Twitter-Stalking EdTech Conferences: BGL’s Top 8 #notatISTE17 Takeaways

While we’d all love to make it to the nation’s biggest education technology conference, ISTE, sometimes the cost and location can make it a challenge. Close to 15,000 people gathered in San Antonio this year for #ISTE17, but there were many more who were not able to attend. Fortunately, with so many innovative educator minds chomping at the bit for the latest and greatest educational technology, over the years a solid virtual learning network has emerged around the conference. Between Twitter, Google Groups, and other collaborative tools, educators from around the country were able to participate from afar in #NotAtISTE17.

The #notatISTE17 hashtag allowed us to easily network with other edtech enthusiasts remotely attending the conference. BGL teachers were just a few of the nearly 200 educators who participated in the #badgechallenge, which was a great way to get to know our fellow virtual attendees. Here are two of our badges!

As the conference began, BGL employees logged on to Zoom and met via video to discuss new materials as we followed the hashtags, learned about the latest ideas and resources and met some like-minded cohorts.

Below are our top 8 #notatISTE17 take-aways:

  1. Creative Coding on BrainPop For our 5th graders who participate in the Hour of Code, the Creative Coding on BrainPop could be a great extension for some additional coding projects.
  2. Buncee We’re always looking for new, fun and engaging ways for students to share their ideas. Buncee serves as a good alternative to the typical deck of slides.
  3. Global Read Aloud – Working in authentic reading experiences for children is always on teachers’ minds. This six-week global initiative to share read alouds with classes can be a great way to work in some good stories while connecting with students around the world.
  4. PhET Interactive Simulations – These digital math/science simulations are great when you can’t get your hands on the real thing.
  5. Peardeck – Peardeck offers a new presentation tool with interactive questions. It has great potential for both teachers and students.
  6. Flocabulary – Who doesn’t like a hip hop with their vocabulary development? This tool seems like it could make learning new words lots of fun.
  7. Triventy – Assessment is so valuable, but can become stale for students. With Triventy you can create collaborative classroom quizzes and switch things up a bit.
  8. Flipgrid – We often don’t get to hear individual student voices in the classroom. Flipgrid video discussion community that allows students to submit video responses to questions.

Join the #notatISTE17 Google Group if you missed out on the live Twitter feed during the conference for some great resources and networking.

What’s your favorite conference to Twitter-stalk? Leave us a comment!

The Biodiversity Project: An International Student Collaboration

Students at Tsai Hsing have collaborated with students from all over the world on topics such as Confucianism in the modern world, surveys of the daily activities of students, student blogging, and good old fashioned pen pals. But, our science collaborations are extra authentic and precise since they mirror the way that scientists collaborate in the real world. Our Regional Plant Project was another successful example of this. By combining the power of technology with complex science experiments, Tsai Hsing students went on an educational journey in which they networked with students from two different continents, North America and Africa, to investigate how in-depth scientific concepts manifest in the natural world around them.

About the Schools

From the United States, Menlo School is located in Atherton, CA near San Francisco. About 800 students attend this school. Many students are involved in arts and athletics.

From Kenya, Nova Academics is located in Kikuyu which is near the country’s capital city, Nairobi. This is a high school with both a boys’ and a girls’ school in grades 9-12. Students at Nova participate in a rigorous curriculum that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.

About the Project

Each school completed the same experiments – gathering information about local flora – and then students shared their results and compared them with the other schools. Classes were divided into small groups, each with access to the interactive educational platform, Edmodo. The first part of the collaboration was the creation of a virtual “get-to-know-you” video in which students introduced themselves, their schools and their culture to their global partners. After initial introductions, students began gathering and plotting data from their respective school campuses, followed by data analysis that addressed common questions and vocabulary. Ultimately, students shared and analyzed their findings with the other schools and created a culminating video.

