Failure: Criterion for Success

Earlier this month, I watched students Andrew L, Joshua I and Joschua M take their hand assembled drone for its inaugural flight. At the time, I remember being both astonished by this accomplishment and wanting to celebrate alongside them – It was just that cool! Mr. Brice, their science teacher and sponsor, helped explain that while this flight marked the resolution of a number of challenges the students faced along the way, this test flight was not the end, and in fact, a new beginning for further tinkering, calibrations, and modifying components. As soon as their drone touched down, I caught a glimpse of what he was referring to.  The boys sprung into action and began immediately reflecting on what went well, what still needed tweaking, and how they would go about fixing it. Their “back to the drawing table” attitude towards improving their design was impressive, to say the least. From an educator’s lens, I don’t think the idea of failure being a design criterion had ever been more clear. 


After a few days I sat down with Mr. Brice where it quickly became apparent that the boys were the ones who a) had approached him and b) were drawing from numerous sources to educate themselves and drive this project forward. While the boys initially got together because of their common interests: Joschua’s love of flight, the other Joshua love for wires and understanding how to solder them along with Andrew’s experience from a DJI summer course he had attended the previous summer, I came to discover that this mutual desire to learn about drones had quickly expanded to a matrix of teachers, parents, and DJI support staff.  When prompted Andrew, asserts that by this point, their process was less ad hoc and more systematic and in line with the methods of investigation they were covering in their science classes.  While there is often no magic bullet for sustaining student buy-in, the work and energy that was being generated by these students seemed to not only reflect the unique confluence of problem-finding and play it also provided clues to how educators might help nurture that authenticity and sense of ownership in their students’ learning.    

With that, according to the students and Mr. Brice, one aspect of the build that was particularly interesting was the routing of wires. Once the team understood the “why” and the decision to modify their drone kit was made, they began by shortening some of the wires to the motors – their objective was to reduce the overall weight of the drone while organizing the wiring in a way that made more sense to them. He continues, that it is always a bit tense when you are modifying a component but ultimately we were very happy with the changes we made and the several grams of weight we were able to shave off the drone’s overall mass – something that ultimately improved its performance and flight time.


Although born outside of the classroom, this project has had a ripple effects and created new questions (in class) around scientific method, the design process and how to drive student learning. New drone projects from other students are popping up as well as new recruits emerging to volunteer to work with Andrew and the team. Student-driven initiatives such as making these projects part of a club are also underway. We are also  seeing a renewed interest for programming, working with Arduino boards and perhaps most importantly, the emergence of student experts who are sharing and helping to expand each other’s definition of learning as an authentic experience. Ultimately, this project flourished because of curiosity, collaboration and the learning network these student created for themselves.

If you are looking to be a part of and begin building your own drones, please see one of our in-house experts! (Andrew, Joshua, Joschua, Steve) or their Facebook page on the issue.

The learning Innovation Team

When One Door Closes Another One Opens

Since its release with Office 365 last year, Sway has become more than just a surrogate for Storehouse but an app that is feature-rich and proven to be more versatile with the creation of photostories, lab reports and documenting in progress work.

Additionally, with our increasing shift towards Office 365, Sway fits perfectly into the Microsoft ecosystem which allows for the app to be used across phones, tablets, and laptops. Similar to the other apps on 365, Sway can also be found in the menu shown below.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 9.41.12 AM

A few points about Sway…

  • Its great for adding interactive content
  • Its easy to add text and your images from OneDrive, your device and its camera function.
  • It can also take videos, maps, tweets, Vines, interactive charts, graphics and GIFs.
  • Sways are synced through the cloud, making it easy to view and edit across your devices.
  • Share is done by sending a link out to your audiences
  • It is not blocked in China

Here is a strange example for you to take a look at.

Hope you enjoy and as always we’re here to support you.  

