them to use their language to express emotions and communicate with friends. This empowers them to take ownership and responsibility to make their own choices (even at this young age).

Third, is to help them understand the world is not all about them.

Betty: There are FIVE main things I wanted them to understand.

First, social skills/behavior. This plays a huge impact on their communication and interaction with others.

Second, Language. Extend their use of language and develop vocabulary to improve communication.

Third, Independent thinking and problem-solving. Cause and effect, starting with why and reasoning; it all helps them become better problem solvers.

Four, physical skill. Learning about gross and fine motor skills to keep themselves and others safe.

Lastly, emotions. How to control oneself and how to handle feelings in order to improve communication and interaction with others.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

Michelle: In the past, I would guide them and demo how to do something the right way, while simultaneously explaining the reason of why it was a good choice.

This required helping with language so they could communicate with friends, but more importantly, caring and connecting with the children; going to their level, listening, and giving hugs (a lot of them).

Betty: I would use interactions to role model behavior. This could take the form of telling them directly, modeling actions, reading books/stories, and through songs.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

Michelle: The best teacher is experience. I learned a lot of it on the job and learning from other teachers.

Today, I try to give the children small choices, as if you only ask them “yes and no” questions, they will always say no.

Additionally, I do not tell them what they are doing is “wrong,” rather I try to engage them by saying

“how about if you…”

To take corrective action.

Lastly, if a student cries I direct them back to routines. This has two main benefits. First, it allows them to express their emotions. Second, they feel a safe knowing that they will see their parents again at the end of the day.

Betty: I believe in the power of collaboration. First, I observe the situation so I can understand it. Then, I discuss it with workmates to look for strategies and ideas. This provides a few different ways to solve the problem.


ECC classrooms. Poking in your head in one will open you up to new ways of teaching and learning.


This week we had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Uy, who is currently working as a nursery teacher in the ECC.

She was nominated by her peers for her work in bringing the “Third Teacher” into the classrooms at Mountainside.

What is the “Third Teacher” you ask?

Well, it actually was coined from a small town in Italy, called Reggio Emilia, where they have a constructivist, school based in play.

There are three teachers in this type of school, where the first teacher is the teacher, the second is the parent and the third…

Any guesses?

Students, admin…no it is actually the environment.

Yes, the environment is the third teacher as it teaches the students new things on a daily basis.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

That the classroom is really just an extension of the home. I wanted both parents and children to feel cozy, comfortable, and safe. A place where their uniqueness will be appreciated.

You can actually see this when you enter my room as the first thing you enter is the family space. It is all about them. A bookcase, sofa, and plants.

Additionally, I placed the cubbies in the back and filled the space in between with a lot of COOL stuff. However, the most important element is the hook…the fish tank. It always faces the door, as it acts like a magnet for them to enter the room. There are lights, different color objects, and of course the fish.

The children are naturally attracted to it!

2. What skills did you want your students to gain?

Two main things.

First, curiosity.

I put a huge emphasis in the first few weeks that it is ok to touch everything. I tell them this is your space, go for it! Build a city, stand on the table…I want them to be comfortable.

Everything is based is sensorial and tactile as well. This is so important for this age group (2.5-5) as they learn so much through their five senses.

For example, this week we put out dried coffee out on a table and have on average about 5-6 kids who play with it every day. They grab it, let it fall through their fingers, and squish it in their hands. However, the most important element is the smell.

This is an element which was not present in the first semester, as there was only sand.

Second, collaboration and communication.

I want kids to collaborate and communicate, negotiate with friends in whatever space they are in the room.

I actually saw this the first time I entered a “Third Teacher “classroom where 3-years old were respecting each other, not screaming and fighting.

I asked, “How did you do this?”

They responded it was taught to them last year when they were 2-years old.

I was hooked and wanted this in my classrooms.

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

I would literally follow a book. A home center, a block center…a scripted way to arrange, my room.

It was very teacher centered and I set everything up without knowing the competencies of the children in advance.

I was already telling the students and parents that “this is my room.”

Back then I really did not have a clear philosophy but knew I wanted the kids to have ownership of learning.

So the search was on…

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

I actually trained at a Reggio Emilia inspired school in Los Angeles.

I was able to soak in so much information which gave me a good start but kept growing and modifying by consuming more resources, but also experimenting in my classroom every year.

Today, I come in every August to set up and literally get down on all fours so I can see what my future students will see.

I’ve become intentional in setting up their learning space – whilst making sure that the curriculum goals are met. It’s a delicate balance. 🙂

I love the Constructivist model of learning and believe it empowers kids. It puts them in the forefront and makes them the center of the learning.

Again, I want them to not see a classroom, but an extension of the home.

Cozy, comfortable, and safe.

This enables Children to be calm so they can one, communicate, but two, collaborate with each other.

This produces amazing results in their learning.

Lastly, the environment itself has changed my perspective as a teacher. I have learned how to listen and respect their thinking – so I can enable them to express their thoughts visible.