Parts of the Project

  1. Introduction – an overview of the project
  2. Cultural Awareness – how to respectfully interact with people from cultures other than your own
  3. Science & Vocabulary – learn the vocabulary and important scientific information to complete the experiment
  4. Introduction Video – show the collaborating students what your campus looks like and tell them a little bit about yourself
  5. Campus Map – Create a map of the school campus including major water sources
  6. Scientific Process – learn how the steps of the experiment and data collection
  7. Collect Data – Access campus water source and complete readings! Take lots of pictures and collect information
  8. Analyze Data – look carefully at your data and compare it with your classmates’
  9. Share Data – post your data on Edmodo so that the collaborating students can see it
  10. Comparing & Conclusions – after reviewing the collaborating students’ data and comparing it to yours, what have you learned?
  11. Conclusion Video – create a video that summarizes what you learned and says goodbye to your collaborating partners


701 Biodiversity Project

In Distance Learning class, 701 investigated plants and ecosystems to determine the biodiversity of their ecosystem. According to a Menlo student, “Biodiversity is a term used to identify and describe the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems of a given region.” Each school started by dividing the campus into quadrants.

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Students went to their assigned quadrant and carefully documented each species of plant they could find. They took pictures so they later could research the plants more closely. Fortunately, at Tsai Hsing Teacher Jimmy has many plants all over campus labeled with QR codes, so students could easily identify most species from the Tsai Hsing Field Guide. Students had to use their excellent English skills to translate the information so they could share it with the partner schools in a slideshow.

The slideshows that students created included a picture of the plant that they took themselves with their iPad, the scientific name of the plant, and a few interesting facts. They also created a bird’s-eye-view drawing to show an overview of what their quadrant looks like. Students did such a great job, they started to sound like real scientists!

By Kevin 38 & Joyce:

By Bernice, Jonathan and Anna 22:

By Tiffany 06 & James 30:

By Jenny 04 & Willy:

Students then took a break from science for a bit to explore the beauty of nature through poetry.

By Joanna:

 By Joyce:

As they identified the species of plants, students also counted them so they could calculate the biodiversity index. The biodiversity index helps explain how diverse an ecosystem is. Generally, the more diversity, the healthier the ecosystem. The results showed that Taiwan has quite a diverse ecosystem!

Here’s what a few students had to say about the biodiversity on the Tsai Hsing campus:

By Jasper & Nini:

Our quadrant is mediocrely biodiverse. I think the plants there are old and seem to be similar species, so it can be vulnerable if a really strong typhoon comes. More bushes or trees can be planted by the walkway. There are enough plant groups, but more contrasting plants will surely benefit the area. It would be stronger and look better.

By Gina & Kevin 45:

Our ecosystem isn’t really biodiverse, our quadrant only has three species and one of it is grass. Grass can be easily killed by people when we step on it. And the Duranta repens it doesn’t seems like it can easily be killed because we don’t see any insects on it. The celosia cristata looks strong, too. When our school find out that the grass is dying, we can’t go on them otherwise they will get worse.

Field Trip Live

At the start of the project, Teacher Jackie took students on an interactive field trip to her own yard in Los Angeles. Students were able to see the succulents and cacti famous in Southern California. They also learned about the scientific process they would use to determine the biodiversity of their campus.

To wrap things up, Teacher Courtney took the 7th graders on another Field Trip Live to the great Pacific Northwest, with a visit to the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. Before the Field Trip Live, students researched some of the local plants that they would see at the garden. During the trip, students got into teams and played a fun game to identify the plants. It was amazing to see how much students had learned about plants and biodiversity through the Global Plant Project!


By Alice & Carol:

By Tiffany 03 & Irene:


Student Conclusions

To finish out the project, students wrote conclusions not only based on their analysis of the data from the experiment, but also to reflect on the cultural exchange.

Conclusions About Tsai Hsing, By Julian:

I learned a lot from my teacher, they taught me many things about ecosystems. They gave me many information about making video and ecosystem. I also learned a lot from my classmates. They told me many vocabulary that I didn’t know.

Conclusions About Nova, By Carol:

We got to work with students in Kenya. I’ve seen their videos and their school is huge and full of different plants that I’ve never seen before. I think Nova is a great school and their students are very friendly. I’ll keep in touch with them for sure.

Conclusions About Menlo, By Alice:

The school ” Menlo” in San Francisco work with us for this plant topic. The students there are very cool and nice.Actually, I think I can’t understand their video because my English is not very well before I saw their video. And after, I just do it! I can know what are they talking about! I know my English is growing up! Thanks very much.

Final Conclusions, By Lynn:

This project is so interesting and I want to do it again. I had do this project before when I in sixth grade. I was so happy then and I had said I want to have different pen pals in seventh grade, and I really have now! We even have a video to talk to them. I love it so much!

