Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Day 3: Adaptations, enzymes and indoor shoes at Utase - post by Sarah Chapman

Hello, my name is Sarah Chapman. I am a teacher and Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School.  I feel very honoured to have been selected for this very special trip to Japan. I have never visited Japan before, and the experience has already been very educational and certainly a trip to remember.

ASTA delegation with the Utase Junior School personnel
Me (front row, forth from the left) and the rest of the ASTA-Japan delegation with Mr Chiba and other key personnel from Utase Junior School. Check out our funky indoor shoes!


Tuesday morning - Utase Junior High School

Tuesday started with a one-hour bus trip to Utase Junior School, located in Chiba City. It is a new school, only 20 years old, and very impressive. It contains beautiful buildings, specially designed and purpose built for the school, that emanate Japanese culture.

To enter the building you must first remove your shoes and put on indoor shoes. Students at this school are not required to wear a uniform and there are no bells or set rules for the students to follow. The school has set objectives that underpin the students' beliefs. These include 3S's (Study, Sense and Sports) plus ABC (Achievement Best Selection and Challenge). Parent involvement is exceptionally strong and visible within the school, with parents assisting with the care of the grounds, catering and support of programs throughout the school. Utase also has strong with ties with other Chiba SONY Junior Schools, with many Principals, teachers and key personnel present to collaborate with teachers and staff.

Utase Junior School has 954 students from grades seven to nine. We were greeted by the Principal Mr Chiba, Vice Principal and key personnel. It was certainly a very warm welcome with us meeting with the principal in his office to discuss the vision, priorities, curriculum and buildings in the school.

We then observed a class of 35 students in Year Two (equivalent to Year Nine in Australia) during a Science lesson, run by a Science teacher called Mr Saso. He delivered a highly engaging, hands-on lesson about digestive enzymes. Students conducted tests using starch and gelatine and examined the impacts of foods on the composition of these mate-rials. This lesson was very interesting and provided students with an interactive and visual way to examine the impact foods have on digestion.
Experiment of impacts of food on digestion
Seeing the impacts of food on digestion.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach a class of my own, with the help of an interpreter, Keiko Tonegawa.  My lesson focus was on the adaptations of Australian animals. It involved teaching the three types of adaptations and then relating these to nine Australian Animals. I had cards with background information that students were able to read, along with a figurine of each Australian animal, so that students could see a three-dimensional version of the animal. It was a really wonderful experience to engage students in learning about Australian animals.

Their eyes lit up as they examined the models of each animal and guessed what they were: for some it was the first time they had ever heard of some of the animals. It was very rewarding to see students applying what they had learnt to identify the various adaptations. Students even volunteered to share their favourite animal’s adaptations with the class, which was a thrill as I was told the students are reluctant to speak in front of their class.

Sarah Chapman teaching a class at Utase
The students enjoyed learning about the adaptations of Australian animals.

Utase Junior High School was different in many ways to the high school I teach at. However, it was similar in many ways, too. This was certainly an incredible experience and one I will never forget. Such a personally rewarding thing to bridge the divide of language by using the skills and common understandings of science.

Tuesday afternoon - National Museum of Science and Nature

The afternoon highlight was certainly visiting the National Museum of Science and Nature. The place was amazing! The sections we saw highlighted the animal species of and the geological story of Japan.

National Museum of Nature and Science
National Museum of Nature and Science
The National Museum of Nature and Science was wonderful to experience.

For me, the best part of the Museum was the Theatre 360, a movie theatre showing science in 3D. Inside, you are surrounded on all sides by a seamless sphere of video and sound. It was unreal!! So very hard to explain, being suspended on a bridge and being able to view images of dinosaurs and early humans all around you. At one stage I swore I was even flying down the skeleton of a Triceratops. I am sure that the smile on my face at that stage could not have got any wider. This was something that certainly went beyond words, a true celebration of the wonder of science and the brilliance of technology to put on such a wonderful display. WOW! 

To conclude our day we visited the Tokyo Sky Tree, a tower that spans 634m high. We enjoyed the sights of Tokyo, seeing the amazing expanse of the city, interacting with the displays and watching the twinkling lights. It was certainly an unreal experience.

The Sky Tree in Tokyo
The Sky Tree lives up to its name!

