Compassing Dolphinariums at International School Bangkok


Recently, International School Bangkok (ISB), became interested in the issue of dolphin captivity, particularly as it pertains to the capture and use of wild dolphins for aquariums. To understand this issue and the factors related to it, ISB’s Grade 3 classes (age 8) used the Sustainability Compass as a lens to explore and investigate this issue.  ISB teacher shared that when he asked his students “who would like to go see some dolphins in a show?”. Just about all the hands went up in excitement.


However, before he proceeded to allow the discussion to go further, he asked his students to look at dolphins in captivity through the lens of the Compass.  He divided the children into four groups, corresponding to each of the four Compass points to start the discussion.  Later on the children were able to rotate and look at the issue from another Compass perspective to share their ideas and feelings about this issue.

Teacher explained that this activity helped students to see with new eyes, and were more open to the issues and had more and more questions than they started with.  Playing more of a facilitator role, the teacher avoided steering students in one direction or another in order to enhance their critical thinking skills by allowing them to bring up questions they might not have thought about without the Compass to help them look at the issue with more breadth and depth. “Once started, the kids rolled with it.”  The entire session lasted one hour.

There were many questions from the students that would require them to do more research, however, they had surfaced enough evidence to make an informed group decision about going to see these types of aquarium shows.  In the end, they declined the offer to go see a show, and asked if they could go see them in the wild instead.

A few days later, one of the girls’ who had a birthday said that her initial plan for her birthday was to take her friends to visit Safari World for the day.  After this Compass lesson, the girl asked her mom to cancel this trip and for them to do something else. The mom told the teacher that her daughter came home and said “mom, we can’t go” and then explained everything to the mom and they planned something more appropriate.


Submitted in cooperation with Kerry Dyke, 2014, while serving as Environmental Coordinator at ISB


Supporting Units of Inquiry through the Library

More complex images for older students

More complex images for older students

I try to go through Compass with all Junior grade levels as often as possible, but at least twice a year. With the younger ages, to review the Compass Points I put four large (A3 size) laminated sheets on the floor with N, E, S, and W. I give each student a picture and have him or her stand on which point they think it belongs to. For the youngest students the pictures are very simplistic, and the pictures are more complex for older students; this invites conversation about those items that could go in more than one point. Then I choose a book, preferably linked to the class’ current Unit of Inquiry, and we spend several sessions discussing the book, using Compass to help organize, deepen and connect the discussion.

Simplistic images for youngest students

Simplistic images for youngest students

Example pages from Me, Oliver Bright; the main character compares his own life to that of his father and grandfather

Example pages from Me, Oliver Bright connected with the Unit of Inquiry Where We Are in Place and Time

In Early Years 1 and 2 students look at the ways we play to learn, and to express our feelings and ideas during the Unit of Inquiry How We Express Ourselves. In Early Years 3 and Grade 1 we look at our Library Essential Agreement at the end of Term 1; through the different Compass lenses students reflect on essential agreement behaviours and how they might be improved (if necessary).

In Grade 2 we have used the book Me, Oliver Bright by Megan De Kantzow and Sally Rippin for three years in a row connected with the Unit of Inquiry Where We Are in Place & Time. The book is about an Australian boy who compares his life to that of his father and grandfather. To facilitate our discussion, I have laminated copies of pictures from the story, which students post on a large board marked with the four Compass Points.

In Grade 3, during the Unit of Inquiry Sharing the Planet, students use the Compass to look more closely at the challenges and risks children face worldwide. Selected pictures from the book are copied, cut and laminated to facilitate further discussion; students place the laminated pictures into Compass domains.

Selected pictures from the book are copied, cut and laminated to facilitate further discussion; students place the laminated pictures into Compass domains

Selected pictures from the book are placed  into Compass domains by the students

In Grade 4 we do a similar exercise using the book Now & Ben: The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta connected with the Unit of Inquiry Sharing the Planet. We spend at least four weeks on this lesson (including one lesson reviewing Compass), and again, I use laminated copies of pictures from the book to facilitate our discussion.

In Grade 5, I do a lesson on Using Energy At School connected with the Unit of Inquiry Sharing the Planet. I have laminated copies of some pages from Save Energy by Claire Llewellyn that show parts of a school and how energy is used in a school setting. We look for places where we could save energy, and then use the Compass to help discuss why we might want to save energy. I write directly on the laminated copy as students identify points of discussion.

