28 April 2014

Community and Service at ISOCS

On April 9th, Middle School students carried out two community and service activities that were a huge success and that reflected all that is good about the ISOCS community. Grade 7 and 8 students arranged an Easter Egg hunt for Primary School students, having helped the younger students decorate their eggs the previous day. All eggs (almost all...) were found, and were thoroughly enjoyed.

During the course of the day, Grade 6 students led a Games Day for all other students in the school, including a bake sale and BBQ lunch (complete with slushies). The students had been moved by the images they saw of the damage and suffering caused by Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines in November, and they wanted to help. The students themselves came up with the idea of a Games Day and then spent several months planning the event, chairing their own meetings, writing emails and producing posters, among other things.

Mother Nature cooperated on the day, providing us with sunshine for our bake sale and BBQ lunch. In the end our students raised an amazing CHF 1400.00 which has been donated to the Red Cross to support their efforts in the Philippines where reconstruction work is still being carried out. As well as contributing to a good cause, the students learned much about planning and about working together to accomplish a goal.

The Grade 6 students did a fantastic job, and they were supported by the ISOCS community who were generous in their donations as well as being great consumers of cakes, slushies and bratwurst. Teachers also pitched in and made the event a true community affair. Thank you to all those who participated.

28 February 2014

Luzern Fasnacht

Fasnacht, a treasured tradition in Catholic Swiss cantons, kicked off early Thursday morning in Luzern with the "Ur Knall" (equivalent to the "Big Bang" in English). As a way of exposing our students to this local custom, Frau Blaättler arranged for the Middle School to visit Luzern on Thursday. We arrived mid-morning to find the city gripped by party fever, crawling with men, women and children in amazing costumes. Large groups of musicians snaked through the old town playing the distinctive music of Fasnacht as they went from square to square. Confetti rained down from everywhere, and thanks to the 10 kg of confetti supplied by Frau Blättler our students contributed happily to this storm.
Several students (and teachers) accepted the invitation to come to school in costume, while others decorated their faces before we left.

 Our students were also a hit with tourists visiting the city:

28 January 2014

Turning in work late, or not at all... Clarification of ISOCS Policy

During the course of the first term it became apparent to the teachers in Middle School that students were unclear about the consequences of turning work in late or of failing to turn an assessment in all together. We spoke regularly with the students about the importance of turning work in on time, and of the value of getting feedback on their work, which is not possible if nothing is turned in. We also communicated with parents when we felt that a student was regularly not submitting work or was submitting it late.

However, when the first term reports were issued we discovered that there still seemed to be some misunderstanding in the community as to what our policy towards late submission or towards failure to submit work is. Therefore, as a faculty we sat together and codified our approach to this matter, then sought advice from other schools and from the International Baccalaureate Organisation on our proposed policy. The result is a document which clearly lays out a set of consequences that will ensue when and if a student does not turn work in on time or does not turn it in at all.

It is probably worth reiterating the philosophy behind this policy. First, we view assessment as an essential part of the learning process, not something external to it. As teachers we learn about what students are understanding and what they're not getting, and we can adjust our practices as a result. For students, getting feedback on their work is how they will learn to improve (this is known as formative assessment), which is the goal and a focus of what we tell them. For parents, seeing the feedback on their child's work, as well as receiving a grade, is an indication of where the child stands in relation to the expectations of the course.

In the MYP we use criteria to assess student work; this criteria is set by the IB and used by MYP schools around the world. This is one way we know that our expectations, and evaluation of, student work matches that what other schools the world over are doing. The criteria reflect achievement towards meeting objectives, such as knowledge and understanding, or the mastery of skills, such as structuring essays or using primary sources. Not one of the criteria in any subject measures whether or not the student has turned in work on time; time management is however a skill that is assessed within Approaches to Learning. Therefore, when a student turns work in late we cannot, as some school systems do, award a lower grade against the subject criteria (a point off for lateness, for example) - because those criteria don't refer to this.

What we can do in these situations is award an NA (not assessed). Teachers will still give feedback on the work (because this helps students to learn) but the work cannot be given a grade. To encourage students to learn the importance of turning work in on time, other mechanisms have to be found and this is why there is an Approaches to Learning report and why we will be writing home to parents each time work is turned in late or not submitted. If a student regularly turns work in late or not at all, then this will be mentioned by their Advisor on the reports and by the teacher in the subjects in which this occurs.

In short, we take this matter seriously and have taken what we believe to be appropriate steps to teach students the importance of meeting deadlines, and to inform parents in a timely manner when their child is not meeting deadlines. Below is the policy that we have adopted to clarify this approach; it has been shared with students already and I'm pleased to share it with you now.

Amendment to ISOCS Assessment Policy

Work not submitted or submitted late
Common time for submission: 08:30, after which the assignment is late.

Each and every time an assignment is turned in late an email goes home to parents and to advisor.

Repeat late submission results in advisor calling a meeting with parents at which time an academic contract is drawn up. Goals and appropriate further consequences/support mechanisms set (homework club, parent-supervised work at home on weekends, etc.).

AND, assignments will only be graded if turned in within 24 hours of deadline, unless extension had been negotiated prior to deadline or following explanation of extenuating circumstances thereafter. Assignments not turned in after this deadline awarded an NA.

AND, regular late/non-submission mentioned by teachers in their report comments.

AND, advisor writes comment for each student on Term Reports in which regular late or non-submission is mentioned.

AND, student is given low assessment on Approaches to Learning: Organisation .

