Summer Thinking About Our Responsibility to the Future (and/of) our Students…

Thinking about education is a part of who we are at UAS.  The summer is the best time of the year to regain a sense clarity and purpose – maybe it’s because we don’t have to wake up before 6:00 AM!  But just because we are on summer break, doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking about better ways to serve our students.

Mr. Torris recently posted a great article on our internal Social Media platform about a computer programme that helps students “cheat” in Math.  You really should read it, but for the purpose of this blog, here is a condensed version: there is a really cool web tool called Wolfram Alpha that does very complex math problems that computers were not able to do 10 years ago. Many teachers are upset about this and view it as a form of cheating because it can also show your steps – something that computers couldn’t do before.  Therefore, students could use the programme to answer homework questions and not really learn the math.  That said, there are some great applications for this programme, used in many engineering circles that are enormously practical.  It really provoked thinking in me that I’d like to share.

While it is essential that our students learn how to do math, I think that in certain contexts this would be an amazing tool to use in our classrooms. The article invites interesting questions about what the purpose of education is. Is the purpose of learning math simply to solve problems, or, are there more important applications to math that could better prepare our students for the realities of their future workplace?  If so, shouldn’t we expose students to them?

There are so many facets of education where the jury is out on such issues.  Take handwriting for example. While it can be legitimately argued that we need to focus more on handwriting because of what it does for brain development, it is an antiquated skill. After all, how much modern work-flow depends on handwriting? Outside of prescription writing and waiting tables (oh – and writing IB exams!), I can’t immediately think of an industry that depends on it.  I know there are more, but I can’t immediately think of them.  Writing is still a necessary and important skill, but handwriting… maybe not so much?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that our city is less than a year away from piloting driverless, flying cars. I can’t build or fix a car, but can operate one.  Cars are an important part of modern life that I can’t do without, (which is regrettable for so many reasons). I’m never going to be a mechanic, but as long as I drive cars, I will always need to know a mechanic. If we look differently at tools like Wolfram Alpha, will we be better equipping at least some of our students for that world than being able to do the math?  There will be students who can do the math (the mechanics) and others who can use it (those who fly the cars).

On the flip side I am reminded of a story I read in high school that has always stuck with me (I can’t remember the author – Asimov? Bradbury? – no matter).  The story was set in the future.  A man who lived on a desert island came to civilization and became revered as a god because he could do math in his head. That story always stuck with me as an educator because I know that if we can’t do the basics, then we give away at least some of our power when it comes to more complicated thinking.  It’s why air-traffic controllers still need to learn meteorology even though complex radar systems do a much better job of detecting storms. While some tin-pushers I know think it’s a useless skill, others (mostly older ones) value it enormously.  I wonder what the future will hold for meteorology when we’re all flying around in drones!

As indicated in the Ms. Biddle’s article above, education is slow to change, but it is changing.  Spoiler alert – digression ahead! Socrates decried writing things down because he thought it made his students “lazy”. They didn’t need to remember anything because they could go back to the writing. He also thought writing ideas down mitigated their substance. He did not believe writing could truly encapsulate an idea as words are (were?) limited. He simply did not believe a thinker could communicate their ideas in writing with purity.  True story, but do you know what else is true?  Writing (though not necessarily by hand) is hugely important.  And, had Plato not written down Socrate’s ideas, we would never have heard of him, let alone reference him in this mid-summer deluge on the state of education in a technological world.

The point I am trying to make is that as the world changes, education should adapt.  The purpose of education is for students to learn.  That is it.  Whether they learn how to do the math or how to ask a computer to do it, we should do both Programs like Wolfram Alpha can help us do that in two ways.  For those who view it as cheating, we can create more authentic class-based assessments of their computational abilities in math.  For those who see it as a tool, it can allow students engage in their own application based projects.  At UAS, we will work hard to do both so that every one of our students can identify and achieve their Personal Best.

I hope you’re all having as great a summer as I am!  In my next post I will be sharing the lessons I learned on my trip to the Arctic!

 

Reports, Summer Work and Start Up for Next Year

Dear parents,

Just wanted to bring everyone up to speed on the end-of-year plans for high school.