Grade 1 Students Produce Audio Books for ECC Students and SIS Library


Our SIS elementary library now has approximately 60 children’s books with audio narration thanks to our grade 1 students. As part of a reading unit on oral fluency, grade 1 teacher Ria Hennigar was interested in the idea of creating audio books but also wanted her students to have an authentic purpose and audience for their productions. Their ECC (Early Childhood Center) reading buddies provided them with an audience with limited reading abilities and, in some cases, developing English vocabulary. The audio books, which could be read/listened to at the library or at home, would give ECC students more opportunities to develop their reading and listening skills. The production of these audio books also tied in perfectly with grade 1’s social studies focus on community and being a helpful community member.

To create these audio books our ES librarian, Gaylene Livingston helped pull a selection of library books that matched with grade 1 student reading levels so students could be successful in reading them aloud. Then students chose books based on their ‘just right book’ criteria and ‘tested’ them out reading to themselves and then with partners. To prepare for recording the books, students listened to audio books and noticed how to use clues from the text and images to inform dialogue and expression. For the ‘turn the page’ sounds, Mrs. Hennigar consulted with our ES music teacher, Kimberly Sheppard, to choose appropriate instruments to use such as bells and triangles. Partners then practiced reading their books, taking turns reading and using the instruments to indicated when it was time to turn the page.

To produce the audio recording, students used Voice Record Pro app on their classroom iPads. After their first recording, students would listen and critique their work. Was it loud enough? Could I follow along? Did I use appropriate expression? Was my reading accurate? Many students wanted to record again to improve their recording and Mrs. Hennigar commented that many students do not usually pay such close attention to their oral fluency and were very motivated to say words correctly and to be understood.

Grade 1 Students produce their audio books

Grade 1 Students produce their audio books


As student audios were produced, Mrs. Livingston and I developed the process to gather the audio files and add them to a new blog with each audio book as a post with the recording and an image of the book cover. From these posts, QR codes were generated and placed on ‘stickers’ inside the cover of each book to provide access to the recordings. (Mrs. Livingston also tagged the books in the library system so any books with audio can be easily found.)

In addition to Mrs. Hennigar’s classroom, students from Ritu Bohara and Michele Hussey’s grade 1 classrooms also contributed audio books to the collection. With the creation audio books completed grade 1 students have been testing them out and also visiting ECC classrooms to share their audio books and to teach the younger student how to access and use the audio recordings.

Mrs. Hennigar was happy with the increased motivation her students had with improving their oral fluency and creating a product for our beginning readers. This project also provided opportunities for collaborative partner work and service learning for our SIS community. Next year, grade 1 and the ES library will continue to promote the audio books and they plan to produce even more!

Explain Like I’m Five (ELI5) An exchange between 1st and 8th graders

It’s safe to say that making learning experience for children is what drives teachers to teach kids every day. The “teachable moment,” is something that no lesson plan can prescribe, no box program can have in place. Teachers are willing to work out-side their means to make learning experiences authentic for their students. What better way for students to learn a theory is by actually practicing it first.
@petehennigar teamed up with #sisrocks 1st-grade team (@RiaHennigar@lkrebs1@MrsBohara, Michele Hussey) to give both 8th grade and 1st-grade students an experience to teach each other states of matter (phases of solid, liquid, gas)
The organizing of this first began with grouped grade 8 students crafting a lab report that could be read and followed by group of first-grade students. This was a matching alignment of curriculum, 8th-grade students just finished states of matter and first-grade students were learning the difference between solids and liquids.
One thing that always should be pointed out is…why? Why have older students to engage with younger students?
What learning is happening:
  • Illustrates comprehension of content when being broken down to its basic form.
  • Both students have to demonstrate critical thinking skills & collaboration.
  • Both students have to demonstrate global citizen skills in order for the exchange to happen successfully.
  • The older students are servicing the younger students learning experience.
We caught up with one 8th grade student and asked her 2 questions that would help make you think about doing this for your students.
Q what makes this experience unique?
A I think unique, I don’t have this type of interaction on a daily basis
Q – How did you know that learning was happening?
A-  The 1st-grade students had fun, they could identify what was happening in front of them by describing their lab experiment.
Here at #sisrocks, we have had several exchanges where younger students are mentored by older students. We look to make more connections in the future. We also look to make it common practice in some areas.

