Projects 2020

Overview of Projects for Cohort 2, 2020

All groups produced a SYNOPSIS – a summary of their thinking as of January 24, 2020 – with a view to regular updating.

September 26, 2020 UPDATE – Little did we know how much change was to occur between January and September, 2020!

PLEASE UPDATE YOUR PROJECTS – I am making notes on projects from the meeting of September 26th. Please send me your updated project sections.

This will certainly change again as the projects progress.

REMEMBER: research is messy; it does not move chronologically or easily from one phase into another towards the conclusion you expect…

Lilla DiFlorio (staff/consultant researcher), Toby Dean (VP & teacher researcher supports).

Big Idea: Wellbeing and mindfulness in students doing the IBDP.

Research Questions: How does an intervention of mindfulness, stress management and brain optimization affect the subjective experience of students undertaking the IBDP?

Project Rationale: Stress levels amongst IB students at ISF are reportedly very high, negatively impacting quality of life during the IB years.  It is the objective of the new Mission of ISF to foster an environment and experience of wellbeing within the learning context.  To this end it is important to understand whether interventions that teach practices to relieve the impact of stress and that support brain and physiological function have a measurable impact on wellbeing.


  • Regular classes spread out throughout the Spring quarter to teach mindfulness, stress-management techniques and strategies to optimize brain function. 
  • Have regular check-in sessions to establish rapport and trust, to offer active listening and to brainstorm strategies for wellbeing.
  • Use questionnaires and feedback from students, parents and teachers to collect data and assess effectiveness of intervention.
  • Consider using a cohort of 6-10 students to focus on.
  • **Considering Emma’s research on coaching, we could overlap our research and use coaching during the check-in sessions.

Envisioned Future: Following this wellbeing intervention, IBDP students report feeling supported and having agency over their studies.  In addition, their subjective experience is one of enthusiasm and wellbeing in spite of the demands of the program. The positive results are significant enough that this type of intervention is considered for future curriculum – possibly for lower grades as well.

Key Words: Mindfulness; Stress-management; Wellbeing; Coaching; IBDP students

Research Team: Lilla DiFlorio (Wellbeing teacher/parent); Toby Dean (Supervisor, Wellbeing vice-principal); also in liaison with Emma Homerlein (Researcher of coaching, JS Principal)


Toni Hillman (teacher researcher) and Genevra De Bellis (parent researcher)

RESEARCH BIG IDEA:  Highly Able Learners

RESEARCH QUESTION:  How can we better serve the needs of highly able (HA) learners at ISF?


As professional educators, it is our obligation to better understand and serve the needs of all learners.  Addressing the needs of highly able learners are a particular passion of mine. After years of working with clusters and classes of highly able learners, and after completing coursework, I have come to understand the many and varied academic, social, and emotional needs of HA learners.  

As ISF endeavours to improve itself and also meet the criteria outlined by CIS for accreditation, we must consider how we are addressing the needs of our HA learners.  In Domain D, Core Standard D1 states “ Teaching enables all students to gain access to the curriculum and to have the opportunities for success in their learning, relative to their abilities.”  Core Standard D2 includes, “…identify the varied needs of students…to ensure that all students may benefit from the school’s programmes.” To further expand upon these statements, Core Standard D11 describes the need for a school to show that “Students with specific learning needs, including gifted and talented students, are given support from suitably qualified personnel to gain access to the curriculum and to make suitable progress, relative to their capabilities.”

Furthermore, in the CIS Commendations and Recommendations document, a rating of Not Met/Not Partially Met was given Standard D1 by both staff and CIS evaluators.  In the report it states, “…there is inconsistent implementation of the differentiated instructional strategies that may influence the success of all learners, and this perceived need is anticipated to be addressed in professional development.”

Similarly, the CIS Commendations and Recommendations report describes reasons for the Not Met/Partially Met rating for Standard D2 because “…Identification and strategies to address the needs of the very able learner are reported to be inconsistent through the school.  It is recommended that the school consider identifying students who would benefit from challenge and enrichment as a consistent practice throughout the school.”

It is important to note alignment with Domain Standards D1 and D2 is required to acquire CIS accreditation.  Evidence will need to be provided that supports the accomplishment of both statements.

INTERVENTION:  Within my 5th grade classroom, a variety of differentiation strategies will be implemented.  Our focus will be on four grade five students. These students all demonstrate characteristics of highly able learners, but each student has unique and varied needs.   Interventions will be designed based on their individual needs and will include both enrichment and acceleration. Areas for enrichment and acceleration will be identified through analysis of student MAP data, classroom observations, formative assessments, and student interests.  Data will be gathered from observations, interviews, questionnaires, assessments, video and audio recording, and student work samples.