Reports:

There has been some incredible learning in the last three weeks!  Our teachers have been busy marking the 2068 exams and writing 2734 report card comments!  Those comments were corrected first by the Curriculum Leaders over the weekend, and a second set of proofing will be done by myself.  Each report is to communicate the strengths and weaknesses of our students’ learning throughout the year.  These reports are legal documents and it is essential that they are professionally written.

Naturally, with that volume of reports, some comments will still contain errors even after two readings.  If there are any concerns or errors with the reports please contact me directly at osealey@uasdubai.ae.  I will be on site all day Wednesday, June 21st to field any concerns you may have.

Summer Work

There are a very small number of students who achieved a final grade of “1” or “2” this year.  If that pertains to your child, we will be supplying them with a summer work package.  Students who get a 1 or 2 in core subjects will be given work to complete over the summer.  In addition they will be expected to come to school to re-sit their exams during the week of September 5th to 7th.  I will be sending a formal letter to the parents all students whose children received a 1 or 2 tomorrow.

Start Up

Busses begin running at the school from September 11th – the first full day for all students.  September 10th will be the first full day for high school.

Next year, Grade 11 and 12 IB Diploma students will be coming in early to ensure we get a head start on the IB “Core” (CAS, TOK and Extended Essay).  As a school, we have averaged 1.2 “core” points for the last 5 years.  Our goal is to average 2 points next year – this can be essential in a student’s overall GPA.  How important is the core?  Well, I speak to many students who aspire to get into Harvard, where the minimum entry requirement is 39 IB points.  If a student gets zero “core” points, they need to get three 6’s and three 7’s to reach 39.  With the maximum “core” points, a student would only need six 6’s to qualify.  Core points are essential and we want to make sure our students are getting the most they can.

With that in mind there are some key dates:

September 5 to 7 – ALL GRADE 11 and 12 IB DIPLOMA STUDENTS ARE TO ATTEND SCHOOL FROM SEPTEMBER 5th to 7th.  In addition, any student who achieved a 1 or 2 last year will do their re-sits at this time.

September 7 – New Student Orientation.

September 10 – First full day for High School.

September 11 – First full day for the whole school.

 

Quick Reminder – All Grade 11 IBDP students, and, students who have unsubmitted work from Q4 to attend school tomorrow.

Dear parents,

Thank you for your overwhelming support of your children’s education this year.  Last week, a small number of you would have received a letter from me communicating that your child has yet to submit work in at least one of their subjects.

Students with incomplete assignments:

Many of those students submitted their work over the course of the week and would have received an email from the teachers if that work is now in.  If you have not received such an email from your child’s teacher, please ensure your child comes to school tomorrow and reports directly to the library.  These students will be met by their teachers in the library at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  They will remain at school until their work is complete.

Grade 11 IB Diploma Students:

For Grade 11 IB Diploma students, tomorrow we will run an intensive Extended Essay workshop in the MPH.  All Grade 11 IB Diploma students should attend.  As a school, we seek to improve our students’ IB Diploma results.  Over the past 5 years, data shows that the school can do a much better job securing “core” points for our Diploma students.  Tomorrow’s workshop represents an opportunity for your child to go into the summer with a plan to achieve essential points on their extended essay.

Early start next year for IB Diploma Students.

Due to the unusual nature of next year’s calendar, all Grade 11 and 12 IB Diploma students are to report to school from September 5th to 7th for an intensive “core points” induction.  Grade 12 students will work on their Extended Essays and Grade 11 students will get an induction to CAS and TOK.  I will communicate more about these plans next week and again in August.

“No Surprises”

I’ve been working with my team this week to ensure there is a strong culture of communication with parents before the summer.  If your child was in danger of getting a “1” or “2” in any course, that should have already been communicated to you.  Currently, no student is in danger of getting three “2’s”, which means all will be promoted to the next grade.  Students who receive 1’s or 2’s will be given some remedial work over the summer to ensure they are on track to achieve their personal best next year.

Thank you again for your continued support of the high standards UAS sets for our students. Have a great evening.

Yours,

 

Ole Sealey, High School Principal.

Looking Back and Looking Ahead.

