For three weeks in September, Keystone Academy students from Grades 2 to 5 underwent a “Digital Bootcamp,” a short training program that assessed their digital literacy skills. Upon their return from the Golden Week break, the pupils received the result of their exercises.
Nathan Niu from Grade 5M was thrilled and proud to get seven different badges. These colorful stickers show how well he fared in operating his laptop and using educational apps.
“The hardest one to accomplish is the bootcamp badge,” Nathan shares. “We have to do all computer work in class. But I will remember all of them, and I will become better.”
Keystone is currently adopting a blended learning approach, or a combination of on-campus face-to-face interactions with teachers who are in Beijing, and virtual Live Lessons from teachers not currently in Beijing. Although many Keystone Primary School teachers are now back on campus, some classes continue using digital platforms so students will be ready should a sudden return to the distance learning approach happens.
“Demands are being placed on students and teachers that haven't been here before the pandemic,” says Science and Digital Learning teacher Kirk McCullough. “The whole idea of the Digital Bootcamp Program is ‘How do we adapt? How do we grow? How do we change? How do we meet the demands of this new learning environment?’ So this was the answer to that.”
That program is organized by the Primary School and the Digital and Innovative Learning Department. Mr. McCullough says the badge reward system aims to motivate students as they can see their progress—or “the fruits of their labor.”
“At any moment, your whole world can be turned on its head. You just have to be prepared for that and be resilient,” he adds. “If you're not in that mindset where change is coming and think, ‘I don’t know what's going on, it’s uncomfortable and confusing,’ then it will be difficult to succeed.”
“Growth mindset” is a recurring theme in Keystone Primary School lessons and activities. During the Digital Bootcamp program, classes were also taking on the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) unit “Brainwave” to understand how people learn differently. In one of the first “Brainwave” activities, students created their squishy brain models out of playdough. The classes also explored the concepts of knowledge, skills, and understanding.
In the Grade 3 class of teacher Ciaran Dionco, students watched an animated story that revealed “a secret that will change the way [they] look at the world forever”: that anyone can be smart, “you just have to work at it.”
“Having this mindset prepares students for learning,” Mr. Dionco says. “It’s teaching and letting them feel comfortable with making mistakes. The unit helps them understand that there are multiple ways of thinking, and that many questions may have many right answers but have different solutions.”
Over in the Middle School, the seventh grade class of Science teacher TJ Rydeen went to the Keystone Eco Pond for their first Biology unit this academic year. Equipped with smart tablets and sketch pads, students identified animals and plants in the area and recorded interactions between these organisms. Several days after the trip, students converted their records into a diagram representing the pond’s biotic and abiotic components.
In previous years, classes went to a much larger environment to conduct experiments—in 2019, for example, seventh graders traveled to Yeyahu wetlands in north Beijing. This year, the activity was done in the school compound as a safety measure. Regardless, the idea remains the same: observation is essential in daily life, whether it is a “usual” or “unusual” school year.
“We become accustomed to a certain chain of events and the way that the world exists. We come to expect things to always be how we have expected them to be,” Mr. Rydeen explains. “This is due to our ability to categorize things. Unfortunately, it puts us into a situation where we expect things to always remain the way we have come to know and expect them.”
“By being able to observe, students are able to look at the world around them and question the things that they had assumed as being ‘usual.’ By observing their surroundings, the actions of others, and even the emotions of others, people can better react to a situation and be prepared for it.”
The circumstances earlier this year tested the readiness of many schools and educators around the world. English teacher Mac Hagen was abroad during the second semester of the previous academic year. It was difficult but an “interesting experience overall” for Mr. Hagen, who is known for his cheerful personality and lively classes. His main challenge was making students feel part of “one big family” whose members motivate one another.
“I realized how much students need their teachers by them,” he says. “It can be demoralizing to have all this work that you’re doing online without any social interaction.”
Mr. Hagen is now back in Beijing. His first on-site lesson was a review of the new words his students had learned for their “Hero’s Journey” Literature unit. Mr. Hagen held the activity in a game-show style using an engaging online quiz site, so the students became animated.
In the following reflection activity, he handed out orange notebooks to each student, joking that the notebooks were his gift to them for every holiday in a year. Mr. Hagen ran out of celebrations, but one of his students told him: “There’s another celebration – it’s ‘Welcome Back Mr. Mac Day!’”