Finally, on reports when a student has not turned in enough work for us to accurately assess their achievement against all the objectives in a subject, then the term grade may be an NA. We hope that the steps outlined above will reduce the likelihood that it ever comes to this point.

12 January 2014

Term 2

We were happy to be able to welcome all students back to the Middle School for the start of our second term after what I hope were relaxing holidays for everyone. Teachers used the time, in addition to recharging their batteries, to prepare reports on student achievement in Term 1. We have almost finished compiling these reports and are planning to be able to send them out by the end of this week.

During the holidays we also took the time to move the Humanities and Languages classroom into the room previously occupied by Learning Support and the IT lab. We made the change because, as our students continue to grow, the previous Humanities and Languages classroom was getting cramped.  I think we've settled in well already.

Michelle Jones has taken over from Sarah Burrell and although we miss Sarah we're very happy that Michelle could join us. Along with Music, Michelle will also be teaching Drama and Dance/Movement to ensure that are students are getting a well-rounded exposure to the Arts.

This coming Thursday is our termly Parents Information Evening and I hope to see you all there for the 18:00 start. I will be reporting on upcoming changes in the MYP and Jax will speak about plans for the further development of the school.

19 December 2013

Celebrations of Learning and Season's Greetings

The first term of the academic year 2013/14 has come to an end and everyone has set off for a well-earned holiday. While there has some work being done to the classrooms it's otherwise been very quite here this week.

We closed this term with a Celebration of Learning which traditionally has been an opportunity for students to showcase examples of what they have been learning during the term. As class sizes increase, we opted for a slightly different format this year and sought to have a few students demonstrate what had been learned in our new Spanish programme, and the videos they had created with our new German teacher, rather than having each student present something. Additionally, we gave students the opportunity to create a digital portfolio with examples of their work and reflections upon their learning, which they would then share with their parents (similar to a student-led-conference).

The Grade 6 Celebration of Learning followed this format (with the addition of a display of students' newly created book trailers) and was a success. Unfortunately, the Grades 7, 8 presentation fell victim to last minute absences due to illness and a case of extreme "stage fright," which meant that even the group work we had selected to be presented had to be called off. This curtailed the public presentation part of the Celebration of Learning significantly. Nevertheless, students were able to sit with parents and discuss their learning individually and I believe that this is a very valuable experience. We're sorry we weren't able to show parents of Grades 7, 8 more of what these students have learned with Mr Gonzalez and Ms Blättler as I'm sure you would have been impressed with how successful these language programmes are.

As we all depart for destinations far and near I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone season's greeting, relaxing holidays and a good start in the New Year. It's been a pleasure working with such a great group of students, supportive parents and such a high calibre team of teachers and other staff. I know we're all looking forward to another successful term in 2014.

01 December 2013

Saying Good Bye, and Welcome

Andres Haas, who started at ISOCS in Grade 5, had his last day as part of the Grade 6 class on Friday. His classmates sent him off in style, and we enjoyed "Gritibenz" during homeroom in the morning and chocolate cake at break. Andres, whom we will miss,  will be joining another school closer to Zurich but he has promised to visit us from time to time.

However, Grade 6 has the pleasure to welcome a new student, Julian Hoof. Julian visited the school a little over a month ago and couldn't wait until the new term to start before joining ISOCS Middle School, and will start on Monday, December 2nd. Julian has been to school in the USA, to in international school in Switzerland and to local Swiss school previously. We are all looking forward to him joining Grade 6.

Middle School students have been invited to help out at the Primary School Christmas party, and student volunteers will be arranging a party for Grades 6-8 to welcome in the new year with the support of parents if possible. In the meantime, there is still much learning to do in the remaining two weeks before the end of the first term and the start of the Christmas holidays. These are important weeks, and I would ask you to encourage your children to dress warmly for the breaks and the walk to Teuflibach - it seems to have become fashionable at school to go outside without a jacket even when the temperature is below zero. We've seen that the first winter flu/cold bugs are already circulating among our students and we'd hate for anyone to miss any of the remaining classes of this term.

Middle School students will hold a 'Celebration of Learning' on the morning of December 13th where they will showcase what they have been learning so far. All parents are invited to attend this event.

And of course, won't we will all miss the colours of Movember...

24 November 2013

On November

I believe November is one of the most challenging months of the school year. More often than not, the weather turns cold, grey and rainy. We live neither the golden days of autumn nor the snows of winter. The lure of Christmas is there, but its still too far away to be really felt.  Friday's first snowfall was a taste of what is to come, but the weekend's rains reminded us that we're not there yet.
But, to the credit of our students and their teachers, I think there is a real buzz about learning felt in Middle School. I feel the positive energy every morning when Mr Berndt and I greet the students as they walk through the door - I don't know what it's like at breakfast, but when they get to school the kids always seem excited and happy as they begin another day at school.

Badminton has become a popular sport at break, and so has choreographing the next dance craze, and its getting too cold to sit around so Minecraft is suffering. We've had to close the football field for the time being because it has quickly turned into a mud field and we need a chance for it to recover if there is ever going to be grass on it again (not to mention the fact that the mud rarely stays only on the field).

Students are being asked whether they wish to help out with the Primary School's Christmas party, and another group will start planning a New Year party for Middle School. Many students have also come forward to ask whether they could organise a fundraising event for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines and we are exploring this idea.

In the meantime, we carry on with the business of teaching and learning in the classroom.

Photo credit: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by keepps: http://flickr.com/photos/isg-online/5574544301/