ISY Elementary Blog
‘You looked like you knew what you were doing.’
Mike Simpson, Elementary School Principal

December 4, 2020

‘You looked like you knew what you were doing.’

And I did. But I didn’t.

I lived in Japan for 3 years and thought I would try my hand at baseball – a game that always interested me but never had the chance to play in New Zealand. It interested me because I thought I would be good at it. I played cricket and figured that catching a ball with a glove must be a lot easier than without.

I was not (am not) good at baseball despite spending the best part of three years ‘learning’ the game. But I could see how people (not my team-mates) might have thought I could play and that is where the ‘you looked like you knew what you were doing’ comment came from.

The team I played for in Japan was good. We won a regional competition to compete at a national tournament. I was never going to start a game at the tournament but I warmed up with the team prior to the first game. I joined in the usual fielding and batting routines and then took my place on the bench. We won the game and as we were shaking hands with the opposition it was clear that they were waiting for me to come in and do something that I assured them I was not capable of. Their assumption was based on watching me practice.*

Other people (again, not my team-mates) that watched me practice might have made the same assumption. Professor Rob Coe would say that these people would be confusing actual learning with the following ‘poor proxies’ for learning:

Students are busy: lots of (written) work is done. I would practice three to five times per week with my Middle School team and the team that I played for. Practices went for a couple of hours or more and there was very little down time. We were continually throwing, catching, running, or hitting.

Students are engaged, interested, motivated. I enjoyed practice. It was fun and I looked forward to it.

Students are getting attention: feedback, explanations. My team-mates and coaches were very generous with their time and it would be fair to say that I had more attention paid to my game than anyone else’s (it needed quite a bit).

Classroom is ordered, calm, under control. Middle School practices resembled a military exercise. My team’s practices were more relaxed but started on time and followed the same format that the players had obviously grown up with.

Curriculum has been ‘covered.’ I practiced throwing, catching, hitting, running, and positional play. I did this with a partner or in group drills that had me practicing specific plays in different positions.

(At least some) students have supplied correct answers (whether or not they understood or could reproduce them independently). I could consistently hit, catch, and throw accurately in the practice drills. I understood the patterns of the drills and had the skills to follow them.

So, yes. I probably did look like I knew how to play baseball. But playing baseball is a lot different to practicing it. Playing baseball required me to apply the skills that I had practiced in unfamiliar or unknown contexts. In practice, the repetitive nature of the drills meant that I always knew what I had to do before I had to do it. In a game, I often had no idea what was going to happen and found it very difficult to react in time to transfer my knowledge and skills to a new situation and make a play.

I had practiced a lot but I had not really learned to play baseball. At best, I was performing at a surface level. I was able to perform skills in isolation, working on them one at a time. If I had been performing at a deep level, I would have been able to start connecting and organizing my knowledge and skills to make plays when I was called upon in a game. And if I was able to automatically make those connections and apply my knowledge and skills to new and novel situations, John Hattie would say that I had reached a transfer level of learning. And that was my goal.

My failure to achieve my goal was not for a lack of engagement, work, or help. My experience raises an important question:

How can we ensure that engaged, hard-working, and supported students are able to apply their command of grammar, the mathematical formulae they have memorized, or their understanding of the industrial revolution to unfamiliar or unknown contexts that they will encounter upon leaving school?

My baseball (and a Middle-Eastern Australian Rules Football season) experience tells me that to truly say that we have learned something, we must be able to apply it to new and novel situations. This means that we need to be challenged and supported to apply our knowledge and skills in these situations, whether they be simulated or authentic. Doing the same drills and routines over and over again certainly improved my performance in specific skills and if baseball was multi-choice, I would be pretty good. But those skills were not much good to me in a game as I could not apply them. My performances in practice could no longer hide the fact that I had not really learned much about baseball.

At ISY, we have adopted an interdisciplinary approach to learning that provides students with opportunities to combine and apply knowledge and skills from multiple subjects to different contexts and problems. These opportunities are designed for students to gain a deeper understanding of why specific skills are important and, crucially for true learning, an understanding of how they might be applied to contexts that they might not even be aware of yet. As my baseball experience attests, this depth of understanding cannot be developed or assessed by teaching subjects in isolation. 

*and almost certainly the fact that they thought I was from the US. I told them I was from New Zealand and played cricket (which I think was mistaken for either polo or croquet) and that seemed to clear everything up.


Frey, Nancy, et al. Developing Assessment-Capable Visible Learners: Grades K-12: Maximizing Skill, Will, and Thrill. Corwin, A SAGE Company, 2018.

UWS-ISY Sports-A-Thon

Join us on Saturday, December 12th for the 3rd annual UWS-ISY Sports-A-Thon!  This fun active event raises funds for the UWS-ISY Wan Kaung School partnership, allows children in Northern Myanmar to attend school with appropriate supplies and resources.  If you are interested in learning more about this amazing program, check out the ISY website.

This year’s event will be held virtually, through Zoom, on Saturday, December 12 from 9:00-11:00 AM.

How can you participate?

  1. Set a personal challenge or two.  Gather sponsors that will donate when you complete your challenge.  Join a zoom meeting on December 12th to complete your challenge. Finally, donate for completing your challenge.

  2. Make a Flipgrid video of your family member(s) completing their physical challenge prior to December 12th and make a donation! Don’t know how to use Flipgrid? Watch this video.

Donations will be collected through the ISY Online Ordering System found through your Powerschool account. Here is a video to help explain how to donate!

We appreciate your support and participation!


Admissions Decisions at Highly Selective Universities

Via Zoom, interested parents may join the ISY High School Counselor as he dives into the details of how highly selective universities consider making admissions decisions.  Hear directly from admissions directors,  consider real admissions data and participate in an insightful activity.  Any parent within the ISY community is welcome to attend.  Questions are welcome!
Date: Tuesday, December 8th
Time: 5:30 PM
Link: Provided via email from ISY Communications
Virtual Recess is still running from 1:00-1:30 PM.  Students should use the All Grade Specialist Link to join on their assigned day.  All activities will be student driven but will include fun and games.

Grades 4 & 5: Tuesday
Grade 3: Wednesday
Grade 2: Thursday
Grade 1: Friday


We have had very positive feedback from parents about last month’s Parent Teacher Conferences. While we were forced online because our campus was closed, online conferences proved very convenient and popular with many parents and we are considering whether to continue with this system into the future. Please take a moment to provide us with your feedback by responding to this Parent Teacher Conferences Survey.


Did you know that Mr. Zar Li, our head security officer, was a former Mr. Myanmar! He is very fit and knows 100s of different exercises to stay fit.

Mr. Zar Li has kindly offered to run 15 minute work outs for our students that will start at 8:10am every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. These work outs will start next Monday. The Zoom link for the workouts will be on the Friday Family Report email that you receive from your child(ren)’s teacher. All ages are welcome and parents are welcome to join in too.

The workouts will finish at 8:25am to give students time to get a drink and get organized before joining their classes at 8:30am.

These workouts do not replace regular P.E. classese during the school day. 

Physical Activity Ideas for ES Students To Do At Home from Mr. Wyatt

Here is a link to some great ideas to keep our students active at home. They are fun and require little or no equipment or preparation.

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