Picture of energy usage points

Picture of energy usage points


From Sarah Handley, 2012 while serving as Library and Information Services Specialist, PTIS, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Prem Tinsulanonda International School (PTIS) Using the Compass to Support Strategic Planning

Prem Tinusulanonda International School (PTIS) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has sustainability at the core of its vision: ‘We are a caring international community living and learning together for a sustainable future.’ Prem is proud to be the first Compass School and aims to prepare students for a future of increasing cross-cultural independence, rapid technological change and critical environmental challenges. Global issues, the importance of international cooperation to address them, and knowledge of sustainability concepts are imparted through all disciplines.

Use of the Compass tool extends beyond the curriculum; the PTIS Executive Team recently used it when creating a new five-year strategic plan named ‘FuturePrem.’ This process included asking various members of the school community “What will Prem of the future be like?” It was decided Prem will be:

  • a school where Learning and the learner are central
  • a school committed to expanding Leadership
  • a school at the heart of a learning Community where sustainability matters
  • an amplified school that embraces Technology
  • a school that embraces Creativity
  • a school that is Connecting to local, regional and global networks

Each of these themes was then examined through the lenses of N = Nature (the natural systems on which all life depends), S = Society (the social and cultural systems that provide cohesion, identity, security and freedom), E = Economy (the economic systems that provide humanity with goods, services, and meaningful work), and W = Well-being (the health, happiness, and quality of life for individual people and their families), which encouraged the exploration of different viewpoints and interconnectedness.

Goals were then created and organized in a matrix organized by themes and Compass Points. For example, here is an overview of the goals for the theme ‘Learning’:


  • We take full advantage of the unique natural environment and outdoor learning spaces
  • We have systems in place to support the sustainable growth of facilities and resources for the learning programs
  • We have a flexible and expanding range of learning opportunities, accessible via a variety of media and locations, to meet students’ learning needs and to prepare them for continued learning in an increasingly complex society
  • Students make their learning visible to enrich their learning experience and to contribute to the learning of others
  • Students are principled and take their responsibility to themselves and society seriously, mindful of their actions and the possible consequences
  • Mindfulness is integrated into learning activities

Outcomes were then developed for each of the goals, again using the Compass Points as lenses for exploring multiple viewpoints. The Sustainability Compass was useful as a tool for setting direction towards living and learning more sustainably and it helped PTIS look at its community from different viewpoints in order to learn, make decisions and take action in sustainable ways.

Submitted by: Karrie Dietz, 2013, while serving as Junior School Principal, Prem Tinsulanonda International School (PTIS), Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Student-led Sustainability Initiatives at Dominican International School, Taipei, Taiwan

After Dominican International School sent 26 delegates to the Global Issues Network (GIN) conference in Manila in February 2012, students across the school have become even more invested in sustainability initiatives. This article outlines several exciting projects students have undertaken.

Dominican International School held a Pyramid building day in January 2013, described in a separate post.

(Click to download the article)

The Ideal of Green & Sustainable at Dominican Int'l School

This article was published in the Winter 2012 issue of ET, the EARCOS magazine. The full issue can be downloaded from (the current issue is accessible from the main page and magazine archives are available at

Shared by Mercia de Souza, 2012, while serving as Professional Development Monitor, AP Instructor, GIN Coordinator at Dominican International School, Taipei, Taiwan.

Pyramid Day at Dominican International School

“Pyramid is a tool one can use with groups of any kind to learn more about sustainability — locally, or globally. One can also use it to create sustainable development ideas and projects. The process is fun, fast-paced, and productive. Pyramid is a workshop tool that has been used around the world, with companies, government agencies, UN training programs, cities and towns, schools and universities.” –the Atkisson Group’s website

Grade 9 with GIN presidents

Grade 9 Pyramid with GIN presidents

On 25 January 2013, the Dominican International School in Taipei, Taiwan, stopped all regular classes at eleven o’ clock and the rest of theschool day was devoted to a pyramid building activity. The Atkisson Group created Pyramid based on their long experience in bringing groups together, getting them to think collaboratively and systemically about sustainability, and then providing them a pathway for going from thinking to action. This activity was first introduced to students at the Global Issues Network (GIN) Conference in Manila in 2012 Each year the Dominican International School in Taipei has a Cultural Awareness Day run by the Social Studies Department. A number of the teachers involved in the GIN Club are part of this team. They argued   that sustainability issues are often very closely linked to culture and therefore cultural awareness could be integrated with the pyramid building activity. A further challenge was added – pyramids had to be built from recycled materials only. Old milk cartons; old green tea cartons; washed, disposable chop sticks from lunches; empty soda cans; empty cookie tins; empty plastic bottles of all descriptions; old cardboard boxes and recycled paper were some of the materials that were used.