LOOKING BACK

There are 8 school days left in my first year as Principal at UAS and what a year it has been!  It is challenging to wrap up a year’s worth of learning in one post but a recent event has been on my mind and serves as an important reminder of what we hold dear.

Two weeks ago, we held a modest event celebrating the work our Grade 10 students conducted on their “Individual investigations” (IIs).  For those of you who don’t know, the II is a culminating project students undertake in Grade 10.  The idea is to effectively prepare them for the challenges of the IB Diploma.  Students are encouraged to pursue their passions and deeply explore an area of learning.

The II is probably the most powerful learning tool we have at UAS.  All students presented their work in Homeroom and a selection of the best 25 projects were brought to the celebration.  Here are some examples of the incredible things our students accomplished:

  • Making a replica Viking Shield
  • Learning sign language
  • An exploration of Egyptian Film from 1930 to 2010
  • An examination of what the internet is doing to adolescent brains

One project that stood out to me was the work of Tala A.  Tala is from Syria and wanted to tell the story of what is happening in her country.  She visited Syria over break and documented in film and photographs what life is “truly” like there for the average citizen.  In reading her reflection, her message is a powerful one: love and happiness are human characteristics which endure through all circumstances.  Tala wanted to show the reality and beauty of life in Syria and she has done so brilliantly.  She has created a series of powerful photographs on display in the lobby (part of Ms. Zari’s excellent year end exhibition).  I strongly urge you to come see all the student’s work.

If you cannot come see their work, Tala also created this film.

Tala has done an amazing job of being apolitical in this piece.  She does not criticize or or ascribe blame.  She does not spread hate or explain away the conflict.  Rather, she chooses life.  She celebrates the lives of those who live through the war in Syria.  These are the lives of beautiful children who laugh and play in the unpredictable and dangerous climate of war.  The lives of people who care for their children and carry in challenging times.  Tala has done a wonderful job of encapsulating our mission statement: she is a caring, critical thinking and responsible global citizen.  Her work embodies the spirit of what we are building at UAS – a meaningful education where each student can identify, and achieve their personal best.  I for one am very proud of her work.  I hope you are too.

LOOKING AHEAD.

Facilities – I was in a meeting with Mr. Torris yesterday and I am pleased to announce there will be a number of facilities upgrades over the summer.  Our classrooms are being modernized and the wear and tear on our building is being addressed.  UAS is a beautiful campus and with a little attention, it will become a better environment for our learners.  I’m very excited to see that work come to fruition.

Accreditation – Next year we have a joint IB/CIS/Middle States accreditation visit.  This visit will solidify our standing as an IB school, International School and accredited American School for the next five years.  It is an incredible amount of work but visits like these ensure that our programme meets the high standards expected of world-class international and American schools.

Investment in Teachers – A school is only as good as it’s teachers and UAS has some amazing teachers. This year we observed over 300 lessons, 45% of which were judged very good or outstanding.  This is an increase from last year, where roughly 40 percent of our lessons hit that mark.  Next year, we are targeting a significant leap in this area.  Mr. Torris has appointed 4 full-time instructional coaches to help improve the overall quality of teaching and learning.  I am a member of a group of 10 principals in Dubai, all of whom come from Very Good our Outstanding Schools.  Of those schools 7 have a peer-coaching or teachers-teaching-teachers system in place.  Next year, UAS will too.  In addition, every teacher in the school will become a Google certified teacher next year.  We will consolidate our many teaching/learning platforms and make use of technology to become more transparent with stakeholders.

Collaborative Planning – in the aforementioned group of 10 schools, UAS is currently the only one that doesn’t have a school-wide collaborative planning session that takes place at least once per cycle.  These sessions will be instrumental in consolidating our best work.  Parents can expect us to develop a number of inter-disciplinary projects this year, meaning teachers of different subjects will work together to create assessment tasks that will be assessed in different classes.  This will, in time, reduce the volume of work we expect of students and increase the quality.  This is my fourth IB school and the first that hasn’t had CPT.  It’s a huge credit to Esol Education for investing in this time for us to learn and plan together.