My experience after just two days in Japan has already been mind blowing. I have really enjoyed embracing the culture and being a part of education in the Japanese schooling system. It has been wonderful to speak to the teachers and learn about the education system in Japan and how we value the same priorities when it comes to Science education. It has been really rewarding to engage with the students and go beyond the language barriers to find a common interest, a passion for Science. Also to travel with such a brilliant group of Australian teachers and Japanese SONY Foundation staff, in itself has been such a re-warding experience. My love of learning has certainly been satisfied, strong collegial bonds have been made and laughs and smile have been aplenty. I keep having to pinch myself to realise that I am here. I feel so lucky to have this experience, and cannot wait for tomorrow!

Sarah Chapman

Monday, 29 September 2014

Day 2: A ten out of ten experience - post by Danielle Spencer

Considering we missed a day for the volcano, we certainly made up for it today. To quote Sarah, it was a "10 out of 10 kind of day".  We were immersed in culture straight away at breakfast, walking past a carp enclosure and beautiful views of waterfalls. The bus ride to Sanda Elementary school revealed a maze of lined streets and endless sights – I didn't want to miss one of them!

When we first pulled into Sanda Elementary it didn't quite look like a school building. But then we heard the children singing, and it definitely sounded like a school then.

We first went to the assembly hall to have the school assembly - and were the Australian teachers on show. The hall was packed with eager and curious faces, though some children were distracted just like at home. After introductions we were asked questions by a select group of students. Seems that the burning questions were:
  1. What type of games do children like to play?
  2. What type of gourmet food do we have in Australia?
  3. What are the subjects that children learn? and
  4. What dreams do children have?

After the questions, the school stood for the school anthem. I was touched by the pride all of these children displayed by singing their song, almost to the point of tears. Even the kids who were earlier distracted were singing with such joy. It was exceptional to witness. After the assembly, we watched a science lesson with one of the Grade Three classes where they used rubber-band-propelled cars to navigate through a series of problems. I was amazed at the size of the class (37 students) and was impressed that the teacher managed such a big class so effectively. The children were thoroughly engaged in the task and I was itching to have a turn. It was a treat to interact with the kids although I didn't get my car to even get past the first task!

After morning tea it was my turn to teach. 77 Grade Three children! Never again will I complain about my 'over-sized' class of 31. I had planned a lesson on the life cycle of marsupials - a PowerPoint presentation, a sorting activity and a drawing activity to finish.

With the aid of my translator, the magical Keiko, I slowly delivered my lesson to a room full of interested faces. During the stage where the children were sorting, I got to spend some time going around to individual groups and talk about our animals and their life cycles. It was great to realise just how much you can convey without sharing the same language.

After the sort, I wanted to get the children's attention and in all honesty had no idea how I could do it! So I tried the clapping game. The universal clapping game is a behaviour management dream internationally so it seems - the children followed so we even played for a bit longer! Children are children and they love playing games. Being given this opportunity has been a highlight of my life and I cannot wait to see the rest of the week.

Danielle Spencer teaching a class at Sanda Elementary School
The clapping game knows no language barrier!

After lunch we spent some more time speaking with the principal. What impressed me about the Japanese elementary education system is the priority that science is given. Students learn three hours of Science a week and teachers must have in-service training in science curriculum regularly. Unfortunately this is not the case in Australia. What also impressed me is how dedicated the education system is in maintaining and teaching cultural heritage - children learn at school traditional drums, traditional dance and puppetry.

After we left Sanda, we headed to the Australian embassy to meet with staff from the Australia-Japan Foundation to discuss how to develop and strengthen initiatives like the ASTA-Japan Science Teachers Exchange, which bring cultures together and encourage sharing of teaching practices. We were even fortunate to have the Ambassador drop by for a quick hello. Never let a photo opportunity pass!

The ASTA deleagation with Ambassador Bruce Miller
Australian Ambassador Bruce Miller was nice enough to pose with us and our cute little banner. I am second from the left.

To top off an extraordinary day we had dinner with the Sony Education Foundation. A quick stroll through busy Downtown Shinagawa took us to a traditional Japanese restaurant, where I got to live up to my promise to myself to I had promised myself try anything. The meal included raw fish, wasabi paste, eel, and the delightful experience of shabushabu - a boiled soup that you cook together at the table. I was enchanted by the sake tradition (and of course I tried it) Dinner was completed with a soy milk cheesecake – a treat to sum up an exceptional day.

Dinner with the SONY Foundation.
At dinner, we presented gifts to our lovely new friends at the SONY Education Foundation.

