Week Without Walls | Experiential Learning | BIS HCMC - week-without-walls
25 January, 2019

Week Without Walls

Week Without Walls | Experiential Learning | BIS HCMC - week-without-walls
Week Without Walls 2019 was the advent of BIS HCMC’s very first Week Without Walls. An entire week where we said goodbye to our timetables and our formal lessons.

“If you think about the BIS Aide Memoire and the learning skills that we value; perseverance, integrity, respect, to name a few. These are all things you can learn in the classroom but you will learn more by doing and by interacting with people.” – Lauren Binnington, Assistant Head Teacher

2019 was the advent of BIS HCMC’s very first Week Without Walls. An entire week where we said goodbye to our timetables and our formal lessons. Students engaged in an array of activities designed to extend their learning beyond the ‘walls’ of the usual curriculum and classroom environment.

As Ms Binnington rightly points out in her quote above, it is invaluable for our students to have access to opportunities that develop their soft skills outside of the classroom.

Our teachers collaborated across their subjects to create and develop activities around key themes that are at the heart of what we do here at the British International School: from our world-leading collaborations with Juilliard, UNICEF and MIT, our focus on student wellbeing or our embedded community service activities, there was something for every student to both challenge and inspire them.

At BIS HCMC, we promise more than a traditional education. Week Without Walls was the perfect platform to showcase these collaborations on a deeper scale.

The Performing Arts with Juilliard

Our collaboration with The Juilliard School aims to transform students’ understanding of Music and Drama. Our Week Without Walls Juilliard activity saw a collaboration between Drama and Music, using a Juilliard piece as a stimulus.

Students explored the work of composer Sean Shepherd and his piece entitled The Water’s Journey. The days were filled with practical explorations in the form of the beginnings of stories and the use of voice, gesture and movement. In Music, students explored soundscapes using vocal sounds and body percussion. This was notated using graphic scores and then adapted to link with the Drama movement. Students then came together to create a final performance showing the journey of water using a range of Drama and Music techniques. Anne-Marie Astley, Drama Teacher, commented: “Students worked creatively and confidently. The final performances were so different each day showing the wide variety of skills and inspirations that these students have explored through Week Without Walls.”

STEAM Collaboration with MIT

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) was embedded throughout our Week Without Walls activities. Our innovative, interdisciplinary approach to learning Science and Technology, enhanced by our collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) inspires our students to think outside the box and to create and build through hands-on, cross-functional activities.

The BIS Boat Regatta tasked students with designing and building a boat to transport Lego people safely across the water. Students had to use all of their STEAM knowledge along with their BIS Learning skills to design and build a self-propelled boat that they could race along a 1.8m boat lane. The activity was a perfect example of how students had to apply a wide range of subject disciplines from physics, engineering, maths and the arts to create both functional and aesthetically pleasing boats. The DT workshops were once again busy with students constantly trialling their designs before making improvements to see if they can get them going faster, further, or carrying more weights.

Week Without Walls - STEAM

STEAM Co-ordinator James Chandler commented: “It is this iterative design process that allows students to test out their theoretical knowledge and move into the practical hands-on learning that is so valuable. This also led to great fun at the end when students got to race their boats against each other to see who were the master boat builders!”

The extremely popular Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) activity also saw students utilise their STEAM knowledge, with students turning into true detectives as they decided who stole the house cup! They were given clues throughout the day, performed 6 investigations and studied 8 witness statements. They then had to apply their analytical skills to work out who the perpetrator was before presenting their findings. Our Year 9 students offered their thoughts on this activity: “It was so much fun! It was great to critically analyse the evidence, to solve problems - we really had to think hard to find out who stole the house cup.”


Each of the activities challenged students to work with others they may not usually have the chance to, allowing them to become more open-minded and collaborative in the process, as described by one Year 9 student: “It was great working as a team, we all made sure we worked hard and supported each other.”

