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After hearing from several alumni that they weren’t clear on how learning at THINK Global School had changed, we thought it might be a good idea to put together an explainer. Hopefully this helps clear things up, but if you have any questions, feel free to send them our way!

Why did TGS move away from the IB? 

 

One of the issues that we were confronted with by having the IB in place is whether or not we were really maximizing our time in country. If you’re reading this, you graduated from TGS while we were still an IB program and you can appreciate how much time you spent studying for tests and focusing on IB courses rather than exploring the countries you were in. It’s also no secret that the IB is incredibly stressful in nature, something you can all attest to. With that in mind, we wanted to do something about it after seeing it play out year after year. 

So we developed The Changemaker Curriculum. Our main goal in creating the Changemaker Curriculum was threefold: give our students agency to control their own learning through project-based learning, better leverage our locations through place-based learning tied to their projects, and place a greater focus on emotional wellness by revamping the educator/student relationship. 

We launched the Changemaker Curriculum in the Summer of 2017 alongside our remaining IB students, and launched a second cohort of students in the summer of 2018. So far the results have been positive.. Our seniors seem less stressed as they approach graduation, and the coursework is still rigorous but the learning outcomes are different.

One thing I’d like to make clear is that your voices played a tremendous role in helping us develop the Changemaker Curriculum. In no way, shape, or form would we be where we are today without each and every one of you, and your experiences at THINK Global School are just as meaningful as the ones our current students are engaging in. With that in mind, here’s a look at how learning at TGS works now.

What does it mean when you say CM1 and CM2? 

 

One thing you might have seen on social media is our use of the terms CM1 and CM2 (typically with a flag next to the name). These are short for Changemaker Cohort 1 and Changemaker Cohort 2. We launched the second cohort, (school if you will), in the summer of 2018, so yeah, things have definitely changed! Adnan Mackovic is the principal of CM1 while Russ Cailey is the principal of CM2. CM1 students travel a year ahead of the CM2 students, country-wise, so Russ’s cohort is going to the four countries the year after Adnan’s. This helps us maintain our contacts within country and continually make our modules better (Adnan’s kids have been guinea pigs in a lot of ways, being the first Changemaker students, but their feedback has made our modules better each term). 

You can learn more about our cohorts in an explainer here. 

What is the Changemaker Curriculum?

With the Changemaker Curriculum, we wanted to focus on three main things: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. With mastery, we encourage students to dive into and master the concepts they care about. With autonomy, we’re giving them the freedom to become self-guided learners who develop applicable 21st century skills as they go. And through purpose, we want them to grow as people by embracing and learning from their environment.

The biggest difference in the way students at TGS learn now compared to the IB is we’ve done away with classes in favor of projects. We no longer have teacher-driven courses like we did before. Now, in each country students work on one teacher-led module and work on between 3-5 personal projects, which give them the freedom to explore their interests and achieve learning targets (consider them credits if you will, to graduate from TGS you have to achieve the rank of specialist in at least 70% of the learning targets). Each term closes with a student showcase, where students present their module work and if they are worthy of the showcase, their personal projects.

So in Japan, for example, students are presented with three very different teacher-led modules. This last term one of the modules focused on virtual reality, another focused on Japan’s nuclear debate, and a third focused on the effects of marketing. Student work in teams to answer a driving question to each module in a way prescribed by the educator. In the marketing module, students were commissioned by the Hiroshima City Council to market the city to teenagers and young adults as a destination for travel and study in a new way that paints the city as vibrant and hip. To do so they created a marketing strategy and pitch, which they presented at the student showcase.

Each term our students also work with local experts who really lend their expertise and help move things along, answering questions and providing keen insights into how students can make their project work better. Very similar to guest speakers in the past but a regular occurrence now in each module. 

So that’s a high level overview of how learning now works at TGS. Here’s a little more detail on the structure behind it.

Learning Targets and Skills Mastery

 

As I mentioned above, learning targets form the backbone of the Changemaker Curriculum. They provide a clear statement of what the student and their educators wish to accomplish during a project, while still allowing the student to maintain ownership of their learning. 

Including 21st century skills (skills to be applied to our host countries and the world), there are ten different categories containing many subcategories of learning targets, which collectively represent a broad spectrum of learning. Considering projects at THINK Global School are multidisciplinary, they typically consist of learning targets from numerous categories.

Here are the categories and subcategories. 

