Lessons of One Day last a lifetime
Posted 03/14/2018 10:43AM

One Day general shot

“One is coming” read the signs posted throughout the middle school hallways of the International School of Beijing (ISB). For weeks, clues were peppered around classrooms and morning announcements declared, “One Day is coming.”

Soon, 460 middle school students were shepherded into the school theatre. One Day—a day where students follow their passions and work on a project of their choice—was launched

“It was pretty cool,” says Fred Schafer, assistant middle school principal at ISB, remembering the first One Day four years ago. “I don’t think the kids believed it at first.”

The fourth annual One Day took place last month at ISB, and is one of the many ways the school puts its message to practice, fostering innovation and ingenuity.

“We don’t just want a culture of innovation to be words in a mission statement,” says Schafer. “We need to be able to demonstrate it.”

Students spend about one month leading up to One Day preparing for their project, choosing what they want to create and ensuring they have the materials they need to execute it during the single-day event.

The day itself is bustling with excitement and brimming with creativity where the students are fully engaged in their chosen project. Classrooms are turned into science labs, organized chaos and messiness ensues.

And it continues into the next day where an exhibition turns the middle school division into little museums for students, parents, and community members to see the culmination of their work.

“It’s really important for us to make sure the students know their choices matter, that they can be self-directed in their learning,” says middle school principal Jon Hill. “We really want them to engage and go deep into something that has meaning for them and explore those passions they have.”


A whole-of-middle-school approach

The success of One Day is as much dependent on the teachers as it is the students. It becomes a team effort, engaging the entire middle school division.

Teachers act as supervisors, mentors, and guides to students, helping them through their ideas and providing support on the day.

“The teachers do a lot of work and coordination to create these opportunities for the students,” says Hill. “There needs to be great leadership from that group, and luckily, it’s always been there.”

In the last two years, the teachers have played an even greater role in One Day, instigated in part by Design Technology Facilitator Julie Lemley. Under Lemley’s direction, teachers were encouraged to design 21 opportunities for the students to choose from, rather than giving students the blank slate of One Day’s first two years. 

In doing so, One Day offered structure and greater challenge for students. But most importantly, having the teachers provide the choice exposed students to opportunities they didn’t think possible.

“We created some audacious choices,” says Hill. “We took a group off-campus to a local village where they could dive deep into photography. We created opportunities for them to really engage with their surrounding community and tap into resources outside of the school that they may not have known about.”


Engaging with community, crossing disciplines

One project saw students conducting an ethnographic-like research project, visiting a nearby apartment complex and interviewing senior citizens to understand how life in Beijing had changed over the last few decades.

The project, called Into the Blocks, consisted of arranging and preparing for interviews beforehand, learning how to use a video camera, and editing the video to exhibit and share with the rest of the school. 

“This was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done so this day can never be forgotten,” writes one student on the One Day blog about the project. “This whole interview was done in just one day. This is a great journey for one day.”

Other projects ranged from music production and sequencing, to textiles, robotics, comics, and building cars.

DIY Skin Care had students creating their own skin care products such as bath bombs, soap, and colour-changing nail polish, using upcycled materials to package their products.

“These things don’t happen within the scope of a discipline,” says Hill. “When you make a skin care product, it’s not the same thing as doing a lab in chemistry class. You’re blending chemistry and art in a way that you wouldn’t have done in your science class or in your art class. 

“That’s what most real-world discoveries involve. It’s really important to cross those divides so the students can see the relevance of their learning.”


Managing expectations

Besides interdisciplinarity and community engagement, One Day is about the learning process and overcoming fears of failure—more so than the final product.

Sometimes this final product doesn’t live up to the students’ expectations. Other times, students only finish a fraction of what they intended.

“Our message is that learning is a process,” says Hill. “Even if you only completed 10 per cent of your project, it’s okay to share your work. Even the failures—still share them and be reflective about what you learned from it. This is a time to take risks and put yourself out there.” 

Sharing is as important as creating, and ensuring the students share with their peers and surrounding community is all part of the One Day process.

Both Hill and Schafer hope these experiences will encourage students to continue to share their work and what they learn, and engage with their communities, both locally and globally.

“They’re really excited to show off their work,” says Schafer. “They generally care about what they did and look forward to the world seeing it.” 

“We already have students planning for next year and looking forward to what they’ll do then,” adds Hill. “It’s really nice to have it going for multiple years. It’s become part of the culture of the school.”

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