MAD Collaboration

Yes, we artistic types are sometimes accused of being quite mad, but in this case MAD stands for Music, Art, Drama. Recently, students of the three disciplines at Beijing BISS International School were showcased in a very pleasing way. The three Arts teachers, Catherine Rankin (Drama), Gillian Mercer (Visual Art) and I collaborated in the presentation.

Grade 9 Clarinetist, Terry Zhu

Here’s how the show went:


The first part, logically enough was the ‘M’ for Music and I had a selection of my grade 9 Music students playing short compositions from their Ground Bass Project. The idea of the project was to learn about this composing technique widely used in the Baroque Period. Most people are familiar with the Pachelbel Canon, which is a very good example of a piece composed on a ‘ground’ or repeating bass line. The students all created ground bass lines and then chose someone else’s to create these excellent sounding pieces. We have been building up a Ground Bass Bank in their class wiki. I hope to build the project into a wider collaboration next year. Here is one of the pieces, composed by Charles Zhou – called ‘EMO Bass’. Charles’ classmates Simon Lu (piano) and Terry Zhu (clarinet) did a great job playing his piece in the concert.

Collaboration was the theme for the whole night. More compositions were played by students through the concert. Congratulations to Alex Ding (flute), Tony Foo (guitar), Simon Lu (piano), Sang Hyun Woo (piano) and Jung Woo Han (violin). I also helped the students by playing cello and flute with them for some of the pieces.

Another highlight was the singing of Violet Lindsay. Violet is a grade 11 Music student who has been working hard on her singing during the past year. She sang a difficult song from Phantom of the Opera, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again –  accompanied by Julie Lindsay on piano. Well done Violet!

Violet Lindsay, Grade 11 BISS Student

We also showcased the performing talents of a number of students who played piano beautifully. Congratulations to Grace Chung (gr 10), Andy Park (gr 10) and Jesse Zhao (gr 8). A special note should be made about Jesse’s playing. Although only a grade 8 student, he plays with such a spectacular technique and sparkling musicianship, that he is someone to watch in the future. He played Chopin ‘Black Key’ Prelude absolutely brilliantly.


We had a short interval in the concert at this point, which gave the audience an opportunity to look at the Art Exhibition on display in the Courtyard. Work was by the Grade 10 students of Gillian Mercer, our brilliant art teacher who will sadly be leaving China next year to take up a new job in Darwin, Australia. The works were beautiful two and three dimensional prints all created in the theme of ‘clouds’. As always, the quality of the visual art produced by Gillian’s students was consistently high, with the work always offering some deeper meaning than just a superficial, aesthetic experience. Wonderful work Gillian and students!

Grade 10 'Cloud' print
Grade 10 - Cloud print 2


The final part of the MAD Showcase was the grade 10 Drama students’ play called Nosrep. ‘Nosrep’ is person spelt backwards and the script was created by the students and Cath Rankin, our talented Theatre Arts teacher. Nosrep is a puppet play and details the turbulent experiences of a young student growing up with dyslexia. The students, only four of them, performed beautifully and must be congratulated. A great highlight for me too, was the fact that all the music used in the play was composed by the grade 10 Music students! Yes, I was very proud to hear how well their ‘commissioned’ work fitted with the changing moods of the characters in the play.

What a great Arts Faculty we have at my school and what a great bunch of students we have to work with.

Grade 10 Drama 'Nosrep'

Apple Education Leadership Summit – Prague 2010

Gerard in Prague
I have just returned from an inspiring weekend in Prague, attending the Apple Education Leadership Summit. Apart from thoroughly enjoying the beautiful city (a photographer’s dream), with its gently curving cobble-stoned streets, it charmingly painted shop fronts, it’s gilded and gargoyled public buildings (the Smetana Concert Hall), its tasty street food (flame cooked sausages with the best mustard I’ve ever tasted and sauerkraut on fresh bread), the Moldau River with its arched bridges, palaces, cathedrals and of course the Czech beer.
Apart from all this, which made for a brilliant weekend, I was inspired by the passion and ideas of my fellow educators. The unofficial theme for the weekend was Challenge Based Learning. And everyone present seemed to be on the same journey towards embracing technology at the centre of their plans for smart learning strategies at their schools. From what I saw, there is no doubt that students in the 21st century are hungry for opportunities to direct their own learning using digital, mobile tools. They certainly will not wait for their teachers to invite them or ‘show them’. As the final speaker, John Couch said, the students of today can no longer even be described as ‘digital natives’ they are just ‘digital’.

Challenge Based Learning is the logical progression from Project Based Learning. The key to understanding the change in thinking, is that PBL is still largely controlled by the teacher, whereas CBL is driven by the students themselves. Teachers in the 21st century will have to get used to letting go of their traditional role of ‘master’ and ‘expert’. Instead, we will find our place as motivators, guides and co-learners. Yes, the teacher will become the student.

A few of us tried to involve people outside the Summit through some of the presentations, by joining a ‘back-channel’ using Twitter. I enjoyed catching a few excellent quotes and links and sending them out to a small but growing online group following the hashtag #AELS10. Have a look at the transcript of tweets from the weekend for some inspiration.

A highlight of the Summit was the inspiring presentation of Itay Talgam, musician and conductor and final keynote speaker. In his years as a conductor, he has observed and analysed the interaction between conductors of renown with their orchestras and audiences. He uses their conducting styles as metaphor for leadership to help us become aware of the way we lead others in our own communities.

All in all, a wonderful weekend, full of people passionate about education, ideas and technology.