BackHeritage » Partner Content » Integrating Creativity and Discovery into Saigon Classrooms through Round Square

After seeing whales wash ashore with rubbish-ruined stomachs and reading the startling statistics related to waste, Saigon residents have woken up to the destructive truth of plastic use and started to look for inventive alternatives.

For example, an old bit of cloth covered in beeswax and ironed warm becomes an easy and reusable way to cover food kept in refrigerators. At Renaissance International School’s Round Square Discovery Day and Talent Show, families learned how to make this object and prepared their own. The fact that the activity was surrounded by more conventional arts and craft stations such as bead-making and face painting, underscores the ease at which faculty can integrate Round Square ideals and discoveries like problem-solving into normal functions and curriculums when aided by creative activities.

A Round Square Education

Education experts have long understood the power of creativity to enhance critical thinking skills and engage students. Renaissance looks for overt and subtle ways to inspire students through arts and imagination in coordination with their Round Square curriculum. Round Square is an education model and network of schools that focuses on six core IDEALS (Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service) that support twelve discoveries (inquisitiveness, tenacity, courage, compassion, inventiveness, ability to solve problems, self-awareness, sense of responsibility, appreciation for diversity, commitment to sustainability, communication, and team-working skills). Although relatively new to Renaissance and seemingly complex, the staff has been able to implement this system with ease, much to the benefit of its students.

The District 7-based early years-through-secondary international school distinguishes itself through its small class sizes and involved parent community, which was on full display at Discovery Day in ways that incorporated Round Square discoveries. For example, many of the students’ parents provided traditional foods, including samosas, tteokbokki (Korean stir-fried rice noodles) and bánh đậu xanh (mung bean candies) which reflected the school’s embrace of diversity, while courage and tenacity took center stage during the talent show, and compassion and responsibility lay at the core of the raffle which raised funds for the Project Lifecycle charity to help provide resources for newborns.

Introducing Creativity

That morning, a section of the library contained a variety of art projects, including a clay pangolin, board games about protecting sun bears and an enormous waste bin made from old plastic bottles collected in the school canteen that students made during Creativity Week, as informed by Science Week’s environmentalism-focused explorations. Through activities like making music based on the songs of crickets, students had fun and came to recognize how arts and sciences are intrinsically related.

Round Square’s ideals and discoveries are really a web of interconnected ideas that encourage the development of broader skills, and emphasizing one usually means touching on others as well. Saigoneer observed this when speaking with Phuong, a year 9 student. Part of Science Week involved secondary students sharing projects and knowledge with primary students. She said the assignment made her nervous, but ultimately taught her a lot about courage, which gave her confidence in other areas in her life.

Time. Laziness. Tradition. Sadness. Students began Creativity and Innovation Week by writing responses to the question “what is the enemy of creativity?” on large pieces of paper hanging in the auditorium. In addition to the stewardship-centric art projects, the week included meeting with an international architecture team to create models for new schools and a jam station at the school entrance to foster impromptu music performances. While the week focused on inventiveness and inquisitiveness, it organically involved other discoveries as well. For example, students worked in teams to craft costumes made with repurposed rubbish for the fashion show, which required communication and team-work.

Head of Creative and Performing Arts / Music Teacher Felipe Calderon Nurmi organized the events and described a palpable energy during the week, with students more engaged than usual. Nurmi notes that sparking interest in learning is a major Renaissance goal, especially considering many of the subjects and fields that the students will one day work in don’t exist yet. Passion, creativity and the Round Square ideals and discoveries, however, will always remain relevant.

Another way to ensure Renaissance graduates are prepared for successful, gratifying lives involves self-led teaching. By designing and implementing both creative and traditional projects and events on their own, students rely on a variety of discoveries, including self-awareness and courage. For example, each week they hold assemblies for which they decide on the topics and prepare the presentations. The fact that large groups of parents routinely attend them reflects the institution’s family feel.

The Future of Round Square at Renaissance

Jennifer Longmuir, the Round Square Coordinator, explains that adding Round Square elements into normal creative curriculum isn’t challenging. Once staff and faculty became familiar with the specific terminology, many of them realized that they’d already been focusing on those qualities. Now it’s just about being more aware of specifically identifying them. Moreover, the teachers are a close group, which makes it easy to collaborate with one other, making identifying the connections even easier.

Parents are also adapting to Round Square quickly. This was the first year for Round Square Discovery Day, but for several years prior, a similar event, Renaissance Fun Day and Talent Show, was held. Faculty decided to add the Round Square element simply to help introduce the concept. Judging by their interest in the special receptacles placed throughout the campus for discarded bottles and the Precious Plastics shredding machine that turned them into blocks that could be assembled in another room, it won’t be difficult to get them onboard with the program.

So what’s next for Round Square at Renaissance? The faculty hope that as students, teachers and parents become more familiar with its concepts, they’ll be able to have larger, more involved special weeks with guest speakers coming in to explain how the discoveries and ideas manifest in the real world. The inclusion of creative work will help ensure engaged students as they become adaptive, globally-minded and well-rounded citizens.


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Renaissance International School Saigon |74 Nguyen Thi Thap, Binh Thuan Ward, District 7, HCMC