ENVISIONED FUTURE:  Our hope is to show the positive outcomes of addressing the needs of HA ability learners.  These will include emotional and academic outcomes. Also, it is our hope that by sharing information about traits of HA learners and by sharing their unique academic and emotional needs, we will help teachers to be more cognizant of these students during instructional planning and classroom teaching.  Also, it is our hope to assist ISF in developing an intentional and consistent plan for identifying HA students and serving their academic and emotional needs.

RESEARCH TEAM:  Toni Hillman, grade 5 teacher researcher; Ginevra De Bellis, parent researcher

KEY WORDS:  Highly Able Learners; High Ability Learners, Gifted and Talented, Identification, Differentiated Instruction, Differentiation Strategies


RESEARCH TEAM: Denley Jones + Toby Dean supports



How can awareness and application of character strengths promote engagement in Physical Education?


‘Research has found that only one-third of people have an active awareness of their strengths. Imagine a world where we all knew – and used our strengths to the full potential’ (accessed from WWW 22/01/2020)

Physical Education has a great potential to develop character in young people. This is an area we have always been interested in. Specifically by focusing on character strengths we can help students to develop their confidence and ability to learn across all curriculum subjects. Through this research we wish to explore the concept that to continue to develop our character strengths we need to be put in uncomfortable positions and challenged.


A selected class will complete the ‘VIA Character Strengths Survey’. Students will explore the concept of character strengths and identify personal goals to apply and develop in a physical education context.
We will be collecting qualitative data from the students and reflecting on the impact of a different teaching approach.


Students will gain an insight into their character strengths and by focusing on these strengths they will enhance their learning, confidence and long term achievement. As teachers we will gain an understanding of the impact of different teaching approaches and hopefully see enhanced motivation in an area of learning that sometimes students find challenging.


Experiential learning, character development, self-awareness, teaching pedagogy, resilience


Denley Jones – Physical Education teacher and sport lead.

Toby Dean – Vice Principal – Wellbeing, Physical Education teacher and sports coach.


RESEARCH TEAM: Clare Fox-Ruhs (parent researcher), Celi Harper (teacher researcher JS), Sue Yiannakis (teacher researcher, US)

BIG IDEA: “Learning to Serve, Serving to Learn”: An Evaluation of ISF’s Service Learning Initiatives

RESEARCH QUESTION/S: How can we extend and develop service learning at ISF as a whole school feature so that students have a deeper understanding and practical experiences of building and enhancing community?

RATIONALE: This research project addresses the question of how ISF might develop a school-wide ‘service learning’ programme in a way that enhances student personal development and gives practical expression to the ISF vision of “building communities of creative makers and doers”.  Currently at ISF, a structured ‘service learning’ programme (‘CAS’) is limited to IB Diploma students in Grades 11 and 12. The recent establishment of a formal partnership between ISF and the Fondazione Martacappelli has provided opportunities to extend service dimensions of learning across all grade levels and this is believed to have had a valuable impact both on ISF students and on the larger community.

INTERVENTION: The objectives of this research are two-fold: to systematically assess the ‘added value’ of existing ISF ‘service learning’ activities measured against the IB Learning Outcomes and other aspirational learning objectives for students; and to formulate evidence-based proposals for extended ‘service learning’ initiatives, incorporating effective models for evaluating the latter.  To that end, the study will involve three discrete components: the collection and analysis of data on student experiences of existing ISF service learning initiatives; comparative research on service learning models and their effects in other international school settings; and, in the final phase, the trial and evaluation of a new ‘service learning’ initiative at ISF.

ENVISIONED FUTURE: the development of a school-wide ‘service learning’ programme in a way that enhances student personal development and gives practical expression to the ISF vision of “building communities of creative makers and doers”. 

KEY WORDS: service learning, evaluation, learning outcomes, student development.

PROJECT 5. (To be refreshed)

RESEARCH BIG IDEA: Inclusion through Activity Centers
*(Conferencing to meet the needs of the individual learner)

RESEARCH QUESTION:  How does the implementation of literacy
centers affect student learning in my Grade 4 classroom?