Overall, students gained some great experience through this international collaboration. While they learned some valuable lessons about science, what they learned about the culture of their partners through sheer exposure is a special opportunity that they will always remember. Many thanks to all of the hard working students all over the world who made this project possible!

BGL’s LingoLoop Partners with IRC to Give Free English Lessons to Refugees

BGL has been using technology to deliver quality English instruction to Asian classrooms since 2007. Last year we started a new consumer-facing venture – LingoLoop – that provides online English tutoring. Our small-group classes are based on the Socratic method; as students answer questions, the tutor transcribes their responses, fixes grammar and syntax, and introduces relevant vocabulary. This method captures very well the concept of learning by doing.

An unexpected byproduct of this method is an authentic and sometimes profound human connection. The questions we ask are fairly simple, but in today’s increasingly partitioned society, they are questions that do not often get asked. Who decides which music plays in the car while you’re driving? How is your life different now than it was five years ago? In your home country, what are the easiest jobs to get? What about the hardest? The cultural exchange is fascinating because learners in LingoLoop classes tend to be from different countries.

LingoLoop learners feel motivated to learn partially because of this human connection. The progress that they make helps them in all facets of their lives as they adjust to living in a new country. It is in this light that we are proud to announce our partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), and the launch of our pilot program to offer free online English lessons to refugees. 17309122_1916219465275804_2239278047516257832_n.jpg

The IRC is the leading humanitarian organization dedicated to the cause of refugees. The IRC responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic well being, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. In 2016, more than 26 million people benefited from IRC programs and those of its partner organizations.

In cooperation with the IRC’s Los Angeles office (IRC-LA), we are offering free online English classes to refugees who are in the process of resettling in Southern California. Refugees will have an opportunity to learn English from LingoLoop’s expert tutors and interact with other LingoLoop customers in our small-group classes.

As a company dedicated to empowering people through education, we are extremely proud to help realize the dreams of those greatest in need. Aspiring to become a double-bottom-line enterprise, we hope that this pilot will evolve into a core part of our business over the long term.






8th Grade Students Meet Rocket Scientist; Use Physics and Economics to Design Cars

The following was published in Tsai Hsing School’s bimonthly magazine as written by BGL:

Just a few years ago, self-driving cars seemed like science fiction. Now, Uber provides self-driving cars for public use in cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Google just announced their new fully-automated car company called Waymo. Given this recent progress, we can only imagine what cars of the future will be able to do.


That’s exactly what Tsai Hsing’s 8th Grade Bilingual Program students did in the Car Design Project for their Distance Learning class. Students explored physics concepts while letting their imaginations run free to design automobiles with innovative features. Concepts that the students explored include acceleration, friction, traction, and aerodynamics. For each element of the car – from materials to fuel sources to shape – students worked in groups to apply what they learned to a design they felt would compete for automobile sales in a free market.

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At the start of the project, students interviewed a real-life aerospace engineer, John Morelli. As a Structural Analysis Engineer, Mr. Morelli tests other engineers’ designs to determine if they will be successful or not. Specifically, his team determines if a design will blow up! He explained how large teams of people work for a long time to engineer things like airplanes, missiles and rockets. Students were surprised to learn that his current project would take up to five years to complete, even with over 200 people working together!

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Students then designed their cars. Every student had a role in the group: Leader, Engineer, Writer and Artist. These roles are similar to what is required to design a product in the real world. The Leader made sure everyone else did their jobs. The Engineer became an expert in science and led the application of physics concepts to the design. Meanwhile, the Writer took notes and wrote the team’s plan. Finally, the Artist drew the car according to the Engineer’s design and created a model that would entice consumers to buy the car. Everyone then worked together on create a “Sales Pitch,” which is a presentation that salesmen give when they are trying to sell a product.

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Teams accounted for motor & fuel, frame materials, body type, and tires when making their design. Each car was rated in four areas: speed, safety, green (environmental impact), and cost. Like in real life, teams needed to prioritize one of these factors over others. For example, if students wanted a very fast car, they had to either choose an inexpensive conventional motor with bad environmental impact or an expensive electric or hybrid motor like the ones used by Tesla. If they wanted a green car, they needed to choose between slow, inexpensive engines and fast, expensive ones. If they wanted a safe car, the needed to choose between inexpensive but slow and heavy materials or one that are expensive but fast and light. And, they needed to make these decisions using their knowledge of science.

