Generating Ideas on Maker Day

Publisher’s Notes (me):  

  • I am keeping the Mandarin translation included in this post in case there are any Chinese followers.  Plus, it reminds everyone that we are currently living and working in China!
  • For you We Chat users this story was orignally published on We Chat.  Check out this link to see the original posting.

枫叶高中 | 我们的创客日 Our Maker Day


This past Friday, the BC High School program at Maple Leaf International Academy – Shenzhen had our first Maker Day as a part of our Targeted Learning theme for this month. Our theme is Generating Ideas from the Creative Thinking core competency in BC curriculum and a Maker day is simply a day when students are presented with a problem and using simple materials have to build or “make” a solution to the problem. Students were challenged with generating creative ideas to solve each problem and it was fascinating to see how many new ideas they came up with to solve these problems.

Leaning Tower1


First, in “Leaning Tower”students had to build the tallest free-standing tower using toothpicks and plasticine. To pass the judging the tower had to stand on its’ own for 30 seconds. The winners of this activity were the group were Tiffany, Erru, Sherlock and Kyle who build a “Monopole Self Supporting” tower which clearly outdistanced the other entries.

第二项活动是“弹珠滚落”,学生必须用纸板和卡纸制作一系列斜坡,让弹珠在这些斜坡上滚动 15秒然后掉进纸杯中。获奖作品由高骏驰,慈佳殷,谢晨泽和特邀嘉宾Kiyla制作,他们的弹珠滚动时间是16秒(有2次帮助)并且中途没有从斜坡上滑落。

The second activity was the“Marble Drop”where students had to construct series of cardboard and paper ramps which would drop a marble into a paper cup in exactly 15 seconds. The winning entry was by the group featuring Kyle, Yannie, Steven and special guest Kiyla who came in at 16 seconds (with 2 helps) and without the marble dropping out of the ramp.

Marble Drop 1


The final activity called Pinnochio was won by a group featuring Ann, Kryon, Jack, and Jenny with a very creatively designed nose made of straws stretching 510 cm!


In all of these activities, students were encouraged to use their own creative ideas to solve the problems, but of equal importance was helping others to make their ideas better. When working in groups, students (as well as many adults) aren’t always able to encourage others to make their ideas better. They usually either reject them completely, or agree without adding ideas to make the better. Being able to generate your own ideas and then help others make their ideas better is an important skill for life and an important part of the creative thinking competency in the BC curriculum.

pinnochio 4


It was also great to see students having fun working together demonstrating their abilities with their hands and producing a physical product to show how smart they are.

A special thanks to Darren Spyksma from the Society of Christian Schools of BC for providing the ideas for providing these Maker Activities during his presentation to Maple Leaf administrators in April 2018.


“The Biggest Storm on the Planet”

Mangkhut makes landfall in China.

Experiencing a natural event like a Super-typhoon is a reminder that the power of creation is truly awe-inspiring and beyond anything that man can aspire to control. Called the “biggest storm on the planet this year” Mangkhut was an experience I won’t soon forget.  Learning what can and can’t be controlled in life is called “humility” as we discover that not all circumstances can be controlled and sometimes you just have to watch “the storm” unfold and wait for it to finish.

Here are some video clips of the rain, wind, and flooding and pictures below from the aftermath. Best thoughts are with those whose lives were lost or impacted by this storm or in the Carolinas dealings with Florence’s aftermath.

What is your Learning Target?

Update: Here is a link to a story written by the students who participated in our first competency “strength building”activity.

We all know people whom we consider as being competent. When I have had encountered a problem that needs to be solved, and it feels beyond my own level of competency to resolve (which happens often according to my wife!), I have usually tried to seek out the most capable person that I can that can help me find an action plan to address the concern. In my years as a school Principal, when I would need help from the school board office with a specific issue or concern, I would usually find the most competent person I could to help resolve the issue, regardless of their job responsibilities or job title. This person is often referred to as the “go to” person within an organization because they are determined to be competent.

Being competent is more than just about job skills.   Although skills are often an important part of the mix of attaining competency, limiting our understanding of competency to this word implies a narrow understanding of what the word really means.  When I asked our students what it means to be competent, we came up with the simple definition that it means “to be good at something”.   Moving from being competent to achieveng competency means that you are good at a number of things but that you can put the whole package together to be seen as “good” or “competent” in a more holistic way.