Results – Please see the memo from Mr. Torris to the High School Team:

First of all, I would like to compliment our IB and High School teachers. This year our graduating class have distinguished themselves particularly.  Our predicted scores are very strong and our outcomes (we hope) will show some of the best results in UAS history.  This is a reflection of many years of hard work with our students.  This evidence is triangulated with the results in the MAP test which shows VERY high median percentile rankings in grades 9 and 10.  See below:

Math

9th Grade- 87th percentile

10th Grade- 95th percentile

Reading

9th Grade- 81st percentile

10th Grade- 86th percentile

Language

9th Grade- 81st percentile

10th Grade- 85th percentile

Science

9th Grade- 86th percentile

10th Grade- 89th percentile

As principal, I am extremely proud of these results.  They are significantly up and we will continue to pursue excellence as we become the school we know we can be.  It’s been an amazing year and I look forward to many more here at UAS.

Thank you, every parent, student and teacher for helping UAS grow this year!

Yours,

Ole Sealey

High School Principal

Communication re: Last Two Weeks of High School

Dear parents,

It seems like five minutes ago we were welcoming our new teachers to UAS, developing our learning for the year and planning for Back to School Night.  Where has the time gone?  What an incredible year.  I will be writing a year-end reflection and communicating important information about next year over the weekend.

We’ve spent the last two months preparing next year’s timetables, getting our curriculum in order, and looking forward to implementing new programmes to further support teaching and learning at UAS. Before getting into all that, here are some important items:

Exams continue until Wednesday June 14th.

On Thursday June 15th, we will be doing important work with small groups of students.

  1.  All Grade 11 IB Diploma Students are to be on campus for an intensive session on the Extended Essay (EE).   The EE is a core part of the course and an opportunity for students to boost their GPA prior to university admissions.  It’s essential all IB Diploma Students attend.
  2. Students who missed exams due to medical illness will write their make up exams on this day. Students must have a doctor’s note excusing them from the exam in order to qualify for a re-sit.
  3. Students with “Incomplete” assignments in Quarter 4 will come in and complete any work that has yet to be submitted.  June 15th will be the last day the school accepts work.  Any student with unsubmitted work, will have their “incomplete” converted to a “1” for the year.  That grade will be combined with the final exam to get to a final year-end grade for the class.  Parents of students with an “incomplete” will be contacted by email by Thursday, June 8th.

We are so proud of the accomplishments of all our students this year.  Our MAP data shows significant progress and our IB grades have been predicted to be the highest in school history.  In addition, in the spirit of “no surprises” we are monitoring students and parents of students who are in jeopardy of achieving a 1 or 2 should have been contacted yesterday.  Students who achieve more than three grades of “2” or lower can not be promoted to the next grade.

June 18th, and 19th are regular school days.   In examinable subjects, students will get their exams back, go through the mark schemes and reflect on their answers.  In non-examinable subjects such as PE, Art and Music, students will have an opportunity to reflect on the year and look ahead to next.  These days will also be used for students to fill in their year-end check-out forms.

June 20th is a half-day.  We will have a year-end recognition assembly from 8:00 to 10:00.  Thereafter, students will clean out lockers, finish check outs and be waived off by their teachers.  Reports are scheduled go live on the portal at 1:00.

Invitation to High School Principal’s Coffee – Thursday morning (library)

Dear parents,

It’s hard to believe that the end of the year is just around the corner!  It feels like we are flying on an asteroid.  What a ride we’ve been on this year!

Last week, we had our first American curriculum compliance visit from the KHDA.  As you may recall from a previous post, in 2012 only 11 of the 30 “American” schools were accredited with a nationally-recognized American school association.  At UAS, we are proud to be a member of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.  That organization is recognized by the KHDA and so UAS was already in the top 11 schools before this program began.  As of September 2017, all American schools must be compliant with the KHDA regulations set out here.  I strongly urge everyone to read this document!

When I arrived at UAS, much of this work had already begun.  Even before I joined the school, Mr. Torris invited me to contribute to this document, posted on our website, which defines the balance between an IB and American School.  This philosophy meets action in the Academics section of the website, found here.

On Tuesday, our KHDA visit was amazing.  Of the 17 areas, every one was addressed in kind.  We have been working with teachers, counselors and representatives from student government to implement these changes.

IMPORTANT!  – These changes only apply to Grade 9’s!

