Mission and Philosophy

Our Mission Statement: The Olympia Schools embrace Vietnamese values while providing an integrated experience in the study of English and global issues by developing fundamental skills, fostering creativity and problem solving, and promoting ethics that allow students to adapt, to improvise, and to overcome challenges--we prepare students for life.

Founded in 2003 as Dream House, a single Kindergarten with only a dozen students, The Olympia Schools has emerged from its humble origins into a robust 1st through 12th grade college preparatory school with a rich curriculum and dynamic school experience for students committed to reaching their full potential. They accomplish this by improving their fundamental skill set and learning how to innovate through creative processes of pedagogy, which expands their knowledge and generates many college options. Located in the Nam Tu Liem District of Hanoi, The Olympia Schools is in an ideal location for serious study and the apt development of athletic, creative, and social skills. In a deliberately structured program with a small teacher to student ratio, teachers meet the students at their current levels of performance, providing the tools necessary to become successful life-long learners.

Our outstanding college acceptance list is proof that this approach works for a wide range of student abilities and learning styles.

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What is unique about Olympia’s approach?

Skills development is the key element of Olympia courses, with clearly outlined skills to be acquired at each level.  This approach is based upon the exploration of content to increase the skills base of each student and not as an end in itself.  Influenced by Ted Sizer’s principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools, with “teachers as coaches, students as workers,” the curriculum emphasizes individual skill building, team effort, and positive reinforcement. Adopting the acronym ASAAP, our teachers emphasize information acquisition, processing, evaluation, and expression rather than rote memory and recall.

Discover, Organize, Analyze, Synthesize, Authenticate, Predict, Publish Teachers and students approach learning as an interactive process, with the students challenged to attain mastery as they gain skills in each academic discipline. Working in a collaborative environment, students acquire discipline and focused study habits, communication skills, creative problem-solving, critical thinking, and the self-confidence to implement these in any situation.  Using blended learning as well as other software and web-based programs, The Olympia schools employs technology to differentiate lessons according to student learning styles and to enhance the presentation of material and allow for more effective organizational and note-taking strategies

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Extended Learning Labs (ELL weeks)

Three times a year between terms, students engage in extended learning labs that take them out of the classroom for an extended period of time. These experiences bring together theory and practice and allow students to partake in real-world project design, implementation, and reflection. Coursework throughout the term prepares students for these experiences, and immerse themselves in a richer understanding of the world around them. From our Physics students spending time at the hydroelectric plant to our literature and history students partaking in cultural events and performances, Olympia students learn project management skills and produce meaningful and relevant work. The outcomes of these weeks may take many forms. Multi-media and technology skills are needed should they choose to create a documentary film, TED talk, public service announcement, or an interactive time-line or on-line textbook. Analytic writing skills are needed for the research paper with data analysis and extrapolation, journalism pieces, or debates. And creative design techniques are mastered as students create and execute experiments, produce instruction manuals, build models or museums, or creatively write poetry, scripts, short fiction, or one-act plays.

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How do students achieve academic success?

With teacher as advocate and advisors for support, students quickly begin to understand that The Olympia Schools will settle for nothing but real and sustained effort, for student success if the goal for everyone, and this can only be achieved through a student’s self-determination and self-awareness. They receive daily assessments on their performance in each class, weekly grades and reports to chart their progress, and flexible guidance and structure as they begin to internalize the skills necessary for success. Students see their advisors daily and meet with them regularly, and this “real time” feedback is offered so students can immediately make the corrections necessary to redirect their efforts. Teachers are seen as trusted mentors, and students soon realize that they themselves are the most important contributors to their own education. Our Conference Period, which occurs every day, allows for one-on-one tutoring time between the teacher and student, thereby assuring sustained growth and daily guidance when needed. Much like professor office hours at the university level, students soon learn to take advantage of this resource.

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Philosophy
The Olympia Schools promises:
  • Through differentiated teaching techniques and blended learning, to meet each student at her/his current level of performance and build towards the mastery of relevant and necessary skills
  • Small and engaging classes with low teacher to student ratios
  • Daily assessment, feedback, and accessibility of caring teachers and administrators
  • Conference periods daily for individual student tutoring
  • Challenging, relevant, and engaging academic curriculum
  • College counseling and placement
  • Purposeful development of creative, athletic, and social skills
  • Highly and consistently trained professional faculty and staff

Pedagogy Ongoing Professional Development

Three weeks before the opening of school, The Olympia Schools trains its teachers in a forum call “Olympia University”. During this time, teachers study the newest research in education, from how the brain functions and students learn to proven techniques to enhance reading comprehension and other essential skills. In addition, guest speakers and mentor teachers supplement the program with workshops and collaborative team building as teachers implement backwards design techniques to structure their classes and final projects and assessments. The latest innovations in technology are shared, and goals are set by department and by individual teacher for the upcoming school year. Training continues throughout the year with our “Book of the Month” club. In conjunction with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, teachers embark in reading assignments, research, and small group discussions about the newest innovations in education and if and how they should be applied to our students. Teacher education ranks as our highest institutional priority.

