After 12 years of teaching in Florida’s public school system, Brian Tupper’s principal let him know he was considered a “non-fiction reading teacher”, rather than a World Cultures and Geography teacher. Frustrated with the educational system, Tupper resigned and took a job teaching at Korea International School on Jeju, Island, South Korea. There, he got a taste for Project-Based Learning (PBL) and curriculum development with an Understanding by Design (UbD) focus and began to feel a shift in his instructional journey. While in Korea, Tupper earned a master’s degree in Multidisciplinary Studies, two Faculty Global Leader awards from Korea International School, and a Twenty-first Century Learner International Teacher of the Year finalist nomination.
As a 21st Century educator and through Brian’s own distance learning experience of earning his Masters in education from SUNY Buffalo in Korea, he realized he had to adapt to the way this generation learns, and new technology allowed for more student engagement and collaboration when focused on project-based learning. ” Tupper decided to shift his attention to online education, retiring from the classroom after 20 years of teaching in Florida, South Korea and Azerbaijan. His idea for an online school became a reality in 2019 when he met Aliza Akmal.
Aliza and her family were living in Thailand when her government schooling came to an end at age 15. They turned to Tupper and he provided Aliza with a variety of online educational sources. Aliza worked with him to develop a plan for how she wanted to pursue her future career in medicine, using a portfolio to showcase her knowledge and document her journey.
I want to be a doctor, but I don’t just want to treat people. I want to be a 21st century doctor. I want to be part of the team providing healthcare to people in poverty, delivering information and educating people about how they can be healthier.”
This led Brian to create The International School of America and a curriculum that Brian calls “an experiment in kindness”, that focuses on the acronym KIND :
K- Knowledge is Power
I- Inspire Others
N - Never Give Up
D - Diversity is a Strength
With these core principles in mind and an educational philosophy of “show me, don’t tell me”, Tupper was already a believer in the power of PBL to help students learn and grow, but also knew how difficult it is to create PBLs from scratch.
No stranger to educational technology, Tupper is a Nearpod Pioneer and piloted Google Classroom, so he took to the internet to look for solutions to engage Aliza and came across Defined Learning. “It was the greatest PBL resource I had ever seen”, said Tupper. He describes Aliza’s work on her first task, creating a branding plan for non-profit Operation Smile as, “better than any other student I’ve ever had”. Aliza was so excited about the project she completed it in one day! She learned the importance of developing a growth mindset, working through things regardless of how the first attempt turns out, to keep working and get better. Her next project focused on prosthetics and she decided to create a website to showcase different charitable organizations. From there, she worked with Mr. Tupper to align the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to a Defined Learning project including a Tiny House Project and a group project about real estate development in Dubai.
“Defined Learning allowed me to shift my mentality,” says Tupper. He listened to what parents and, most importantly, what students were saying during the remote learning period of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the two years he has been using Defined Learning, he calls the continued evolution of the product a “game-changer”, especially the addition of Defined Careers. “I love getting that call of, ‘Hey, I want to show you some updates’ from the Defined Learning team”, says Tupper.
Defined Careers has strengthened my career path. It provides projects right now I will use in my future career and helps me share my knowledge with other people.”
- Aliza Akmal
Defined Careers allows him to focus on individual learners’ goals, providing a personalized learning experience with a global perspective. Aliza is the case model, or as Tupper calls her, his “muse”. She gives Tupper the opportunity to teach, and she gives him the opportunity to learn. Together, they want to be a model for students who want an inexpensive, private, international education. Defined Careers allows students to find out if they truly like the career path they are pursuing. “The beauty of it is that everything is done. The rubrics. The questions. Everything is done, engaging, and easy for the teacher. I feel rewarded as an educator because I have the opportunity to teach the way I love to teach, that I am passionate about, through project-based learning.”
Aliza says, “I feel like I've grown a lot. My portfolio shows my growth. I can see it. I’ve learned how to showcase more using new words and using visuals to convey my message. The portfolio is something I can use for getting into a university. It shows how I can work collaboratively, what I can do if assigned. I can gather the knowledge on my own and create something that is actually useful. It’s a representation of what I learned which is even better than a transcript. Universities do not want to tell you how to work on projects with others, they want you to develop those skills ahead of time. The university gives you the knowledge so you can use it. I am very proud of what I have learned.”
According to Tupper, Aliza and students like her can learn so much more in a small amount of time when learning is organized around meaningful projects. “The students gobble up information, spitting out new creative things with it. So many people around the world can look at what Aliza is doing and say ‘I can do that too.’ Investing in her future makes mine more fruitful.”
Aliza recently moved to Pakistan from Thailand. Her teacher, Mr. Tupper, was in New York. Through her move, nothing changed in her education. It was a seamless transition. Tupper advised her to “Get out there and learn, grow, evolve. Don’t be afraid to learn new things or fail. That’s when learning occurs.” Aliza kept up with her projects through the move, following his advice. “I can see what her future holds,” says Tupper. “She has so much potential. Defined Learning and Defined Careers has given her the opportunity to explore and reach that potential. I am grateful for it and I know she is.”
Continuing their original experiment in kindness, Aliza’s graduation project is to organize and manage a project to translate select Defined Learning tasks into Ukrainian for refugee students whose education has been disrupted. Her knowledge and skills, accumulated through her PBL work with Defined Learning and Defined Careers, have equipped her to take on this challenge with confidence and creativity.