Here is a list of things we needed to address for the incoming Grade 9’s:

  • When the Class of 2021 students are in Grade 11 and 12, those who are not taking the IB will no longer be sitting in IB classes, the school will create a range of American courses instead.  We are very excited about the possibilities of this!  AP classes!  Photography!  Film!  We can do so much!
  • Slight adjustment in conversions of our GPA’s to reflect KHDA standards.
  • Slight adjustment of our reporting system to include either a letter grade or a percentage.
  • Currently, many of our courses would only qualify as half credits because they are not 120 hours.  In order to achieve the 120 hours now required for a credit, a course needs three, 70 minute periods per week.

Knock-on effect:

The only real change to high school is that we need to move to a 70 minute period.  The day is long as it is, and so we had a difficult decision to make with our Homeroom program.  Next year, instead of having homeroom, students will get an advisory period every Tuesday.  This also means subjects like TOK will be placed entirely inside the timetable and we will not be using Homeroom time to “make up” missed hours.

By not having a Homeroom every day, we have more down time for students.  Students will get an additional 25 minutes of instruction per day, and an additional 35 minutes of breaks for kids.  By having a one hour lunch we will be running clubs and sports during lunch.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities!

What about the IB?

The IB is not going anywhere (and nor am I)!  UAS is founded on the IB, and I am an IB practitioner.  I will only work in IB schools and UAS will always be an IB school.  This year, we are projecting to have 5 students achieve over 40 points.  Our IB results are very important to the school and we are committed to continually improving them.  Our target is to raise our IB average from 30 points over the last 5 years to 34 in the next 5.

In fact, next year we are going to become more  of an IB school.  Last week Mr. Torris blogged about the excitement of collaborative planning on Tuesdays.

We Want To Hear From YOU!

So… with all this information in mind, I cordially invite parents to attend the High School Principal’s Coffee on Thursday at 8:00 AM in the Secondary Library.

Prior to attending this meeting, you may wish to review the Program of Study.

 

High School Musical! – Only Two More Shows!

 

 

Last night I had the absolute privilege of watching the High School Musical.  I have been to 18 years worth of performances in my career and this was among the best in terms of student organization, energy and effort.  The kids did an incredible job!  There is so much learning associated with a production of this magnitude.  It’s not just memorizing the lines and a few dance moves, there is so much more to it than that. Students must think deeply about the characters, their emotions and the situation they are in.  I was talking to the light crew after the show and they were so eager to share with me what they had gone through in learning all the intricacies of the sound board and light stage.  School plays teach communication, team-work, dedication, improvisation, and most importantly working through mistakes. It was not lost on me that when I looked at the cast, most members were honour students.

The performance goes on tonight and tomorrow night.   Tickets are 35 Dirhams.  Please come along and support the 60 students who have taken part.  Here are some pictures of this incredible event!

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose or Carrots and Sticks?

I’ve been watching a lot of TED talks lately and a few things happened this week which reminded me of one of the first TED talks I’d ever seen.  Delivered by Daniel Pink, the topic is on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.  I suggest you take 20 minutes to watch it, it’s quite enlightening.

https://www.ted.com/playlists/171/the_most_popular_talks_of_all

You may be wondering what the events are?  One is a conversation I had this week with our Economics teacher, Mr. Haag.  Perhaps unbeknownst to some of his students, Mr. Haag is doing an incredible job creating an economy of grades in his classroom.  His assessment tasks are all unique – students do not have to do the same work, they do not have to come from the same sources and the student do not get all the same material. Students grade the work themselves and that grade is standardized by the teacher.  If students believe a written piece of work is worth a 7, the must defend it publically.  Initially, many students disliked this approach, dismissing getting a “7” as an impossible task.  They would submit work but since they couldn’t defend its quality, the top grade could not be achieved.

Granted, some students have still not fully embraced this approach, but in a meeting we had today, Mr. Haag took great pride sharing the story of 2 students who have.  After choosing the most challenging task, working relentlessly through the details and meticulously drafting a written task, two students chose to defend their work for the top grade.  They outlined their arguments, they communicated their thinking, and, they earned the 7.

