International schools are undergoing unprecedented change and one school that is part of a growing community of changemakers challenging fundamental beliefs about the school experience is VERSO International School.
Located in Bangna, VERSO is a pioneering, innovative international school with Competency-based education (CBE) as the backbone of its curriculum. Here, learning is interdisciplinary, skills-focused, project-based and personalized, preparing young learners for the future.
VERSO opened in 2020 at the height of a global pandemic that further highlighted the importance of equipping young people with the skills and mindset they need to successfully navigate a highly uncertain future. Going beyond the traditional “one-size fits all” approach, VERSO places each student at the centre of their learning by designing the school day to give more choice, time and opportunities to them to engage deeply with their learning.
In an interview, VERSO’s Learning Designers (what VERSO calls their teachers as they design the learning experiences), Dr. Heidi Rhodes and Joe Brown, explain how the high school’s curriculum is uniquely designed, while 10th grade student Nichchamon “Nicky” Abdullor shares how her experience at VERSO differs from that of other schools she has attended.
At VERSO Upper Loop (what VERSO calls their high school), students experience five Elements of Learning – Learning Labs (LeLABs), Explore, uniVERSOlly Well (uW), Power Hour and conVERSO.
“Our LeLABs are the hub of our curriculum, where students work on interdisciplinary projects and try to solve real-world problems. Each LeLAB begins with a guiding question. Students spend about 14 to 15 hours a week on the project, researching the question and then developing ideas and solutions that they present and share with an audience over a period of 8 weeks. This has produced students who are very capable of standing in front of a group of people and sharing their thoughts. They are much more confident, they learn how to problem solve together and the idea of collaboration is not just something we talk about, it’s built into our curriculum,” said Dr Heidi, Math Specialist from Washington, US, who has previously taught in China and has a strong background in mathematics instruction, educational leadership and curriculum.
In LeLAB, students are exposed to new disciplines and technology applications, when choosing between options of LeLAB projects that interest them. Specialist Learning Labs include Mathematics, which focuses on high school math skills and courses, and Languages, which focuses on language acquisition and development.
“This year, an option of LeLAB has a focus on Life Sciences, so we have designed a project that includes Biology content. But being interdisciplinary, we’ve incorporated Social Sciences into the project, which has learners looking at the ethics of genetic engineering while learning about Biology,” said Joe, Science Specialist, who taught in US classrooms for nine years, was an athletic trainer in the US for 14 years, and spent four years building a STEM program in China.
Explore is designed to promote learner autonomy through self-directed learning. Learners have the choice to design personal projects (iXplores) around their interests or work on Learning Designer-led projects (WeXplores) which connect personal goals with academic skills, dispositions and knowledge. Some WeXplores may include Finance, Robotics, Music, Theatre, Debate and more.
“The best thing about this school is project-based learning, where learning is hands-on and we get to experiment with things. We get to choose our own paths, which the school supports and I love how we have so many choices and that helps me explore tons of things. I am looking at studying either psychology or law,” Nicky says.
Power Hour focuses on fitness, physical education (PE), health and hygiene in daily life while uniVERSOlly Well (uW) combines positive psychology, mental health, university/career exploration and preparation and life skills. conVERSO is a personalised advisory and counselling program in which Learning Designers provide students with one-on-one counselling and academic support as they continue their learning journey through high school.
“My day often starts with Power Hour for physical activities where we work on team building activities and energize our brain,” shares Nicky. “Then we go through our classes in the morning and spend the afternoon doing workshops and projects that interest us. The school provides a mentor to guide us and we end the day with activities and clubs such as basketball, soccer, tennis and swimming.”
While many other school programs focus on what a student can reproduce or remember, students at VERSO focus on developing skills to apply knowledge in the real world to new and challenging situations and complexities.
“Our learning captures what we call ‘productive struggle’ which focuses on learners developing a deeper understanding when acquiring knowledge and building skills,” Joe adds.
“Every day at VERSO is challenging because I am constantly learning new things. In fact, I think I grew a lot more as a teenager! The school has brought out the potential in me, for example, skills that I did not know I had!” said Nicky.
A lot of “real-world” learning takes place at VERSO. Projects focus on real-world problems, challenges and opportunities and the school is continually building a network of partners and experts to bring these projects to life.
“Students have the opportunity to meet experts from different fields and we make it a habit to bring them together with people in their workplace. We’ve had a wide range of guests from many global companies and even NGOs like Root the Future, who come in to mentor and help our students solve problems on sustainability. We have also hosted a group of startup founders who listened to our students make a Shark Tank-like pitch for a toy company.”
“At VERSO, our students have opportunities that most students do not have – it’s a fun place to be!” says Dr. Heidi.
As VERSO works to build a bridge between curricula that connects the current world of college entrance requirements with the future world beyond school, it responds by providing learners a dual transcript. VERSO offers students both a WASC-accredited high school transcript and a Future-Ready Transcript through the Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC®) for graduating students that showcase the skills they’ve developed throughout their time in the Upper Loop.
VERSO, was one of the first international schools in Thailand to join the Mastery Transcript Consortium®, growing its network of schools in the US and around the world. Together this network focuses on implementing a digital high school transcript that reflects each student’s unique skills, strengths and interests.
Reimagining the future of education requires more than innovative thinking. It requires the skills, mindset and opportunities to make connections and positively impact the communities in which we live. VERSO offers another opportunity for families seeking not only a personalised learning experience for each student but also a highly creative, collaborative environment where students are active participants because the learning is meaningful and relevant. And when they graduate, they are ready to transition into the real world and the new careers of tomorrow.