Day 2: Sanda Elementary School - post by Vic Dobos

Our day began early, but luckily Gary and I had already sniffed out the best coffee shop in Sinagawa. After breakfast we headed to Sanda Elementary School, where we would observe classes and meet with teachers and Danielle would present as a special guest teacher.

Traffic in Tokyo is something to behold, but everything moved well. The weather was beautiful as we drove through the urban sprawl, encountering many pockets of high-rises along the way. Sixty percent of Tokyo residents live in apartments and most commute to work via the Tokyo rail system.

Once at Sanda, the teacher delegates were taken up on stage and introduced to the 570 students at an assembly. The principal, Mr Takahashi, shared some interesting and unique facts about Australian flora and fauna with the children, and in return they sang us their school song with gusto. The students seemed just as excited to see us as we were to see them, and when they were given the chance to ask the teachers questions they did so with enthusiasm and thoughtfulness, asking about Australian foods, sports and school subjects.

The subject of Science is introduced to Japanese students in Grade Three. As in Australia, the curriculum includes a wide range of science. Today's lesson was on energy – physics. Previous lessons looked at wind power, and later in the year they will look at electricity and how it drives the car.

Watching a Sanda Elementary school class in action.
Watching a Grade Three class solving problems.

We enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the way Science education is approached at Sanda with teachers, including Mr Takahashi, Chapter President of the Sony Science Teachers Association.

An important feature of Science education in Japan is the focus on problem solving. This is taught by 1) presenting a problem to the students; 2) teaching ways of thinking, and how to look at problems and seek solutions; and 3) presenting solutions. Encouraging problem solving is much more emphasized than pushing knowledge.

Sanda is strongly supported by parents and the community, with parents involved in reading, cleaning and classroom help. Students learn traditional activities alongside the academic curriculum, including folk art, traditional doll play, tako drums and martial arts. There are several different exchange programs, which expose students to diversity and new opportunities.

Japanese elementary school teachers face similar issues to those in Australia: namely, that being required to teach everything, including music, art, literacy, numeracy and social studies, means their science expertise is limited. However, there are lots of workshops available to improve teacher competence.

Additionally, the average age of teachers in Japan is lowering. Of the twenty-four teachers at Sanda, only ten have more than five years' experience. However, senior teachers are required to train or mentor junior teachers, which provides a good foundation of support. Teachers grow in experience and confidence by watching other teachers teach.

Day 1: Starting with a bang (but not the sort we wanted) - post by Vic Dobos

Mt Otake erupting. Photo credit: AFP Photo / Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Chubu Regional Development Bureau Jiji Press via http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2014/09/japan-volcano-ontake-an-extremely-rare-eruption

The day before we were due to depart for Tokyo on the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan, I received word that Japan was under possible threat from a tropical storm. This seemed eerily familiar, as we faced the same issues last year. Dangerous and damaging storms are not uncommon in Japan, and the people regularly demonstrate extreme resilience in the face of them.

Then, at approximately 1.30pm on Saturday 27th September, just hours before we were supposed to depart, nature surprised everyone with a curve ball.  Mt Ontake in Central Japan erupted, releasing a plume of fine ash and gas. Whilst this event in itself is not on the scale of some recent volcanic eruptions, its suddenness made it the first eruption since 1991 to claim Japanese lives. 

Leah, Robyn and I had just arrived at Sydney Airport when news of the eruption broke. Communication from Qantas was unclear, but we eventually learned our flight had been delayed until 11am the next day. When Gary, Sarah and Danielle arrived we collected our checked in luggage and headed to a nearby hotel to regroup.

As excited as we still were about our trip, the seriousness of this event and the heartache of the families affected was recognised, and our deepest sympathies go out to them.

The phenomenon of an eruption without warning is extremely unusual. The science behind it is very interesting, particularly for geoscience enthusiasts. You can learn a bit about it here.

We woke on Sunday to a glorious spring morning. Our group also regained our spring and headed off to the international airport for departure: take two. At precisely 11am, the 4 Rolls Royce engines of our 747-400 were to opened to full throttle and we gently lifted off tracking north over the city and heading for Narita.

The excitement level was starting to build once more and our conversation returned to our planned adventure in Japan. Unfortunately, our delay meant we had nissed our visit to  Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. This had been a highlight of last year's trip, particularly the chance to see the marvel of modern robotics, ASHIMO. The delegates were philosophical about the loss; we were all safe and well, with an exciting week of experiences ahead of us. ASHIMO will still be there next time.

