Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Day 3: Elementary students at Sanda and scientific enquiry - post by Brian Schiller

Tokyo certainly is a friendly city. Incredible friendliness has been evident in all the organisations that we have visited so far. Even on the crowded streets, passers-by sometimes smile or say ‘Konnichi-wa’.I knew that we would be welcomed at Japanese schools with enthusiasm and was keen to learn more from the professionals around me. I was particularly curious to see to what extent Japanese children have control over their learning in science. I wondered whether scientific inquiry is focused upon in the curriculum.

When we entered Sanda Elementary School we were given the same overwhelmingly respectful welcome that we had experienced elsewhere. A special assembly was held in our honour, where the Australian national anthem was played beautifully on the piano and the students sang us the school song in incredible full-voiced unison. I’ve never heard singing like it!

Back home at Seacliff Primary School in South Australia, a wonderful associate of mine, Maiko Ikeuchi, works on a Japanese in Guided Reading / Japanese in Science program that Ryosuke Sugiyama and I initiated a few years ago.

Thanks to Maiko, I was able to deliver the science lesson at Sanda to a sixth grade class mostly in Japanese, (mostly read as I’m not a fluent speaker). The lesson involved working from an investigation question to set up an investigation exercising fair testing, using supplied equipment. I had been told beforehand, by a principal and advisor, that Japanese students in sixth grade would not have a knowledge of variables and wouldn’t have experience in setting up an investigation. As a result, I ensured that my introduction explained some of the basics, to provide a launching pad for students who were unfamiliar with such a process.
Brian all set to deliver a science lesson to 
Year Six students at Sanda Elementary School
As in Penny's class at Asahigaoka Junior High School on Monday, students at Sanda were quick to get their equipment and seemed enthusiastic about the task. Some students set up their investigation quite well, demonstrating application of problem-solving. Some students worked alone, rather than collaborating. There were a couple of groups that sat with a lack of action and didn’t seem to use any process for solving their problem, or show any interest in discussing or trying different alternatives. All of these behaviours occur in Australia as well. Through our interpreter, Keiko, I asked one of these groups some leading questions. Two of the girls then started manipulating the materials in different ways, to problem-solve, and off they went!

Brian teaching Year Six science students a science lesson - all in Japanese
After about ten minutes, most groups appeared totally engaged in their task. I didn’t see much evidence of understanding of fair testing, but there was certainly active and enthusiastic investigation.  
Students participating in a science lesson
Students manipulating the materials in different ways
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for student discussion at the end. The timetable in Japanese schools is tight and I had to fit the entire lesson, including the gift-giving, into forty-five minutes. I certainly enjoyed the enthusiasm and respect demonstrated by the children during the session. It really was incredible to have the privilege to teach a lesson in a Japanese school.

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