IB World Conference 2019 @ Abu Dhabi

Updated: Nov 6, 2019

by Chris Clyde Green

This year’s annual International Baccalaureate Conferences took place in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It was a grand event featuring an array of practitioners, participants and marketers from across the educational spectrum. The ideas of "agency" and "choice" featured heavily throughout most of the talks.

Qasr Al Watan

The Keynote speaker was Sir Clive Woodward, English rugby’s World-cup winning coach. He is now the director of sport at Apex2100 an international Ski Academy in Tignes. His talk focused peak performance, for learners and athletes

Sir Clive highlighted how young people face numerous challenges or “inputs” in their daily lives (parental expectation; digital information etc…). He argued that students of the IB can be like competitive sports athletes and condition their body and mind’s for peak performance, using the mantra “Discover, Distil and Do”. Sir Woodward also advertised an application that could help students, parents and teachers to use data to help students acquire peak performance levels. In theory, this application seemed like a good idea, but in practice it could have some more and ethical implications on young learners.

Anniek Adriaens, a teacher from the International School of Eindhoven explored the idea of utilising digital technology not only as a leaning tool but as a something that can transform the learning experience. In the educational current educational climate, which seems preoccupied with the next big thing in Edtech, this talk was a refreshing look at how to use the Edtech you have (e.g. Kahoot or Microsoft Office) and develop an technology framework that ensures teaching and learning occurs through storytelling and not merely gamification. Using the concept of learning stories as a pedagogical tool, infused with a design thinking approach to reflection in action, she displayed how she took the time to: zoom in, slow down and enhance collaboration so that we, as teachers and students can enable meaningful engagement with technology.

It was an insightful talk that looked at how we should maintain simplicity when it comes to teaching and storytelling. Technology has the ability to help us promote agency through synthesising information and designing ideas from it. Moreover, Adriaens lecture pushed for the idea that there should be a protocol on how a teacher uses technology in their subject. With the emergent curriculum we need to think about:

· How does digital technology shape the personalities of teachers and learners?

· How can digital technology create possibilities and how can it hinder?

· How might digital technology cause shifts in our subjects/disciplines?

“Decoding Theory of Knowledge 2020” was a talk delivered by programme coordinator and Oxford University Press writer Kosta Lekanides. There were many positive takeaways from this talk and it was great to see that the new TOK curriculum will invite learners and teachers into an exploration of knowledge as practice, that being: how we can apply it to cultural understandings of truth and discussing how communities share, produce, control, use and justify different forms of knowledge. The exhibition element of the assessment is an excellent idea, as it offers the opportunity for students to display their work and share what Theory of Knowledge is to the wider school community.

The talk on “Innovative Learning through co-construction” featured pedagogical approaches that can be used in the classroom to foster innovation and promote experiential learning. The conference had a mission to promote agency. The idea of co-construction as a means to produce high-quality learning was effective as it showed that emotional intelligence can also be nurtured. Both this talk and “Classroom without borders” from Oasis International School seemed to borrow from Rosan Bosch as they emphasised that the learning space is the third teacher. The argument being that if students have element of choice in their learning spaces it will encourage creative, high-order thinking. Fluidity is the key here and it might be a good idea for schools that are developing new learning spaces to think about the relationship between the classroom, the hallway and beyond. Are they separate entities? If so, what happens in a particular one of these areas and why? The environment of a learning space is very important, as is the actual natural environment, so I was surprised to see so many of Bosch’s designs made from artificial materials like plastic, rather than wood, for instance. The major conclusion is that acoustics are everything. The Ancient Greeks built amphitheaters. Maybe we should look back into the designs of buildings from ancient civilisations to explore how the physical environment can manipulate sound?

Jan Dijkstra’s call to action for sustainability to be at the heart of learning really carried the zeitgeist of today’s political agenda. How do we deal with issues such as the climate crisis, micro plastics in our bodies and the loss of biodiversity? How do we explain these ideas to young people and how can we encourage them to take meaningful action. I found that comprehensive approach for schools was necessary but overwhelmingly complex. His work at Ecolint has been remarkable yet straight-forward in this area: inviting speakers, creating an Eco Society, farming crops at school etc... Simple ideas like would ensure schools are doing their part in sustainability. His notions echoed Sir Ken Robinson’s ideas that we should not be teaching for “compliance, conformity and competition”, particularly in this area. One thing that is constantly being wasted is food in schools and this could massively be reduced by sharing and giving.

Eleni Vardaki ( is a History teacher and personal youth mentor working with student to manage school-related stress. We went to university together, coincidentally. Her talk posed the question: How can we, as IB teachers, expect students to embody the learner profile if we don't strive to embody it ourselves? To attempt to answer this question she presented to us how she sought feedback from her students and colleagues on the extent to which she embodied the IB learner profile in her lessons and beyond. One aspect that this unique approach to the “appraisal process” did was that it helped to illuminate “blind spots” and reduce bias. It also highlighted the need for more “teacher voice” in school, which should be in the classroom and not just concerning administrative matters. Research has found that over-valuing “student voice” at the expense of “teacher voice” can cause many issues. He argued that this “learner profile” appraisal would help challenge assumptions of the ‘lazy teacher’ bias, which seems to lead people to adopt a dismissive attitude towards teachers who are asking for more planning and preparation time. It could also be used as an appraisal framework for coaching that schools and many corporations are implementing instead of the trite, mandatory appraisals of yesteryear.

Inspiring, informative and very IB!

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