So how it works is that when creating a project, students will work with an educator to determine its parameters. If they are doing a deep dive into the history of tattoos in Japan, for example, they would likely have the learning targets of research methods; anthology and sociology; and multicultural literacy. At the end of the project, the educator and student will review the work and if it shows sufficient skill progression, they will move up in mastery rank. 

There are 122 learning targets in all and they cover pretty much any aspect of learning you can think of. Once a student finds targets that they really care about, we encourage them to master them by continuing to incorporate them into future projects, especially their mastery project (every 10th grader must complete two mastery projects and every student who joins in the 11th grade must complete one). 

To complete a mastery project, students must: 

• Define an area of interest or identify a problem

• Craft a driving question to answer

• Identify community experts to guide their efforts and provide critical feedback

• Receive project approval from the Mastery Project Committee

• Present and defend their conclusions

• Celebrate their successful defense via a Mastery Ceremony

We believe that by building towards mastery during their time at TGS, students will be better positioned for success at university and equipped with the 21st-century skills necessary to make a difference in our rapidly evolving workplace.

You can find an in-depth look at learning targets here. 

How Grading Works

 

At the end of the term, each student’s narrative report paints a comprehensive picture of their time in country and what they have learned. The report covers the student’s academic achievements based on their associated learning targets, advisory comments that detail the student’s emotional, social, and well-being in general, and the student’s reflection on their excellency that term. These reports are typically around eleven pages long and focus on feedback that will help the student to continue developing in subsequent terms.

The report is laid out like this:

• An introductory paragraph

• An advisory comment

• Module learning target attainment and student excellency review

• Student-led project target attainment and student excellency review

• Overall Student Reflection

So rather than relaying a grade, effort grade and short comment as was done in years past, the narrative report paints a more complete picture of the student’s time in country, establishing areas for continued growth and highlighting recent successes, so we can help them achieve mastery or build on areas of weakness in the future. 

You can find a sample report card here. 

I see posts about wellness. How has that changed? 

 

Besides giving students autonomy and agency, we have placed a greater focus on their overall wellbeing. All students now participate in our InsideOut program, which provides a scaffolded and individualized approach to holistic wellness. This is led by our onsite counselors and backed up by our educators and onsite staff. There are three main focuses to the Inside Out program: self-development and social intelligence; mind-body wellness; and the integration of critical life skills. 

Self-development and social intelligence refers to exercises where they share, connect, and engage with those around them, learning about their community and themselves in the process. Mind-body wellness refers to the steps taken to ensure proper nutrition and physical activity are maintained, and the integration of critical life skills refers to making sure they leave TGS ready to succeed in the world. Our modules and personal projects are often built in a way that incorporates these three elements, making things a bit more seamless. Time is also given to each student weekly to sit and share whatever is on their mind with their advisor, and if need be, a counselor or head of school. We’ve been building on this program for several years now, and it seems to be paying off.   

If they aren’t taking part in the IB, how will they go to college?

 

So this was one of the biggest question marks we had when switching curriculum. Obviously high scores on the IB pretty much guarantees a spot at university, but what about a self-designed curriculum? We looked into what schools required for university acceptance, and almost all accept high scores on the Advanced Placement (AP) exams and strong SAT scores as a replacement. When we launched the school, we hoped that your experiences would also prove valuable to colleges alongside test scores, and we still feel that way now, especially with students working towards skill mastery. In addition to test scores, we also submit a digital portfolio containing highlights from their project work and an overview of their achieved learning targets. 

We don’t require Changemaker students to take either AP exams or the SAT, but we certainly encourage them to do so if their path beyond TGS includes attending university (which, not surprisingly, most do). We provide students time to study for these exams in country, but they are especially encouraged to use their five-week breaks in between terms to prepare, as there is no TGS coursework during those breaks. 

So far so good: the graduating Class of 2019 acceptances and enrollments are very much in line with years past, and our college counselors are actively working to build relationships with universities around the world. 

How can I be involved with TGS now?

 

There are a lot of ways, and I’m certainly interested in hearing suggestions. Here are a few easy ways:

• Be a guest speaker or expert in one of our modules (feel free to stop in or Skype in)

• Attend our upcoming graduation in Greece

• Share your own progress with the world through an alumni spotlight

• Have TGS sponsor an event that benefits your local community (example, Elliot keeping the Traveling Shorts Film Festival alive in New Zealand)

Hope this helped!

 

Hope this helps shed a bit of light on how things have changed under the Changemaker Curriculum. If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.