Creating Meaningful Distance Learning through Play and Inquiry

For the last 10 weeks, like colleagues all over the world, teachers at UNIS Hanoi have been steeped in creating online learning opportunities for their students. In the blink of an eye we went from school as we knew it, noisy, bustling and in person to school via asynchronous and synchronous formats, videos, Zooms and presentations. In the elementary school at UNIS Hanoi, our focus has been to stay true to our core values and ensure that learning remains engaging, inquiry based, playful and fun. 

As our programme has evolved, we have worked long and hard to remain true to the inquiry based, playful beliefs that are foundational to the Lower Elementary at UNIS Hanoi. When we are on campus, one measure we use to ensure our programme is robust and rigorous is that engagements frequently require students to ask questions and lean into problem solving while remaining innately playful. Teachers have rich professional dialogue to ensure the programme and practice align with our core beliefs. As a school, we define play as combining hands-on learning with student-initiated play. Play is highly adaptive, involves choice, promotes agency and provides rigorous opportunities to inquire into important concepts and personal interests.

So how did we manage to make the shift to distance learning, while remaining true to our beliefs and keeping learning playful?

  • Selecting the right tools for asynchronous and synchronous learning was important as we got started with Distance Learning. Students and parents across the Elementary School use the online platform See Saw to communicate and share their learning with teachers. We have used a range of online tools like Flipgrid, Padlet and Screencastify to share learning and engagements with students. Daily synchronous sessions in the form of Morning Meetings to connect with each other, start the day for all elementary students.
  • Our 3-4 year old programme was reimagined for online learning after sharing best practices with colleagues around the world and listening carefully to student and parent feedback. Students are given choice and agency in choosing how they develop the big idea for the week. Video conferencing sessions are used to build community and help students maintain contact with each other every day.
  • Thinking about what meaningful engagement might look like at home has involved activities like author studies, which have been wonderful for students. Choosing books over several days has given students the ability to make connections and revisit texts they love. Robert Munsch, Julia Donaldson, Peter Reynolds are a few favourites that have worked very well.
  • Using story workshop and loose parts pedagogy with our younger students has sparked a lot of involvement from the children. The open ended quality of it has been bringing in really interesting work and giving teachers a glimpse of what the children are currently experiencing.
  • Distance Learning Art lessons in the Early Childhood Centre have linked with current Units of Inquiry as much as possible. This has resulted in many successful, investigative and playful engagements. Students in Discovery and K1 created the “Paperbag Princesses” with real paper bags as well as loose parts from their homes. The students have also made math connections by creating animals from different shapes and using boxes and recycled materials in their homes to build sculptures and enormous towers. The challenges of not having access to all of the art supplies we have at school were originally very daunting but with lots of creative thinking and problem solving it has become much easier and so fun.
  • In Kindergarten 2, Market Day, which is a much anticipated event on the calendar, could no longer be on campus in the ECC playground and so had to become a virtual buy and sell experience, with a website. It was hugely successful and our students were involved in meaningful service opportunities too! In art lessons the children made many beautiful things to sell online, ranging from toilet roll shakers, paper vases of flowers and beautiful bookmarks. 
  • In Grade 1 students have worked on researching their significant person. After writing scripts about their person, students created their person in art class with found objects at home and now will green screen video their person from home to share with the grade level. Lots of indoor scavenger hunts of math items this week for Math Week, using paper planes to practice measurement, Reading in homemade forts… keeping their skills going while making learning playful. 
  • G1 have also worked on amazing portraits of significant people using many different materials. The children have also created artworks based on famous artists- a favourite must have been inspired by Van Gogh’s sunflowers where the children used so many different materials like lego men, fruit and vegetables, rocks and stones, socks and shoes to create their own flowers. So many great ideas and so much fun!

We are deeply grateful to all of our families who have partnered with us and worked alongside us to keep students engaged and motivated. Our focus remains on ensuring the learning for all our students is relevant, meaningful and playful.

Nitasha Crishna

Lower Elementary Deputy Principal