Becoming competent in preparation for life is the intention of the Core Competencies as presented by the BC Ministry of Education in the renewed curriculum which takes effect this fall. The use of competency in the curriculum is not intended to be narrowly defined as skills, although skills are often part of the definition. More than job skills, competencies comprise the DO part of the KNOW-DO-UNDERSTAND curriculum model and are the most practical outcome of secondary education. The Core and Curricular Competencies are at the centre of the renewed curriculum and have been given equal status with subject matter content as learning standards.

At MLIAS, we intend to become a competency-driven school and will be implementing these competencies as teachers design instruction for our students. To do this, we are using this target wheel developed by the Society of Christian Schools in B.C. which we were able to have translated into Chinese and painted on one of our walls so we can refer to this often when talking to our students.IMG_3873 - CopyWe have also created posters with the question, “What is your learning target?”, and each month we will have a theme built around  built around one of the specific targets listed on the poster.  Students will gather evidence toward each of the targetsfrom these and other experiences and track it during their years at our school on  My Blueprint.  When they leave our school they will not only have a high school graduation certificate, they will have an understanding of what it really means to attain competency so that they can better meet the challenges of post-secondary education and the ups and downs of life.

Learn 4 Forever will keep track of our progress in this and share stories about how we are trying to accomplish this task.  Our first theme day is this Friday where we will be targeting the “Building Relationships” target from the Social Responsibility competency area. Students will be asked to track the ways in which they are able to build relationships with other students and the adults in the building.  They will do some self reflection on what they are good at and where they need to improve to attain competency in this area.

We look forward to our students becoming more and more competent in preparation for success at school and in life!

Building Dreams in Shenzhen

Note: I originally gave this speech at the graduation ceremony this past June and repeated it to welcome the new Grade 10 students to Maple Leaf International Academy this month.  

The Dream

Everyone has a dream.  The most famous speech in the history of the world was even called, “I have a dream!”  Graduation ceremonies at any grade level are about dreams of many kinds.  Dreams of summer, dreams of the next level of school, or dreams of future accomplishments.

When I was young, my dreams were about becoming a professional athlete in Canadian (or what the Americans call, “American”) Football.  Realizing my dream was all I could think about, and every decision I made was about becoming a star athlete and becoming famous.  I exercised and practiced and sacrificed time with friends doing other fun things so that I could realize my dream.  While I did play football for a while at the university level, I never DID actually attain my dream of becoming a professional athlete.  Does that mean that my dream was a failure because I didn’t fully accomplish it?  I would say to you that the answer to that question is “No.”

A famous American basketball coach once said, “Don’t give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.” John Wooden.

Dreams are important because we need to be driven by a goal in order to accomplish something important.  My dream took me to university, where the most important thing I received was an education which led me to becoming a teacher, a school Principal and eventually is what brought me here to China to this wonderful school.  If I didn’t have this dream, I may not have accomplished these other things in my life.

Another quote is, “You have to dream before your dreams can come true,”  A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Everything that you will accomplish in life in one way or another comes about because of a dream that you have had. What then is your dream?  If you don’t have a dream, you need to get one.  Whether or not it becomes true is beside the point.  People might tell you your dream is foolish, but you need to hang on and pursue your dream because you never know where it will take you and what other paths you will take because of your dreams.

One of the reasons that Maple Leaf exists is to give students an opportunity to attend their dream university.  This step that you have taken today is one step along that path and as over 12 000 other students have experienced, getting your education is usually the first step in helping you dream.  Work hard to achieve your academic and educational goals, it is the first step toward reaching your dreams in life.

Hello From Tianjin

September 10, 2017

Ni Hao to our friends and family! How do we start to relay everything to you all about what we have experienced in our first weeks in China?  We are very excited about our adventure and the challenge of living in a place as different as China and are learning new things everyday about life here.   While it is different, there is also a quality of familiarity especially in a modern place like Tianjin-TEDA with modern shopping, excellent and very reasonable transportation, and even lots of Western food if we want.  We are trying to live as much like the locals as possible, although interspersed with a few familiar things from home (ie Starbucks) to provide some comfort.

