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Diving into Diverse Experiences at ISB

By Tom Fearon
Diving into Diverse Experiences at ISB

The end of the school year can be a quiet time as learning winds down and students ease into vacation mode, but it was a different story last June as the International School of Beijing (ISB) hosted its biggest-ever experiential learning opportunity (ELO) exhibition. The event capped off another successful Experiential Learning Week, a year-end tradition that takes learning out of the classroom and well out of students’ comfort zones.
A total of 30 ELOs were showcased at the exhibition. Each reflected student experiences and learning outcomes through projects that included cooking, playwriting, archery, martial arts, online comics, exploration of China by hiking and biking, recording music at a professional studio, and extended projects at local service organizations.
“I heard a lot of people say it was the most incredible display of student learning they had ever seen,” said Travis Tebo, a high school teacher and ELO supervisor. “Everyone was blown away. For me, the whole exhibition was just amazing. It was hard to identify one project that really stood out among others.”
Working in groups of at least 12 with individual budgets of 3,500 yuan (US$546), high school students were guided in their ELOs by a driving question. Each project promoted critical thinking, collaboration, and local and global engagement through external partnerships.
“I am extremely impressed with the ways students chose to take advantage of their ELOs. Some tried their hand at something new for the first time, while others delved deeper into an area that aligns with their passion,” said Paul Wood, high school Principal.
“This isn’t a presentation contest. What’s important is not so much the quality of projects or how polished they appear, but more so listening to students and hearing what they learned and gained from their experience.”
Earlier in the week, students in ISB’s woodwork shop built platforms to help blind children mount horses for physical therapy. The ELO was inspired by students’ visit to a stable operated by Horses Offering People Enrichment (HOPE), a local NGO that serves children with special needs.
Meanwhile in the pool, students made a splash by learning to scuba dive under the guidance of a professional instructor. The ELO included two days of confined diving in the pool and two days of diving at Beidaihe, a popular beach 280 km east of Beijing. Students received open-water scuba diving certification upon completion of the ELO.
“It was challenging in multiple ways, which is really good because that’s the essence of an ELO,” said high school teacher Dan Russell, who supervised the scuba diving. “The theory gave students a good grounding in the science of diving, while there was also the physical challenge and learning about aquatic environments.”
The trend of combat sports being popular ELOs continued, with fencing and wushu generating plenty of enthusiasm in ISB’s gyms. Aaron M., from Grade 10, was one of 13 students to learn the basics of fencing during Experiential Learning Week.
“It’s been fun learning all the stances and defense techniques. It was a little difficult to learn at the start, but throughout the week we have been learning about the finer points of the sport,” he said. “[Fencing] is something I normally wouldn’t do. I saw it as a new challenge and an opportunity to learn outside of my comfort zone.”
Another popular ELO that gave students the opportunity to pursue their passion was computer programming. Students created original games and software that accentuated innovation and creativity, key skills in ISB’s Learning21 curriculum.
“We got together in February to come up with ideas that interest students. Computer programming was quite organic. After developing storyboards for games, we determined what kind of materials, software, and hardware were needed to make the games,” said high school math teacher David Burton.
A key requirement of each ELO was for students to learn from experts. Increasing access to expertise and new learning opportunities through external partnerships is also an initiative of ISB’s Strategic Plan IV.
Among the experts visiting ISB during Experiential Learning Week was Jim Lee, founder of organic coffee company Ocean Grounds Coffee. Mr. Lee taught barista skills to 22 students, who mastered an espresso machine, in addition to learning how to make hand-poured coffees.
“We were initially a little anxious that we might not attract 12 students, but it was a nice surprise to discover so much interest from students of all grades, even those who don’t drink coffee,” said Henrik L., a Grade 12 student.
“We have been learning about coffee for a little over a year, so we know a lot of the basics. Having experts come to the school helped us gain a deeper understanding about the art of coffee making. It was an opportunity to learn about specialty coffee, which represents the future of the industry,” added fellow ISB senior Wistan C.

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