Variation of PBL

Peter Hennigar is a middle school science teacher. One of his approaches to have students learn the asked curriculum is to coach them through a variation of project-based learning. Students had to challenge themselves to showcase their learning by capturing it on camera and then edit their own raw video into a final video clip. For more on how he got his students to think outside the box and practice essential skills, click here.

Video Conferencing with Young Learners

12976210_1008812569185734_1677280597_nTechnology has given students and teachers amazing opportunities to make global connections to learn and share with each other. Video conferencing allows students to meet each other in real time – a powerful experience for all.

However, managing a live video conference call with our younger students can be challenging and chaotic without careful preparation and structure.

These guidelines were put together with teachers and students in Early Childhood and Primary classrooms in mind for planning and conducting meaningful & productive video conference calls but are applicable to all levels.

Video Conferencing with Young Learners Guidelines and Resources (PDF)

Guidelines created by…
Ann Lopez, ECC teacher
Marina Rabelo, Kindergarten teacher
Diana Beabout, Learning Innovation coach
at Shekou International School

***Inspired by involvement in The Traveling Teddy Bear Project (Pana Asavavatana & Joe Sergi)

Grade 4 Dot Art Stop Motion Videos

SIS Art Teacher Katie Hobbs’ grade 4 students used their study of contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama and the technology of stop motion to create dot art videos.

Yayoi Kusama is famous for her use of simple symbols to create complex pieces of art. One aspect of her work that grade 4 students examined was using dots to create values of light to dark shading.

The idea to combine Kusama’s style of art with stop motion technology was inspired by her interactive art piece, Obliteration Room at the Tate Museum, where visitors were allowed to add stickers to a white space set up as a living room.

Here is a time-lapse video of the results…

Mrs. Hobbs’ grade 4 artists worked in collaborative groups to create their own dot art videos using iPads with Stop Motion Studio app and then importing their video into iMovie to edit and add music. Creativity is evident in the completed pieces where dots were used to create abstract and concrete patterns. Through this unit, students were able to learn about and demonstrate several concepts and skills as part of the art curriculum including: creating art with a variety mediums, understanding art in context of history and culture and using composition & principles of design to communicate ideas. Additionally, some students have taken what they’ve learned about creating stop motion movies to start creating them outside of the classroom. 

Here are a few examples from the grade 4 artists.



All of the grade 4 dot art videos will showing at the Shekou International School 2016 Elementary Art Show on May 4th.

More on Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama (Artsy)

More on Stop Motion Animation
What is Stop Motion Animation
Easy Stop Motion Animation for Beginners
Engage Elementary Students with Stop Animation

Holograms in the Classroom

Holograms are cool. And despite the sophistication of the human eye, holography, which has been around since the 1800’s, is still something that manages to dazzle. Today, thanks to the internet, we are able to easily recreate these photographic ghosts that magically hover for educational purposes. Cue in middle school maths / science teacher Riley Laird who also leads a film studies elective and was transitioning from 2D to 3D effects in film.

As it turns out Mark McElroy and myself happened to be working on building a prism  that makes much of this magic possible  (see video below)

After a few prototypes and finding solutions for making our own video to project, Riley Laird decided to take this internet trend to task and have her students each build one of their own.

As part of a historical survey on special effects, students dove into the finer details and applied what they learned from the construction of their prism to create a cinematic shorts. Going beyond gimmicks, these holograms helped to elicit student engagement, creativity and allowed students to make their own connections to the content.



The process of building, trouble shooting and then refining our own holograms has given way to a number of student created videos and vlogs where they have gone on to explore their own curiosities on the subject

If you would like more information on holograms, how to build one, or ways to use them in class, just ask @mcerlroy23, @4lexgutierrez  or @rileylaird