[Note: this blog post is cross-posted at Learning on the Job.]
We’ve never suffered from a lack of resources as long as I’ve been here at UNIS Hanoi. We’ve been running a 1:1 TabletPC program for the past 6 years. All students in grades 4 – 12 have their own machines. And in the Middle and High School we’ve been running a (virtually) paperless environment with varying degrees of success.
But. as I’ve said previously, as a school we are becoming cranky teenagers. Instead of accepting what we are given with a “Thank you!” and a smile, we’re beginning to ask “Why?”
Why are we using this machine and not that one?
Why do we have to do that?
Why can’t we do this?
Now, from my perspective, this is a great problem to have. Teachers and students asking “why?” means that they are thinking about the best ways to transform teaching and learning. I’m actually more concerned about the teachers and students who never question what we’re doing! It means they are passively accepting what is being given to them and not showing any critical analysis of our program or of their own learning.
To help spur the question of “Why?”, we’ve introduced Innovative Learning Grants. The central questions that we started with was “What is it that you want to do at but currently can’t?” and “How will this improve student learning and/or teacher pedagogy?”
The idea is that teachers submit a proposal documenting their interest and also noting some of the research that they have done on the topic. Once proposals have been selected to go forward, the teachers are responsible for documenting their work and submitting a written report at the end of their trial period. This report includes feedback on the outcome of the project as well as suggestions for scaling the project up to go beyond their individual trial. From this, decisions can be made about going forward. It is my hope that all of this – all grant proposals and the final reports/recommendations of the ‘winning’ projects – will be published to the entire community as examples of how UNIS is looking at staying on the cutting edge when it comes to learning.
In the first iteration, we received a quite a few grant proposals. I was amazed by the depth and breadth of the proposals that we received. In the end, we selected three to go forward. One is looking at the use of standing desks in the classroom. Another is looking how to adopt mobile technology into PE classes. And the third is looking increasing collaboration and lay through the use of a SMART Table in our Early Childhood classes. All trials will end before June and I’m looking forward to reading and sharing their final reports. [I will ask to see if any of the authors mind if I share their proposals.]
A quick note about the name: it was a very deliberate decision to use the term “Innovative Learning” and not mention “Technology” even though the funds are being put up by the Technology Office. As a school, our focus must continue to be on learning. Our focus on technology is not for the sake of having the shiniest bell or the newest whistle but to improve student learning. 99 times out of 100 Innovative Learning will involve the authentic use of technology, and by using the title “Innovative Learning Grant” we are keeping the emphasis where it belongs.
What is your school doing to encourage innovation in both teaching and learning? Do you think you could apply a similar process at your school?