PROJECT RATIONALE:  We’d like to  promote the inclusion of all
learners by following the principles of Universal Design for Learning:,”
a framework that recognizes learner variability and is a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches to teaching and learning.”1 When utilizing UDL, lessons are designed in advance through collaborative planning in order to remove barriers and provide multiple means of
engagement, representation and expression to reach all learners.
This is important to ISF because it represents a shift from creating
lessons that will engage most learners, with differentiation for some
through modifications in the material or learning environment (pull-
out model), to designing activities that will engage and empower all
Through the use of activity centers, we plan to design centers so
students are given more choice in their learning options.  In this way,
we hope to strengthen their self-regulation and metacognition skills.
Strengthening these skills will empower learners to take ownership of
their learning experiences.

Prior to implementing the activity centers, we will test all the Grade
4B students in Reading and Language using the NWEA – MAP

(Measures of Academic Progress) assessment.  We will also assess
student attitudes towards learning through a survey and rate their
responses using a Likert scale.
Once we have established our baseline MAP assessments, and Likert
measures we will implement literacy centers for 45-60 minutes twice
a week for a period of 6-8 weeks.
To effectively plan for and monitor the activities in the Literacy
centers, we will collaborate for at least 30 minutes twice a week:
(Tuesdays 10:45-11:15 and Fridays 13:30-14:00)
After the intervention (6-8 weeks), we will assess the students again
in Reading and Literacy using the MAP tests, and re-administer the
attitude survey.

We hope that the students will show significant growth in their
Reading and Language scores, and will increase their self-knowledge
as learners, self-esteem, self-management and self-regulation skills.
With positive results, we could expand the use of activity centers to
math, and find other dynamic ways to implement UDL in the
We also hope that positive results will promote a shift in mindset,
convincing others that all learners are diverse, and thus promote the
use of collaboration for lesson design and Inclusion (push-in) support

KEY WORDS: Inclusion, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), activity
centers, collaboration, metacognition, self-regulation

RESEARCH TEAM: Alessia Busoni – Coordinator of the ISF Inclusion
Facilitation dept; Salima Qureshi – Inclusion Facilitator; Mary-Anne Runge –
Grade 4 classroom teacher, Upper Elementary Phase leader.


RESEARCHER: Anthony Davidson, EAL Teacher at ISF Junior School

BIG IDEA:  Family Led Learning in the Junior School Environment
* Home learning – has this taken on a different dimension or understanding following lockdown?

RESEARCH QUESTION/S: What is homework for? How do we understand its impact on student learning and welfare? Is Home Learning a viable alternative? How do we actually and measurably value the learning and exploration which takes place in the home environment?


The project starts with tensions both real and perceived. My daughter (8) about to fall asleep leaps up and says she has forgotten to do her homework and feels she needs to do it straight away. Another time she works on a short film ( via the iPad) that reimagines a language lesson from both a  learning and teaching perspective. I wondered how this home activity  is known or acknowledged  or followed up in the school environment? The use of homework and home learning is widespread in the ISF Junior School.  I want to explore these divergent approaches and their effect on student and family wellbeing, on conceptual understanding and, specifically, how the ELL student is impacted.


 I aim to focus on the voice of all actors – the parents, the teachers, the researcher and most importantly, for they are the ones at the frontline of these approaches, the students. I will collect data using a variety of research tools and reflect on them with particular emphasis on the current situation at ISF.

Envisioned Future

I hope, by the end of the project, to have a document rich in reportage from the frontlines of the homework/home learning debate. With the help of parents as field agents  I hope to have gathered a wide range of interviews, survey answers and video testimony that explores and exemplifies how family led learning gives agency to the student and allows for the wealth of experience and learning within the family to be understored and utilised in the school environment.

KEY WORDS: impact, tensions , home learning, family led learning, agency

RESEARCHER: Anthony Davidson, EAL Teacher at ISF Junior School


RESEARCH TEAM: Andrea Antoniazzi & Margaret Zulkey (observation of process as a Sunderland University PGCE case study, Nina Marton – TBC)


 RESEARCH QUESTION/S: How can we address the gender gap in mathematics at ISF?

We have noticed that girls struggle more than boys in achieving their full potential in mathematics and this seems to be linked to them not liking competitive environments, which is where instead boys thrive. This affects girls’ perception of their own abilities in mathematics and results in them often not fully enjoying learning maths and, very importantly, not considering University courses and careers that have a high content of mathematics. Research strongly support this observations and we think it is of particular interest to investigate it. 


  1. Analyse data from different assessments available
  2. Use research on the topic to list possible factors that can create a gender gap in mathematics
  3. Create a survey to gather “qualitative” information from students
  4. Design different types of assessments to measure the full potential of students more holistically
  5. Have lesson observations to collect extra information specific to the classes involved
  6. Use the information collected to plan a strategy to address gender gap in maths classes
  7. Use pairs of classes (study group/control group) at different ages to try the strategy developed
  8. Analyse data/re-take survey to determine if there has been any effects (considering the limited number of students, qualitative outcomes are probably more meaningful than quantitatively)


Produce recommendations to create the best learning environment for equal opportunity for succeeding in mathematics. 