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For example, when examining material types, students had to apply their knowledge of chemistry to understand the difference between aluminum, steel, titanium and carbon fiber. While carbon fiber looks cool and is super strong, it’s very expensive. But some teams built it into their designs to make their cars safer, thinking that consumers would pay extra for the safety and fuel efficiency.

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An example of student work:

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For example, when examining material types, students had to apply their knowledge of chemistry to understand the difference between aluminum, steel, titanium and carbon fiber. While carbon fiber looks cool and is super strong, it’s very expensive. But some teams built it into their designs to make their cars safer, thinking that consumers would pay extra for the safety and fuel efficiency.

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 6.10.37 PM.png

To decide on a body type for the car, students learned about aerodynamics. Students understood intuitively that a sports car cuts through the air to go fast while a SUV sacrifices speed and beauty for safety (whereas a crossover tries to accomplish both!).

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Finally, while choosing tires, students considered both the materials as well as the type of traction. Although it may be fun to have the soft rubber sports tires, they wear out so quickly that they’re very expensive and bad for the environment.

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Near the end of the Car Design Projects, students went on a Field Trip Live to the California Science Center where they were able to direct Teacher Seth to exhibits that illustrate the physics concepts they used in their project. Students were able to see a comparison of types of materials, watch aerodynamics in action, and move a small solar powered car with the power of a light bulb. They used this new information to change or confirm their car designs.

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After visiting an exhibit about alternative fuel types, Teacher Seth answers Jacky’s question, “Can cars add wind power in the future?”

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Will asks David, “What is the coolest car you’ve ever seen?” David wows the class when he tells us about the exotic Pagoni car, which he once saw on the streets of Los Angeles. They can cost up to $4 million USD!

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The final step of the Car Design Project was the “Sales Pitch.” Each group prepared a presentation and had two minutes to convince their classmates that their car is the best. Each group chose an unique designed that was customized for a particular audience. In the end, Izzie, Wendy, Lauren and Tamia worked together to create the best car design. Congratulations! And a job well done to all of the hard working students in 801.

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BGL Teachers Rock “Parent Day” in Kunshan, China

Parent Day in Asia is a big deal. The endless preparation on the part of teachers and administration can almost make us lose sight of how important it is to show parents the best of what we can do. This rehearsed display can seem trite but is essential to parents developing their trust in us. In this way, there is profound satisfaction in a job well done. Seeing firsthand parents’ heartfelt pride in their children (who, we must admit, often feel like our own) can make it feel almost like the coming together of a long lost family.

Beautiful winter paintings adorn the window of Teacher Danielle's classroom and are reminiscent of the tree-lined streets of Kunshan.

Beautiful winter paintings adorn the window of Teacher Danielle’s classroom and are reminiscent of the wintry tree-lined streets of Kunshan.

Parents, teachers and students play in XingKong's plentiful play-yard.

Parents, teachers and students play in XingKong’s plentiful play-yard.

Teacher Allison plays an English game with her students while parents happily observe.

Teacher Allison plays an English game with her students while parents happily observe.

What made this Parent Day 2016 extra special at XingKong, our kindergarten in Kunshan, China, was the collaboration displayed between our BGL teachers and their local Chinese partner teachers. When you lack a common language it is very hard to establish a functional working partnership. Our teachers had already done so to varying degrees, but with the shared vision of a successful Parent Day they employed all the tricks to get it done right – Google Translate, human translators, and even good old-fashioned pantomime.

Chinese local teacher, Sienna, rallies her troops while playing a game outside.

Chinese local teacher, Sienna, rallies her troops while playing a game outside.

The result was nothing short of fantastic. Each teacher – Chinese and American – not only planned an effective and engaging lesson, but they also helped each other deliver the content in a way that laid the foundation for a smooth and supportive partnership moving forward.

Teacher Halley models a conversation with two students while parents listen in.

Teacher Halley models a conversation with two students while parents listen in.

Chinese local teachers deliver a lesson about environmental protection - partially aimed at educating parents.

Chinese local teachers deliver a kindergarten lesson about environmental protection – partially aimed at educating parents.