First, a few observations.  Living in a modern Chinese city is not unlike living in any modern place around the world.  When you are in a mall, a downtown area or a Western-style restaurant you really could be in any city anywhere in the world.  The signs are different, sure, but the modern, urbanized world has taken on a measure of sameness that cuts across all cultures which China has adopted even as a totalitarian country.  When you are in a Burger King, a pub, or a modern grocery store it doesn’t really matter where you are these days in just about any urban setting.   While we haven’t been “city folk for a while, we are enjoying having lots of modern conveniences within a very short walking distance.

The people of China are still curious about Westerner’s however, even in a modern place like Tianjin.  We get looks from kids, and smiles from adults when we say “Ni Hao” (Hello) or “Xie Xie” (Thank you) in Mandarin.  While I get that we stand out in the crowd, this goes beyond just that our appearance is different.  China is still aspiring to be fully accepted as a modern country and on an individual level the people still seem to want to make an extra effort to make us feel welcome.  As with many places visited around the world, the response of people on the street or in stores is very, very gracious especially when it appears you are needing some help to figure something out.  We have felt very welcome.

While many things are modern, convenient and wonderful, by far the most negative aspect of our time here so far (and maybe the only one) is seeing the pollution in the sky every day.  While we have had a couple of clear days so far, the smog is ever-present (especially in the morning) and it makes you wonder what the impact of this is on the health of the population.   Air purifiers are popular items with many and we will probably get one especially for the winter season when we are told things will get worse.  If China is going to take the final step to become fully a part of the first world, it will need to resolve this issue.

There are lots of things we could comment on (and pictures to share!), for now we’ll just talk about our daily life at home, at school and in our new community.  Just to be specific, the area of Tianjin that we live in is called TEDA (Tianjin Economic Development Area) which is a planned city about 45 minutes by car from Tianjin proper.  Tianjin is not part of a state, but rather it’s own municipality or regional district and encompasses a number of urban centres.  TEDA is where the port is, as well as the site of the chemical plant explosion in 2015 which ended up killing 173 people Tianjin Explosion Wikipedia.  We live VERY close (2km) from the site and there are still some signs of the damage it caused.  Kind of unnerving for sure.


IMG_1348We live in a very nice apartment complex called the Shuangzi Garden apartments right beside the TEDA and the AEON malls.  We live on the 24th floor of the two-tower complex in very new and modern two-bedroom apartment with a nice view of the city.  That is, when you can see it due to the pollution.  There is a small kitchen (which can be fully enclosed by glass for when you are cooking with oil or some kind of odourous foods) with a fridge, a gas cooktop stove with two elements, and a small microwave.  The bathroom has a nice walk in shower and also contains the washing machine.  There are very few dryers in China it seems so we have to hang our clothes to dry in sort of vestibule area by the living room window which was made with a tile floor and rods for this purpose.  It came furnished with a nice new couch, a dining room table, two king size beds with very hard mattresses and  a washing machine.

The place came with a nice, new 50’ish-inch TV which we are using mostly to watch movies on Netflix (through our Canadian VPN) and some Chinese TV, especially when we can figure out how to get sub-titles on these channels.   There is 24-hour security and we are making friends with the security guards at the front gate.  Some are friendlier than others but we are doing our best.

We have had to buy things to get our apartment set up and started from scratch.  It was strange to have none of the basics such as utensils, cups, or cookware available when we first moved in so Judy got to work on this right away. The school gives new employees some start up money for this purpose and it has been kind of fun to get things for our second home.  The school organized a bus trip to Ikea outside of Tianjin City and Judy went with a number of the new staff to help get us all started.

When you move in to your place you get cards with chips on them to add electricity and gas.  If you run out, you have to go and add money to the card by either putting it in a machine in the front lobby or going to an office location for the utility company.  We have already had one experience of running out of power at 3:00 AM for which I had to add emergency (1 day) power at the meter outside of our front door.

We feel very lucky to have a nice place to live in.  We were shown a range of apartments on our first day which were not nearly as nice as this one, although also pretty sure that our agent, the wonderful Ting Ting, wanted to rent us this one and showed us the lower quality places first.  China hasn’t become the economic powerhouse it is without understanding good salesmanship.  As we said, we have a second bedroom so always have room for visitors!

