Nearly 40 schoolteachers from across North Carolina spent a recent October Saturday brainstorming and reflecting on how their visit to Singapore and Malaysia in July could help improve not only their own classrooms, but others in their respective schools.
As it has since the 1990s, the Center for International Understanding, a program within the University of North Carolina system, sent some of the top teachers from across the state as part of its Global Teachers initiative to learn about the best educational practices of other countries across the globe and how these lessons can help instruct students in the state’s elementary, middle and high schools.
This year, the teachers learned about STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – instruction during a July trip to Singapore, which employs a much different, more collaborative approach for its students to learn than in American schools.
Meredith Henderson, the CIU’s senior director of programming, said that while the program began in the ‘90s, it has grown substantially over the past decade, thanks in part to sponsorships from foundations and private donations that allow more teachers to take the trips. This aligns with the center’s goal of increasing the state’s global engagement.
“For the past 10 years, we’ve been pushing a ‘global North Carolina,’ and that start’s in the classroom,” Henderson said. “It cuts across all subjects, so that students can get more from school.”
This year, the teachers spent nearly a week in Singapore, learning from teachers in that country’s education system, followed by a trip to Malaysia, where they learned about the culture of that country.
The follow-up workshop held at North Carolina State University’s McKimmon Center allow for the center’s staff to see what the teachers took away from their trip and how they are incorporating it at their schools. It also allows the teachers to interact with each other and share their ideas.
Teachers talk about what they learned on a recent trip to Singapore and Malaysia and how it could impact their own classrooms and schools in their region.
Teachers broke into smaller groups, and were asked to draw posters of their impressions of Singapore, write on index cards their thoughts about the country, and discuss with each other changes to their lesson plans that incorporate what they learned.
When the teachers re-assembled, much of the takeaway from the subgroups was the same: school systems in Singapore enjoy a tremendous amount of support from the government.
Yetta Williams, who teaches second graders in Asheville, said that when she was getting ready to go to Singapore, she expected to find the country a lot more stringent. But once she got over her anxieties, she found the country to be extremely clean and orderly.
She learned that math isn’t necessarily performed differently than in the U.S., but that the approach to teaching it differs in that Singapore students are encouraged to work together to come up with different approaches to reach a solution.
“Math is not different so much as the process and using a number of methods to get to one solution,” she said. “They’re using problem-solving skills to take to other subjects.”
Teachers interact with students on a recent trip to Singapore and Malaysia.
The approach is so successful that Williams said the first grade class she observed is probably “a year ahead” of her second grade class. But maybe, not for long.
Williams said she’s started to incorporate those methods not only in her own classes, but is sharing them with other teachers at her school as well. She said the parents at her school have mostly bought in to the new approach.
“I felt like this year is truly the year we can reach all of the students,” she said.
Rick Van Sant, executive director of the CIU, said educational outreach is one of the most important parts of the center’s mission. Van Sant said incorporating new global ideas into North Carolina classrooms creates a “cascade effort” that will continue to grow within the state for years to come.
“They serve as influences,” he said. “It’s cascade thinking and learning. Teachers, more than any other group, have that capacity. The work of one teacher engaged in the program can directly reach 30 kids. The capacity of one person here contributes to that change.”
Leslie Boney, vice president of international community and economic engagement, said Global Teachers fits in with the University’s commitment to engage with the rest of the world, including sending American students abroad and bringing foreign students and faculty here.
“Missions like Global Teachers get North Carolina teachers into contact with their peers who are involved with the cutting edge of education around the world,” he said.
Boney noted that previous missions have gone to places such as Germany, Finland and India.
“The teachers get the experience of a lifetime, connecting with students and teachers around the world,” he said. “They’re asked to come back and integrate what they learned into their lessons, in social studies, economics, language and math.”
Kerrie Hancock, an elementary school teacher in Charlotte, said the experience was a pleasant surprise for her. Not only was society over there more diverse than she thought, but teachers are very respected in Singapore.
“I was really impressed with the very high regard educations across the board are held,” she said. “Teachers are supported.”
The center also maintains an alumni group of teachers from previous Global Teachers experiences, so that teachers who go to different countries can interact with each other in order to get even more exposure to best practices in the classroom.
Next year’s Global Teachers conference will take place in South Africa.
Written by Phillip Ramati
Photos provided by Center for International Understanding
Posted October 14, 2015