KEY WORDS: mathematics, gender gap, students confidence, learning environment, equal opportunity, females in STEM

RESEARCH TEAM: Andrea Antoniazzi (US maths teacher and Learning Leader, Maths Department) and Margaret Zulkey (US maths teacher & Timetable Coordinator)


RESEARCH TEAM: Emma Homerlein


Coaching for sustained, self-motivated improvement


How can I improve my core coaching skills to support learning conversations with staff and students at JS?

How can we introduce a holistic coaching approach to improve self-efficacy across the JS community, empowering teachers to engage in sustained self-improvement?


Hattie ranks teacher efficacy as having one of the highest impact ratings on student learning outcomes. Teacher efficacy is when a teacher believes in their own ability to guide their students to success. 

Daniel Pink states that motivation comes from 3 main factors: purpose, autonomy and mastery.

Coaching as a strategy to support others to develop mastery in their chosen area supports purpose and autonomy. 

Therefore, I believe the most effective way to improve learning, is to use a coaching model to support and encourage teachers to actively  engage in sustained, self.-motivated improvement. 


3 Phase intervention as part of an action research cycle (2-3 years)

PHASE 1 – Becoming a coach

  1. Clarify my understanding of different models available to support reflective practice and learning dialogues – coaching, mentoring and counselling.
  2. Build my ability to utilise a coaching model for improved self-reflection and reflective dialogue with colleagues.
  3. Develop the skills of coaching and design a coaching model to trial with 3 teachers at ISF during 2020.

PHASE 2 – Introducing a coaching culture (2020-21)

PHASE 3 – Embedding a coaching culture (2021)


To build a culture of coaching throughout the school, developing the skills of listening and coaching in leaders, teachers and students.

This in turn will lead to self-efficacy and self-motivation 


Coaching, improving teacher efficacy, sustained improvement, self-motivated learning

RESEARCH TEAM: Emma Homerlein (JS Principal, researcher)


Teacher Researcher: Clare Kelly (teacher/VP for Learning researcher) & Danielle Leite (parent researcher)

Research big idea – How can we help students to think better and solve problems?

Research question: How can we improve students’ cognitive learning skills through the use of Self Organised Learning Environments (SOLE)?

Project rationale: Our students are good at the recall and reproduction of facts learned in class but really struggle with higher order thinking skills for problem solving.  Through the use of a SOLE (Mitra 2010) in which an open ended broad question is asked, it is hoped that students can actively construct their own knowledge and understanding of new ideas and concepts to acquire a conceptual understanding of the topic.  This facilitates enquiry based learning programme which is a key feature of the PYP and DP programmes at ISF.

Intervention: Using a SOLE model to teach aspects of the Grade 8 Biology curriculum to a small group of students in trimester 2 and a further group in trimester 3.

Envisioned future: students can think critically for problem solving so they can argue, question, dispute, judge, assess and evaluate concepts and ideas in science.

Key words: SOLE, cognition, thinking skills, self-management

Research team: Clare Kelly Upper School Biology Teacher; Danielle Leite, parent


RESEARCH TEAM: Catherine Marshall, Class Teacher Grade 2 & Tamara Jonjic, Parent Researcher.

BIG IDEA: Learning Outdoors
Following 26/09/20 to consider the changed context of COVID working, and our understanding of outdoor learning/learning outdoors from a uniquely ISF/Italian family perspective.

RESEARCH QUESTION/S: How can outdoor learning affect or change the attention and engagement in learning as well as the social and emotional behaviour of Grade 2 students?

INTERVENTION: We will provide regular experiences for children to work outdoors. We will monitor the effect on their behaviour, both outdoors and in class. In addition, carefully selected and parentally-approved case studies will allow us to understand if some children develop different skills in the outdoor environment, which are not typically addressed and developed in a classroom-only setting.

ENVISIONED FUTURE: We hope that by the end of the research project we will see higher levels of motivation and engagement in learning; better concentration; improved collaboration and social bonding; improved emotional skills and confidence in the children involved in this project.

KEY WORDS: outdoor learning; nature; learning concentration; student motivation;  social skills; emotional skills.

RESEARCH TEAM: Catherine Marshall, Class Teacher Grade 2; Tamara Jonjic, Parent Researcher.