Innovation in Action

The Fulbright program encourages its distinguished teachers to attend professional development during their time overseas, so I was grateful to receive a grant to participate in a workshop in Malaysia.  I arrived on Thursday and on Friday I enjoyed a great tour of Nexus International School in Putrajaya, about 30 minutes from Kuala Lumpur.  This school has a strong vision with a focus on leveraging technology to help prepare students for the future.  Technology in education can get a bad rap, often for good reasons.  Too many districts have spent large sums of money for equipment such as SMART Boards and iPads, only to see them gather dust because teachers were not prepared to use them, there aren’t any funds to repair them when they stop working, they quickly become obsolete, and many other reasons.  

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Sure, there is often a brief period of excitement when students say they are more motivated in school thanks to the new technology.  However, that period will not last if teachers are not trained in using technology in ways that actually increase student learning.  Teachers also need time to collaborate and plan lessons that cross disciplines, since real-world problems are rarely isolated to one field of study.  

Dividers between rooms open up for collaboration between classes.

Dividers between rooms open up for collaboration between classes.

Nexus International School was founded in 2007 and began with a focus on technology.  The classrooms and meeting areas are designed to be collaborative.  Even though there is a fairly high turnover in the student and staff population, the curriculum seems to be very consistent from year to year.  

From what I observed, a key to their success is the leadership at the school.  There is an “IT” department, but it is different from most I have seen.  The specialists in this department are former teachers who meet regularly with grade-level teams to discuss curriculum.  They map out each grade’s plan for the year and design lessons that will best meet the needs of students.  They coordinate lessons so that students do not end up doing a movie project, for example, in three different subjects.  Rather, they focus on helping teachers find connections between subjects so that technology can be used to integrate the disciplines.  Finally, they also teach.  These experts have designed and taught courses to help students acquire the necessary skills for future projects.  

Enthusiastic teachers!

Enthusiastic teachers!

During our tour, we saw many students using technology, but many were not.  Being a technology school does not mean that students are on devices all the time.  It is important for students to see the technology as a tool and to know that sometimes a paper and pencil, a handwritten note, or a traditional book are better.  

The library is full of books.

The library is full of books.

It has taken many years and a lot of resources for Nexus to develop this program, and they will be the first to admit that they are not perfect.  For example, they are trying to find ways to have middle and high school teachers do more integrated projects.  They have also had limited success with creating authentic work that students can apply to the real world, but they are always making improvements.  What I observed at Nexus was very real and achievable.  I hope that more educators can look to schools like Nexus to see what is possible when integrating technology into teaching and learning.  

Classrooms are set up like cafes with comfortable spaces designed for different purposes.

Classrooms are set up like cafes with comfortable spaces designed for different purposes.

I also spent all day Saturday and Sunday at the DEEP Learning Conference, hosted by Nexus, with over 100 educators from around Asia.  I attended six mini-sessions and three extended, or deep learning, sessions each day.  That’s eighteen engaging and hands-on experiences all about the meaningful integration of technology in the classroom.  I’ve decided to come to the nearest mall (they’re everywhere in Malaysia) and begin the process of reflecting on the weekend over some chai tea and strong wifi.  I am lucky to be able to have some time off to travel in Malaysia this week, but the other teachers are flying/driving home to get back to school tomorrow.  It has been a fantastic weekend with a dedicated group of educators.

Teachers spent the whole weekend learning.

Teachers spent the whole weekend learning.

Digital storytelling

Digital storytelling

My partner and I won some Indonesian chocolate for our story.

My partner and I won some Indonesian chocolate for our story.

When asked to share her story, a third grader made a few taps on her iPad and it appeared on the screen.

When asked to share her story, a third grader made a few taps on her iPad and it appeared on the screen.

Old-fashioned brainstorming works, too.

Old-fashioned brainstorming works in this tenth-grade class, too.

Learning is everywhere.

Learning is everywhere.

Important school values

Important school values

A beautiful campus

A beautiful campus

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Comments (14):

  1. Lori

    November 13, 2016 at 09:08

    Very cool, Tim!!! Still love living vicariously through your adventures! We miss you!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      November 23, 2016 at 01:33

      Miss you guys, too!

      Reply
  2. Monica Schnee

    November 14, 2016 at 03:46

    Oh Tim, all the wonderful things you and I are seeing and learning at these international schools and in some public schools – hard to go back home … I still have a couple of months and you quite a few more. Looking forward to your next entry.
    Monica

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      November 23, 2016 at 01:37

      Thanks, Monica. I find that writing about it will help me to remember all the great ideas I’ve seen and people I’ve met. The challenge will be to use what I’ve learned to make changes at home.

      Reply
  3. Paula Agins

    November 14, 2016 at 05:54

    Technology………such a great learning tool! So wish I was better at it.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      November 23, 2016 at 01:38

      I know people who don’t know how to write a comment on a blog – you’re way ahead of them!

      Reply
  4. LInda Wight

    November 14, 2016 at 21:01

    TIm, I am amazed at the places you have been, and the people and schools you are visiting. I, myself, was having a meltdown because my charger didn’t work and I was afraid the internal battery needed to be replaced on the iPad, and it was only that. I had to replace the cord to the charger. I’m glad the children are also learning methods from “old school”. Technology is moving so fast, it is good that children are learning at a young age. It must be frustrating when parts are needed. You are learning so much to bring back to all your students. Stay well.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      November 23, 2016 at 01:40

      Yes, I’ve had wi-fi issues lately, and can’t get my photos uploaded as fast as I used to. Technology can be very frustrating when it doesn’t work right! I keep going back to it though.

      Reply
  5. Diane Weisman

    November 14, 2016 at 22:18

    Sounds like an intense weekend of meeting new people and lots of learning. Sounds like you’re having a food time even though it does’t sound like you have a lot of free time. I hope all is well.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      November 23, 2016 at 01:41

      I am having a fun time, and a “food” time:)

      Reply
  6. Graeme Lazell

    November 15, 2016 at 07:35

    Hi Tim,
    It was a pleasure meeting you. What a wonderful write up, I’m glad that you enjoyed your time here in Malaysia.
    All the very best to you and your onwards travel.

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      November 23, 2016 at 01:43

      It was nice to meet you and watch you teach, Graeme. Thanks for a great conference!

      Reply
  7. Marika Heughins

    December 14, 2016 at 19:32

    Beautiful school!

    Reply
    • Tim Flanagan

      December 16, 2016 at 06:42

      It certainly is.

      Reply

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