We even had our share of music! Teacher Will busted out his banjo, while the requisite Chinese line dancing (in one instance to Juanes’s La Camisa Negra, which is, surprisingly, a local favorite) was a predictable hit for all the parents.

Gotta love Chinese line dancing.

Gotta love kindergarteners line dancing.

Credit must be given to our team in Taipei, Taiwan as well for their expertise and hard work presenting their very best for Parent Day at Tsai Hsing, where BGL teachers work with both kindergarten and elementary school students.

Are you (or is someone you know) thinking about teaching abroad? If so, check out our available jobs in China and Taiwan – complete with immediate openings! We are an excellent network of accomplished teachers and we are always looking for like-minded talent to join our team.

We Love Classcraft! A BGL Review

Here at BGL, we love Classcraft! It’s a free classroom management system a la Class Dojo but with deeper options and a fantasy-based theme that the students really enjoy.


One great element is that a given student’s avatar can “die,” which sounds a bit violent for a classroom setting until you consider a few things:

  • Students are organized into teams and there are disincentives built in to the other team members if one of their teammates dies. In other words, students HAVE to help each other in order to avoid team-wide consequences.
  • The teacher can customize the penalty for death with creative consequences that can otherwise benefit the class.

The latter bullet point is the subject of the following video in which Teacher Travis introduces Classcraft to his 5th grade class via distance learning. Please enjoy! Our students definitely do.


The teacher dashboard allows multiple views of the class with varying degrees of detail. It also makes it easy to reward/punish groups of students or the entire class at one time with just a few clicks.


Another element we enjoy with Classcraft is “Today’s Event,” a randomized act that may or may not affect multiple student accounts at one time. It’s akin to some of the squares on a Monopoly board where rewards or consequences are doled out simply for having been in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time.


Almost everything in Classcraft is customizable. From a student perspective, they can customize their avatars and earn the ability to unlock special wardrobe elements and skills. The teacher, like with Class Dojo, can customize the rewards and consequences to target specific class behaviors.


Given this level of customization, there is definitely a learning curve. It seems a bit unwieldy and user-unfriendly at first, but most tech users will find it to become second nature after using it for a short amount of time. Like with most things in teaching, consistency is key – the more you use it, the more effective it becomes.

Teacher Chad’s Top 5 Funniest Classroom Moments While Teaching in Taiwan

Teacher Chad is an astoundingly popular teacher at Tsai Hsing and recently decided to stay at the school indefinitely past his two-year contract.

(Check out his GoFundMe for his upcoming service trip to Tanzania with some of his BGL colleagues, and please give if you can!)

Perhaps one reason that Teacher Chad decided to stay on are the top five funniest things that have happened to him since he started teaching in Taipei. To boot, here is our latest blog post:

Making the decision to move to a new country alone to pursue your teaching career can be one of the scariest decisions a person can make!!! There are so many questions. My major fear was thinking about what were the kids going to be like. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them or to get my ideas across. I quickly learned that this would not be an issue and that, generally speaking, kids all over the world are pretty similar to each other. I observed them playing all the same games that kids in the States play. I also learned quickly that, much like America kids, Taiwanese kids say and do some of the funniest things. Here is my top five list of the funniest things I’ve received from students.

Number 5 – Just like in America, parents have no secrets from teachers. Students feel the need to share everything with teachers, no matter what!



Number 4 – They understand how love and economics  sometimes can mix.


Number 3 – even with a class of third graders, you always have the one kid who was born to have fun. IMG_1426.JPG

Number 2 – There is always that one student who is a wise guy and gets his witty jabs in wherever he can.


Number 1 – No matter what the student does, an apology note can make it so much funnier. I had one experience where a student thought it’d be funny to punch me. The problem was his height. I received an illegal punch below the belt, but the apology note had me laughing for days.


I’ve learned so much in my two years abroad and am so happy I took the chance to come and travel the world. I would recommend it to anyone who feels like they are missing something in their daily lives. Teaching abroad and traveling has been one of the greatest experiences in my life.

And, the kids are very sweet too.



See Teacher Chad’s blog post from last year about Children’s Day in Taiwan. It’s one of our most popular of all time!

And, if you or someone you know wants to teach abroad, please check out our open job listings at