Grade 10 Pyramid

Grade 10 Pyramid

The students who had built Pyramids at the Global Issues Network Conference in Manila in February 2012 were asked to become Pyramid Builder Leaders. They were assigned, in the weeks leading up to the event, to brainstorm the topic with classes allocated to them. They had to follow up with initiating the first discussion and to make sure that students did research on the topic they chose. On the day of the actual construction, they took charge. The teachers were there merely in a supervisory capacity. The next twenty years will be of critical importance to our planet, argues World Bank economist Jean-François Rischard. How global problems are resolved over these years will determine the fate of our planetfor the next generations. In his book, High Noon, Rischard points out the twenty most pressing issues facing the global community.

Grad 3 Pyramid

Grad 3 Pyramid

Because some of Rischard’s twenty issues are rather complex, four topics per school level were selected by the organizing team:

Lower School

  • Maritime safety and pollution
  • Deforestation
  • Global warming
  • Natural disaster prevention and mitigation
  • Middle School
  • Education for all
  • Global infectious diseases
  • Biodiversity and ecosystem losses
  • Rules for E-commerce

High School

  • Intellectual property rights
  • Massive step-up in the fight against poverty
  • Peacekeeping, conflict prevention, combating terrorism
  • Illegal drugs

The organizers felt that these topics were relevant to Taiwan and to the age level of the students. In October and November 2012, the Junior GIN teachers did experiments with the grade one and two children during club meetings, in whichthey illustrated the effect of oil on sea water. They explained the devastating effect oil has on ocean life. They also took the Junior GIN students on a beach clean-up trip. These little ones chose Maritime safety and pollution as their topic and decorated their pyramid with pictures and other decorations, each meaning something, as their writing skills were not advanced enough to express what they wanted to say. The decorations symbolized issues, for example, the feathers symbolized the sea birds, the seaweed, maritime plant life.

Grade 1 Pyramid

Grade 1 Pyramid

Grad 3 Pyramid

Grade 3 Pyramid

The Seniors chose Peace keeping, conflict prevention, combating terrorism as their topic. This  is a topic that has been top-of-mind at the school since the beginning of the term, when four of   the grade 12 girls and two grade nine boys went to an international peace conference in India, accompanied by one of the teachers. They had much to share with the others when they returned from India, but this activity also gave everyone who did not go to the conference an opportunity to brainstorm these issues. The pyramid building activity was a wonderful chance for the students to get into the depth of a topic while having a meaningful discussion about it, even at the very junior level. The physical building of the pyramid was a test for the students’ engineering skills. It was an ideal activity to occupy them mentally and physically, as they had to plan the next layer on two levels each time. Some classes had drawn up plans for building their pyramids before the event and painstakingly stuck to them. Others improvised as they went along. The results were sometimes humorous, sometimes surprising, but in the end, every class had a pyramid that represented their efforts, discussion and commitment. During the coming weeks, teachers will encourage their students to take their commitments further, as we remind them that the capstone for the pyramid symbolizes their pledge to create change that will make our planet a sustainable environment for the generation after them.

Grade 10 Soda Cans Pyramid

Grade 10 Soda Cans Pyramid

Grade 8 Pyramid

Grade 8 Pyramid

Submitted by Mercia de Souza, 2013, while serving as Professional Development Monitor, AP Instructor, GIN Coordinator at Dominican International School, Taipei, Taiwan.

Exploring Compass Portals to Infuse Sustainable Thinking and Practices

Being a Compass School implies a commitment to live, to strategize and to provide opportunities to think about sustainability across the whole institution. The portals of sustainability remind practicing schools that
            Leadership and Governance,
            Operations and Support Services,
            Teaching and Learning,
            Buildings and Grounds and
            Engagement with the Outside Community
are five important entry points to infuse sustainable thinking into the system of an educational community.

Traidhos Three Generation Community for Learning, Chiang Mai, the community which includes Prem Tinsulanonda International School, recently enabled representatives from across the campus, including accounts, housekeeping, engineering, gardening, operations, the nurse, and administrative staff to live and work together on their educational Barge as it sailed down the Chao Phraya River from Ayutthaya to Bangkok.

Staff enjoyed visits to new places and the chance to get to know colleagues better – an important contribution to their well-being – but also spent time considering ways to increase sustainability using AtKisson Sustainability Compass as a thinking tool. Everyone identified a personal target and departmental targets to work towards on their return to Chiang Mai. We hope that working with staff connected to these two portals will accelerate our progress to becoming more sustainable at all levels of the organization.