After a good flight and the chance to watch a movie or three, we touched down in Tokyo, pumped for what was ahead of us.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Welcome Sarah and Danielle

Sarah Chapman and Danielle Spencer are our final two teacher delegates  of the inspirational travelling to Tokyo as part of the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan.

Sarah is the Head of Department of Science at Townsville State High School, North Queensland. She has a passion for developing science programs that are innovative and engage students in becoming more involved in science, aware of their environment and actively involved in their community.
She also devotes a large amount of time to designing and delivering a range of innovative science professional development workshops in order to improve the standards of Science teaching. Sarah has been recognised through numerous awards, including the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

Danielle is a Primary School teacher at Mitchelton State Primary School, Mitchelton. QLD, who loves discovering the world again through a child’s eyes. She particularly enjoys teaching Science and watching the looks on children’s faces when they experience something new. Danielle currently teaches a very animated and multi-cultural Grade 6 class, and runs three extra-curricular science clubs at her school; SC@M (Science Club at Mitchie), SC@M in Space Astronomy and a Robotics Club.

Along with fellow teachers Gary Tilley and Leah Taylor, and ASTA President Robyn Aitken (also a teacher) and CEO Vic Dobos, Sarah and Danielle will be taking off for Tokyo this weekend.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Welcome Gary and Leah

Gary Tilley and Leah Taylor are two of the inspirational Australian Teachers that will be travelling to Tokyo as part of the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan.

Gary is a Primary School teacher with over 30 years’ experience in public education. He is passionate about teaching and communicating science and has been instrumental in initiating a community wide movement to bring “real” science into schools by turning Seaforth Public School into a Natural History Museum. The school houses its own Space Gallery, Dinosaur and Marine Reptile Gallery, an Earth Sciences Gallery and a new Marine Sciences Gallery. The students, their families, the school and the broader community, as well as educational and scientific organisations, have embraced the notion of immersing the children in a world of science within the school.

Leah works as a coordinator and teacher at St Anthony’s Parish Primary School, teaching Year 1. She is responsible for assessment, numeracy and science at her school. Leah is President Elect for the Science Teachers Association of the Australian Capital Territory, and supports teachers across New South Wales and Canberra, providing professional learning for individual schools and whole school systems. She is a member of a number of steering and reference committees addressing the teaching of science and the provision of professional learning for teachers, especially Primary School teachers.

We are pleased to have Gary and Leah along for the 2014 ASTA Science Teachers Exchange - Japan.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Our new banner!

Our ASTA Japan exchange banner arrived today! It's getting close to departure date. ASTA CEO Vic Dobos is getting pretty excited.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Only two weeks to go!

ASTA Science Teachers Exchange – JAPAN: Improving intercultural understanding and forging professional connections between international organisations and individuals.

Learn about last year's visit at http://asta.edu.au/programs/asta-japan/2013_recap

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Announcing the 2014 ASTA Science teachers in Japan delegation!

On Saturday 27th September, ASTA President Robyn Aitken, CEO Vic Dobos, and four primary and secondary teacher delegates will leave Australia, bound for Tokyo, Japan. In the week that follows this enthusiastic team of educators will dive into a sea of new experiences, in an effort to strengthen cross-cultural bonds and expand the boundaries of their science and teaching skills and experience.

The ASTA-Japan exchange has run, in various forms, for several years. This year the program is being generously supported by a grant from the Australia-Japan Foundation (AJF), which gave ASTA the opportunity to cover the bulk of the travel and accommodation costs for the successful applicants. One of the main objectives of the AJF is to "increase understanding in Japan of shared interests with Australia" and it is fantastic that education is recognised as one of those shared interests.

The four teacher delegates, selected through an application process, are: 
  • Gary Tilley, Seaforth Primary School, NSW
  • Leah Taylor, St Anthony's Parish Primary School, ACT
  • Danielle Spencer, Mitchelton State Primary School, QLD
  • Sarah Chapman, Townsville State High School, QLD
As well as visiting some of Japan's iconic scientific and cultural icons, including the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (MIRAKAN), the National Museum of Nature and Science and Sky Tower, delegates will have the opportunity to observe Japanese primary and secondary science classes (including a Super Science School) and lead classes of their own as a guest teacher.

You can follow the adventure on this blog, as well as through the ASTA Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ASTA.Science) and Twitter (#ASTAJapan14).