Designs for Living and Learning by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter


It started as a project…but now it is a regular set activity which kids love!

This week the LI team had the pleasure of interviewing Meaghan Wilson for her “extraordinary” work in providing PE classes for the Nursery students’ at Mountainside.

Her work with the Nursery involves TWO main components.

First, she creates lessons teachers can run on their own and models for the teachers how they can do this at the beginning of the year. However, Meaghan strictly becomes a facilitator and helps identify physical development and motor skills for teachers as the year moves on.

Second, she builds community by incorporating her 7th and 8th grade Life Skills students, who pick a topic or concept they are learning and then demonstrate their mastery by taking it down to a level where a 3-4-year-old understands.

Oh yeah, Meaghan does all of this on her prep, when she is not teaching her own classes.

The results have been noticeable. Pawel, says there is a definite difference since Meagahn has started providing these services. The students are ready to go and ready to learn when they enter Kindergarten, whereas in the past they were not.

For example, Ritu’s son went home and told his parents what the 7th and 8th-grade students taught them about the harmful effect of eating Nutella. This prompted them to make some changes in their diet.

This just highlights how well the 7th and 8th-grade students taught the lesson!

But, on to her responses.

1. What did you want your students to know or understand?

The focus was for ECC students to be more aware of their mental, emotional, and physical states.

The ECC teachers are amazing at helping them create habits already, and I just wanted to come in to help them learn more about how to take care of their bodies.

We work as a team to develop the whole child from a young age.

For my 7th and 8th grade students, it is about cultivating empathy, as they get to see how difficult it is to be a teacher and learn more about themselves in the process.

2. What skills did you want your students to gain? 

For the ECC students, I wanted them to improve their listening and collaborative skills. Additionally, how to better behave and respect their older buddies.

For the MS students, I wanted them to learn how to improve their confidence. Especially the ELL students who are scared to talk in front of their peers, but talk so much in front of ECC kids.

Lastly, I wanted both groups of students to understand how to change their habits bit by bit. Often times students are told you are too young and have time in the future to form quality habits, but I want them to realize they can create these habits now!

3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?

In the past, I would just give a lecture to my MS students and then show them a video. Then, I would have them write a paper for one unit, and then create a presentation for another.


Pretty amazing to see where we are now.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

A lot of it came from research for my doctorate.

I immersed myself in material dealing with Project Based Learning (PBL) and reached out to others who were using the model to improve student learning.

Additionally, I started experimenting with my own lessons and built in a feedback loop so I could gather information from the students’ on how to improve the lessons.

You know, what worked, what didn’t.

This helped ensure the learning for both me and my students and helped us make the necessary changes to get the program where it is today.

I am so glad I was able to start incorporating the PBL model in my life skills class.

It started as a project, but now it is a regular set activity every 8 days, where kids from both ECC and MS love it!

It reminded me of the importance of providing learning experience to help our students become a better version of themselves, whatever age level they are at!


Ria and Ritu have vast knowledge about PBLs. They presented at EARCOS about it.

Any class at SIS…all you have to do is step into any class and it is an opportunity to learn. There are so many great teachers and learning happening daily!



The best way is for teachers to support other teachers

Welcome to another edition of Teachers of SIS Rocks!

This week we want to highlight Rachael MacMillan, a Pre-K 2 teacher at Mountainside.

She was nominated by her peers for her leadership in fostering a strong grade level team.

In her words, “The best way is for teachers to support other teachers.”

1. What did you want your fellow teachers to know or understand?

We are a team, everyone has a place in a team.

It does not matter if you are a team leader or not, you can always help others.

I remember when I was new you always felt behind trying to balance all the daily things you had to complete. This is where a team can come in and help sort these things out.

This helps them get organized and settled as a teacher. Which in turn, allows them to focus on what is important…improving the student learning in the class. Additionally, this makes it easier for the new teacher to give back to the team.

2. What skills did you want your fellow teachers to gain?

Every new person brings something to the table. The more we are able to make them comfortable, the quicker they will be able to add their unique abilities to the students and to our team.

Essentially it is the idea to “pass the buck” or “pay it forward.”

When you are able to give, it will come back to you!

3. How did you lead in the past?

Well, for me it started out at a very young age.

First, there was babysitting. Then I worked as a manager at Dunkin Doughnuts. Through it all, I always was the person to teach and train new people.

Even when I go home for a break now, my mom waits for me to teach her about the newest technologies.

4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?

I have always been an introspective person, but this has improved as I have gotten older. This growth came because I grew as an adult, which then impacted my leadership abilities.

Leadership centers around being open, asking questions, and making mistakes.

I am consistently asking myself,

How could I have done that better?

Or, collaborating with other teachers and asking,

How would you have handled that, what would you have done differently?

 These questioning coupled with my calm nature help me get to the root of the problem.

