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Project Innovate enables future-ready learning at CDNIS

Students at Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS) may have noticed a few subtle changes since heading back to class in August.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 5:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 5:17pm

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Students at Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS) may have noticed a few subtle changes since heading back to class in August.


That’s because, after a period of intense planning and preparation, Project Innovate is up and running. This is a new school-wide initiative specifically designed to provide students with future-ready learning. The project covers students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Project Innovate will ensure students have the skills, dispositions, and mindsets needed to succeed in today’s fast-changing world. Deployed within the framework of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, the project will support high academic standards, language proficiency, and an involvement in the wider community.

“We were one of the first international schools in Hong Kong to have a one-to-one laptop programme. So, for us, this is a continuation of a well-established culture of innovation,” says Helen Kelly, the lower school principal of CDNIS. “We know that 10 to 15 years from now, our students will be entering a very different kind of workplace. We want to make sure they are ready for that, and are able to thrive in it.”

Helen Kelly, the lower school principal of CDNIS


A report from the World Economic Forum, called The Fourth Industrial Revolution, was a catalyst behind Project Innovate. Largely driven by technology, the forthcoming revolution is predicted to bring changes to every area of life, perhaps in ways we can’t yet imagine. The report claims that the new industrial revolution “is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human”.

With this in mind, CDNIS designed Project Innovate as a forward-looking, inquiry-based learning system built on three key elements. The first is a strong grounding in the fundamentals of literacy, numeracy, science, humanities, and technology. The second is the understanding and application of what are described as 21st-century competencies: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The third pillar focuses on building character by emphasising the value of personal qualities such as curiosity, resilience, adaptability, and leadership.

“Project Innovate is not an add-on, or a general lesson given once a week. It is now completely embedded in everything we do,” Kelly says. “The basic curriculum is still IB, but that lends itself to different interpretations and content. So, for example, as we implement future-ready learning in the junior school, specific units of inquiry will have a greater focus on experiential, hands-on, personalised learning, and will develop relevant skills accordingly.”

This approach reflects the widely held belief that information is so readily available nowadays that you can’t build an education around simply acquiring knowledge. Instead, education should be geared towards interdisciplinary, concept-based teaching, which allows pupils to express their creativity, explore ideas, and put forward practical solutions for authentic, real-world situations.

“In this way, students can follow their interests and passions through inquiry,” Kelly says. “There is also a huge focus on ‘next level’ learning. We always encourage students to go one step further with their questions and their search for answers.”

To highlight the possibilities of this mode of thinking, a group of Grade Six students applied Project Innovate’s core principles to develop an app which helps to stop human trafficking. Another group carried out a study on subdivided apartments in public housing estates, and then worked on a redesign of layouts and furniture to make better use of the limited space available.

Separately, some keen students are working on different projects, which could one day be utilized by Hongkongers. One student group is monitoring the usage of the school’s recycling bins after developing a programme using Arduino hardware and software, while another team is interested in learning more about the air quality on the southside of Hong Kong Island so they are developing an air quality station.

“In each class, there is a lot of collaboration. There are opportunities to research and inquire, to share ideas with others, and to come up with solutions,” Kelly says. “As a result, we are developing an amazing ‘makers’ culture, with tools and materials in every classroom, and a special lab for science and innovation projects and prototypes. It is all about learning, and then what you can do, and make, with that learning.”

There is a central theme or idea, Kelly notes, within each unit of inquiry. But teachers are encouraged to use the “design thinking” model developed by Stanford University in the US to empower students and enable different directions to emerge.

Technology also plays a part. At CDNIS, students start to use a personal iPad from Grade One, and, in due course, gain access to 3-D printing, laser cutting, VR (virtual reality), augmented reality (AR), and other technologies.

The school places equal importance on an early focus on reading, writing and maths. These are, after all, the core skills on which everything else is built.

“We are interested in enabling the maximum progress each child can make in a year, or two-year, period,” Kelly says. “Students at CDNIS are already performing at a very high level, but we recognise that literacy and numeracy underpin future-ready learning.