Daily Life:

IMG_1301Judy & I work at the Tianjin Maple Leaf International High School which is less than 2 km’s from our apartment.  Judy is working as a teacher’s assistant which is giving her an opportunity to build relationships with the staff as well as a first-hand understanding of the educational world. Our apartment is separated by a freeway so we catch a taxi for 9 RMB (less than $2 CDN) or can take the bus for even less.  Judy has done this, I’ve only taken taxi’s so far.  There are lots of taxi’s around so we hail one from the street, and since the drivers don’t generally speak English we show them the address of the school on a card and we are there in less than five minutes.  We have to be at the school by 7:30 so start our days pretty early and get home after 4 for Judy and 5 for me.

After work, we will either go to the gym or have dinner.  We have joined the “Tastable” Athletic Club” in the TEDA Mall right beside our building which is a great facility with a pool, badminton courts, all kinds of exercise machines (except oddly, an exercise bike) and a full set of classes if we want to participate in those.  It is also a source of community for us as we are meeting people at the gym who want to practice their English with us.

For food, we have eaten out more than in our apartment.  There are many, many restaurants close by and China is a “going out” culture it seems so this has been easier especially while we have been setting up the apartment.  You can get a decent dinner for around 50 RMB ($10 CDN), of course more in some places but less in others.  One of my faves so far is a big bowl of spicy Ramen for about 20 RMB ($5 CDN) at the “Food Marche” (Food Court) in the Aeon Mall about three minutes away.  There are all kinds of different food options and we are trying different kinds to see what we like and what we don’t.  One of the dishes we ordered had chicken feet in them which is on don’t like list so far.  Went out for a great barbeque meal with the staff from school on BBQ Wednesday at a place that the staff have made a bit of tradition.  Chinese restaurants serve food on platters for everyone at the table to share, not unlike Chinese places at home, although we haven’t seen chow mein or chop suey or sweet and sour pork anywhere here yet.  The Chinese food is quite spicy so that works for me and Judy is getting more used to  this.

We have shopped at a couple of different and very modern grocery stores.  The closest one is the grocery store at Aeon which is a great store, but it is a little expensive by China standards so we tried the Metro store which is a little farther away but a bit cheaper (I am a teacher after all!) so we will go there a couple of times a month to stock up and get our fresh stuff at Aeon.  Veggies are very cheap anywhere and plentiful so we will plan to eat lots of fresh stuff when we eat at home.  We have a lot to learn about preparing food the Chinese way so will delve into this as we get set up more in our place.  A couple of things we won’t be trying anytime soon however are the chicken feet  or especially the live bullfrogs that we saw in the meat section of the Metro store yesterday.  Living like a local has its limits.

IMG_1381The Maple Leaf Educational System operates 35 private elementary, middle, and high schools in 13 cities across China. The high schools are BC “Offshore” schools which are accredited and regularly inspected by the Ministry of Education of BC.  The students follow the same graduation program as other high schools in BC and receive a Dogwood graduation diploma upon graduation.  They have also recently opened up two schools in BC for Chinese students to attend and have plans to open up more sites in China so it is a going concern. The major goal of all Maple Leaf schools is for students to enter a university outside of China, and for the best and brightest to go to a Top Ten university somewhere in the world including Oxford.   Last year, more than 1400 students graduated from ML schools.  At the Tianjin-TEDA campus there are three schools with more than 3000 students with the high school having 1500 students in the three grades (10-12) of the graduation program.

The highlight of the opening day was the opening flag ceremony which was very formal.  The students were all lined up in the courtyard behind their homeroom teacher and there were speeches from the front by students, a Canadian and Chinese teacher, the headmaster and the BC Principal, and then three flag raisings…the Chinese, Canadian, and Maple Leaf flag.  The national anthems of the two countries and the school song were all sung while the flags were being raised.  Those who know me will know that I love flag ceremonies so this was a great way to start the year.  Each Monday will feature a flag ceremony assembly for the whole school and we have been told by the Chinese Headmaster, Mr. Long, that we are expected to dress appropriately so I will plan to wear a suit for the first day of each week.

QBLP2005The school itself is not dissimilar in function to a BC High School on opening day.  Besides the little more than usual confusion with student schedules, the school opened without incident.  Students, while polite and respectful and well behaved in class, are also kids and prone to say “Yes, teacher” and then go away and do something completely opposite to what you ask.  All the groups are represented: the glamour girls, the cool guys, the jocks (sorry for the old terms but this is what I got!), and the academic elite.  We have found students hiding out in the library, avoidance in the many nooks and crannies of the building avoid going to class, and even smoking in the bathrooms.