Also, I am not afraid to admit when I make a mistake, as this usually leads to a big learning.

Lastly, is the ability to see everyone as equals. Everybody is human.

I still remember what my mom told me when I was a young child,

 “ Who do you think you are.”

That still reminds me to see everyone eye to eye.


Everyone needs a Smart Auntie (a role model who has had more experience, maybe an admin figure).

SIS has been the most collaborative environment I have ever been a part of!

This week we highlight Jaime Bacigalupo and Ceci Gomez-Galvez from Bayside. They have been nominated for their cross-disciplinary and curricular work in bringing about SIS stories.


What is SIS stories you ask?


It is a platform where students are able to build community and connect with others through storytelling.


The inception started when Jaime attended a couple sessions of the famous “Shenzhen Stories” in 2016.


She was floored by the power of storytelling, so she spent the summer reflecting about how she could bring this theme into her 10th-grade class.


Below are there answers to this innovative student learning.


1. What did you want your students to know or understand?


Jaime: Largely the power of storytelling. Stories have the power to connect us on a human level and while also building empathy and compassion.


Ceci: Our students have been writing personal narratives since the third grade and we wanted them to understand writing and telling stories is more than academics. We wanted all students, especially the quiet ones, to understand this could be a vehicle to share their voice.


2. What skills did you want your students to gain? 


Jaime: In terms of the English there were two main components. Frist, the writers’ craft, which consisted of mentor texts, short memoirs, deep reading, and annotations. Also, Stylistic approaches used to reach readers.


Second, was how to express yourself orally. Different mediums require you to express yourself differently. For example, oral presentations are much more casual than formal presentations.


Ceci: We wanted them to show some vulnerability by telling their own story. This, in turn, would allow them to be brave, resilient, and take risks. All things that will help them prepare for their performance tasks in IB Diploma Programme.


3. How did you teach this lesson in the past?


Jaime: There was NO oral piece, it was only written. Additionally, there was no theme to the lesson, it was really quite open.


Essentially it was a narrative snapshot. Although it gave them a lot of flexibility, there was no foundational piece which ran through all of it where we could see same theme branch out in so many different contexts.


Lastly, I was the audience. There was no one else!


4. How did you problem-solve and be creative to come up with this new method for this lesson?


Jaime: One word…collaboration. Not just simply talking about things, but building strong relationships to create systems to improve student learning.


SIS has been the only school where this level of flexibility and autonomy are provided, which make it such a fertile environment for collaboration.


SIS has been the most collaborative environment I have ever been a part of!


Teachers are allotted the time and the flexibility to cultivate this environment. I do not know what I would do if I did not have these elements, it would be like not having air to breathe.


This strong collaboration is a vehicle which has enhanced my teaching more than it has for many years combined.


Furthermore, the collaboration opened up connections even outside of the classroom. Attending Shenzhen Stories had me thinking how I could bring in Trey, founder of Shenzhen Stories.


He came in a ran a workshop and gave strategies on the idea surrounding “page and stage.” Additionally, we created a setting which fostered a sense of community; snacks, signs, and furniture.


Ceci: Yeah, exactly. For me, it was true co-teaching. That Ying to Yang relationship.


Jaime had ideas and I had other ideas and questions. I would ask


How can we make the learning better for our students?

How can we make it more interesting?

How can we share it on a bigger stage?



These questions led us to create SIS stories. Where we combine the power of storytelling, Voice, and interdisciplinary connections.


We already mentioned Trey, but Peter reached out to see how we could incorporate the services to his STEAM students. We started chatting and made the connection that we could use a motherboard which connected letters in the alphabet with buttons that triggered something when touched.


We would record each student’s’ golden lines and take professional pictures. Then we would be able to create posters with sensors where buttons will trigger audio files of the golden lines of the students.


Jaime: It was awesome!


Since the inception of SIS stories, everything has grown organically.


And it keeps growing and everything is falling into place.


We are actually going to collaborate with 5th graders and take our students over to Parkside to mentor them on the experience.


Ceci: What is awesome is the task we started with was for each student had to get up and talk for 5-10 minutes.


That is it!


However, now it has grown into this amazing thing called SIS stories


To think it started with a provocation and text (Persepolis: the story of a childhood) then it connected to the power of storytelling, next student voice, next STEAM, and it continues to grow.


Lastly, I want to mention there are many vehicles for empowerment.


Vulnerability and modeling what you want your students to create are powerful.


Jaime wrote a story herself and told it in front of the students.

This gave them a different perspective and automatically built a sense of community. Students’ were eager to share and also hear the stories of others. It was awesome!


A much different result from reading a mentor text published by an author you do not know or have a relationship with.

Students knew right from the beginning they would have an opportunity to share with an authentic audience of their peers and teachers.


Both: (Sit back and sigh)…Can’t wait to see where this goes next year!




Peters STEAM class: They are looking for new clients to build products for. Contact them if you need anything in terms of design which requires any STEAM elements.