Staff identified developing a commitment to being service-minded as central to our community. Linkages were made across the compass point showing the positive contribution service-mindedness has:

Wellbeing (W) – When staff are happy and feel secure and valued they are more willing to support other people happily.

Nature (N) – Beautiful grounds and good environmental practices make people feel welcome. Increased enrollment increases budget available for grounds development.

Economy (E) – When visitors receive good service and are greeted well, they are more likely to enroll their children, generating more income.

Society (S) – Cooperation between departments strengthens community and creates a positive ethos that people want to be part of. Our Traidhos Community can become a role model of good practice in Chiang Mai and the wider world.

Submitted by Lynda Rolph, 2011, while serving as President, Traidhos Three Generation Community for Learning.

International School of Tianjin, China

While there are many tools we can use to help us think sustainably, Compass is one of the easiest to use. We have implemented compass in a multitude of ways across our administration, curriculum, student groups, and community events. All students, staff and some parents know about Compass and how to use it on a basic level.

Committees at our school have standardized forms that detail committee definition, history and operation. Now all major event committees have a compass included in their forms to encourage Sustainable Thinking in all planning and decision making.

We have integrated the compass tool into our curriculum at every grade level (K through 12). During the academic year of 2011-2012 almost all grade level teachers were presented with how to implement compass in at least one unit per grade level. It was hoped that we could use the compass directly to promote Sustainable Thinking around content within the units. In the MYP, we have asked our Community and Service (C & S) groups to use the compass tool to devise their action plans. For the past two academic years this has been very successful, and we anticipate students (and their advisors) will continue using compass in their planning.

We currently have two Sustainable Thinking student groups called Eco-Revolution (one each in elementary and secondary) that aim to monitor sustainability efforts across the school. Students gather and publish data, propose new ideas, and liaise with community members on and off campus to encourage Sustainable Thinking. Eco-Revolution will use the compass to look for gaps in services and actions throughout the school year (for example, do we need to revisit Nature because not enough recycling is being done, do we need different fundraisers because there are too many bake sales in Economy, etc.). Eco-Revolution will also ensure that all service groups in both schools are contributing in some way to our annual Community Farmers Market (held in the last week of school).

Our first annual Community Farmers Market in 2012 was a fantastic opportunity to showcase our efforts toward sustainable actions and thinking, not only during the event itself, but also throughout the planning and coordination process. Initial planning happened within a faculty committee with input from Eco-Revolution in the secondary school. During Earth Day 2012 the entire student body from grades 9 through 12 was involved in planning efforts. The event planning group used compass to decide whether we had enough representation from Nature, Economy, Society, and Well-being, as well as connections between those areas. By the end of Earth Day, we had great enthusiasm built up, event planners and advertisers, builders of stalls, and had solicited thirteen C & S groups to contribute something to the market as well. While it is extremely difficult to find organic foods in our part of China, we did have open-range/drug free hotdogs and hamburgers, whole grain breads from a local bakery, local vegetable sellers and one truly organic vegetable seller. We had flash mobs, open-mics, awareness stalls, games and more! It was one of our most successful events of the year.

Submitted by Chris Watson, 2011, while serving as MYP Science and DP Biology Teacher, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Coordinator at International School of Tianjin, China.

The Green Team

Students in Grade 2 through Grade 5 joined a co-curricular activity that ran after school for five weeks. One of the most successful portions was a trip to the campus snack shop, where students were asked, “What is the most positive choice for all four areas of the compass?” Once the group made a choice, they ate the snack and discussed their ideas. The group chose two items: a Thai meat snack cooked on the grill, and watermelon. The students noticed things like:

  • neither of these items had wrappers, so there was less waste (N)
  • the number of pieces offered good value for money (E)
  • fruit is renewable, since the plant grows more fruits and more trees/vines can be planted; farmers can also raise more animals for meat (N, E)
  • both foods were traditional Thai snacks and foods the kids enjoyed eating (S)
  • fruit is healthy, tastes sweet, and provides energy (W)

The teacher, Kate O’Connel, hoped that requiring students to make a choice might prompt students to think more deeply and even change a behavior outside of school. She was very pleased with how it challenged and stretched the kids. Another activity everyone really enjoyed was testing water quality at the campus farm. Students used nets to scoop sediment, plants and water out of drainage canals and collected living things in bowls. Then they marked a scorecard that gave point values for each living thing they had found. The students discovered that the water was considered very clean because of the types of living things it could support (such as those requiring oxygen). The activity gave them a tangible way to experience and understand ecosystems and humans’ effects on water quality.

Submitted in cooperation with Kate O’Connel, 2011, while serving as Grade 2 Teacher at Prem Tinsulanonda International School.