However, despite the fact that “kids are kids” the tone of the school is still very different.  Besides BC teachers and administration, there are Chinese teachers and admin as well as counselors whose role is to play either a disciplinary or supportive role (still trying to figure that out).  With all of this support in place, and the general expectation of the society of respect toward authority, there does not seem to be much room for rebellion or serious inappropriate behavior by the students.  I did have to deal with a fight on the third day however in PE class where one student ending up in hospital with a broken nose.

The BC staff is made up teachers who are all certified through the Teacher Regulation Branch of BC but who come from a wide range of places.  We have some teachers from BC, but more from Ontario, and then others from South Africa, New Zealand and a couple from the US who have all received BC Teacher Certification through the TRB.  The BC side works with the Chinese side to coordinate the educational program of the school, which as you might imagine creates some interesting cultural dilemmas.  I have been to three meetings so far run by the CEO of the whole Tianjin campus, the very serious Headmaster, Mr. Long.  Most of the meetings have featured “work reports” by school or program heads followed by commentary from Mr. Long.  While each is expected to take five minutes for their report, they take about 10-15 which is followed by sometimes lengthy commentary by the Headmaster.

On Friday afternoon at 4:00 PM we had an all-campus Staff Meeting which featured a swearing in ceremony for the new staff followed by an hour- long speech in Mandarin (without translation) by the headmaster.  The swearing in ceremony featured once again the school song, followed by us taking the Maple Leaf oath by raising our right hand and making a fist interestingly, and repeating the oath pledging to be good employees of Maple Leaf and to provide a top-quality education for the attending students.

Today we went shopping (or looking) at what we would have thought was a traditional Chinese shopping experience in Tanguu, just four stops away from us on the Metro train or Quinguu (pronounced Ching-goo).  This is the place around here to find fake Rolex watches and Coach handbags among many other things.  These are also the places that you barter for price.  The shop owners will know that Westerners are not great at bargaining and don’t know prices so this is a place to be on our guard.  Not feeling quite ready to take on a crafty shop owner yet but will soon want to go and get a brand-name watch for a tenth of price or some such thing just for the fun of it.

Lots more to share about but time and attention span are always in short supply.  All the best to you all.  While we are happy to be here we miss our friends and family and appreciate everyone’s efforts to stay in touch very much.  See you again soon!

An Education That Fits

copypasteimageIn his book,  The End of Average, Harvard professor Todd Rose tells the story of a problem the US Air Force had in the early 50’s. They were losing pilots due to accidents at an alarming rate. After researching many possibilities for the abnormal accident rate, they discovered one factor common to all planes: the design of the cockpit and the fit of the pilot’s chair. It seems that the pilot’s chair was designed to fit the body dimensions of the average pilot. Makes sense. The problem is, that after further research, it was determined that a very low number of their pilots matched the average body shape and profile. In fact, it was determined that exactly ZERO of their pilots matched this so-called average profile! As the story goes, once this was discovered, the Air Force immediately  began the work of customizing the pilot’s chair for each and every pilot and the rate of crashes went down dramatically.

A powerful story for sure, but as Professor Rose says, not many of us have had the direct experience of being Air Force pilots and so won’t be able to relate specifically to this experience. However, if you watch the original Ted Talk you will notice how Professor Rose ties this story to a more common experience that we all share. While indeed not many of us have been or will fly a fighter jet, we all have a had another common experience of sitting in a chair that is made to fit the average person. The classroom. What is telling if you watch the video is the laughter that comes from the audience when he shows a picture of a traditional classroom and makes this connection.

Why the laughter? Because we have all been there. Whether as students ourselves, teachers, parents, support staff, or school principals we have all had the common experience of educating  young students and how our schools are directed toward the average student who may exist on paper but not in reality. Each student is a mix of strengths and weaknesses, different learning styles, and different interests and passions. All of these are faced by a teacher who is trying to faithfully meet the goals of the required curriculum and make sure that each students leaves with a solid foundation of skills and knowledge in preparation for success in life, or at least in the next grade. The challenge is clear: with each student bringing their unique profile to the classroom each day, and each teacher and support staff member trying to meet the requirements of the curriculum, how do we provide an Education that Fits for each and every learner?