Blended Learning

Blended learning integrates face-to-face classroom time with online learning (facilitated at all times by a classroom teacher), combining the effectiveness and socialization of the classroom with technology-enhanced online materials. What makes blended learning especially appealing is that it provides students with courses that wouldn’t otherwise be available; teachers get near-instant student assessments and the opportunity to provide their students with individualized instruction. It gets students up to speed and on track, challenging talented students and engaging individual learners in differentiated instruction. What’s more, the technology component inherent in a blended learning environment isn’t merely an attractive distraction, but an integral approach to acquiring knowledge and engaging in curriculum that’s simply second-nature for today’s 21st-century learner. The Olympia Schools uses a variety of blended learning software in all of its courses and has been a global innovator in this area of education. Michael Horn, a writer for Forbes and co-author of Disrupting Class, made the following observations about Olympia as he toured the country's most innovative schools in February, 2014:  "It (Olympia) was the first Vietnamese school with a college counselor on site like an international school—normally college counseling is offered via a separate paid center—and its graduates often attend university overseas. It stays open late to assist its parents who work. Olympia Schools offers some online learning options to its students—in particular through an online software program called English Central that assists its students in listening and speaking English. The school was very interested in expanding its use of online learning to create more personalized learning options for students and invited me back to speak to its staff a few days later about blended learning so that it could start a planning process immediately. I would not be surprised to see the school become a model for blended learning in Vietnam in the near future."

Digital Portfolios and Organizational Platforms The Olympia Schools uses portfolios for every student and is using digital portfolios in secondary and high school for the following reasons:

  1. Digital portfolios expand on the repertoire of techniques available to students and educators to demonstrate learning. Pictures, videos and audio recordings are added to the typical paper and pencil tasks students complete.
  2. Struggling students (i.e. writing, reading) are given alternative modes of expression and means to demonstrate learning. This can lead to increases in self-confidence and achievement.
  3. Increased accessibility! Parents no longer need to find time to visit the classroom to see a collection of their children’s work, and educators no longer need to chase after students to return their paper portfolios to class.
  4. Development of 21st century skills. One of the 7 survival skills of the 21st century focuses on effective oral and written communication. Digital portfolios can help engage students in practicing these important abilities.
  5. Digital portfolios allow students to track and demonstrate their growth over longer periods of time. While paper portfolios get stored or discarded at the end of a term or school year, digital portfolios can remain available and easily accessible to students, parents, and educators.

Students are also trained in organizational skills using the Cornell Note-taking method. These notes are then saved and organized in an Evernote account, a free, on-line app that allows cloud-based storage of information and data. In addition, each student is provided with a Google e-mail account with The Olympia Schools, thereby allowing them access to the entire Google platform of applications.

Visual Thinking Strategies The Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) method is a very simple activity designed to build students' background knowledge and develop thinking skills that use detail to enhance understanding. Many educators have used this method as a precursor to working on a literary passage because the thinking skills used to analyze artwork can be transferred to literature as well. Abigail Housen, a cognitive psychologist in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, created the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) method. VTS is targeted at developing creativity and thinking skills. It also presents a very effective method for tapping into students' background knowledge.

Right Question Institute Rather than always being the source of questioning, the Olympia Schools teachers utilize a profound technique in summoning student inquiry. The Question Formulation Technique (QFT), the outcome of twenty years of work by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana, offers a straightforward, rigorous process that helps all students learn how to produce their own questions, improve their questions, and strategize on how to use their questions. In the process, they develop divergent, convergent and metacognitive thinking abilities. “This idea may sound simple, but it is both complex and radical: complex, in that formulating good, generative questions, and being prepared to work toward satisfactory answers, is hardly a simple undertaking; and radical, in the sense that an apparently easy move can bring about a Copernican revolution in the atmosphere of the classroom and the dynamics of learning.” --Howard Gardner, The John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains Bloom's Taxonomy was created in 1956 under the leadership of educational psychologist Dr. Benjamin Bloom in order to promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating concepts, processes, procedures, and principles rather than just remembering facts (rote learning). It is most often used when designing instruction or learning processes. Three domains of educational activities or learning were identified by Bloom:

  • Cognitive: mental skills (knowledge)
  • Affective: growth in feelings or emotional areas (attitude or self)
  • Psychomotor: manual or physical skills
Benjamin Bloom and a group of educational psychologists developed a classification of levels of intellectual behavior important in acquiring knowledge, fostering complexity of thought, learning new skills, and developing the ability for critical thinking and creative problem-solving. Olympia’s teachers are trained to ask questions with increasing levels of difficulty, guiding the students from Remembering (Level 1), through Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating (Level 6). In sum, Olympia teachers incorporate a variety of study skills into every course: organization and time management, reading comprehension, note-taking and annotation, writing techniques, technology-based learning, and effective study habits. Using a consistent, process-oriented approach, our teachers instruct in a multi-sensory, multi-activity, collaborative style, facilitating discussion in seminar-style classes. As students internalize these academic skills, they gain confidence and become willing to take risks in their thinking and invest more of themselves into their learning.