Another activity that saw our students apply their STEAM skills was Creative Coding. This activity was based on the FOBISIA Coding Competition where students worked individually or in teams to plan, create and test an App for a device. The idea was to create a game or quiz using computational thinking and decision making. The game or quiz had to look aesthetically pleasing, use a range of tools and features and work as fully intended.

David Knaggs, Head of Computing, remarked: “Over the course of three days 100 students from Years 7-10 took part and created some outstanding apps with a range of ideas. All of these apps will be forwarded to the FOBISIA competition for grading and hopefully the students will be rewarded with success!”

Our Collaboration with UNICEF

For many, making the world a better place is a dream they would one day like to accomplish. Through our collaboration with UNICEF, we provide students with tangible activities and challenges so that they can take direct action to make this dream a reality.

Together with UNICEF, our students are challenged to participate in projects on the Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 goals set by the United Nations regarding social and economic development issues that we hope to collectively achieve by 2030.

Our Global Goals Week Without Walls workshop focused on our school-wide campaign: #2020PlasticPledge. The workshop started with an introduction to artists who use waste in their work, exploring how converting plastic waste into something bigger, better and different can start conversations about our use of single use plastic.

Denise Clarke, Art Teacher commented: “The students used plastic waste from the school to construct 3D sculptures. Some of the students created different shaped containers in which to collect plastic waste for recycling and others created a wall mounted structure through which the bottle tops cascaded down into the bin. The students were engaged in the workshop and were pleased that they were trying something new for environmental good.”


On the theme of upcycling waste, our Money for Old Rope Week Without Walls programme saw students tasked with creatively upcycling the top 10 items collected during coastal clean ups by the Ocean Conservancy.  Their brief was to develop products which could:

  • solve problems
  • provide a valuable service
  • be sold to generate income

Following on from a news bulletin read by Mr Rowlands, students planned, filmed and edited a news broadcast to share what they had designed. It was an opportunity for students to utilise and develop their BIS Learning Skills whilst considering and solving global issues.

David Pugh, Business Studies Teacher, remarked: “The groups used teamwork, creativity and developed their knowledge of global awareness of the issues of plastic whilst building enterprise and business skills.”

Participants of the activity agreed with Mr Pugh’s comments: “To me, the Money for Old Rope activity was one of the most enjoyable activities in Week Without Walls. Not only did I get to work with people I do not usually work with, every group had to do independent work and research, exercising our skills of planning and collaboration. The topic was intriguing and opened my view to household objects that feature in my everyday life. Overall, this activity was very beneficial towards both educating the students and letting us have fun.”

“I think that Money for Old Rope has helped me developed a range of skills that will be needed in the future such as Marketing, Journalism, Business and Entrepreneurship. Not only did we get to develop those skills but we also got to have a first glance of what each job was like. Overall, it was a really fun experience!” – Year 9 student

Encouraging Care and Empathy

During Week Without Walls, students also had the opportunity to work with two of our community partners: The Christina Noble Children’s Foundation (CNCF) and Ky Quang Pagoda in Go Vap.

Following a presentation by Piers Bertwhistle from CNCF, our students welcomed children from their Sunshine School. Together they enjoyed a fun packed day of dancing, crafts, and sports activities on our Junior Campus field. Victoire Cohen Dujardin, a student from BIS who took part in the activities, said, “This day taught me that I am very lucky to have a family, a home and a quality education. I really enjoyed dancing with the students from CNCF”.

BISHCMC Week Without Walls 2019_0037min

On Wednesday the students travelled to Ky Quang Pagoda in Go Vap district to bring some pre-Tet cheer to the children. Again, we organised sports and crafts activities as well as sharing food and decorating the classrooms for the upcoming holidays. Nesta Lanyon Jones, Community Coordinator, commented: "At BIS the Aide Memoire underpins everything that we do and during these two days it was clear to see our students demonstrating the qualities which we value so highly. One part of the experience which I found particularly touching was the care our students showed for the children from our partners and the atmosphere of mutual respect which was created throughout the events".