This really shouldn’t be revolutionary.  Often times I hear students talking about “getting” a 7.  I chuckled the other day after two students had gotten tests back, they were in the hall and one exasperated girl said “…just give me the 7!”.  It’s absolutely fascinating to me that we still think of marks as things that are given. They are not carrots (and sticks).  Grades are earned, and if one does not know what a 7 “is”, cannot describe what it “looks like”, nor defend the quality of their work, then it simply cannot be of superior quality work.

What is interesting about this is that it is the exact opposite what most schools do.  I often hear concerns that one teacher is ahead of another or that students are doing different things in so-and-so’s class.  That’s good!  Giving students choices on the types of projects they do promotes autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Conversely, if students all do the same work and are only motivated in a grade or GPA that they can neither describe nor defend, they will suffer the same fate as those in the candle experiment from the video; they will do worse than their peers.  If students are truly interested in achieving their personal best they should strive to take the harder routes, not the easier ones.  They should think deeply and meaningfully about the projects they undertake and they should be efficacious in the work they produce.

image taken from reflected.com

The other event is course selection.  These lessons are of critical importance to remember as students make important decisions about what they intend to study.  Time and time again I have seen people try and take courses that will get them the “best GPA”.  Most times, it doesn’t work.  Students should take the courses they are going to put the most into, not the ones they think will be the easiest.

On April 20th, students will be getting their reports and the week after is parent-teacher-student conferences.  Please bring your children to the conferences and have them defend their work.  If your children do not attend, consider asking questions of intrinsic motivations instead of ones about extrinsic rewards.  For example, rather than asking “how can my child go from a 5 to a 6”, consider something like “what types of tasks do you think my child is best at”.  I’m sure you will find the conversations more rewarding as well.

We look forward to welcoming you all on April 26th and 27th.

Another Quarter Down… Time to Celebrate!

I can’t believe it is already the end of Quarter 3!  Where has the time gone? Quarter 3 was just as action packed as Quarter 2, and there has been much learning!  One of my favourite things we do at UAS is Week Without Walls.  Although all the trips are important, it is really the Service Learning trips that have had the greatest impact on our students.  Please take 4 minutes to watch this video:

We have extraordinary kids at UAS and the Week Without Walls is an excellent opportunity for our students to truly live the Mission of our school.  We have a lot of work to do with the home portion of the Week Without Walls experience; and although nothing will be able to match the bonding, learning and importance of our overseas trip we are committed to developing Week Without Walls to ensure all students get the opportunity to explore ways to become caring, critical thinking, responsible global citizens.

Tomorrow at 2:00 the High School will be conducting our second student celebration of the year in the MPH.  The first Assembly was great and many of our students are eager for the next one.  We hope that this assembly will be bigger and  better than the first, which, if you missed it can be recapped here.

I would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday.  The fourth quarter is sure to have many more great memories and we are excited for all the important learning our students are going to do.

 

International Day – Wednesday!

Come Join International Day on Wednesday!

On March 15th, UAS will be celebrating International Day.  The PTSO along with students and teachers throughout the school have been working tirelessly to prepare for what will truly be a day to remember! The Elementary, Middle and High School will each visit the festival throughout the day.  High School students are encouraged to wear the colors of their flag or their own national dress.  The High School will run a shortened day schedule whereby all classes finish before our regularly scheduled lunch break.  At 1:20, students will be dismissed to the International Day festival.  They should bring spending cash for the food trucks which will be selling items for lunch.  Students will need to buy vouchers from the PTSO booth in order to pay for food at the vendors’ trucks.  

Starting at 2:00, performances will take place on stage by students across all three school divisions.  These performances will wrap up around 3:00 and students who ride the bus, and are not staying for the remainder of the day, should prepare for their ride home.  Buses will run at the regularly scheduled time of 3:25.  The evening performances will begin at 3:30 and the International Day festival will end at 7:00 PM.  The International Day celebration will be a great event for the entire UAS community.  We do hope to share the fun and enjoy the festivities with you, so see you there! 

As a preview to all the fun, check out this video from International Day 2015!  This year is sure to be bigger and better.  We hope you will join us!

http://www.uasdubai.ae/page.cfm?p=6690