Improving Student Wellbeing

Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the moment, being present and allowing yourself to stop thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Our secondary students lead busy lives, packed with a huge variety of challenging and enjoyable activities and so it is no surprise that it can be equally challenging to find the time to be mindful. We, therefore, felt it crucial to provide our students with the opportunity to develop improved mindfulness strategies during their recent Week Without Walls. Indeed, research has shown that being more mindful can bring about improvements in your health, concentration, positive feelings and relationships with others.


Mindfulness cannot have a one size fits all approach and therefore we presented a large variety of mindful activities covering physical, journaling and presence activities. The students participated in an excellent yoga, meditation and relaxation session leaving them all looking thoroughly refreshed and recharged. They also made their own mindfulness journals by selecting activities such as colouring, creative writing and gratitude diaries. To develop their awareness of the present moment students also completed a workshop on mindful listening and mindful eating which really challenged the ways in which they participate in these everyday acts.

Mathematics Teacher Rosie Walsh commented: “The students were amazing, bringing an open-minded approach along with a huge helping of enthusiasm. Everyone left with a new appreciation of mindfulness and a variety of strategies that they can fit into their everyday routines.”

Improving Leadership Skills Through Cross-Campus Activities

Vertical integration of year groups is a perfect way for our older students at the Secondary school to improve their leadership skills. During Week Without Walls our students helped out with the planning and delivery of lessons at both the Junior and the Early Years Campus. The students taught Maths, English and MFL lessons, helped out with the preparation for International Week and played games with students of the Early Years and Infant Campus.


MFL Teacher An Gulinck stated: “The smallest members of the BIS community were so excited that their bigger peers joined them for the afternoon! At the end of the day, our Year 9 students felt exhausted but inspired by this rewarding experience. Some even developed an increased appreciation for the teaching profession!”

Velvet Cook, a student who took part in this activity said, “During the primary visit we developed our learning skills, such as perseverance, because when something didn't go as planned we had to adjust our activities. We also learned to care for the students and I developed more respect for our teachers. Teaching is a very stressful experience; now I have a better understanding of how teachers feel when students are not listening or paying attention.”

Discovering Ho Chi Minh City’s History

The History Amazing Race activity saw students visit and learn about some of the most popular historical buildings in the city as well as make new friends, and challenge themselves. In groups, students were dropped in District 1, given a map and then a historical clue as to their first location. Students were in charge of finding their way to each location and solving challenges when they got there. They included calculating entry costs, converting Roman numerals, re-enacting historical photos and sending postcards to their teachers. Students visited the Post Office, Opera House, Cathedral, Reunification Palace and Bitexco Financial Tower. There was a special treat at the end in the form of the Samsung Virtual Reality centre, where the students got to leave the past behind and get a glimpse into current technology.

Ms Rachael Lowry, History Teacher, commented: “As a teacher, it was great to see students outside of their comfort zones, and some students really stepped up and showed their leadership skills and teamwork.”


BIS student Theresa Lai who participated in this activity said: “The Amazing Race was a fun experience for me since I had fun with my friends learning about the history of the places we've been to. Even though we might have gone past these buildings in everyday life, it is interesting to carry out challenges at these destinations.”

Being Ambitious for Podium Position

Our final activity and described by many as “the best activity of the week” literally took our students outside of the school “walls” and onto the racing track.

The Go Karting Experience was about determination, skill and ambition to get to that podium position. Peter, the German Karting Champion, gave expert advice and the driving skills of the students improved just as quickly as the lap times fell. The students learned that speed does not always equate to fast times and with further practice, the racers became far more efficient around the track.

Mr Phil Husband, Head of PE commented, “A fast, frantic and fantastic time was had by all girls, boys and future go karting champions. Students had the opportunity to not only race, but also to learn how the intricacies of how the karts work and even the chance to be a mechanic and change tires and fix the brakes.”

Week Without Walls is just one example of how our outstanding teaching staff enable BIS HCMC to offer students unique experiences that reach beyond every day learning.

On a daily basis, we see BIS teachers that are passionate about going further to broaden our students’ mind with positive opportunities and unforgettable experiences.